2007-08-18

Beyond Christian ethics: a list spun off from Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto

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by Neil Godfrey

Have just completed Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto and can’t go past the review of the book you can find at that link — so won’t bother with my own. (The original French title could more literally be translated “Tract on Atheology” which would do more justice to the contents of the book, it being less a rationale for atheism per se than a polemical essay against the respected status and functions theology has long held among inheritors of the Judea-Christian and Moslem worlds.)

It is refreshing to see in print ideas that one has arrived at on ones own and only hitherto shared with trusted audiences. I imagine many who have rationally worked their way from faith to atheism have similarly found themselves afterwards thrilled to find such luminaries as Nietzsche having long before paved a way in the direction are now treading. Although as Onfray rightly reminds us, to learn from Nietzsche is to pave one’s own path, not to walk in his same steps.

Anyway, Onfray’s book reminded me of a list of ethical values that to my mind would be one huge advance on the current values that dominate our species. Most are not even hinted at in his essay, so this is really my own list of some of the changes — rooted in science and humanism as opposed to archaic mythical views of what makes us human — that I would think would make for a far more humane society:

  1. Behaviours that cause harm need to be understood in order in accordance with scientific research and evidence in order to be eradicated or controlled. (One aspect of this – certain criminal behaviours – were discussed in previous post. Other posts have pointed to links where clear advances in such studies have gone a long way to explaining some of the worst of criminal behaviours such as the rape and murder of little children. We diminish ourselves if we ignore such findings in preference for instinctive blood revenge.)
  2. This understanding of criminal behaviour will be extended to the general social attitudes towards “blaming” and understanding — and acceptance of — fellow humanity.
  3. Surveys in both Australia and the U.S. point to public support for euthanasia and abortion. The former preserves the dignity of the individual. How much more civilized, humane, free from the degradation of humiliating behaviours and speech, for elderly or terminally ill to take their own lives peacefully and medically when they feel they have had all they can bear, than to feign an accident by falling from a height or driving a car at speed into a tree. As far as I am aware, the strongest arguments against abortion, especially early abortions, are religiously or spiritually grounded, not rooted in scientific understanding and fact.
  4. Peter Singer has found some prominent support for his assertion that the next great wave of humanitarian reform (after the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women) will be an increased understanding and humane response to the conscious pain humans inflict on other sentient animals. I have not been able to argue with the research findings. I am a vegetarian because I don’t like to be part of a system that inflicts such pain and stress on animals.
  5. Faith and belief in matters theological will be viewed as quaint as ancient attachments to mythical tales. Religion in schools will find the same place as Norse and other myths do today — important for understanding literary allusions, and even in understanding the cultures of pre-modern times. Children will no more be taught to be this or that religion than they will be taught to be “Labor Party” or “Republican”. Reason and evidence will be valued above faith and belief in the mystic.
  6. Humour has come along way since we laughed at those born with certain physical defects but I wonder if we still have some way to go with the humour that still belittles those less intelligent or educated than the average, such as the scriptwriters.
  7. People will come to identify with their species more than with the political and social constructs of their “nation”. In other words, we will identify more with what we are in common, not with some historical accident that divides us. Think of the implications . . . .
    • One implication: national or geographical families will focus on genuine humanitarian programs (not current sham PR substitutes) — UNESCO and WHO will be financed abundantly and the General Assembly will assume a higher status than the Security Council.
  8. Pleasure and anything life-enhancing will be good for us. Denial of pleasure and focus on a life after death will be bad.
  9. War memorial services will banish theologians. The theme will be outrage and anger that such things ever happened, not a false-tragic honouring of the courage or entrapment within the acts of killing and dying.
  10. In place of humility and meekness and submissiveness (i.e. slave values rewarded by the powers that be) will be confidence in being human and fully alive and the ability to face whatever life offers and whatever the assertion of human values require.

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