There is a tendency to think that ‘ethics’ have a religious basis and must be firmly explained in the form of God’s commands- “Thou shall ” or “Thou shall not". When a fundamentalist carries out an act of terror, he genuinely believes that he is an ethical human being, adhering to laws prescribed by his God.
Religion and ethics need to be viewed separately.
Ethics, to apply Darwinian logic, is a product of natural selection. By laying a proper framework for social relationships, it confers a survival advantage on our species. As this essay explains:
We became fully human when we were able to find ways of inhibiting tendencies to socially disruptive action and ways of reinforcing our altruistic capacities. Practices of punishment may well have played a role at early stages of the process. The crucial step, however, consisted in internalizing the check on our behavior. We became able to formulate rules for ourselves, or to remind ourselves of exemplary cases of conduct: we invented a crude system of ethics.
Thus it is that societies such as ones in Scandinavia that are pre-dominantly atheistic have a well-developed ethical framework to act as their moral compass. Their commitment to protecting the environment or in adhering to a clear code of conduct in the public space emerges from this moral compass.
As Dawkins has explained, religion was an unintended byproduct of human evolution, and is completely anachronistic now. The sooner we abandon it, the better. The word ‘secular’ actually means ‘independent of or uninfluenced by religion”. It does not mean “embracing all religions” as is commonly misused. A secular state is supposed to act objectively.
We need not fear that ethics will not have an anchor in the absence of religion. It can exist and evolve by itself.
The news on Child Protection Services - Barnevernet in Norway taking away two Indian children ( 4 months and 3 years old) and placing them in two different foster homes since the CPS could not understand the cultural difference in parenting practices (ex - feeding a child with hand) makes me question if Scandinavian countries truly qualify for this ethical approach stuff... its heart wrenching to see kids being separated like this. I understand that there are 30000 children per year that are separated like this. The children's father is a geoscientist in Norway
If this is the version of the incident, then it is shocking. But, being a transparent society, they have some checks and balances, and the right sense of ethics will be restored, I'm sure.
Raj- This has been covered by India Today and IBN live too. You may want to do a web searh on Abhigyan and Aishwarya (children), Anurup and Sagarika(parents), barnevernet the CPS. There are some shocking stories there.. what surprises is Norway's reluctance to let the kids even the Indian ambassdor ...
Ethics Without Religion
I have a lot of respect for Scandinavian countries' respect for human rights. This is due to my personal interaction with many of them and the way they approach issues. Indian media usually gives a one sided view. Practically all have missed out a clear statement made by a Norwegian child welfare official who said that they cannot reveal complete background information to the media, in view of their respect for the future privacy issues of the children. So, the issue is deep - and please do not go by Indian media's high decibel approach. Cultural issues notwithstanding, we cannot suspect the intentions of a country ( Norway ) and its governance which has managed to give its citizens one of the best standards of living in the world, including the likes of Brevik. We can sympathize with the Indian parents for their predicament, but, to curse Norwegian system, based on a one sided media view is perhaps loosing a bit of objectivity.
Balaji: As facts are not available on the case, it's wise not to comment, I think.
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