Do Not Do Evil

Humanists can find moral learning everywhere. And yes, that does include the Bible. My attention was drawn to 2 Corinthians 13 today. Don’t ask why. Keep in mind that I am an atheist in addition to being a Humanist, so when I read things about prayer and god etc I tend to translate them or skip past those bits and look for the gist behind it all. I also haven’t actually read all of Corinthians so I don’t know the context of this section. But just having read the short section of 2 Corinthians 13 there are some really nice bits. Specifically verse 7: “But we pray to God that you may not do evil, not that we may appear to have passed the test but that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to have failed.” The point is to not do evil. Not so that we look good, but because not doing evil is the right thing to do. As a Humanist I can agree with that even though I don’t agree with most Christians about the nature of evil. I think Kurt Vonnegut once said that being a Humanist means doing good without expectation of reward or punishment after you die. Same basic sentiment when you think about it.

Verse 11 is also good. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” I like this not because it enjoins us to come together to pray – but it calls on us to come together to live in peace and to encourage one other to be good people. Again, this is something as a Humanist I totally agree with. That is my vision of how I would prefer the world work. And it is one of the reasons why I write this column and my podcast. I think we all need ongoing encouragement to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment in service to the greater good of humanity.

Humanist moral lesson of the day: Do not do evil.


  1. A very interesting post, in many respects. It is trying to convey a message about morality, but from the humanist standpoint it rings hollow. The post is full of connotation words that your readers will understand, but the connotation means something other than what humanism teaches. What do the words, "Good", "Evil", "Morality", "Greater Good of Humanity" mean? We should encourage one another to be good people - but what does this mean? What does it mean to be a good person, and what happens when we disagree? What is your method for resolving these disagreements? In the end, using these connotation words without defining their humanist significance, your post ends up encouraging your readers to "do good" in the Judeo-Christian sense of the phrase (especially with the Bible in view), since that is the dominant moral system in the West. Surely that is not what you were trying to do?

  2. Hi Brian - obviously - no that isn't my intent. But I am using those terms in their commonest meanings. I have found, through all the talking I have done, with both Humanists and with people of faith, that people actually do share a common understanding of what it means to be good and what it means to be evil. And that fact that this understanding is common regardless of where in the world you are or what you believe or don't, is what makes it a human value. So I have mostly stopped worrying about definitions and have just gotten on with talking about Humanism.

    Yes, there are people who define good with some other marker other then compassion, but that is the exception rather then the norm - judging by studies that have been done on global ethics. In my experience, there is only a conflict about what is good when someone chooses a value other then compassion to define the term. And that is a problem and it does lead to a huge amount of conflict. I write about that in detail in my book.

    Also, in my defense, this particular format is very short. So defining each and every term would pretty much destroy the format. However, I do in my book define these terms more fully if you are interested.


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