HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!

 

God Created Humanism: The Christian basis of secular values by Theo Hobson

This book argues that secularism though not Christian has stolen Christian ideas about progress being possible and the dignity of the human being from Christianity.  It says that secular humanistic values make no sense without assuming there is a God.  One such value is that humanism tries to give universal values - values for all people.  The book can be summed up as, "Humanism is rooted in Christian morality – all ideas of equality, progress and social justice are derived from the Judeo-Christian myth."

I quote from the book and then I comment.

QUOTE: Secular humanism, despite being secular, is firmly rooted in Christianity. Its moral universalism is an adaptation, or mutation, of Christianity. Only if this paradox is acknowledged can we address our paralysing religious–secular split, and reaffirm our public creed. To claim that Christianity is the primary source of secular humanism might sound excessive. But where else did secular humanism get its optimistic moral vision, its idea that human beings ought to seek the well-being of all other human beings? Is this just the morality that comes naturally to all human societies, the evolved instinct for altruism perhaps? No – that sort of instinctive morality certainly exists, but it is frail, ambiguous: it might come naturally to protect an orphan of one’s own tribe, but it also seems to come naturally to see other tribes as enemies, and to treat their orphans with less care.

COMMENT: Rubbish.  The Bible sees moral optimism as something that suits the next world not this one which is steeped in sin and influenced by Satan.   Seeking what is best for all is a principle but in practice nobody does it.  It is not doable.

The line that secular humanism is secular - secular means non-Christian or technically non-religionist - and can be firmly rooted in Christianity is bizarre. "Secular humanism, despite being secular, is firmly rooted in Christianity" makes no sense as you see from what happens when you change the wording.  "Modern medicine, despite being scientific, is firmly rooted in folk magic".

QUOTE: Maybe a widening of morality comes with the development of rationality. But the morality of the brainy ancient Greeks was limited, hemmed in by fatalism, militarism, hierarchy, slavery (their rationality, as we’ll see, was intrinsically elitist). ‘Yes, but modern humanist thinkers overcame such limitations,’ says the atheist, ‘and discovered the great truth of human equality, of universal rights.’ OK, so how did that happen? When one bothers looking into the matter, one finds that these humanists were almost all Christians, or semi-Christian believers in a rational God – ‘deists’.

COMMENT: A lot of labelling going on here.  Why should belief in a deist God - a God who makes but does not tamper with the universe he makes and thus cannot be prayed to be described as semi-Christian?  Are we not calling it semi-Jewish?  The core Christian idea about God is that he is involved so this God is far from the Christian one.

Christianity is an alleged development of Judaism so it is really Judaism we should be labelling this stuff with not Christianity.

QUOTE: Secular humanism very gradually emerged within Christian culture. Which means that the modern humanist principles of liberty and equality are rooted in Christianity. It does not come naturally to us to believe that we can move towards a world of ever-greater justice for all, that all lives are of equal worth, that oppression and discrimination must end. It comes far more naturally to us to see drastic inequality as inevitable, and distant others as inferior. ‘Maybe Christianity played a historical role in founding secular humanism,’ some might say, ‘but that’s all in the past.’ No: secular humanism has continued to be shaped by its Christian basis, in recent times. Two examples: in the mid twentieth century the ideal of universal human rights was launched by mostly Christian thinkers and statesmen. And a bit later, Christianity was central to the civil rights movement in the United States, with its vision of future harmony. Before that movement, secular humanism did not entail the urgent commitment to racial equality it now does. Am I saying that secular humanism is ‘really’ a form of Christianity without knowing it, maybe that it is the final expression of Christianity? No: it is something else, something distinct, but it has Christian roots. Christianity gave rise to a moral universalism that is in a sense more advanced than it – for secular moral universalism is capable of being more universalist, in that it overlooks religious difference in asserting fundamental human unity.

COMMENT: It is luck that made Christianity abandon the racism of its Old Testament.  A truly anti-racist religion would not countenance even respecting such scriptures never mind making them holy and reading them during services as the word of God.  Actually it did not abandon the racism - it just neglected it!

QUOTE: I am offering a new understanding of Christianity’s relationship to secular humanism. They are two halves of the same vision, two opposing sides of the same coin. In other words, the religion–secularism split is overcome when we understand secular humanism to be based in religion. And yet the vision must remain unsynthesized, dialectical. Instead of forging a stable new Christian-based secular humanism, we must accept the endless creative tension between Christianity and the fuller but thinner moral universalism it has produced. I am saying that we must affirm secular humanism with new vim, and I am also saying that secular humanism is not enough, that it is shallow and rather dishonest when severed from its religious roots. Is this a contradiction? No, it is a paradox. The moral-political tradition we inhabit is paradoxical: it is post-religious, yet incoherent when separated from its religious roots. Arguing for the Christian roots of secular humanism means challenging the conventional story of modernity, which goes something like this: secular humanism emerged when people gradually dared to question religion and to see that morality could exist without it, on both an individual and a cultural level – they thus discovered the true universal morality, compatible with rationality. What’s wrong with this story? It implies that this non-religious moral vision is natural, is just there, waiting to blossom forth once religion is replaced by rationalism. In reality, this universal humanism was shaped by the Christian centuries. Humanitarian ideals are not natural, nor are they rationally deducible; they are complex cultural traditions, brewed over centuries. And the main ingredient in this brewing was the story of God taking the side, even taking the form, of the powerless victim; and the promise that the humble shall be exalted, and the higher sort knocked from their glamorous perches. Only after centuries of this myth having a dominant cultural place did the idea of the equal worth of all human beings begin to seem axiomatic.

COMMENT: Christianity is even less morally coherent than secular humanism.  How could religion which says a human person exists at conception be called morally coherent?  It is a core error.  The errors of Christianity are nothing compared to the problems humanism has.

QUOTE ABOUT PROGRESS: 'Surely all cultures are evolving in this direction,’ some might say, ‘for at root all humans desire universal human flourishing. Once people can think clearly (which might mean attaining a certain level of material security), then surely their natural capacity for altruism will blossom.’ But this is not the case. Humans do not naturally desire universal human flourishing, rather the strength of their own tribe. Yes, some civilizations have developed versions of moral universalism, but these ideals have been frail and limited.

COMMENT: Why is he not including Christianity in this frail and limited universalist mix?

QUOTE: Only in the West did the humanist vision develop a robust concern for individual liberty – including the liberty to dissent from the dominant cultural creed.

COMMENT: Ignorant racist rubbish.  History shows that Europe was no paragon of liberty and even today it persecutes in the name of liberty.

QUOTE: It is secular humanism that is strange and different. Our creed certainly does not come naturally. Therefore, surely, it is something to be nurtured, kept in shape, celebrated. But we hardly know how to name this public creed, let alone celebrate it. Am I suggesting that we should daily pat ourselves on the back for being so moral and civilized? Well done us for caring about the good of all humanity! In a sense, yes. I am indeed suggesting that there ought to be more reflection on the benign ideology that unites us, or at least provides our common denominator. As well as clashing over controversial policy details, we should affirm the basic principles that unite us. Look – we all affirm a vision of human flourishing; we want to see the rights of all people respected. Let’s be proud of this public creed! How naive this doubtless sounds. But maybe it is necessary to play the boy who comments on the emperor’s clothes; only in this case, it is necessary to point out that the emperor is not naked. We have a public ideology, worthy of pride, but are too busy bickering over secondary aspects of it to see this. What’s going on? Is secular humanism, like the sun, too bright to look at directly? Is there something about this public ideology that makes it so resistant to affirmation? Something that makes one feel a soppy mug for wanting to cheer it? I have no simple explanation for this deep-seated evasion, only a complicated one.

COMMENT: But humanists and religionists both say it takes effort to be good - it is not as natural as eating.

QUOTE: A possible place to start, I think, is by probing the idea that secular humanism is the natural creed of civilized human beings, for this idea is central to our reluctance to reflect on our creed. Why is this idea so pervasive, despite being so easy to disprove? The merest acquaintance with history and current affairs tells us that most cultures do not subscribe to secular humanism in a serious way (though perhaps most do now pay it lip service to placate the West). So why do we persist in supposing it to be somehow normal?

COMMENT: Religious toxicity is the real problem - it is why humanism is still so maligned and ignored.

QUOTE: Some might say: ‘The West supposing itself superior is the root of so much global evil. Look at Iraq in 2003: the USA and others assumed the right to stride in and liberate a people from dictatorship, but only made things worse.’ But there’s another way of looking at this. The error that the invaders made was assuming that liberal democracy would naturally bubble up when Iraqis were freed from dictatorship. In reality, liberal democracy needs a particular ideological tradition in place. In this case, the West, or some of it, overlooked the uniqueness of secular humanism. A more ‘arrogant’ approach – which holds that liberal democracy is unlikely to flourish in a state without a tradition of secular humanism – might have resulted in more caution. In other words, there is also a sort of arrogance in denying that our tradition is unique – it leads to an assumption that our values are natural. This is incoherent, for it is evidently not natural for people to espouse human rights. So there is a huge impulse to see secular humanism as just another manifestation of natural human benevolence, which comes naturally. And there is massive resistance to the alternative viewpoint, that it is a special tradition. Why is it so unpalatable to us to admit that our public ideology is a tradition?

COMMENT: If we need ideology so much that getting rid of religious ideology means replacing it with another ideology then though ideology is bad it can be a necessary evil.  You would need the minimal ideology for the less ideology and the less ideological rules the better.

QUOTE: Where do the atheists suppose these values come from? Of course, they hotly deny that such morality is rooted in religion: how can something good come from something bad? Where then? The dominant answer is that morality is just a natural human thing: the moral faculty is part of what it means to be human. Secular humanism is therefore seen simply as a fully up-to-date expression of natural human morality. To rational agents, it is clear enough how to be good enough. There are two major problems with this. First, if morality were merely natural, it would be equally present in all human traditions everywhere, in all periods of history. There would perhaps be local variations, but there would surely be no long-standing cultural practices that could be called immoral. Also, it is hard to deny that human moral culture has almost always taken religious form – which makes it a bit absurd to present religion as a force for immorality. In other words, there is a contradiction between calling morality merely natural and claiming to represent a morally superior tradition that liberates us from the blockage of religion. The atheist wants it both ways: there is no special moral tradition, morality being natural; and yet the tradition that sees through religion has huge liberating power – in effect it’s our salvation. If morality were just natural, as natural to humans as the possession of skin, or farting, there would be no such thing as moralistic discourse, or ethics (the theory of morality). These incoherences are heightened – though superficially disguised – by the appeal that some of the most prominent atheists make to evolution. If evolution is the master key that explains the world to us, including the human world, then it must explain morality. In fact it very conspicuously fails to do so. Let’s explore this in relation to the most famous Darwinian atheist. Richard Dawkins made his name as an explainer of evolution, putting the emphasis on the gene as the agent of natural selection, or the survival of the fittest. As the title of his 1976 book The Selfish Gene suggests, he invested heavily in an anthropocentric metaphor, with a dark sci-fi aura: all individual creatures are the mere vehicles through which genes replicate themselves. Such a picture of the world would seem to reject traditional moral agency and affirm a form of determinism. But in fact Dawkins backed away from such a conclusion, and reaffirmed conventional humanist morality at the end of the book. We can and should defy our natures: ‘we, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators’.  But how come we can? Why should we rebel? And, crucially, can this rebellion be understood in terms of evolution, or must we leave such science behind when it comes to morality and turn to other conceptual categories?

COMMENT: The notion that man is the image of God should suggest that morality is part of being human.

QUOTE: In the introduction to a collection of essays in 2003, he explains that he advocates Darwinism as a scientist only: ‘I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.’ A contradiction? No, he insists: There is no inconsistency in favouring Darwinism as an academic scientist while opposing it as a human being . . . For good Darwinian reasons, evolution gave us a brain whose size increased to the point where it became capable of understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them. The first sentence is unobjectionable: one can affirm Darwinism as the key to biology but also insist that it is no guide to meaning and morality, which have other sources. But then, in the second sentence, he implies something else: that we have evolved to be able to see that defying natural selection is our moral duty. Soon he repeats the claim, telling us that evolution may not have made us the fastest or strongest creatures, but it has given humans the ‘biggest gifts of all: the gift of understanding the ruthlessly cruel process that gave us all existence; the gift of revulsion against its implications’.4 Here is a strong claim that the moral instinct is a product of evolution. To say that evolution has given us the ability to understand this ‘cruel process’ claims too much, for in reality evolution has no discernible role in our tendency to judge this process as cruel.

COMMENT: It should be that there is no inconsistency in saying Darwinism is right as a scientist while IGNORING it as a social being.  Darwinism allows for this and demands it for the fittest are fitter the more they co-operate.

QUOTE: In his 2006 book The God Delusion he doesn’t just charge religion with peddling untruths: he fuses this charge with another, that religion is immoral. This ought to involve discussion of what morality is but he sees no need for careful reflection on where his secular moral assumptions come from; he just gets straight on with portraying religion as scientifically false and therefore morally harmful. The pervasive implication is that morality just comes naturally. Significantly, he does not even acknowledge the conundrum we have just discussed, of amoral natural selection somehow producing morality. Instead he vaguely implies that science is beginning to sort the matter out; it has established that humans have evolved to be altruistic in certain ways, and is working on a fuller explanation. He is gesturing with his scientific expertise in a dishonest way rather than honestly reflecting on what it can and can’t tell us. His basic claim, which he does not even deign to state explicitly, is that morality is natural; it is a constant thing, stable throughout history – or would be if religion stopped perverting it. But then he explains that different ages have different ideas of morality, and says that in recent times there has happily been a major advance in our moral conventions. He explains that, whether they’re religious or not, people nowadays tend to agree on the basics of morality. ‘With notable exceptions such as the Afghan Taliban and the American Christian equivalent, most people pay lip service to the same broad liberal consensus of ethical principles.’

COMMENT: The idea that morality comes from God opens the door to the idea that God has set up nature to produce morality naturally.  It can be said that natural selection is only there for without the vicious competition there is no way we can rise above it.  Dawkins could be right even if there is a God.

QUOTE: He [Dawkin's] explains that the true basis of morality is the Golden Rule, which ‘simply enjoins us to treat others as one would wish to be treated by them’. This sober and rational precept, which one can teach to any child with its innate sense of fairness (and which predates all Jesus’s ‘beatitudes’ and parables), is well within the compass of any atheist and does not require masochism and hysteria, or sadism and hysteria, when it is breached. It is gradually learned, as part of the painfully slow evolution of the species, and once grasped is never forgotten. Ordinary conscience will do, without any heavenly wrath behind it.  He seems to be saying that morality comes naturally, to all human cultures, religious or not; it is axiomatic, obvious. But this doesn’t really square with the claim that religion is ‘positively immoral’ due to its propagation of false myths and inhumane doctrines.  For almost all human cultures have been religious.  Is the Golden Rule blotted out by their error? Here again is the atheist muddle about morality and tradition: on the one hand, it is claimed that morality is a natural human instinct and that there is no special moral cause or tradition; on the other, if religion’s power to subvert morality is so great, then there is surely intense moral heroism in the tradition that attacks and exposes religion – atheism must be the true saving cause. But the latter narrative is groundless: modern history does not show humanist morality to be based in atheism.

COMMENT: Humanist morality is implicitly and intrinsically atheist even if not explicitly.  It does not care what a God wants you to do.  If a baby wants help it does not matter what God says or thinks even if he wants you to help.  It is not about him at all.

QUOTE: Grayling’s core claim is that ‘humanism’ names an ancient tradition of rational thought, sceptical of religion, that has a vision of progressive human brotherhood and unity. There is no such tradition.



Instead, universal rationality gradually emerged within the Christian thought-world. This was largely due to the Protestant passion for criticizing religious tradition: ‘the Enlightenment was deeply shaped by values which stemmed from the Christian tradition’. It opposed aspects of religion, yet: in a choice irony, it inherited its brave campaign against superstition partly from Christianity itself, with its rejection of all false gods and prophets, all idols, fetishes, magical rituals, and powers of darkness, in the name of human flesh and blood.34 He responds with disdain to Hitchens’s claim that ‘our [atheist humanist] principles are not a faith’. Are we really to think that such humanism involves ‘no trust in men and women’s rationality and desire for freedom, no conviction of the evils of tyranny and oppression, no passionate faith that men and women are at their best when not labouring under myth and superstition’?35 To claim that one’s own values are just neutral normality is a failure to understand what values are: ‘The liberal principles of freedom and tolerance are dogmas, and are none the worse for that.’36 In its belief that we must ‘shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition’, liberal humanism is itself a myth.37

From around 700 bc, Israel began arranging its story, retelling its myths, writing law codes. This rewriting preserved a lot of primitive stuff, including foundation myths adapted from other traditions, and it gave central place to moral and cultic laws, attributed to God. Other ancient peoples ascribed moral commandments to the gods, or sometimes to one supreme god, but something induced the Jews to do so with a new intensity and new sense of narrative drama. Israel’s desire to tell the story of its morally ambitious national god gave rise to a new conception of history as meaningful. In the early part of the narrative, God’s idea of morality seems rather cavalier. Are we to trust his judgement that Noah and family are the only righteous people on earth, that everyone else merits wipe-out? When he makes a similar judgement in Abraham’s hearing, concerning the cities Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham nudges him to rethink, to look harder for signs of righteousness that would justify saving the cities from destruction. Here it seems that morality, or at least mercy, comes more naturally to humans than to God. Maybe it’s something that’s worked out by God and people together. But the great moral vision is presented as coming from God: he promises to bless Abraham’s descendants and through them all of humanity. And in the book of Exodus he takes the entire initiative, directing the liberation from slavery, then giving his people a new identity: they are to embody the justice of which they were deprived in Egypt. They are to obey him through obeying his commandments. This law was not clearly morally superior to the law codes of other ancient peoples (for example it did not abolish slavery), but it differed in being so closely associated with a particular god and in having such a central role in national identity. The retelling of the conquest of the Promised Land preserves stories of God commanding violence, even genocide. To some modern minds, such holy violence utterly discredits the Bible’s moral vision: God seems like a mafia boss or dictator who claims to defend the widow and the orphan but only cares about power. But this overlooks the fact that in the Hebrew Bible there is a movement towards a more consistently moral idea of God.

In Isaiah’s mediation of God’s voice, the central message is quickly delivered: sacrifices and special festivals are hateful while the worshippers neglect justice: ‘Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me . . . Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.’1 Isaiah was prophesying in the southern Israelite kingdom, Judah, while it was under intense threat from both the Assyrians and the Egyptians. The threat of extinction led him to articulate a defiant faith: God will make Jerusalem the hub of a new peaceful world, with all nations obeying his law. It’s a vision of invading cultures being ultimately overcome by Israel’s cultural influence, its ‘soft power’. In this vision practical political hope merges with supernatural imagery: not only will there be peace, but even natural violence will end (the lion will eat straw, the wolf will befriend the lamb); death will be destroyed and all tears will be wiped away.

The most famous Stoic is the emperor Marcus Aurelius; his Meditations have found many modern fans. At one point he ponders the idea that, if reason is common to all humans, then humanity is one big family or one big ‘city’: it is our ‘common government’.3 This sounds admirably humanist, but in fact this noble-sounding notion coexists with the assumption that only superior people are capable of living rationally and that ‘the inferior exist for the sake of the better’.4 Very often he tells himself that moral action is rational and natural – it is as natural to us as greenness is to an emerald.5 But of course this is protesting too much: in reality it is surely more natural to pursue sensual pleasure, as he seems to admit elsewhere. So his narrative feels rather brittle: there is an elite capable of self-mastery; this elite sees that all humanity is one family. This is not a message of universal humanism in the modern sense, which entails a passionate desire – the Stoics rejected desire – for justice for all.

It is common for today’s agnostic humanists to smile at the earnest folly of this, but in a sense Comte was more honest than they are. He confronted the fact that humanist idealism has a religious character, as the universal creed that tacitly claims to unite humanity. The average agnostic of today half-believes this but keeps quiet about it, shelves the issue, doesn’t go there, shrugs – which is cowardly evasion dressed as worldly wisdom.

We are accustomed to assume that one of the big stories of this era was Science Disproving the Bible – particularly Darwin’s science. But in relation to this issue it’s more complicated: the counter-intuitive reality is that it was the Bible that drove the idea of humanity’s common origin – and science only gradually backed this up. Most science pointed the other way: it put the idea of a common species identity in doubt. The orthodoxy was ‘pluralism’, meaning the belief that each race originated separately, that the myth of common ancestry was bunk. When Charles Darwin began amassing evidence to refute this, he was not setting out to defend the Bible, but nevertheless he was following a moral hunch that there was symbolic truth in the biblical picture.

A happier world depends on people putting the general good before their own good. But why should they? He seems to fall back on the idea that moral idealism is in our nature. So is selfishness of course, but rational thought will show that our true desire is for the good of all. This is very like Kant’s idea that clear moral thought will perceive the ‘principle of perfection’. He says that many non-believers ‘have that which constitutes the principal worth of all religions whatever, an ideal conception of a Perfect Being, to which they habitually refer as the guide of their conscience’.21

No mstter whatcreason we try to give we dont care. It comes down to us finding good attractive

The Principles of Secularism: Secularism is the study of promoting human welfare by material means; measuring human welfare by the utilitarian rule, and making the service of others a duty of life. Secularism relates to the present existence of man . . . [it is] a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable.36

sympathy with others, and novels perform this – so novel-reading is a way of participating in the brave new post-religious morality. But she missed religion and was never entirely confident that morality could flourish away from it. A friend recalls her showing some anxiety on the matter in 1873: earnestly reflecting on the three words ‘God, Immortality, Duty’, she noted ‘how inconceivable was the first, how unbelievable the second, and yet how peremptory and absolute the third.’46 This reveals her latent anxiety that the duty of moral perfectionism might struggle to survive the decline of religion.

the weakness of secular humanism at this time: it inherited a vague faith in moral progress but admitted that there were no secure grounds for such faith (in fact this remains our situation).

QUOTE: Isaiah Berlin, the famous sage of Oxford, said that the state should defend ‘negative liberty’; it should leave individuals alone to do what they want, to pursue various ends; it should acknowledge the ‘plurality of human values’. He warned against ‘positive liberty’ – a strong vision of human liberation, of the common good; this could lead to a new state oppression.

COMMENT:

QUOTE: Politics alone can’t solve our deepest issues, ‘it doesn’t have the language. Religion does’. But which one? Wrong question. ‘When people get all worked up about which religion is superior, that is not religion, that is individualistic, materialistic, territorial ideology asserted through the language of religion.’

COMMENT: Catholicism says that it does not claim to be more moral than any other religion but that it has the truth and in that sense is superior. 

QUOTE: In 2016 Dominic Erdozain has made a similar argument in The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx. He argues that the most influential secularists were motivated by an essentially Christian moral agenda: A visceral sense of right and wrong, rather than a scientific or historical suspicion of supernatural truth claims, has served as the primary solvent of orthodoxy in the West . . . modernity has been characterized by the internalization of religious ideas, not their disintegration.  He shows how Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, Voltaire and others were steeped in reformist Protestantism.

COMMENT: More nonsense. Secularists are about

QUOTE: Authentic humanism is positive and absolute; its desire for human flourishing is unlimited. Secular humanism lacks a mechanism that fixes it to absoluteness (though the Marxist belief in revolutionary transformation is a stab at this). It is parasitic on the absolutism that it comes from and scorns. Am I saying that Christians desire the good more completely than secular humanists? Well, that’s a hard thing to measure, but it is surely the case that they see ‘the good’ in more intense, absolute terms: as a call to moral perfection – an impossible demand that one cannot fulfil but must struggle to; as a demand that exposes one’s inadequacy, one’s inner division between obedience and sin (to slip into religious speech). Christians can face up to the absoluteness of this moral ideal because they have a story that makes sense of our failure to live up to it. The secular humanist, by contrast, thinks in more realistic terms – of being morally good enough by affirming the rights of others. ‘Of course no one is perfect,’ she says, ‘so let’s put aside the unhelpful notion of moral perfection and instead uphold realistic rules of conduct, a moral law – it is enough to be among the morally civilized people, who affirm equality.’ But this is a brittle, somewhat dishonest position, for all humanism, religious or not, is half-hypocritical. All are equal, we say, but we’d rather hang out with an interesting attractive person than a poor, uneducated, smelly one. In other words, morality entails a tension between idealism and our selfishness, and secular humanism lacks a language for pondering this and so evades it. We all have a duty to be moral, it says, and it assumes that this civilized moral way is straightforwardly possible.

COMMENT: Humanism never says it is easy!

QUOTE: In this chapter I have tried to anticipate a basic objection to my argument. Even if humanist morality came from Christianity, this does not oblige us to believe in Christian teaching. It might encourage agnostics to respect this religion but it does not show them how it is inhabitable. So I’ve tried to sketch my understanding of faith as something that is half-inhabitable: as an endless internal argument between acceptance of this mythological and ritual tradition, and rational scepticism. Faith entails honesty about the fact that this tradition is not neatly inhabitable; that part of one’s mind will put up resistance or sulk in the corner. Again, to call this ‘doubt’ is not quite right, for that implies that full belief is possible. It isn’t: belief takes the form of participation in ritual speech-forms, and one can’t stay in that odd water all the time. I’m trying to get away from the assumption that belief is a stable and abstract thing. Instead it is tied to the language of prayer and praise – a language that is in tension with more prosaic parts of one’s mind. Let’s not overstate the instability of this. It’s not as if one is a Christian on some days and an atheist on others, because rational scepticism is in the ascendant. It is a stable instability. Despite the inner tension, it is a stable form of belief and identity. One does believe, despite one’s partial unbelief. Of course, the atheist will be amazed at the open goal I seem to have offered up. ‘Why not just admit that you don’t really believe any of it?’ he will ask. Aren’t I admitting that faith is ‘trying to make yourself believe what you know ain’t so’ (to cite Mark Twain)? Well, it can feel a bit like that – and yet the believer stubbornly sees authority in the cultic language of faith. He sees this language, and this myth, as the engine of life’s meaning.

COMMENT:  There is a difference between respecting the Christian creed, the specifically religious beliefs, and respecting what moral insights it has.