In his Feb. 4 column, David Brooks suggests that religions provide moral philosophies that, when combined with a love for God, motivate people to be good and experience greater fulfillment. Secularism, according to Brooks, provides no moral guidance, no sense of community, and no motivation to “compel sacrifice and service.” As a former evangelical Christian, practicing social worker, and current president of Minnesota Atheists, I have a different view.
Secularism fosters a culture of free thought and careful consideration of moral philosophies, including those from the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam). Religious instruction, on the other hand, commands unwavering devotion to ideas that are commonly embedded into the minds of young and highly impressionable children.
Without a secular worldview, it would be a crime to be gay (Leviticus 18:22). We would be forbidden to wear blended fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11), and we would physically beat disobedient children to death (Exodus 21:17). Long before the Apostle Paul preached about the immoral hazards of women teaching men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), humans have been fine-tuning all kinds of moral codes of conduct.
Nevertheless, Brooks complains that secular-based enlightenment is a perilous path to take in pursuit of moral action. But I think Mark Twain’s secularist perspective is more truthful: “If man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.”
Brooks ended by suggesting that only “enchanted secularism” will motivate people to action. Organized atheist groups like Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota have a different view. Primates, including humans, evolved traits for cooperation and compassion from a long process of Darwinian natural selection. Helping others is a natural human urge, and groups like ours provide an outlet to connect secularists with other secularists and to serve our community with a variety of volunteer service projects. You can call it enchanted secularism, but I like to call it positive atheism in action.
Eric Jayne lives in Apple Valley.