Where do we get our morals? (audio)

A discussion between a Christian and a Humanist in front of a packed house, organised by Shropshire Humanists, between Simon Nightingale (Chair of Shropshire Humanists) and Peter Bellingham (Pastor at The Well, Shrewsbury).

Where do we get our morals? By Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well

On 15 January 2019, the main lecture theatre at the University Centre in Shrewsbury was full with standing room only to listen to a discussion between Simon Nightingale, Chairman of Shropshire Humanists and Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well in Shrewsbury. This is Peter’s presentation. Simon’s will follow tomorrow.

It’s such a joy to be here in discussion with my friend and neighbour, Simon Nightingale. I love talking with Simon; we’ve spent many hours lively conversation – and I look forward to many more. My first contact with Simon was indirect. My wife and I lived in Honduras when my mother-in-law Jill was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. As her condition worsened, Simon went out of his way to arrange a place for her in the hospice. This wasn’t a one-time kindness. When I told an elderly friend I’d be debating Simon she said she’ll never forget Simon’s kindness in seeking her out at the hospital when he was treating her severely epileptic son. Humanists want to promote care for others and Simon shows the type of kindness worthy of the name.

Tonight we’re discussing where we get our morals from, or ‘how do we know what’s the right thing to do.’ Not as an academic exercise, interesting though that would be. But rather, to see if there’s something we need to realize so we can do a better job at running our lives and running the world.

Morality means the distinction between right and wrong. A moral person typically makes a distinction between right and wrong, and lives according to what’s right. An immoral person makes the distinction but lives according to what’s wrong. An amoral person makes no distinction between right and wrong.

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Where do we get our morals? A discussion between a Humanist and a Christian


John Nightingale, Simon Nightingale and Peter Bellingham

On the evening of Tuesday, 15 January the main lecture theatre at the University Centre in Shrewsbury was full with standing room only to listen to a discussion between Simon Nightingale, Chairman of Shropshire Humanists and Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well in Shrewsbury.

Peter and Simon are neighbours and friends who enjoy chatting about philosophy and theology over coffee and cake. They have come to appreciate that their moral values are similar despite very different worldviews.

They decided to have this public discussion to explain where each of them obtains their moral values. It was not an adversarial debate with winners or losers, but more of a discussion between friends to help Christians understand the basis of non-religious morality and help Humanists and others who live without religion to understand the Christian perspective.

The meeting was chaired by the Reverend John Nightingale, a retired Church of England vicar and Simon’s brother! After an introduction and a toss of a coin by John, Peter talked for 20 minutes followed by Simon for the same. There was then about an hour of lively questions and discussion with the audience before Peter and Simon each summed up.

The text of each of the initial 20 minute presentations by Simon and Peter is being posted in separate articles, and later the video of the whole meeting will be available on YouTube and linked to here.

BHA: Please, help us fight blasphemy laws

From the British Humanist Association:

The news that our patron Stephen Fry is under criminal investigation in Ireland for allegedly committing ‘blasphemy’ is enough to send chills down your spine. We’re urging the Irish Government to repeal its blasphemy law (passed in 2009), and we remain extremely concerned by a growing trend of European countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, re-activating ‘dormant’ blasphemy laws to silence criticism of religion.

This trend has to stop, and we need to grow and scale up our campaigns against blasphemy laws – everywhere in the world. Please, if you haven’t joined us already, will you join the BHA today?

We also have reason to be concerned by a startling letter published by the Church of England at the weekend, which urged even greater influence for religion in UK politics, claiming Christianity as an exclusive ‘wellspring’ of moral values, and condemning secularism – the very best guarantee we all have of being treated fairly, whatever your religion or belief.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the religious lobbies were trying to drag us back decades and erase the social progress we’ve all fought for, tooth and nail, in spite of religious lobbying. As Stephen Fry once said, in times like these, ‘it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist.’ If you haven’t joined us already, please, don’t put it off.

BHA defends its patron Stephen Fry in face of Irish blasphemy probe

BHA responds to Archbishops’ general election letter

Man sentenced to death for apostasy as violence against non-religious across Islamic states continues

BBC: Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch on Sex and the Church

Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, has presented a series of three programmes about the history of the attitudes of Christian churches to sexual behaviour.

These programmes are available for a period to watch again on BBC iPlayer.

Did you know that until the 11th century the church did not concern itself with marriage, which was purely a legal contract? Social and economic changes made people turn to the church to validate marriage, and the church responded by ensuring it had a monopoly of control over sexual behaviour.

In episode 3 he describes the changes in social attitudes that led to the weakening of the control of both protestant and catholic churches, over marriage and divorce, contraception and abortion and sexual behaviour generally.

Well worth watching!



21 April meeting of Ludlow and Marches Humanists: Taking the Lid off the Mediaeval Church

ludlowA talk by Bob Milner. Bob is a local landscape historian who enjoys delving into the stories, rumour and scandal behind the great (and small) events and people of the past, Bob is well known for discovering the quirky bits of history nobody ever told you!

Tuesday 21 April 2015, 7.30pm, at  The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane Ludlow SY8 1DZ. Email: rocheforts [at] tiscali.co.uk

Noah’s Ark: the “fun cuddly kid’s yarn”

Myra Zepf at New Humanist magazine:

Of course, Noah’s Ark is far from unique in the Old Testament in its gruesome depiction of a vicious God. But Noah’s tale is special. It is the only biblical story, violent or otherwise, that has spawned Fisher Price toys and nursery decoration. It has mutated into shape-sorters, jigsaws and birthday cakes. This act of vengeful genocide has somehow morphed into the bedtime reading of toddlers. Playmobil doesn’t do crucifixions or stonings or the serving of men’s heads on platters. It doesn’t even make playsets for the happy miracles like the curing of the sick or multiplying loaves and fishes. Noah’s Ark, however, with its cute pairs of animals lined up in an orderly fashion to board the cruise of their lives, is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The story’s unique status as fun cuddly kid’s yarn means that it holds the dubious honour of being the Bible text most often given as a present by religious relatives to the children of atheist parents. The pious relatives will typically smile sweetly as your offspring unwrap this faith-filled Trojan horse of a picture book or wooden toy whilst holding their best “butter-wouldn’t-melt-and-I-haven’t-just-tried-to-introduce-religious-material-into-your-home” look.


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