Letter:Carey and the causes of 'moral decline'

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The Independent Online
Sir: We write on behalf of the national humanist organisations and periodicals to challenge several points in George Carey's interview (24 June). Above all, we insist that religion has no monopoly or indeed priority of concern about either personal or public morality.

He complains simultaneously about what he alleges is the "moral decline of Britain" and about a society in which he alleges that "unbelief has become the norm"; we protest that there is no evidence for any connection between them.

He calls for "shared values" and "common values"; so do we, but we prefer values which are shared by and common to people who hold all kinds of religious and non-religious beliefs.

He claims that we have lived off "the legacy of the past which had been strongly Judaeo-Christian"; we claim that many aspects of our legacy - rationality and humanity, liberty and equality, moderation and toleration, democracy and welfare - belong to different traditions altogether, from the Renaissance and Enlightenment to the scientific and political revolutions of our age.

He asks whether unbelievers have "a logic" for morality and "an ideological basis for ethical standards"; yes, a long and rich tradition of philosophical, biological, sociological and psychological discourse based on naturalistic and scientific arguments has provided a sound foundation for right thought and good behaviour in this world.

And he asks whether it was Oscar Wilde who said that the distinction between men and animals is that man knows how to blush; no, it was Mark Twain (an atheist) who said (in 1897) that man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to! We need a sense of shame, indeed, but not of sin.


President, British Humanist Association


British Humanist Association


The Freethinker


New Humanist


Rationalist Press Association

London WC1