Humanists of Greater Portland Meetup Message Board › What are Humanist books that teach a system of morals?

What are Humanist books that teach a system of morals?

Gavin
Atheistic-ExJW
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 2,165
Do atheists really have low retention rates, even lower than Jehovah's Witnesses? See the news article called "Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups" for more information. [See also the chart at here.] There was a link to it from the news article called "New Atheist Billboard in San Diego Urges 'Personal Relationship With Reality'".
Marsha
mwhitabel
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 6
Gavin, when you first wrote, you said "...it seems that from a Humanist perspective, ethics and morality are largely relative. But if that is so, then doesn't make Shari Law morality/ethics just as moral and ethical as Humanism?"

Humanist ethics are relative, BUT SO ARE Christian and Muslim laws. No religion observes or obeys every single thing that is written in their "sacred texts" - they pick and choose, thereby making their own ethics "relative" to their own wishes. But no, I don't believe that the Bible or the Koran are "just as moral and ethical" as the humanist ethics that evolve in societies, because they are full of a lot of immoral ideas (killing disobedient children, fathers can't be executed for killing their wives or children, taking virgins as war spoils, women considered to be created inferior to men, etc.) AND those religious ideas are "unchanging." Humanist ideals and ethics grow with the knowledge and evolution of human brains and societies.
Gavin
Atheistic-ExJW
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 2,166
Gavin, when you first wrote, you said "...it seems that from a Humanist perspective, ethics and morality are largely relative. But if that is so, then doesn't make Shari Law morality/ethics just as moral and ethical as Humanism?"

Humanist ethics are relative, BUT SO ARE Christian and Muslim laws. No religion observes or obeys every single thing that is written in their "sacred texts" - they pick and choose, thereby making their own ethics "relative" to their own wishes. But no, I don't believe that the Bible or the Koran are "just as moral and ethical" as the humanist ethics that evolve in societies, because they are full of a lot of immoral ideas (killing disobedient children, fathers can't be executed for killing their wives or children, taking virgins as war spoils, women considered to be created inferior to men, etc.) AND those religious ideas are "unchanging." Humanist ideals and ethics grow with the knowledge and evolution of human brains and societies.

Regarding your example of "killing disobedient children, fathers can't be executed for killing their wives or children, taking virgins as war spoils, women considered to be created inferior to men, etc.)" while I see that an example of some of the things taught by the ancient Jewish religion of the Hebrew scriptures, I don't see any of that as a New Covenant Scripture Christian teaching (except that Paul teaches adult male headship over women in family settings and in certain congregational settings).
Marsha
mwhitabel
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 7
Gavin, it sounds as if you are a Christian. Is that right? If so, we're coming from totally different perspectives on the Bible.

I do not believe in the supernatural, so I don't believe the Bible is anything more than man-written literature. I was using some of the most anti-human teachings to show that RELIGIOUS people pick and choose which laws to observe (and I consider "women keep silent" and "woman was only created to be man's helper" to be ANTI-HUMAN, btw). The "New Covenant," as you (and Christians) call it is just another compilation of ancient writings by ancient people, with little moral value for us in 2013.

I misunderstood, perhaps. I thought you were an atheist who was looking for some atheist/ freethinker/ humanist writings that could help you understand how atheists can have ethics and morals.
Gavin
Atheistic-ExJW
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 2,167
Gavin, it sounds as if you are a Christian. Is that right? If so, we're coming from totally different perspectives on the Bible.

I do not believe in the supernatural, so I don't believe the Bible is anything more than man-written literature. I was using some of the most anti-human teachings to show that RELIGIOUS people pick and choose which laws to observe (and I consider "women keep silent" and "woman was only created to be man's helper" to be ANTI-HUMAN, btw). The "New Covenant," as you (and Christians) call it is just another compilation of ancient writings by ancient people, with little moral value for us in 2013.

I misunderstood, perhaps. I thought you were an atheist who was looking for some atheist/ freethinker/ humanist writings that could help you understand how atheists can have ethics and morals.


Marsha, you seem to be greatly misunderstanding me. It distresses me that you so greatly misinterpreted who I am in regards to my beliefs. Marsha, in my first post in this forum topic I said "... I left Christianity and theism ...". I am NOT a Christian. I am an ex-Minister of the Jehovah's Witnesses, an ex-member of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion [except for me still being listed as a Witness on paper, so that my family won't shun me], an ex-Christian, and an ex-theist. I am now a strong/positive atheist, a philosophical/metaphysical Naturalist [I believe that only nature exists, I believe that nothing supernatural exists], and a Humanist (both the Secular Humanist type and the broader kind of the American Humanist Association). I am in this meetup group because I am a Humanist. Nonetheless I still read the Bible (as well as the Apocrypha) and I don't think everything in there is incorrect (especially if the teachings about the supernatural are ignored), despite it being an ancient book written by fallible humans. [By the way, note even the American Humanist Association recently published/created their own abridged edition of the Bible along with abridged editions of other scripture books (see also this announcement).] The way I see it the morals/ethics of Secular Humanism are essentially identical to those of liberal Christianity. Despite saying that, I did NOT say the morals/ethics of the Bible or the New Covenant are superior to Secular Humanism. I do NOT believe the morals/ethics of the Bible or the New Covenant or Christianity are superior to those of Secular Humanism. Nonetheless, I don't see Humanism (including Secular Humanism) as providing any absolute or authoritative moral guidance, and that is a problem for me because I want absolute truth (including absolute moral truth), not merely relative truth or relative morals/ethics. That is because I don't want morality/ethics to be merely a highly subjective system in which fellow Humanists can not objectively deduce the same moral/ethical standard (or even non-objectively reach an agreement on a moral/ethical standard). I want the correctness of moral/ethical standards to be as certain and correct as mathematical theorems or at least as the theories of the sciences. I am thus an atheist Humanist who is looking for some atheistic Humanist writings that can help me discover, or objectively create/deduce, an absolute ethical/moral system from an atheistic Humanist perspective.

Marsha, is my position now clear to you?

Just because I have an in-depth knowledge of Christianity, and just because I accurately describe Christian teachings, and just because I appreciate portions of the Bible, and just because I state what I perceive to be deficiencies of Humanism, that does NOT mean I am a non-atheist, a non-Humanist, and/or a Christian. Likewise there are evolutionists who describe what they perceive as deficiencies in various modern theories of evolution (or various details/mechanisms of the modern theory of evolution), while at the same time believing that evolution is a fact and while stating that evolution is a fact.
Gavin
Atheistic-ExJW
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 2,168
Gavin, I forgot to mention the Humanist Manifestos I, II and the newest one III.

I read those. They are statements of values and beliefs, but they don't give specifics for a broad range of moral/ethical situations, though the second one made some political statements.
Marsha
mwhitabel
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 8
I HATE THIS FORMAT. I had a lengthy reply written on the screen and when I previewed it, something went wrong. I will try to reconstruct.

Sorry I misinterpreted some of your statements about the Bible as lingering belief IN the Bible.

The AHA published a version of The Jefferson Bible, adding some critiques of other religious texts, and including at the end The Humanist Manifesto. They gave these to Congress, not because they endorse the Bible or any religious texts, but because they were demonstrating (as Jefferson did) the unworthiness of religion to be an absolute moral guide.

You are right, humanism doesn’t have “…any absolute or authoritative moral guidance…”

This makes you unhappy: “that is a problem for me because I want absolute truth (including absolute moral truth), not merely relative truth or relative morals/ethics. That is because I don't want morality/ethics to be merely a highly subjective system…”

And you: “want the correctness of moral/ethical standards to be as certain and correct as mathematical theorems or at least as the theories of the sciences.”

But there ARE NO ABSOLUTE TRUTHS IN HUMAN LIFE ON THIS EARTH.

I understand your longing for this, as I shared it while I was religious. That is because religion TAUGHT me (and you?) that there are absolutes, that the world is black-and-white, that there is always a precise answer for every situation, that the Bible has the answers for life’s problems.

But when you think outside the box that religion tries to keep world in, you see differently. Killing another human is almost universally considered a bad deed. However, almost all societies make exceptions: okay to kill in self-defense, if you’re a soldier employed by your country, if the growing fetus is endangering the life of the pregnant woman, etc.

Same with stealing. It’s a bad deed, unless you’re stealing food to feed starving children, etc.

Gavin, you say you are: “I am thus an atheist Humanist who is looking for some atheistic Humanist writings that can help me discover, or objectively create/deduce, an absolute ethical/moral system from an atheistic Humanist perspective.” I think your quest is futile, and you are being unrealistic. The reality is that ONE answer never fits EVERY situation in life. Just as Paul in the NT telling one group of people to keep their women quiet in church CANNOT be taken as "every woman everywhere must be always be submissive," you can't live long enough to make a list of every moral dilemma and the precise moral prescription to fix it.

My 8th grade algebra teacher, a woman who spent her life in the exact field of mathematics, used to tell our class frequently: “CIRCUMSTANCES ALTER CASES.”

That is the “absolute truth,” and it’s the only absolute truth you can really expect from life. IMO. And I think we (atheists/ freethinkers/ humanists) can make our peace with that, working from a perspective of equality, kindness, and reciprocity. Religious people with "sacred texts" can never admit that all of human life is full of relativity.

Peace!
Gavin
Atheistic-ExJW
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 2,169
Marsha said:

Gavin, you say you are: “I am thus an atheist Humanist who is looking for some atheistic Humanist writings that can help me discover, or objectively create/deduce, an absolute ethical/moral system from an atheistic Humanist perspective.” I think your quest is futile, and you are being unrealistic. The reality is that ONE answer never fits EVERY situation in life. Just as Paul in the NT telling one group of people to keep their women quiet in church CANNOT be taken as "every woman everywhere must be always be submissive," you can't live long enough to make a list of every moral dilemma and the precise moral prescription to fix it.

My 8th grade algebra teacher, a woman who spent her life in the exact field of mathematics, used to tell our class frequently: “CIRCUMSTANCES ALTER CASES.”

That is the “absolute truth,” and it’s the only absolute truth you can really expect from life. IMO. And I think we (atheists/ freethinkers/ humanists) can make our peace with that, working from a perspective of equality, kindness, and reciprocity. Religious people with "sacred texts" can never admit that all of human life is full of relativity.

Peace!


Thanks Marsha for your comments. By the way I sometimes have a similar problem with using the format of the online meetup forums, especially in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Sometimes I compensate for that by pasting a backup copy of my pending online post into a word processor. That way if I lose the pending post from the website, I still have a copy of it in the word processor file.

Regarding those comments of yours which I quoted above, I have only been an ex-Christian and a Humanist since mid-2010. I am thus new at finding moral answers from Humanism. I also recognize that my goals to find "an absolute ethical/moral system from an atheistic Humanist perspective" might be unrealistic, but for now I am still trying to achieve such. I do realize that it is unfeasible to "make a list of every moral dilemma and the precise moral prescription to fix it" but I am hoping that is possible to make a list of the major moral issues currently facing society and make moral prescriptions for them which work at least as a general rule. The main frustration I have with Humanism is not so much that its moral answers are relative to specific situations, but that Humanists can not agree to what are the moral answers for the same specific situations. For example I notice that in reading individual issues of "The Humanist" published by the American Humanist Association that sometimes there are competing articles (articles expressing opposing moral viewpoints) in those individual issues. I also sometimes notice an individual article in that magazine giving different Humanist moral viewpoints to the same moral issue. These observations give me the impression that all moral answers, including those of Humanism, are arbitrary (and nihilism seems to teach that are no moral truths) unless they are least restricted to being defined in terms of "what is good for human society", or "what is good for the local human community", or "what is good for the ecology of planet Earth", or something similar. Be even in those restricted situations, Humanists still don't seem to be able to reach consensus on moral issues, though certain moral viewpoints are much more widely held by Humanists than others. Regarding nihilism, the Wikipedia article called "Nihilism" says "Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or metaphysical/ontological forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist." If nihlism is correct in either of those two claims, then that is very disturbing to me. It would also mean that the moral system of Humanisim is merely an arbitrary belief system and that would also be very disturbing to me.

I wish you well. May you receive benefits from Humanism and may you prosper.
Dave D.
dcdinucci
Portland, OR
Post #: 73
Gavin, you've left out Humanism (and maybe Buddhism?) in your description of the spectrum, from morals being arbitrary or abstractly contrived (nihilism) to being absolute and unchanging (as in many traditional religions). But I think Marsha and Bernie have already impressively explained why that's true, so I'll try not to repeat them. In fact, you seem to have caught on where you've said "...unless [moral answers] are least restricted to being defined in terms of 'what is good for human society', or 'what is good for the local human community', or 'what is good for the ecology of planet Earth, or something similar." Then you dismiss this because "Humanists still don't seem to reach a consensus on moral issues."

Humanists notably clearly do NOT reach consensus on many issues. (Whether you call them moral or not is largely subjective.) In a recent talk at HGP, a Director from AHA (Maggie Ardiente) spoke specifically on many such subjects for which there was NOT consensus in surveys they've made recently, on issues like pornography and death penalty. It is also true that science has not reached consensus on some scientific issues, nor has evolution reached consensus on some biological issues. You make this sound like a big problem, but the problem seems to be your unwillingness to accept the lack of absolute answers to some questions based on our current information, experience, and context. What if there ARE no absolute answers based on those? What basis would like an answer to be based upon? Would you prefer to have AN answer to none, even if there is no basis for that answer?

It is possible that a practical consensus cannot or will not be reached for some questions because even small changes in circumstances will change the "correct" answer, so practically speaking the answer must be reconsidered in every case anyway. It is possible that consensus to some tough "moral" questions will indeed be reached if/when enough information and/or experimentation becomes available. But it is this very ability to live with such uncertainties that keep Humanists from jumping to the first answer that comes their way, and especially keeps us from DEFINING Humanism based on those answers. It would be like defining science based on the answers to some scientific questions. (Indeed, some people have defined Humanism as applying scientific method to moral questions.)

So instead of being based upon answers to questions (moral or otherwise), Humanism outlines an approach for finding answers to them (via critical thinking, scientific method, compassion, etc.). And in some cases, where we already have significant evidence, experimentally and/or biologically (which is another form of experiment, via evolution), we DO accept some more abstract approaches, like the "golden rule", which show every indication of meeting the goals of Humanism in terms of equity, happiness, and greater good of humanity in general.

This is why I personally think that religious forms of Humanism will be doomed to fail. Teaching answers (based on our current understanding) instead of teaching methods or questions, or abstracting the process into just rituals and holidays, cannot keep pace with changing knowledge and circumstances, and offers too great a chance for "message drift". Even so, just as society at large can take advantage of science without being deeply informed of all the latest scientific findings and method, it would seems that the fruits of Humanism can be made useful to busy people just doing their best to get through life happily, safely, and productively, without the need for them to constantly consider and reconsider the answers to each (moral) question from base principles based on existing knowledge.
Marsha
mwhitabel
Beaverton, OR
Post #: 9
Understand your dilemma - I have only been an "escaped fundamentalist" since about 1994, and it was hard to let go of the rigid rules with which I'd grown up (REALLY rigid ones about personal dress & dancing, etc.). Now I believe I've made peace with the fact that, as human societies evolve, human morals evolve.

I'm still FAR more rigid in my thinking than many of my lifelong atheist friends.

I also understand the frustration that humanists (atheists/freethinkers) disagree on so many issues. I frequently "butt heads" with atheists about feminist issues, which many atheists now consider passe (but I don't). One local woman and I who disagree come from backgrounds as different as night and day. Perhaps we don't consider those kinds of differences as much as we should. We are all shaped by different factors, and a lot of others find OUR experiences incomprehensible at times. Yet we must coexist!

Not totally conversant in various philosophies, but I haven't run across anyone I would consider a nilhist. Humanists seem to recognize that we can't just "do away with" everything.

I actually came on here today to share something about the "New Covenant" - the New Testament - the "new promise" God supposedly made with his "new chosen people," the Christians (this is how I was taught to view it). 1 Peter 2:18-25 (New International Version) "Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh."

Since owning other humans is considered by most societies as a bad deed, how could God condone it? One of the worst things that you can do to another person is violate that person's bodily integrity - why didn't GOD think that was a bad deed? Thus (to me), the New Testament, as well as the Old, loses all validity as a moral guide.

Thanks for the well wishes - may you, too, enjoy life and the search for answers! Maybe we'll meet sometime at a meetup. :-)
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