Ethics and Religion

Ethics and religion

Religious believers who make ethical judgements solely on the basis of their religious beliefs see the two as indistinguishable. So some Christians see the wrongness of divorce as consisting in its offence against God’s law. While some people see their religious and ethical duties as compatible and even co-extensive. For example, some people see adultery as wrong because it is forbidden by God’s law and because it involves deceiving marriage partners. Let’s understand religious basis of ethics;

  • Religion as the basis of ethics – Religious belief can provide a powerful basis for ethics. If people believe that supernatural being gives them guidance on how to behave and if they see this force with whom they have a personal and emotional relationship, their convictions about what they ought to do are likely to be held very strongly. Religion gives them a sense of purpose – as individuals they know who they are, where they are intended to go, and where to look for guidance on their journey.
  • Criticism – There are, of course, disagreements as to which religious world-view is the correct one. These disagreements occur not only between the major religious traditions but within them, for instance, in Buddhism there are the Theravada and Mahayana paths to enlightenment. Within most religious traditions there are also fundamentalist and liberal schools of thought. Fundamentalists tend to see good behaviour as a matter of obeying what they regard as the specific instructions of Holy Scripture whereas liberals in the same religions consider they have freedom to make their own judgements on how to interpret religious guidance in specific circumstances.

There are similar disagreements among people (Atheists) who see ethics as based on secular considerations. One of the problems with basing ethics on a set of religious beliefs is that this provides no guidance for those who do not share those beliefs. These people have no reason to accept god’s authority. Because of this problem, many have sought a basis for ethics in indisputable facts rather than in religious beliefs that not everyone shares.

Does ethics need religion as its basis?
Many people think that atheists cannot have a firm basis for ethical convictions. This is not surprising since most people have lived in societies dominated by religious traditions. Consequently, many people think that if you have no religious beliefs you can have no source for your ideas of what is right and wrong. Unsurprisingly, atheists challenge these ideas, claiming that their secular ethical convictions have firm foundations and they do not need to see other people as created by a god in order to have good reasons to promote their well-being. Their experience of the suffering and happiness of themselves and of people close to them is sufficient to convince them of the value of striving for the well-being of all.