Many listeners will remember the story of Robinson Crusoe who was stranded alone on a desert island. The first question is "When he was alone did he have any moral problems?" The traditional answer to this question is that our morals are about the choices we make about how we should treat other people. On that basis, Crusoe had no moral questions until Man Friday was also dumped on the island.
Modern life seems to present us with a far wider range of moral problems than was traditionally the case in simpler times. Should we use air travel to go on our holidays? Should we always buy the cheapest battery farmed chickens at the supermarket? Should we use our mobile phones to send offensive messages? Is it OK to shout racial abuse while at a football match?
So to where should we turn for our moral values? Again the traditional answer was that we get our moral beliefs from religion. But do we?
In recent days, Tony Blair a Christian, has stated his firm opposition to the death penalty. But his friend President Bush also a devout Christian, has signed far more execution warrants than others in his position in recent years. Nevertheless, the president is also keen that pre-conscious small clusters of cells that are the start of an embryo should not be used for stem cell research not a point of view shared by Blair.
In our society, those most exposed to religion and moral teaching are pupils in our schools. By law, they must have an act of worship everyday. They must have religious education lessons. Despite all this exposure to religion and morals it doesn't always seem to have the desired effect on the behaviour of our teenagers who, according to recent reports, have earned the reputation of being the most badly behaved in Europe in regard to fighting, boozing and under age sex. Perhaps this is not so surprising if Christians use the morally immature God of the Old Testament as their model for moral teaching. Among other moral decisions, God decided to have the youngest child of every Egyptian family killed by the angel of death. He commanded his warlike soldiers to go into the city (Jericho) and kill every man, woman and child. And so it goes on.
Humanists don't believe that we get our moral values from religious beliefs. Yet, let's face it, most of us are definitely not bad people. We get along with each other pretty well on the whole. Humanists believe that this is mainly to do with the way in which we evolved into the kind of species that we are. Basically, in order to survive we had to acquire the skills of social living and it is this fact that gives us a moral compass. Most Humanists also believe that within every individual our eventual acquisition of mature moral values is a matter of the way in which we develop. So most of those stroppy teenagers will eventually grow out of their adolescent rebelliousness.
Theological religion is the source of all imaginable follies and disturbances; it is the parent of fanaticism and civil discord; it is the enemy of mankind.