Thursday, February 26, 2015

"What Morally Anchors Secularists?"

"What Morally Anchors Secularists?"

I heard a similar question asked today on the radio. The commentator, Phil Zuckerman, PhD, did not have a good response queued up, at least not the way that the question was phrased and this post is my response in the vein of "should've said".

Religions, the question presupposes, are moral anchors. Rooted in a history of moral teachings, the great religions offer a center point that is removed if one no longer believes. There are a lot of responses to this about the failures of religion throughout history, and why such institutions are poor places to look for guidance in this day and age. But none of that really gets to the point: we need no such moral anchor.

There is a correlation between religion and morality, I'll grant you. But as we all know correlation does not equal causation, even if it winks and nods at it. The question implies that religion causes morality, and I think one of the things that makes secularism possible is that the opposite is true. Religion is the byproduct of human morality, not the source of it.

Homo sapiens evolved to cooperate. We evolved to tell explanatory stories. We evolved to feel empathy, moral outrage and to have a sense of fairness. Throughout our history we have tried to makes sense of the world around us and how we felt. We created stories that explained these things. Sometimes these stories became the seeds of religions. Our moral sensibilities created religions, not the other way around.

The reason we don't need religion in order to be good is the same reason horses don't need carts to move forward.


  1. Good point - that it is morality that created religion, not the other way around. even given that, the "morality" of the bible, from stoning adulterers to slaying thine enemy, is questionable form the start, even, I suspect, by the standards of 4,000 years ago.