Morality And Religion

The question of whether or not a person needs to belong to a religion to believe it necessary to exhibit socially acceptable behavior or morals has been a topic of philosophical, psychological and theological debate for centuries. The reason why it is generally assumed that religious people are more apt to do good is not very difficult to fathom. Most religions proclaim an afterlife where souls go to flourish or perish depending on their deeds in this world. In fact, many people avoid ‘sinful’ acts for fear of wrath or punishment and more importantly, embrace ‘holiness’ for a post-mortal reward. So, religion does play a role in maintaining law, order and civility in society. Nevertheless, the relationship between religion and morality can sometimes be overestimated and made to appear much deeper than it really is.
Many religions share tenets that exist because history has proven them to strengthen bonds between people, promote good will and inculcate beneficial habits. For this reason, it is possible to detach fundamental and universal morals from religion since regardless of religious belief, several of these morals exist simply because society would descend into anarchy without them thus thwarting the ultimate aim of ensuring the survival of the human race. The existence of morals can be attributed more closely to primal emotions such as love and empathy as well as the logic and intelligence that exists within humanity.
Several principles considered for moral uprightness stem more from common sense and logic than from religious instruction. Consider for instance the general rule that prohibits murder. If random, thoughtless killing were considered faultless, then societies would not even exist to begin with. Similarly, incest can be considered misanthropic due to the genetic risks associated with in-breeding. In addition sexual misconduct can result in several societal ills, including the disorganization of the basic familial structure of society as well as epidemic outbreaks.
Furthermore, several religious practices consist actions that defect from the general, non-dogmatic idea of morality and we need not look far for examples. There are periods in several Yoruba communities when residents are less likely to leave their homes to avoid becoming victims of deadly practices carried out during festivals or rituals. Such activities, for instance, clearly violate the fundamental
human right to free movement. More severe cases can be found in the Spanish Inquisition, the ‘witch trials’ of the early modern period, the Anti-Semitic movement that has existed within Christianity since its very inception as well as the Jihadist movement of the Islamic world. The last is manifested in the radicalization and terrorism that is currently spreading like wildfire all around the globe. Marginalization and persecution of minority groups is also a trait still found in many religions today.
Hence, for obvious reasons, questions have arisen about whether or not religion alone should be depended upon for guidance on which actions should be defined as right and which actions should be defined as wrong. It can also be reasonably argued that free-thought does not encourage ‘immorality’ or the perpetration of evil deeds. Several surveys have proven that less religious people are actually not more likely to act in ways that harm others than their religious counterparts and simply attach their actions more to logic and less to righteousness unlike more religious people.
In spite of the dualism of the relationship between religion and morality, it is important to remember that faith can be an integral part of human life and religion has its own role to play in society. In fact, many acts of goodwill and condemnation of evil acts are done by religious institutions and leaders and intervention by religious representatives have been instrumental in solving conflicts and building ties between people and nations.
The relationship between morality and religion is indeed an intricate one and can hardly be studied without considering the history of religion and the development of philosophical thought and ethics. Religious doctrine can be important in self- evaluation of one’s personal decisions but should not, on its own be an absolute determiner of whether or not an action is morally acceptable.


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