Where do we get our morals? By Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanists

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 Simon’s presentation. Peter’s was posted yesterday.

I recognise some fellow humanists out there and there may be others among you who live without religion and who won’t be surprised by what I’m going say.

In some ways it’s more important for me to talk to those of you with religious faith about non-religious morality. You see – when I speak to religious groups or interfaith groups, the issue they’re always most interested in, what really puzzles them is where non-religious people get their moral values – without the benefit of a Bible or Koran or Torah, Like Dostoyevsky they assume “If God is dead, then everything is permitted”.

And then they ask “anyway even if you can work out some sort of moral values, why do you bother to follow them?” Which is a rather different question – a good question that also needs answering.

So this evening I’ll talk about where non-religious people, like humanists, get their morals. At the end if I have time or during the discussions, I’ll talk a bit about what motivates us to do what we’ve worked out is right and how we can encourage both others and ourselves to do the right thing.
Continue reading “Where do we get our morals? By Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanists”

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.

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

A dscussion between Peter Bellingham, Pastor at the Well in Shrewsbury, and Simon Nightingale, Chair of Shropshire Humanists.

Tuesday 15 January at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. All welcome. Entrance is free and no ticket is required.

Peter Bellingham, Pastor at the Well in Shrewsbury, and Simon Nightingale, Chair of Shropshire Humanists, are next door neighbours and good friends. Their beliefs are different for Peter is a Christian and Simon a Humanist. However their moral values are very similar.

On the 15th of January they are meeting to discuss how they reach these moral values. It is not an adversarial debate, but a discussion to help Christians understand the basis of humanist morality and vice versa.

The audience will have an opportunity for questions and comments.

The meeting will be chaired by the Reverend John Nightingale, a Christian and also Simon’s brother.

Next meeting: 19 October, AGM and discussion on Charity. A great two years!

Painting by Carol Seager
Painting by Carol Seager

In October, the Shropshire Humanist Group holds its Annual General Meeting. We do not have a speaker after the AGM, but we shall have a discussion to which all members and guests can contribute. This year the planned topic is on charity and related issues, following our September talk on “The ups and downs of ‘doing good’”, about a local children’s charity operating in a part of Uganda. Possible matters to discuss include the effects of charity (which Gill Castle talked about at our meeting), distributive justice, unfair inequality and the basic economics of charity.

All are welcome (voluntary donations are requested), and we shall be glad to have new people and ideas involved in our activities. Thursday 19 October at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ.

SHG has made enormous progress in the last 2 years. Following the move to the University Centre as our regular venue, we have much increased our attendance at meetings and have been able to be involved in new events. We have had more chances to introduce Humanism to the local public and enable people to say, ‘I’m a humanist but I didn’t know that I was’.

We have held public meetings to explain humanism in both Shrewsbury and Telford, followed by courses on humanism in both places. We have also been represented at a number of cultural diversity events in Shropshire. We must not forget the wonderful and creative garden by our member Carol Seager at the Shrewsbury Flower Show, which placed Humanism in front of many thousands of people and won two top awards as well!

Our increased membership has enabled us to support worthy causes, including the fund of the International Humanist and Ethical Union to help people persecuted for their non-belief, and our member Noel Conway’s court case concerning the law on assisted dying.

We shall continue to arrange social events as well as our speaker and discussion meetings. Social events enable humanists and non-religious people to get together, chat and make friends. The latest British Social Attitudes survey shows that 53% of the UK population say they belong to no religion, and that rises to 71% of 18-24 year olds.

So, if you are a humanist or you think that humanism represents your beliefs, or you are just interested in what we are doing, please come along!

20 October meeting: AGM and discussion on multi-culturalism

As usual in October, Shropshire Humanist Group will be having its AGM. It is at the University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ at 19.30. (Please note: the calendar may be displaying this as 18.30 – this is a technical error.)
We have been delighted to see so many new faces in the audiences this year, and we hope that as many as possible of you will come to the AGM. We welcome new ideas and hopefully some new members on the committee to increase our activities.
And also as usual we shall follow the AGM (time permitting) with a discussion.
This year the proposed topic is Multi-culturalism: to what extent is it possible or desirable in a cohesive society? Are there limits? Here are some thoughts:

SHG has contributed at multicultural events this year and these events tend to present multiculturalism as the continuation of the ancestral folk music and dances and traditional clothing of particular groups. However, at the other end, some ‘communities’ continue to practise forced marriage, female genital mutilation, coercion of women and attacks on those who leave the shared religion. These practices would be regarded as abhorrent by humanists, and are at least in theory mostly illegal. There have been reports of the authorities colluding in these, for example, police returning abused wives to their husbands.
The question is, where should we draw the line? Should ‘communities’ be allowed to practise and regulate customs that deviate from what is considered normally acceptable in British society, and to what extent should they be allowed to practise compulsion on their members? Should the government support those who leave their religion or try to escape coercion?

Again, we would welcome an offer to open and lead the discussion from someone not on the current committee.
Please contact the Secretary or use the contact form on this site.

21 April meeting: A discussion on Humanism to follow the introductory talk in March

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 21 April at 7.30 pm at University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. We would welcome someone who has not previously led one of our meetings to be the moderator for this discussion.

Here is a report on the March meeting:

The first meeting in our new venue, the University Centre in Shrewsbury’s quayside, was full with standing room only for Simon Nightingale’s talk “An Introduction to Humanism”.

After defining what we mean by life stance and religion, Simon showed with statistics that that living without religion was now common, particularly in younger people, and becoming more common. He explained with examples our core humanist beliefs. Firstly, naturalism, which is the philosophical concept that only natural laws and forces are at work in the work, rather than supernatural forces. So it follows that humanists deny that is a hidden transcendental realm of existence with gods, ghosts, spirits etc or, of course, an afterlife. Secondly he discussed, with entertaining examples, our core humanist belief that moral capacity is intrinsic to human nature.

Simon went on to talk about the core humanist value of reason, explaining that discovered truth (using rational thought and the scientific method) always trumps revealed truth (obtained from a holy book or by divine revelation). He briefly reviewed our social attitudes, including our commitment to human rights (both nationally and internationally) and our provision of humanist ceremonies and humanist pastoral work (i.e. secular chaplains). He explained our wish for “state secularism”, so that all beliefs and religions are on a level playing field, but he emphasised that we were not against religion per se and indeed we strongly support religious freedom and oppose religious discrimination.

He ended with an account of how humanists also have “spiritual feelings”, for example in response to great art, the majesty of nature or profound emotions, but that we believe these originate in our minds, our brains, rather than coming from some divine influence. Simon ended with an explanation of how humanists consider the question “What is the meaning of life?” As with spirituality, he showed that meaning and value are human constructs and so can be understood by anyone, rather than needing a priest or holy book.

We had invited many people with religious faith, for example from the field of Religious Education and Interfaith Forums, so Simon was keen to disabuse them of the commonly held myths about humanism and others living without religion. These myths include that we are few in number, that we are against religion, that we have no morality or sense of spirituality or that our lives are without meaning and value. However the talk was mainly for those who live without religion and we were very pleased in the large number of attendees who asked to be kept on our mailing list or were keen to attend our planned Humanism Course later this year.

15 October: AGM and discussion on the ethics of eating meat

Our AGM takes place on 15 October. We welcome both members and others who may be interested in joining.

Many people say that they are humanists but didn’t know it until they discovered humanism. Please come and help us make everyone aware of what humanism is and what the British Humanist Association does.

We would like some new people to come and help us on the committee and continue our work next year.

The AGM will be followed by a discussion on the ethics of eating meat. There is not only the humane argument about breeding and eating animals, but also the question of the resources required to provide meat. What’s your view? Please come along and contribute.

Thursday 15 October at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. Donations are requested to cover the cost of room hire, refreshments etc.

Change of topic at 17 September meeting: The refugee crisis

In view of the major humanitarian crisis, particularly resulting from the Syrian conflict, but also from situations  in other countries, we have changed the next meeting to a discussion of the situation.

If you were Prime Minister, what would you do? What actions can individuals take? Should humanists take a particular political position on the crisis?

All are welcome. We would be particularly happy if anyone not on the committee would like to lead the discussion!

The meeting is on Thursday 17 September at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. Donations are requested to cover the cost of room hire, refreshments etc.

Meeting on 21 May: tell us what’s on your mind

Hot Potato IssuesIs an issue bothering you that humanists ought to be concerned with?

Members and non-members are invited to propose topics that humanists might be particularly interested in for short discussions. You may particularly wish to raise an issue that doesn’t get aired often in the media or that many people don’t know about.

The format will probably comprise 3 to 4 separate issues, with no more than 5 minutes introduction by the proposer and a maximum of 20 minutes open discussion.

Please send a short title for your topic to the Secretary in advance of the meeting.

Topics could be chosen for a full meeting next year, or a campaign that SHG could support.

The meeting is at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. All are welcome. Donations are requested to cover the cost of room hire, refreshments etc.