4.2.3 Non-Religious Foundations for Morality

Non-religious foundations for moral values include philosophy, compassion, and rational arguments based on enlightened self-interest.

Although religion remains strong overall, there are many people who not see themselves as religious. They wouldn’t refer to religious teachings when making decisions about moral questions.  According to humanism.co.uk:

“Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity”.

Nick Spencer’s article, The search for the secular Jesus, describes efforts to extract the moral teachings of Christianity from the mystical elements.  He argues that these are unsuccessful because, without a religious context, they fail to explain Jesus’s authority.  As described in the previous section (4.2.2), religious language, belief, and authority depend upon a concept of the divine.  To that extent his argument is valid, as regards the nature of the authority.  It is nonetheless possible to provide a rational justification for many Christian teachings, which have intrinsic value.

If obedience to God is not accepted as a basis for a moral code, and if people believe that they only have earthly lives, it is necessary to find a non-religious basis for moral values.  The arguments must be rational and self-supporting.  The Golden Rule is a sound foundation: ‘avoid doing to others what you don’t want done to you’ (and this is also consistent with every religion).  The following sub-sections describe different types of argument to demonstrate its value as a test of moral legitimacy:

●  Many philosophers have endorsed it in their writings (, adopting a rational line of argument.

●  It has been shown that humans evolved with a sense of compassion that prompts people to avoid harming others (

●  There is also a logical argument based upon ‘enlightened self-interest‘: everyone benefits if people don’t normally hurt each other (



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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/edition04/423c.htm