Ethics Beyond Religion

The Dalai Lama:

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.


The idea that ethics must be set within in religious belief is losing ground, for those that regard themselves as spiritual or not. Ethics being good or bad are not dependent on a religious belief. Whether they are beneficial or harmful is not dependent on someone, either clad in resplendent apparel on earth or sitting in a cloud above telling us, or a book written in a bygone age that can never be improved upon.

So where do we go from here?

The New Atheists are right of course when they fault religion for not living up to its own ideals. They would get no argument from the Dalai Lama on this. But His Holiness would be quick to point out that the moral principles themselves are not to blame—it’s our failure to act on them.

The Dalai Lama recommends a radical new approach: a religionless religion, if you will, stripped of myth, superstition, and narrow dogmatism, and focused on the practical work of transforming human behavior. He wants to incorporate the insights of the hard sciences as well as psychology, philosophy, and sociology into a broad-based new discipline to address our current moral crisis.

But can religion be rationalized into a pure system of ethics without losing its (historically) persuasive power?

Religious Dispatches

Says Richard Schiffman. I am reminded though that persuasive power he mentions was heavily reliant on superstition, fear, intimidation and the force of law at arms through the ages. Not least due to intolerance:

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.” – Voltaire

There is a tradition in Buddhist thought that if something hinders you on your journey, it is time to disregard it and move on. The new road that we can travel on will seem hard due to the baggage we carry, but increasingly people will be going along, spiritual or not, atheist or believer. Because it leads to a society that can embrace diversity while allowing people to have their beliefs.

The future is bright, the future is secular.

“The reality, however, is that in so far as a person really believes that the book he keeps at his bedside is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe, he will be motivated to take the contents of this book very seriously. As a result, Iron Age ideas about everything high and low — about sex, cosmology, gender equality, immortal souls, the validity of prophecy, etc. — will continue to subvert our public discourse. Many of these ideas, by their very nature, will constrain science, exacerbate human conflict, and divert public resources.” – Sam Harris


Related blogs: Why I am not a Buddhist

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

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Filed under Sam Harris, secular

One response to “Ethics Beyond Religion

  1. Pingback: Not Beholden But Free To Think | Homo economicus' Weblog

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