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

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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.

Read more...

Media coverage of BHA’s letter in response to the Prime Minister

The British Humanist Association organised an open letter which was published in the Telegraph on Easter Monday, challenging recent statements by the Prime Minister which referred to Britain as a ‘Christian country’. The letter’s lead signatory was BHA’s President, the physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and it was co-signed by almost sixty other public figures – including Nobel Laureates, peers, philosophers, campaigners, authors, broadcasters, and academics.

The story was then picked up by hundreds of media outlets both in the UK and around the world. Several of the signatories appeared on TV news programmes, and BHA’s Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, spoke on different local radio stations including Radio Shropshire. A selection of TV and radio clips can be found here.

David Cameron fosters division by calling Britain a ‘Christian country’

Letter from some public figures in the Daily Telegraph on SundayMonday, 210 April:

SIR – We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders.

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.

Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili
Philip Pullman
Tim Minchin
Dr Simon Singh
Ken Follett
Dr Adam Rutherford
Sir John Sulston
Sir David Smith
Professor Jonathan Glover
Professor Anthony Grayling
Nick Ross
Virginia Ironside
Professor Steven Rose
Natalie Haynes
Peter Tatchell
Professor Raymond Tallis
Dr Iolo ap Gwynn
Stephen Volk
Professor Steve Jones
Sir Terry Pratchett
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Richard Bartle
Sian Berry
C J De Mooi
Professor John A Lee
Professor Richard Norman
Zoe Margolis
Joan Smith
Michael Gore
Derek McAuley
Lorraine Barratt
Dr Susan Blackmore
Dr Harry Stopes-Roe
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC
Adele Anderson
Dr Helena Cronin
Professor Alice Roberts
Professor Chris French
Sir Tom Blundell
Maureen Duffy
Baroness Whitaker
Lord Avebury
Richard Herring
Martin Rowson
Tony Hawks
Peter Cave
Diane Munday
Professor Norman MacLean
Professor Sir Harold Kroto
Sir Richard Dalton
Sir David Blatherwick
Michael Rubenstein
Polly Toynbee
Lord O’Neill
Dan Snow

The Telegraph has published an article on this:

David Cameron is sowing sectarianism and division by insisting that Britain is still a “Christian country” an alliance of writers, scientists, philophers and politicians has claimed.

In a letter to The Telegraph, 55 public figures from a range of political backgrounds accuse him of fostering “alienation” and actively harming society by repeatedly emphasising Christianity.

The group, which includes writers such as Philip Pullman and Sir Terry Pratchett, Nobel Prize winning scientists, prominent broadcasters and even some comedians argue that members of the elected Government have no right to “actively prioritise” religion or any particular faith.

Read more…

Prime Minister repeats ‘Christian Britain’ fallacy, promises to expand role of religion in Britain

BHA logoFrom the British Humanist Association (BHA):

Echoing the deeply mistaken comments of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP earlier this week, the Prime Minister David Cameron has today repeated the assertion that ‘Britain is a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so’ at a reception for Christians at Downing Street. Like Mr Pickles’, the Prime Minister’s remarks misrepresent the true nature of Britain and give further cause for concern that government is seeking to politicise religion and misrepresent the demography of the country for political ends.

More worryingly, the Prime Minister also promised that it was his mission ‘to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in this country.’ He claimed that this has been a ‘consistent theme’ of his government and that ‘there’s more [government] can do to help make it easier for faith organisations.’ He spoke out in favour of more ‘evangelism’ in the UK, and stressed the need for ‘more belief’.

In recent years, Government has made a number of attempts to ‘make it easier’ for religious organisations, and has ignored calls from equalities and human rights groups for changes to the contracting out of public services to religious groups, who under current law are immune from Equality Act and Human Rights Act requirements even when carrying out services on behalf of the public.

The Prime Minister celebrated the ‘Free Schools’ initiative for ‘allowing Church schools to expand.’ Religious schools are unpopular with the public and the BHA has been campaigning steadily in opposition to Government policy. The Fair Admissions Campaign, in which the BHA plays a lead role, has also been putting pressure on the Department for Education to change its policy regarding ‘faith’ schools, and it has repeatedly turned up evidence that the expansion of the role of religion in our education system is disadvantaging local communities through discriminatory admissions policies.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s remarks, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated, ‘The vast majority of British people – who are not believing practising Christians – will deeply regret the comments of their Prime Minister today. He is wrong when he says that Britain is a Christian country: most of us aren’t Christian in our beliefs and our society has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. He is equally misguided in wanting to increase the role of religious organisations in our society. This divisive activity is unpopular and undemocratic and has negative consequences for the rights and freedoms of many in Britain. More generally, people certainly don’t want  religion to have more influence in government – in a 2006 IpsosMori poll, “religious groups and leaders” actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government.’

In response to the Prime Minister’s comments on the persecution of Christians around the world, Mr Copson continued, ‘There is a consensus in modern Britain that everyone should have freedom of thought and belief and that persecution of anyone for their beliefs is wrong and should be stopped. It’s right that our country should take a lead in speaking out for oppressed minorities wherever and whoever they are. What is regrettable is that our Prime Minister should try to exceptionalise Christians in this way – Jews, non-religious people, Muslims, Buddhists and others are equally at risk in a range of ways that deserve our urgent attention.’

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