4.1.2 Definitions of Moral Belief Systems

These definitions of moral belief systems are needed to clarify this book’s terminology for religion, atheism and secularism

This book is primarily concerned with governance, so its criterion for what is ‘moral’ is taken as being behaviour in relation to other people.  People put pressure on each other to behave acceptably.

The term ‘belief’ is used in this book to describe people’s convictions as to why they should behave in a particular way.

Many people derive their beliefs from a religion, which is taken here to mean that they believe that there is an omnipresent superhuman authority who should be obeyed.

There are several quite different types of belief that don’t appeal to an external authority to legitimise morality:

●  ‘Atheist‘ is defined as denying, or disbelieving in, the existence of any non-human authority such as a God.

●  The term ‘agnostic‘ can either be used to describe those who regard it as impossible to know of anything beyond material phenomena, or for those who are uncertain about the question.

●  A ‘Deist’ believes in one God who created, but does not now intervene in, the universe; this definition precludes an appeal to God to legitimise morality and is therefore incompatible with the major religions.

●  The term ‘pantheist’ can be used to describe someone who equates God with the forces and laws of the universe, or someone who worships all gods. Pantheists don’t believe in a personalised God who must be obeyed.

All the above definitions of moral belief systems are termed ‘non-religious’ in this book.

To avoid confusion, this chapter avoids using the term ‘secular‘ because it has too many meanings:

1.Anti-religious: as, for example, in Britain’s National Secular Society.

2.Impartial to all religions: allowing freedom of belief, as described later in the example of the American Constitution (

3.Unrelated to religion – which is how the word ‘secular’ is normally used in this book.

This book treats anti-religious behaviour as a form of divisiveness (, and it sees impartiality as one of the political countermeasures to avoid divisiveness in government (  The term ‘secular’ means using reason or some other basis for determining what constitutes moral behaviour.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/412a.htm