The arguments for and against the view that morality is dependant on religion, and to what extent is it more reasonable to argue that morality is independent of religion?
Plato once said, “Is what pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved?” What Plato is trying to make us think about here is whether moral actions are good because the Gods command it, or do the Gods command it because the action is good? In doing so Plato presents us with two possibilities. One where there are a set of absolute morals laws and God commands them because the actions are good within themselves. The other where there is only God and humans, no moral laws, and God commands humans to do things; these actions are only good because God commands them to be so. So which commands which? Morality or religion? There are many views to how religion and morality are connected, we can say that morality depends on religion, morality is independent of religion or morality is opposed to religion.
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Many theists would argue that goodness is something intrinsic to God by definition, therefore there’s no argument, and God is good. And Morality is dependant on God’s authority. So for them, good is always doing what God wills at any moment because if there was no God to command moral actions then nothing would be forbidden or obligatory and everything is equally morally permitted. “God cannot be obligated to any act. With Him, a thing becomes right solely because he wants it so.” However this theory, of God’s authority being absolute to moral actions, comes from many religious texts. Text which can be very subjective and contradictive. Texts such as the bible or the Qur’an are open to interpretation; do you take it as absolute? Or do you weigh up different parts of the text to best suit your situation?
The natural moral law, a deontological theory of St Thomas Aquinas, believed that humans should act in a way that glorifies God, as He is the creator. Acts are intrinsically good or bad. When humans do a good act they are acting in accordance with God and that’s why those actions are good, in this respect, morality is dependant on religion. Aquinas believed that each human being should live their life to glorify God with self-preservation, continuing the species through reproduction, educating children and living in a society that worships God. Therefore acts such as masturbation, adultery and truancy are morally wrong. God’s authority commands what is wrong and right.
Kant declared that to act morally is to do one’s duty, and one’s duty is to obey the moral law. He proposed that all humans wanted to seek the ultimate end of goodness, this ultimate good is God. We are able to make rational choices to achieve these end goals of goodness or God, if we were not free the possibility of making moral choices would be limited, therefore the presence of God calls for the number of moral actions we can take to reach him.
Conscience can be seen as a support of religion over morality; most of our moral actions are guided in some way by our conscience or at least allows us to weigh up possible consequences before taking up an action. In many religious texts, there are stories of people hearing the voice of God, this may be a reference to the conscience. This shows that morality may be dependant on religion. However in such cultures where things will be seen, on a majority, morally incorrect, like in cultures where acts such as sex with one’s cousin or cannibalism are permitted, counter the argument for the conscience being the word of God. As these acts are morally wrong, yet their conscience (whether or not they get guidance from religious texts) says that these immoral deeds are acceptable.
If we look at natural moral law again, we can see that it has one large counterargument. Many challenge the idea of humans being designed for a purpose, and how a common, self-evident moral law can devise day-to-day rules. Also, the natural moral law theory falls down if there is no God. On that premise, if there was no God, then there would be no reason to act in such a way that glorified Him, and a more utilitarian or situationist view could be taken. Also, Aquinas’ theory does not apply to certain modern-day situations, for example, we can look at IVF. For IVF a sample of male sperm needs to be produced, this is done by masturbation, and according to the deontological absolutist view of the natural moral law, this is wrong, as it does not lead to “continuation of the species through reproduction,” masturbation in this sense can be seen as to lead to a greater means, yet a person who follows natural moral law cannot produce this sperm via masturbation.
In cultures where there is seen to be no God, or no God which promotes moral goodness there is still moral goodness, look at indigenous tribes. They conduct acts such as cannibalism, yet, there is still a sense of society and family, where members will look after their young, find food for each other and many morally correct actions. Secular humanism also proves good grounds for debate on the argument. More often than not, there are people who do not follow a religion, do not wish to in any way, or will probably say that they have in no way been affected by religion, due to the family they grew up in. However, these people are often very respectful people and have high moral standings and opinionated views on ethical issues. Yet these people have never read religious texts as children, so it shows that people who are nurtured and don’t embrace God still have morals and want to do the most loving thing to the people around them. So morality isn’t totally independent of religion, in our day and age, morality comes more from the nurture of our parents, not the nurture of our religion. Children’s books and fables tend to add more to a child’s morals than religion.
Utilitarianism and situation ethics are another argument against morality being dependant on religion. Utilitarianism, a non-religious ethic, is based on doing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Not taking into account the minorities utilitarianism can still teach good (and partially flawed) morals. Situation ethics is about doing the most loving act, a mix between situation ethics and utilitarianism calls for a good base of morals. Independent of religion.
In conclusion, I do not think morality is dependant on religion. There is a great difference between religion and God, religion does not make us moral, and maybe neither does God. I think morals come from nature and nurture, like some people are “born gay” and how some people turn gay later on. Our morals change and differ, if even only slightly. With each different case, and the more people look into different cases (Such as abortion) their moral standing will change, even if it’s only a bit. Morality isn’t dependant on religion. Morality comes through nurture and nature.
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