Interview on religion and morality
Posted on October 29, 2012
The Washington Examiner yesterday featured yours truly in a profile including a brief interview on my views regarding religion and morality. You can click through to the Examiner website for a photograph and short bio, but here is the discussion (which, I might add, was 45-minutes long and cut down to fit the paper’s print space).
Do you believe it’s necessary, as famous New Atheists Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens did, to attack religion?
No, I don’t think it’s necessary for atheists to be hostile toward religion. I think it’s necessary for any human being to be hostile toward other human beings trying to make you live according to their religious dogmas. We should all be bothered by that kind of thing. But that’s not unique to atheists. I think there is some room for atheists to be harsh regarding religious ideas and beliefs. I think there’s room for that in the sense that it gets the word out there. It’s more likely to get noticed by the media. That said, if atheists are going to take that route, I think it’s important to focus on religious beliefs, not believers. We shouldn’t be attacking people for believing in things; we should be attacking the beliefs they hold. We only live once — at least that’s what atheists believe. So why not try to be nice to each other during this one life?
The Center for Inquiry aims to put an end to religion’s influence on public policy. Where do you look for an alternative moral framework?
We look to a long tradition of secular and humanist ethics that stretches all the way back to the ancient Greeks, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates and developed over the years by a number of philosophers, writers and scientists. We look to more modern people like Paul Kurtz, who recently passed away and was a secular humanist philosopher and the founder of the Center for Inquiry. I really think it’s two places secularists most commonly look for the roots of morality. One of them is certainly scientific: There’s plenty of evidence, once you accept the theory of evolution, that morality is developed over a long period of time so we can live together without wanting to kill each other all the time. And we’re all born with a basic moral sense, and it’s our duty to refine that. We admit that it’s very hard and very complex. It’s not easy. You have to look at thousands of years of writing to try to reason through and use our consciences and decide what’s right and wrong to find out how we should treat other people and animals.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
Each human being has the duty and the obligation to treat their fellow creatures as best and as nicely as possible. I don’t think we’re put here for any cosmic reason. I think that everyone has to find their own meaning in life, but my own meaning is that I’m only going to be here for 80, 90, if I’m lucky 100 years, so my goal is to learn as much as possible, to become as wise as possible and to use that wisdom to make a better world to make other people happier and feel less harm and more pleasure.