Can Religion by Itself be Moral?

  • Thread starter WendyMay
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Aug 3, 2020
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Here's a question for you. Can religion by itself be moral? Or put a better way, can a person being only religious without any other input be a moral person? Can the mere fact of following a religion create some sort of morality? I say no, it can't. I don't think there's a correlation between religion and morality. I think adhering to religious virtues and law can inspire moral acts, but those acts are a far cry from true morality itself. I'll explain what I mean down below.

Here are a few apparent truths. Some people believe in God. Or Gods. Or their God. Some people also believe that God has handed down a number of rules that we should follow. These rules have been coined our moral obligations. In theory, these moral obligations are basically edicts that are said to lead us to live more moral lives. Now here's the thing, there's a separation between God himself and the rules he has given the religious. By worshiping a God in and of itself, you aren't necessarily a moral person. And by following his commands in and of themselves, you aren't necessarily a moral person. These types of things have already been discussed in two different posts on this site, here and here. So really, and this is sort of tough to explain, there's a separation between our moral duties as individuals and our religious beliefs. After all, there have been plenty of examples of horrible people attending mass every Sunday and wonderful people never stepping foot in a church. But the question remains, can being religious and following scripture and all the commands contained in the Bible lead to a moral life? Truly moral? Let's see.

Ask yourself this question; has anyone on this earth ever been scared of ending up in hell? If so, do you think that fear has perhaps curbed their actions? For example, let's say that someone has been indoctrinated in the Catholic belief since birth and one day wanted to kill their neighbor for one reason or another. As they were plotting their act, they remembered that if followed through upon, they've be breaking a commandment and would be punished in the depths of hell for all of eternity upon their death. Because of this, they don't commit the murder and they stay at home and watch Married with Children reruns instead. So while the Ten Commandments have proven to be a great deterrent in this person's life and a powerful motivation for doing the right thing, they didn't necessarily lead them to a virtuous act. The fact that the person was scared of eternal hellfire may have had more to do with their avoidance of following through with what they were planning. This leads me to the idea that in order for someone to be virtuous or moral, they need to be for the right reasons, not just because they fear the results or repercussions of their actions. If it were any other way, their seemingly moral act wouldn't be moral at all.

It's interesting though because while following the teachings of specific religions may not lead us to a more moral life or to a path of true morality, these religions do create an awareness of what's right and wrong. And honestly, if someone doesn't murder someone else simply because they learned that murder is wrong at church, I'm sure the person on the receiving end of that murder doesn't really care where the person learned not to partake in that type of act. Just the fact that it wasn't engaged in is good enough for them.

And beyond the "commandments" that are taught through the various religious teachings are many lessons of "goodness" as well. For example, a plethora of saints and prophets have taught about right and wrong. Followers have been advised to seek knowledge, appreciate diversity, develop compassion, and love thy neighbor. These types of lessons go hand in hand with what I just mentioned above; that the various popular religions on earth can create a worthwhile awareness of what we should and shouldn't do.

Here's a thought though; what about the religious institutions themselves? Can they be moral? Or perhaps institutions of morality? Think about how much these institutions do for humanity. The church I used to attend back in the town in which I grew up is constantly trying to help the homeless and feed the poor. They don't ask for anything in return. Plenty of religious places of worship provide comfort and support for others. We oftentimes see the unlocked doors to a church passed through at night, just so someone has a safe place to sit and think. An endless number of charities have made incredible moral differences in the world. And so many of them teach that goodness, kindness, and generosity can lead to a more fruitful way of living than the self-centeredness that so many of us are so used to. If this is true, if institutions of worship are places or sources of morality, what about those who are involved with them? What about those who make all of these great things happen? Are they moral beings by default? Does their involvement imply moral acts? These certainly are things to think about.

While we're on a roll, why not ask a few more questions. Let's say that you were born in the middle of the woods with no one around. Years and years go by and then one day, you finally see another human being. Instead of running over and killing this person, you simply watch them with curiosity. And after a while, you walk over to introduce yourself and become great friends with them. Here are the questions: was your not killing this person a moral act? Is anything you do in the woods a moral act if you know nothing of morality and its concepts? Is life without a moral framework a moral one? Can it be?

In general, we live somewhat demoralized lives here on earth. Many of us don't pay attention to what's truly right or wrong and we either do or don't do things because they're either against or not against the law. Throughout our lives, we learn the basic premises of the laws around us and most of us act accordingly. Let's face it, if laws didn't exist, there would be total mayhem out there. We don't not speed on the highway because it's morally incorrect. We don't speed because if we get caught, we'll have to pay a ticket. And we don't not steal that candy bar because it's wrong to do so. We don't steal it because if we get caught, we're going to get arrested. So many of us don't want to deal with the hassle, so we stay on the straight and narrow and that's the truth of it. But what about morality and doing true right and wrong in our lives? If religion didn't exist, where would be ever learn about morality at all? In college, we can take philosophy classes that teach us the concepts of morality as a whole, but we certainly don't learn about evil and good. Right and wrong. Morality and immorality. These are the things that faith teaches us. So the question is, if faith didn't exist, how would we as humans develop a moral framework in which to live? How would we ever know for sure if the acts we engage in are wrong or right? We as humans have an innate talent for rationalizing much of what we do. Would we rationalize away theft? Murder? Adultery? It's the firm religious teachings that don't allow us to follow these types of paths. It's them that keep many of us from acting out in less desirable ways.

If we lived lives of pure science, without the input of faith, would we ever truly know what's right and wrong? Would science tell us? If we did something we perceived as being wrong, would we have to rely on science to observe and add things up for us and to somehow look into the future to determine if our act led to a detrimental outcome? Maybe. But if we incorporated faith and religion into our lives, we could easily rely on the thousands of years of thought to come to a sound conclusion. Doing such and such is wrong, just because it is. We wouldn't have to think nearly as long and hard about it because that's already been done for us. So my conclusion is this: while there are many around the world who don't need to religion to aid them in their moral conundrums, there are just as many who find comfort in knowing that they're doing the right thing, as has been predetermined by some of the best thinkers humanity has had to offer.
Can Religion by Itself be Moral? was posted on 09-29-2020 by WendyMay in the Philosophy Forum forum.

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