This title is a bit misleading, I think. The article is not about ethics really. Rather it is just a general overview of secularism in different places. -- Dallas
Does Secularism Make People More Ethical?
Barry Kosmin is a different kind of market researcher. His data focuses on consumers targeted by companies like Lifechurch.tv or World Overcomers Christian Church TM. The sociologist analyzes church-affiliated commercial entities, from souvenir shops to television channels and worship services.
But the most significant target of Kosmin's research is the consumer group most likely to shy away from such commercial products: secularists. "The non-religious, or Nones, hold the fastest-growing world view in the market," says Kosmin. "In the past 20 years, their numbers in the United States have doubled to 15 percent."
The director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in the US state of Connecticut, Kosmin is among the few researchers focused on the study of non-believers. This umbrella covers various groups including atheists, agnostics and humanists, as well as those who are simply indifferent to religion.
Secularists make up some 15 percent of the global population, or about 1 billion people. As a group, this puts them third in size behind Christians (2.3 billion) and Muslims (1.6 billion). Despite their large numbers, little is known about this group of people. Who are they? And if not religion, what do they believe in?
"Sometimes I feel like Christopher Columbus on an expedition to an unknown continent," says Kosmin. "For example, many believe that the US population is steadily becoming more religious -- but this is an optical illusion. Many evangelicals have simply become more aggressive and more political."
Read the rest on Spiegel.
Even though it is not the real topic of the article, I sure do hope so. In fact I think just about anything with less lies than religious faith will make people more ethical.
But the numbers of secularists are growing. By now, non-believers have even infiltrated the churches: In a survey conducted by the Protestant Church in Germany, 3 percent of Protestants admitted that they did not believe in God. Church leaders may seek comfort in the idea that skepticism towards God is limited to Western Christian thought. China, South Korea and Japan, however, are commonly counted as being amongst the most secular countries.
That is an amazing number!
Those apatheists (and come to think of it, the whole of human society) would certainly benefit from a serious kick in the ass.
I'm exercising my ass-kicking leg then.
I tend to think that secularism makes people more moral, because it frees the mind from archaic notions of separateness, or viewing others as "the other." This is why secular people are more tolerant (although I hate the word tolerant because it implies that certain issues such as sexual orientation needs to be "tolerated", not simply fully endorsed as human rights) in general; their ethics are more based on empathy, compassion and inclusiveness. Of course this does not mean that secular people are always moral, of course not.
But I wonder about the chicken-egg question: are more morally inclined people also more inclined to be secular? In other words, that secularism per se does not necessarily make people more ethical, but that more ethical people tend to be or become secular. In any case, the spread of secularism is in my opinion a critical step in human progress, that will contribute to a better world.
The chicken-egg question:
Ultimateley we all start out a-religious and (arguably) amoral. We become religious by conditioning, and moral by experience. For most, religion shackles their moral sense, but I think it's never a matter of one or the other. I find that many religious people are highly morally inclined even if totally misguided. I have also met people who are a-religious simply because they lack a developed moral inclination.
Oscar said it best: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
No doubt this is a simple question and it has no simple answer. I disagree with you that we start amoral. I do believe we have an inborn moral sense, even if primitive, that is based on empathy. even toddlers have the urge to be helpful and they "disapprove" of unhelpful behavior.
I think many religious people are highly inclined to follow rules, and have a great respect for authority. Part of our morality is based on this, but I think the greatest (and most useful part) is based on empathy.
I do believe we have an inborn moral sense
How can we tell that this is not set when the initial bond is formed?
Good question. It could be set when the initial bond is formed; many people maintain that it is the mother-baby bond that sets us up for this. But even if that's the case, isn't this instinctual therefore inborn?
I find that many religious people are highly morally inclined even if totally misguided.
To kind of repeat what I just wrote to Adriana, I would suggest then that we look at morality as a means and not an end. They are misguided because they believe things like "masturbation is a sin," but the fail to understand what morality is really for. It is not a specific action (or denial of an action). It is a method to guide our dealings with other people.
I understand morally inclined as being preoccupied with the right-or-wrong nature of things. Concerned by the moral aspects of thoughts and actions. Whether it is guided by antique precepts does not necessarily correlate with the degree of inclination.
Yeah, I get that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that these people are misguided because they think in terms of absolute rules or absolute consequences, even if those absolutes cause harm to others for the sake of being moral (which really wouldn't be moral, afterall). Such as traumatizing kids for masturbating.
although I hate the word tolerant because it implies that certain issues such as sexual orientation needs to be "tolerated", not simply fully endorsed as human rights
About a month or so ago I read a paper on tolerance. The gist, if my memory serves me well, is that far too many people place an emphasis on tolerance as an end instead of a means. You can't just be "tolerant," end of story. It would be ridiculous to be tolerant of criminal activity or rights violations. Tolerance is only as good as the values that support it. Tolerance means one thing for the person who strives to be ethical, honest, inclusive, and fair, and something all together different for a bigoted zealot who thinks he's the only person entitled to the rights and priveledges of society.
I totally agree. Which is why i'm not crazy about the word "tolerant"; too ambiguous.