(Note: I expanded this post into a more comprehensive essay)
Somewhat inevitably, Howard Tayler's review of Voyage of the Dawn Treader over on the Schlock Mercenary blog got into something of a religious debate in the comments.
My contribution to the thread was an attempt at writing down the core concepts of a personal ethos I have been formulating over the last decade or so. I quite liked how it came out, so I figured I would capture it here as well.
For mine, I see the pillars of ethical and moral living as a belief in 5 basic concepts: honesty, compassion, justice, freedom and hope. We have to believe in something, otherwise nihilism wins and there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning.
For myself, and humanists like me, I see those five things as products of evolution. I see them as glorious, beautiful things in their own right, the most profound creations of the human race. It is up to each of us to honour and steward each of the principles as best we can.
Others choose to see those 5 principles as something that was gifted to us by a higher power, rather than something we created collectively ourselves over the course of time. I don't agree with such beliefs, but that is only because I see them as unnecessary. In practice, if the outcome is a personal faith that accepts and promotes the same 5 principles I believe in, then I don't really care all that much as to why somebody agrees they're important.
Where I start to have an issue is when groups and individuals either consciously or inadvertently start to disrespect those ideals. Whether the offenders are governments, organised religions, corporations, or specific individuals, malicious deceit, discounting of the feelings of others, inequitable treatment, unnecessary coercive restraints and excessive pessimism and fatalism are all concepts I have fundamental problems with.
Of course, balancing all of those principles means that there are many situations encountered in the real world that have no right answers, only less bad wrong ones, which is why reasonable people may disagree on the correct courses of action. But "getting rid of religion" doesn't magically make the underlying issues go away.
The dangerous religions are the ones that create a priestly caste and then say to everyone else "It's complicated, it's a mystery, don't worry your pretty little head about it". By convincing people to shut down their capacity for critical thinking, they are trampling over a number of those principles I value (especially honesty and freedom). Religious traditions that instead encourage their believers to adopt an attitude of constant questioning are far more compatible with the humanist point of view.