New weekly feature on morality

After watching the comments on one of my recent posts about abortion (hello, lurkers and/or new folks! nice to meet you), I’ve been thinking about beginning a new regular feature. See, the abortion debate in particular is one where there are secular arguments to be made on both sides, but in reality the pro-life side of the conversation is heavily dominated by religion. You can’t have a real debate under those circumstances.

This is why, each weekend, I’m going to discuss an issue of morality from a secular perspective. I would love it if you all — regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions — would share your thoughts and add arguments of your own. The catch is, we’re going to do it all without relying on religion. Religious folks are more than welcome to participate in the discussions, obviously; it’s just that this is going to be a place where you have to reason through the policies and actions you’re advocating rather than quote scripture or appeal to your knowledge of your god/s.

No professional moral philosophy experience is required. I’ve taken a few college- and graduate-level philosophy classes in my day, but I’m far from an expert. Still, people make moral decisions all the time, without any kind of formal certification that they are authorized to do so. It’s valuable to exercise our moral reasoning muscles just for that reason — so we can make better decisions.

Another reason why I think this is a worthwhile endeavor for an atheist blog is that, for many people who leave organized religion (and a number of people who have always been on the outside looking in), there is something about the religious experience that they miss because it isn’t commonly available in secular life. There’s a particular kind of community, a network of similarly-minded acquaintances, and some sort of structured moral guidance. This isn’t something that’s ever really bothered me personally, but I realize that it is an issue for many people, and there are certainly those folks who remain closeted about their atheism and keep playing along with their religion just because they want the environment it provides. Now, I don’t pretend to be providing that environment here — and I applaud those people who are trying to build something along those lines — but I do think of this as possibly being a temporary, partial substitute in the meantime. It’d be a group of similarly-minded individuals gathering to work on their moral sense together. I’m in a warm, fuzzy community spirit about it already.

Finally, I think it will be a useful answer to that flavor of religious believer who doesn’t understand how atheists might reach moral conclusions without some holy book telling them what their conclusion ought to be. This is all tied up with the assumptions that atheists must be moral monsters, or people who just want to sin all the time, or people who just hate authority of any kind, and so on. But there are still those theists who have some respect for atheists and are able to be friends with them, but honestly just don’t get how we think about stuff like this. I’m sure there are also atheists out there who never really thought about their moral precepts before and just went along accepting the social norms about what right and wrong look like. This could be a teachable moment for everybody.

I need some time to prepare my first post — which is, yes, going to be about where I stand on abortion — but I can tell you a bit about how I expect this to work. I already have the beginnings of a list with a wide variety of different topics. Some are standard controversies, some are more special situations or hypotheticals, and some of them are issues on which there’s already widespread consensus. There’s maybe a time and place for being formulaic about this, but that’s not the approach I’m going to take. I’m just going to explain my reasoning behind the position I take on each particular issue, or why I think it’s ambiguous with some arguments for each side. My plan is to put up a new one every Sunday (seemed fitting…) or, if I need to split it into two parts, put the first half on Saturday and the second on Sunday. I don’t see this as really the central point of my blog — which will still continue to have weekday posts about religious claims, evidence, and the search for truth — but for the reasons I described above, I think it does deal with a very relevant aspect. The weekends seem like a good place to fit that in.

Anyway, I’m excited! I hope you are too. If you have ideas for topics you’d like to discuss, please leave me comments and I’ll add them to my list.

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  1. Questioning

     /  March 28, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I think this will be great! And I loved what you said about us formerly religious folks missing that kind of community. A good friend and I were just talking about that yesterday. We used to be hardcore Bible thumpers together, and we’ve both now questioned things and come to pretty much the same conclusions. But we sometimes miss being surrounded by like-minded individuals. When you feel like you can’t really be honest with anyone about your agnosticism (hello, I don’t even use my real name here, just in case someone I know were to come across it, as unlikely as that may seem), but you can’t fit yourself into the church mold anymore, you can feel very, very alone. I can’t say this totally replaces that community I used to have, but I have been so encouraged coming here, just to know that I’m not the only one that thinks this way. Looking forward to this new series!

  2. I’m very excited about this, NFQ. I look forward to commenting and I’ll be sure to link-plug it in my Friday roundup this week. I’d love to send some of my religious readers over to understand that we do care about morals!

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