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Today Nan's sermon dealt with the idea of religion's superiority over secular ethics. She's talked about this theme before, and while I generally like Nan's preaching, her treatment of this issue really bothers me. Her point is basically that secular humanism has never come up with any morality on its own -- it just stole the ethics of the Judeo-Christian tradition and removed any references to God. She basically said that humanism has no basis on which to create morality because it doesn't have God to hand out the rules.

But I see the issue from the opposite side. I think a morality derived from humanist principles and based on human reason is a very real possibility. In fact, it seems that the modern liberal tradition has been driven by secular philosophy, with religion following after in finding its justification for similar principles. This is not a bad thing from a religious perspective -- looking at things from a different perspective can discover new ideas that can either be reconciled with the original perspective better than older ideas, or just stimulate further thought from the original perspective. To me, for example, a liberal political stance seems to fit the principles of Christianity better than the conservatism usually associated with the religion.

And there's no need to reinvent the wheel in ethics. I think the fact that humanist perspectives have retained much of the Judeo-Christian moral system as evidence not of humanism's failure to come up with any new ideas, but rather of the strength of those morals that both systems agree on. A good ethical system is not arbitrary, so it must be able to be derived from a source other than simply divine revelation. An arbitrary ethical system is limiting and disempowering, because it leaves you stranded when new situations emerge. I think a central theme of the New Testament is that we're not passively accepting God's decrees without knowing why, but rather that we are to be actively working with God to discover how we should act. And this process isn't carried out through some special capacity for ethical reasoning that only Christians have access to.

I think the best moral code is one that would leave you with no regrets if God turns out to exist, and none if He doesn't.


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