What is the relationship between religion and morality

Humanists and atheists see no connection between religion and ethics, arguing that it is possible to be ethical without being religious. However, others contend that ethics and religion are inseparable, a common view held by Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews. An atheist would hold the view that morals are independent of God (autonomy.) Humanists hold strong ethical beliefs, however, deny the existence of a supernatural being. A key question here is, do morals come from God? If not, where do they come from? Do religious people stand a better chance of being moral than non- religious people?Plato asked the key question ‘is x good because God commands it or does God command it because x is good? The view that moral rules are true by virtue of being commanded by God is called the divine command theory.’The good consists in always doing what God wills at any particular moment.’ Emil Brunner.The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz writes: ‘… in saying that things are not good by any rules of goodness, but merely the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he could be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary.”To a Christian, to do one’s duty is to do the will of God.’ D. Z. Phillips.If we are being good out of the obedience of God, then are we being good for the right reasons? Are we simply obeying a tyrant who commands us to obey, rather than making our own moral choices?Modern day scholars argue that religion prevents possible improvements of human civilization. Bertrand Russell argues this point:’I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principle enemy of moral progress in the world.’Ethics and religion can be linked by three possibilities.The first is autonomy. Autonomy is a system that holds that morality is autonomous if it is independent of religion. Its principles are justified on the basis of reason alone. It is not necessarily opposed to religion, and can be held by someone with religious beliefs.The second approach is heteronomy. Morality is heteronomous if it depends upon religious beliefs, or it is has been devised that its values rest upon religious beliefs.The third system is theonomy. Morality is theonomous if both it and religion depend upon a common source for their principles and values.Some people favour autonomy because they believe that people obey religious rules out of fear of punishment. Therefore, they are not free to make a moral choice, and are motivated by fear. In addition, autonomy would seem a plausible theory because of the diverse religions in society, which all hold different moral rules. A decision could not be made on the basis of religion, and therefore would need to be made on the basis of reason alone.Some people favour heteronomy because it is inevitable that society is influenced by religious views. It could also be said that for such a long time, morality has been associated with religion, and therefore, it is almost impossible to present ethics that is free from religion.Many Christians believe that social problems can be linked with society, which has gradually moved away from God. E.g., aids, increased abortions, divorce etc.In addition, it could be said that all religions insist upon a moral code as a central part of their religious life. Even non- religious people when discussing where ethical values come from will refer to religious sources, such as the Ten Commandments. In addition, when people require an expert opinion on moral issues they will ask religious leaders.It could be argued that there is some relationship between religion and morality because when people talk about someone being a good Christian, they are usually referring to their moral behavior and not to their doctrinal orthodoxy (whether they hold the traditional Christian beliefs.)An argument in favour of heteronomy is that no society developed morality without having developed religion first, and all morality was originally proclaimed in the name of religion. It could be asserted therefore, that morality if a product of religion, and true morality can only derive from religion.However, it can be argued that when societies lose their interest in practicing a religion, they still maintain the moral values, which that religion originally instilled into that society.In favour of theonomy, some philosophers have found that their ethical theories rest upon something that cannot be described, but can only be approached through some form of intuition or awareness. For example, Moore said that ‘good’ simply could not be defined, but was known through intuition.Some people argue that religion is a source of moral absolutes and this should not be dismissed. For example, Mother Teresa was inspired by her religious beliefs. The abolition of slavery came about party because of Martin Luther King in his assertion that we were all equal in the eyes of God. Such achievement, it could be argued, could only be achieved through faith. However, atheists and agnostics, who do not believe in or follow any religion, can still live truly moral lives. Plato posited the ‘Euthyphro Dilemma’ which raised the question that good must be independent of God, or there would be no way of knowing if God’s commands were actually good or not.Kant argued that morality supports religion. He dismissed attempts to prove the existence of God, but maintained that there is something about morality that makes it reasonable to believe in God. Kant stated that moral acts depend upon the motives. An act that is moral is done for its own sake; an act that is done in self- interest is non- moral. Since a religious person does his good deed not necessarily for its own sake, but because he has been instructed to do so by God, by Kant’s definition, his act is non- moral. Kant’s definition is a challenge to religion for it suggests that one can be both ‘irreligious’ and moral. Acting autonomously, doing right for its own sake, suggests that the right to choose what is right.It is contended that religion provides people with a reason to be moral, because if there were no God, then everything would be permitted or permissible. If we don’t have God or religion, then we need to justify acting morally. Arguable, we could act morally to do our duty to others, or perhaps on the desire to have a civilized society. However, it could be reasonable to act selfishly and look after you own best interests.Peter Singer states that ‘Why act morally cannot be given an answer that will provide everyone with overwhelming reasons for acting morally. Ethically indefensible behavior is not always irrational. We will probably always need the sanctions of the law and social pressure to provide additional reasons against serious violations of ethical standard.’In conclusion, we all have beliefs concerning the nature of humanity. Religious people call these their religious beliefs, and those with no religion will refer to them as their philosophy of life. These beliefs affect our behavior, so our beliefs determine our behavior.If God is the basis of moral values, then such values must be objective, and we are, therefore, faced with the following questions. How do we come to be aware of those moral values, if they exist entirely independently of us? Who do moral facts supervene on natural facts? How can the existence of objective moral values be reconciled with the existence of different conceptions of what is right? Our actions are influenced by our culture, hence the variety of moral systems.”Compulsory RE in schools prevents further moral decline in society.” Discuss.To answer this question, the individual must decide whether or not morality stems from religion, whether morality is independent of religion or whether morality is dependant on an intuitive awareness. In other words, the being must conclude whether or not ethics is autonomous, theonomous or heteronomous.It could be argued that morality stems from religion, so therefore, religion should be taught in schools. Religion helps people to understand what is good and what is not, thus, leading to a better society. However, it could be contended that atheists with no belief in a particular God still live a moral life.It could be said that religion is one of the main causes for war and the injustices that take place in the world. For example, the persecution of the Jews in Germany, and the wars that take place, over a difference in religion. It could be said that perhaps religion sparks of such conflict, and therefore, has no place to be taught within schools. Indeed,’… If we could put an end to religion, what a peaceful and tolerant world it would be.’ (The Guardian)However, if there is no God, anything is permissible. Once God’s existence has been denied, then all his moral laws can be abolished. Human’s beings can forge their own morality, like the killing of the unborn, killing the elderly, killing the Jew, killing the second child, anything is possible. From this, it could be asserted that yes, religion should be taught. It emphasizes the right teachings etc.’Religion prevents our children from having a rational education, religion prevents us from removing the fundamental cause of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethics of scientific co- operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.’ (Bertrand Russell)’All the major world religions teach about the primacy of love or compassion in human relations. Religion enables people to develop in more than simply material ways and justifies a skeptical view of the materialistic culture prominent in the West. In countries where religion has been suppressed- such as in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Nazi Germany, horrendous injustices and crimes still look place. Perhaps immorality has more to do with human nature than a set of beliefs with a supernatural element.’It could be said that religion helps individuals’ qualities such as love and compassion, which everyone should practice. It could be argued that religion emphasizes the values we should hold deer and possess.’Getting children to examine the arguments for and against the existence of God, and to consider the implications for morality if there is no God, would be intensely stimulating for them.’ Not only does religion teach us about values, it provides us with stimulating questions about major issues, which children should be able to discuss.Even if a religion is a minority interest these days, the great philosophical questions face every human being. Why are we here? How are we supposed to act? What can we hope for in our time on this place? Are youngsters meant to get answers from pop songs…? From chat shows…? From teenage magazines…?It had been contended that the United Kingdom is out of step with Europe in that it avoids philosophical questions in its school system. In France, Italy and Spain, philosophy lessons are compulsory for sixth formers. Students must study the great western philosophers and different approaches to the fundamental problems in life. Perhaps here is where the answer lies. Instead of schools practicing religions, maybe a different approach should be taken, for example a philosophical one.However, it has been argued that if we stop teaching children religion then we are not giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves the path in life they want to follow. If they are not taught the importance of religion and how it plays such a huge role in the vast majesty of the world’s population, then how will children ever learn to respect any one at all.Currently, Religious education is not part of the national curriculum, but by law all schools have to provide it.’ The qualifications and curriculum authority, which regulates the curriculum, is currently drawing up a national framework for religious education. The report comes as French politicians voted to ban all religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves, Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps from schools. But, recent research suggests that 2/3 of schools aren’t providing sufficient religious education, and inspectors have warned that as a result, ‘spiritual values’ were not being fixed in the children’s minds.In conclusion, although it would seem religion is a plausible subject to teach, only 7% of Britain’s populations are regular church goers. Therefore, it could be argued that teaching religious studies to children would be of no help. Indeed, perhaps the morality of society is more linked in with society as a whole, and the behavior of the majority. Although it could be said that religion helps combat prejudices within a society, religion should not be enforced on youngsters. Perhaps a system of philosophy or ‘social’ education would be a better system, offering children the same set of principles as religion and the same set of guidelines, as a religion would offer, without forcing them to practice religious ideas such as communion.

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