Ethical Decision Making

Discussions amongst humanists are completely free and impossible to monitor or control. There is no central authority to decide on global or other issues, but a shared humanist perspective often emerges from rational, evidence-based discussion. For example, although a few humanists thought that the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign was vacuous “motherhood and apple pie” (and in the light of hindsight they may well have been right), there was little or no opposition to the British Humanist Association signing up to it; few, if any, humanists think that desperate poverty and vast inequalities of wealth are good things – because they are obvious causes of unhappiness and suffering, preventing flourishing and fulfilment.

Humanist organisations usually try to find a consensus, and / or rely on their trustees and staff to decide policy rationally. Where there is no consensus, for example, on pacifism or the Iraq war, or the task is beyond the remit of the organisation, for example, feeding the hungry, it is left to individual humanists to either join with others outside organised Humanism to work for a cause or campaign, or to find humanists of a similar mind to work with. Humanist organisations and individuals also rely on expert advice, for example from philosophers and scientists.

Humanism, like some religions, is global and so may have global contacts and insights into different cultures and perspectives. Religious believers may well, if their judgements on global issues are based on experience, reason and empathy, come to very similar conclusions to humanists about the problems and possible solutions. Sometimes, even though their rationales are very different, humanists and religious believers arrive at similar positions; for example, humanists may be motivated to do something about global warming by concern for the future of humanity in a degraded environment and / or aesthetic and emotional losses as species die out, and religious believers may be motivated by an obligation to look after “God’s creation” – but the results, in awareness and action on environmental problems, may be the same.

On the other hand, humanists do not think that insights and actions based solely on tradition or religious authorities or theological arguments, can be sound. For example, humanists have ideas very different from those of some religious believers about the role of women and the use of contraception and prophylactics against HIV/AIDS, and are very critical of the damage done in Africa by religiously-motivated aid workers who promote abstinence as the only way of preventing pregnancy or STDs.

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