Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Atheism, Humanism and Secular Ethics at the University of Miami

Between September 10, 2007 and today, I've written 82 posts about religion and spirituality. I've been especially interested in the moral underpinnings of the health professions. I've thought of health care as a calling throughout my career. But where does the call come from?

Historically, the call has been seen as coming from god and god's servants - saints, bodhisattvas and other benevolent beings who urge us to care for others. But what about health care workers who do not derive their calling from a theology?

I hope this question will be high on the list of research topics when the newly endowed chair of "atheism, humanism and secular ethics" at the University of Miami is filled. I learned from the New York Times article about the chair that it was endowed by Louis J. Appignanian 83 year-old retired businessman who supports non-theist causes. The University was uncomfortable defining the chair as one of "atheism" studies, but Mr. Appignani insisted that the "atheism" be part of the title, and accepted the addition of "humanism and secular ethics."

In an increasingly secular population it's crucial to deepen public understanding of morality that is not based on religious theologies. Over the centuries, religious communities have been powerful advocates for good causes (e.g., abolition of slavery) but also for evil causes (e.g., "holy" war). For atheists and secular humanists to make a full contribution to the moral arc of the future, we need a deeper understanding of how the non-theological domain functions. Let's hope that the University of Miami chair contributes to this process.

When the chair is filled, there will be a great deal to learn from studying those who are called to the vocation of health care!

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