I came across an article – “Are There Secular Reasons?” – which illustrates, much better than I could, a recent phase in my thinking. In December, after several months of personally-motivated wrestling with Islam, I came to the conclusion that all religions are man-made; and while letting go of religious moral codes came naturally and easily (I had long since recognised that accepting any moral code without rational interrogation is dangerous), I did feel a little bit lost without belief in an absolute goodness. This belief had taken root at a young age and remained an axiom of sorts, so I felt like a kid learning to swim without flotation aids.
There are a whole bunch of comments on the article crying foul on the apparent implication that people can’t make value judgments without religious belief, and I think they are right to do so. But I also appreciated this comment in drawing out what should be the point of the article: “Value judgments can never be objective”. My issue has been that I wanted to take on values consciously, and I couldn’t conceive of any basis for values without belief in absolutes. After all, science tells me that my natural inclination towards compassion stems from an evolutionary advantage this afforded in more primordial times, and is therefore redundant nowadays! Reason alone does not inform values.
Now, if religions are man-made, then any values they espouse and the world-views they have erected to support those values are also products of human thinking. So it’s not the notion of divine inspiration in any supernatural sense that I am unwilling to let go of. Rather, I am asking whether mythology (in the positive sense) is an important ingredient in human moral thinking; whether we would be able to reach the dizzying heights of ethics such as “love your enemies” without it. The jury is still out.
I am, however, becoming more confident about taking a pride in my own values, however I arrived at them. My values represent what I want – the type of world I want to live in – and what I want matters; it doesn’t need to be endorsed by some sort of religious world view, nor do I need to let what science says about the origin of my values affect those values. After a lifetime of equating goodness with God, this confidence has wobbled a little without that crutch and then strengthened: I know what goodness is to me, and that’s enough.