God, Dogmatism, and Morality

“God, at least the God we used to worship, can now be recognized as a device of the human imagination. Morality, it follows, is equally a human invention. Common sense must replace the scriptures and the priesthood as the validator of our moral code. And why not? Part of the modern humanist ethic is the core belief that humanity, not some imagined deity, is ultimately responsible for our common fate and future. We are our own saviors and redeemers…”

–Carl Coon
“Humanist Ethics”

“Is there a distinction between faith in God and dogma and morality?” Former US diplomat Carl Coon’s essay “Humanist Ethics” certainly provides an eloquent perspective on the question, and here is a link to Carl’s full document: http://www.progressivehumanism.com/progressive-humanism/humanist-ethics/

I agree with the points Carl makes throughout his statement, especially the point that we humans have created gods in our own images, and with that sublime effort have also defined moral frameworks for entire cultures. With those frameworks came in-groups and out-groups, and as Carl points out, “[o]ther groups’ standards, where they differed, were usually seen as aberrant, abnormal, and wicked, the result of worshipping false gods.”

Which is why it makes sense, as Carl suggests, to take what good advice we can from world faiths while forging ahead with developing moral or ethical standards based on our shared responsibilities as humans: “The humanist neither rejects old moral principles out of hand or accepts them as a matter of faith. He or she develops and asserts ethical standards based on a candid assessment of the state of contemporary society and its needs. Such an assessment has to be at the same time realistic and visionary. It accepts the social system as it exists and works within it, while supplying a directional thrust based on a sense of where society ought to be heading.”

Perhaps such an examination of current needs with the outcome of establishing a new moral vision seems too utilitarian, too uprooted from absolutist notions of wrong and right for some.  In my opinion, however, we don’t have the luxury for dogmatism at a time when we have reached a precarious tipping point as a species, with our population continuing to grow exponentially along with our needs for food and energy, at the expense of other creatures and the climate. Wouldn’t we benefit from developing global ethical systems to guide our behaviors? We have the capacity to do so, and in this age of global networking, the tools to do so.