Last week, I wrote about some age-old ethical and moral principles, emphasised in the holy books, having been seen as fundamental for good human behaviour till this very day. I wrote about arrogance and pride, which can make human beings close their eyes to the needs and values of others. Instead, when we are arrogant, yes, I say “we” and “when”, because we all have a streak of it, we focus on ourselves, rather than listening to others, glossing over our own shortcomings and ignorance, and not wanting to see the strength of others. I referred to Karen Armstrong telling us about compassion, and Evelin Gerda Lindner, who reminded us to never belittle and humiliate others, rather promoting dignity in all human beings as individuals and groups.

Sometimes, though, we need to assert ourselves and make our good points to improve and change things, but not being done arrogantly and win points through instrumentalist ways. We must try debate so that everyone is able to see the foundations and elements we build our arguments on, allowing others to take a stand, agreeing or disagreeing. This, the age-old thinkers and just ordinary human beings in the holy books knew, many hundreds and thousands of years ago. It becomes a religious and moral foundation, which we must indeed remember in today’s world, too, as we live in an age when polarisation and populism have gained ground. Hence, we must do what we can to implement the age-old principles of the holy books, those I have mentioned, and many others. They may be considered religious, God-given principles, but they can also be considered secular, giving us advice about how to live with high moral and ethical standards.

When I began my university education in Oslo, Norway in the early 1970s, everyone had to take an introductory course in philosophy, logics and psychology (quite pretentiously called ‘exam philosophicum’). Later, I took a course in the theory of science in Gothenburg, Sweden. These courses were useful to learn to behave and debate fairly in everyday life and in science. Logics emphasised aspects of how we should argue and discuss, and how we should evaluate texts and arguments by others, to establish if they had followed the rules of honest and fair play, not being underhanded and not using arguments which could be evaluated. In sports, such as soccer football, people say, “take the ball, not the man (or woman)”. In my introductory university course, we learned to argue with true and factual arguments, not false, fictitious, and fake arguments, including attacking the person or institution, not the issue (‘usaklige argumenter’, as it is termed in Norwegian). This was an important aspect of learning fair debate techniques—alas, so often arrogantly ignored in everyday life, even in science and certainly in everyday life as soon as the course was over.

We all remember the French philosopher and writer by the ‘non de plume’ Voltaire (1694-1778) who is attributed to the famous statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire advocated freedom of speech, freedom of religion and separation of state institutions, and he is considered the most significant figure in the 18th century movement of ‘enlightenment’, shaping the future of modern European thinking, which opened more for reasoning about issues, basing knowledge on empirical data, and less on letting authorities and the religious leaders decide about truth and right and wrong.

In the new Protestant Church, German and other national languages were used, and since the art of printing had been developed, the Bible and short religious pamphlets could be printed and made available in large impressions to lay and learn. But it took several hundred years for the Protestant Church to become independent from the state. The Catholic Church was mainly above the state. Yet, it is also important to realise that the laymen’s movement was important, not only the state-controlled state church. It is fascinating to study the European history from a perspective of church and state relationship, influencing secular and religious development in recent centuries, including the massive emigration to America.

In my article last week, I felt the need to state that I was not writing a theological article, and this week, I must say that I am not writing about the history of church, state, science and philosophy (mainly in Europe). Yet, history is important—yes, all the time from the documentation of religious principles in the holy books through the centuries and millennia to our time. Sometimes, institutions went astray during history, including religious institutions, and sometimes, there was struggle and change that led us ahead, in religion, science, philosophy, and everyday values, human rights and democracy. Interesting, though, is to realise that the age-old principles in the holy books about what is right and good, are still valid. It is then our duty today to use this knowledge, based on faith or just secular ideals, so that we can make the world better for all. Indeed, we must not be arrogant and proud, which closes our minds rather than open them to new understanding and fairness. We must work to include all in debates and decisions, and in implementation of the age-old principles, not for the sake of doing so, but because it is beneficial and useful to do so – in Norway, America, and Pakistan.a