“At least nine Christians were murdered by Islamic extremists in Kenya on Dec. 6 because they refused to recite the Islamic Shadada, a Muslim creed, according to International Christian Concern (ICC), a human rights organization based in Washington, D.C.”
It says nothing favorable about humanity’s prospects for survival that there are still people willing to die or to kill for a nebulous concept like religion. Folks, you only have one life to live – the one you’re living right now. And that makes our brief time in this world all the more precious.
The so-called “great religions” of the world have had thousands of years to bring about peace and harmony. But religion by its nature is incapable of doing so. Secular humanist morality on the other hand, is nearly devoid of violence. It fully embraces the concept of kindness through empathy (what Christians call the Golden Rule). In fact, nearly all ancient cultures and religions including Islam have a version of this principle, though they seem to only pay it lip service.
- Ancient Egypt
- (Possibly the earliest affirmation of the maxim of reciprocity) “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.” From “The Eloquent Peasant”
- Ancient India
- “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself” (Kural 316)
- Ancient Greece
- “Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.” Isocrates
- Ancient Persia
- “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.” Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (c. 300 BC–1000 AD)
- Ancient Rome
- “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you.” Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC–65 AD)
- “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18
- “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
- “Pay, Oh Children of Adam, as you would love to be paid, and be just as you would love to have justice!” Qur’an 83:1-6
- “If the entire Dharma can be said in a few words, then it is—that which is unfavorable to us, do not do that to others.” Padmapuraana, shrushti 19/357–358
- “Comparing oneself to others in such terms as ‘Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I,’ he should neither kill nor cause others to kill.” Sutta Nipata 705
And what damn good has it done? How many people each day are in one way or another abused, maimed, raped, robbed, imprisoned or just killed outright in the name of religion? Even one is too many. What good is the Golden Rule if no one obeys it?
Certainly there are those who live by this principle. I can honestly say that I do. But I do not do so because of some mythical authority figure’s threats of eternal punishment. Reasonable people do not require a book of scriptures to be good people. You do not need to be threatened, coerced or cajoled to be a decent human being. You need only empathy and common sense. But belief in the supernatural (which is what all religions are) is in itself irrational, therefore leading many people to behave irrationally. Those who believe with absolute conviction, regardless how decent a person they may otherwise be, are subject to doing harm to others. No religion is excepted from this, though some are worse than others.
The wildly violent Muslim extremists, the rape of children within the Catholic and Protestant faiths and other evil acts throughout all the world’s religions are evidence that religion is at best irrelevant to human behavior. At worst, it’s a detriment. Do non-religious people commit atrocities? Of course. As I said above, religion is irrelevant to human behavior. But those who rely upon reason and empathy to govern their actions are far less likely to do harm to others than those who think they’re following a higher authority. If you doubt me, check out the percentage of atheists in federal prisons. It’s little more than a rounding error (generally hovers around 0.1%).
Consider: According to Christian doctrine, a man who rapes and murders a child and goes to death row, but is then “saved by the grace of God” will go to Heaven just like that little girl he killed. What a convenient loophole. A Muslim suicide bomber who wipes out 200 people in a school does so in the firm belief that he’s going to Heaven to be with Allah. Peace be upon Him.
Where is the accountability? There is none as long as one embraces some religion or another. It is the belief in an afterlife, a belief that this life is somehow just a prep session for the next one, that greatly reduces the value of human life here and now. Instead of the Golden Rule, too many people are doing evil unto others to reserve their place in the Great Hereafter, or perhaps they believe their position within their church of choice will grant them amnesty (works for Catholics). Perhaps they think that they’ve done so much good that it outweighs the harm they’ve done. Or, you know, maybe they’re just assholes.
The Humanist perspective on the principle is well-explained by Maria MacLachlan (emphasis is mine):
Humanists accept that this is the only life we can know we have and that it is up to us to try to live it to the full. It is the responsibility of all of us to co-operate in trying to find solutions to the world’s problems and to preserve the planet for the future of humankind.
Humanists agree that human nature and experience are the only sources of morality. When we make decisions and judgments about others, we try to use reason and humanity and to judge each situation on its merits. This means keeping an open mind and examining all the available evidence.
Humanists embrace the moral principle known as the Golden Rule. This means we believe that people should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.
This principle… this Golden Rule is the only rule humanity needs follow to find true peace and harmony. But as long as the world’s various religions continue to war upon one another (and upon themselves), and as long as those of us who instead choose reality over myth are abused as well, we will never know peace. Sadly, Earth is a dangerous place. Even sadder is the fact that it does not have to be.
Sources and Related Reading