Sunday, April 22, 2007

WASP Summary of the speech of Baroness Whitaker in the House of Lords 19th April 2007, Relgion: Non Believers debate

WASP Summary of the speech of noble Lady Baroness Whitaker in the House of Lords 19th April 2007, Relgion: Non Believers debate.
Full text of speech here in Hansard (or with WASP highlights here).

highlights Main Points & Key Points.

TheyWorkForYou Baroness Whitaker entry
Baroness Massey Wikipedia entry as BHA Vice President.
Action: WASP to Send a message of support to Baroness Whitaker
WASP - Key Points of Baroness Whitaker speech:
  • Ethics - can be unattached to religious belief
  • Humanism - defined
  • Humanism - a brief history
  • Berlin Declaration 2007 - no mention of Christianity

Baroness Whitaker:

My Lords, the idea that ethics can be unattached to a religious belief has ancient roots. It is a significant strand in our heritage which we have downgraded in comparison with faith-based morality, but which can offer help in many of our modem dilemmas. I remind the House of my interest as a vice-president of the British Humanist Association.

I will not rehearse the many Asian, Greek and Roman thinkers, from the Indians of 700 BCE to Seneca in the first years of the Christian era who upheld this idea, but they are most interestingly analysed in Karen Armstrong's latest book, The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah. She emphasises their focus on conduct. It is in this spiritual development of thinking about conduct that humanism belongs and has its origins.

Humanism offers a coherent ethical structure which goes something like this. Life is finite and we must therefore make choices. We must take responsibility for these choices ourselves. Human thinking and human nature are so constituted that we want to justify our choices. We want them to be worth taking responsibility for and to be consistent, hence a system of ethics. The great schema of conduct like the Code of Hammurabi, the doctrines of Confucius and the Buddha and the precepts of the Old Testament prophets are great early ethical frameworks.

Skipping a few centuries, the Enlightenment added a new chapter to the humanistic strand, growing as it did out of the evidence-based discoveries of the scientific renaissance, but, perhaps following the excesses of the French revolution, humanism later became publicly much less respectable. Although nobody tried to imprison Thomas Hardy, George Eliot or Joseph Conrad, the MP Charles Bradlaugh was sentenced to six months for refusing to take the parliamentary oath and had to speak from a barge just outside territorial waters to avoid arrest. I hope we know better now.

After all, humanists were at the forefront of some of our more recent progress. They were active in the founding of the United Nations and its agencies, that great leap forward in human rights, as those who knew Lord Ritchie Calder could testify. They were not against religion, simply apart from it. In the 1970s, long before the setting up of the Inter Faith Network, humanists took a lead in founding bodies like the Standing Conference on Inter-Faith Dialogue in Education and the Social Morality Council, together with people of faith.

Humanism can include many cultural bases. Jawaharlal Nehru said to George Bernard Shaw:

    “We are both atheists but the difference between us is that I am a Hindu atheist and you are a Christian atheist.”.

Perhaps I may put myself in the box of Jewish atheist, very attached to one of the precepts of the prophet Micah:

    “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly”.

But other faiths would claim these values too and why not? I am delighted that the Berlin declaration published on 25 March by the German presidency reflects the broad sweep of Europe’s heritage and values and does not confine itself to the narrow Christian strain. I am also glad that this was supported by many religious groups and all those who think that church and state should stick to their separate roles.

But I also want more space in this country for the non-religious universe. Faith is not the only basis for morality and I want to inhabit that culture, not in opposition to religion but in opposition to its monopoly. I do not think that makes me an aggressive secularist; but it does alienate me from aggressive proselytising. The website of the Department for Communities and Local Government says:

    “The traditions of all major faiths contain teachings commending the fundamental values of equality and respect which are so important to community cohesion.”.

It is not only the major faiths that commend these fundamental values—it is, at least as much, that great strand of non-religious belief that has carried them forward. I think my noble friend’s department has government responsibility for non-religious belief as much as for religion and I hope she will listen with her usual perspicacity and push for more recognition for the non-religious approach. We are grateful for the grant of £25,000; but I think we would all benefit if local, regional and national bodies convened by the DCLG on matters of religion and belief and community cohesion had humanist representatives, who could more accurately reflect the beliefs and values of that large minority who do not profess a religion.

No comments:

Post a Comment