Roy Hattersley at York Ebor lecture. The Good Society and atheism

I went to the Ebor lecture last night to hear Roy Hattersley speak about the Good Society. Yes I know he is Lord Hattersley but we were told he does not like to be called that.

Roy Hattersley was keen to announce that he is an atheist and that all his comments should have been heard in that context. He may be an atheist but I welcome his contribution to this important question.

Listening to him I conclude:

  • He believes a good society is possible, one that cares for all and is as equal as possible.
  • He believes in a set of values concerning his fellow human beings but I don’t know how he can expect others to share his values if there is no God and therefore no cosmic values.
  • He pointed out that religious people seem to use the Bible to justify almost all variations of politics.

How to create a good society is a question we should all think about and all work towards. Jesus went about doing good and all Christians are told in their Bible to do the same, to go about doing good. Christians believe in the ‘good society’ but they call it the kingdom and pray about it every time they repeat the words of the ancient prayer: “Your kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” And in the meantime we should do good.

I think it is difficult for an atheist in our country to comment on moral questions as I think they will have been shaped by the norms of our Christian heritage more than they generally like to admit. Though Mr Hattersley did admit it when he said, “Because I am an atheist, I am obliged to make decisions on moral questions which – as far as two thousand years of history and municipal education allow – is based on my own conscience and judgement rather than holy writ.”

I still think an atheist has the problem of coming up with justification for his or her moral conclusions. After all, if all our thoughts are the result of random interaction of chemicals in our brains, because all existence is similarly the result of random interaction of chemicals and elements, the opinions of an atheist are therefore without any value whatsoever.

If all was at some time created by a thinking, conscious being, the opinions and preferences of that being (if they have been communicated to us) have to be taken into account.

Regarding much of what Roy Hattersley’s had to say, I agree with him that society should protect the vulnerable and care for the weak.

I liked his closing quote from John Bright: “I feel certain that the fort of selfishness and monopoly cannot be held for ever, that the walls of privilege cannot through all time resist the multitude that are gathering to the assault. I believe the powers of good are gaining steadily on the powers of evil and I think it eminently so in this country.”

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