Religious Views of Morality

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Morality originating from beyond the self. It is derived from religious Beliefs or values.
This belief places morality in the context of a social, cultural and theological setting, and in the ethical traditions of previous thinking. The theory is that a person cannot avoid being influenced by religious teaching, since much of the thinking about Ethical issues has been in the religious forum. Religion places Ethics in the context of real life – the Sturm und Drang of everyday existence.
In this way, religious ethics are rooted in everyday life, and much of religious ethical experience has been in the context of the pastoral work undertaken by religion. Religious belief is a metaphysical framework for dealing with daily life, and is realistic about human frailty.
Morality comes from God. It is derived from a universal source, namely God Himself.
Morality is derived from the same mystical metaphysical experience. This religious experience provides a framework within which moral behaviour is a part. Moral codes are interpretive accounts of theophany and religious experience. Often moral behaviour is seen as a part of the religious person’s response to their religious experience. Moral behaviour is part and parcel of religious behaviour.
Religious Moral Teaching
Buddhism The basis of Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths
1. Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth.
2. All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that result from such ignorance.
3. Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment.
4. The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories; morality, wisdom, and concentration.
To carry these through in everyday life, Buddhists follow the Five Precepts. These are
  • (1) not to take life,
  • (2) only to take what is freely given,
  • (3) Never to take more than is needed,
  • (4) Never to tell lies or falsehoods,
  • (5) Never to act thoughtlessly. A more stringent set of rules applies to monks and nuns. The Five Precepts preclude alcohol and narcotics and irresponsible sexual habits, while they encourage alms giving and a sense of compassion for all living beings.
The aim of Buddhist ethical behaviour is to maintain a good Karma. Karma consists of a person’s acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice. The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One’s karma determines such matters as one’s species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status.
Christian Ethics
Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, and the first Christians applied the laws of the Torah to their lives. As non-Jewish converts began to gain more power in the Early Church, the Torah was called into question, and Jesus’ teaching concerning the Law was closely examined. It was believed that Jesus taught an application of the Law in principle, rather than in the legalistic way proposed by the Jewish teachers of the perceived aim of obeying the Torah) was to love one’s neighbour. He proposed an ethical system based on the principles of the Torah, bit less deontological (i.e. the “schience of duty”) and more compassionate.
Moral authority varies in Chirstianity. It is a broad religion, and diffeerent groups emphasise different authorities:-
(1) The Church is a source of Spiritual and Moral Authority
(2) The Bible, containing the Torah, and the other Jewish scriptural works, along with the Gospels and Epistles which contain the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.
(3) Reason and Interpretation – this variously applies to human reasoning used in interpreting the teachings in the Bible, or of the Church, or perhaps simply to give assent to these teachings.
(4) Inspiration, the work of the Holy Spirit in the World, is also seen as providing a source of morally authoritative teaching.
(5) Conscience, seen as the gift of God to human beings to govern their moral and ethical behaviour.
The over-riding principle of Jesus’ teaching is put into the formula known as the “Golden Rule”.
Golden Rule, precept of altruistic behavior, that is, that people should do to others as they would have others do to them (see Altruism). With the Ten Commandments, it serves as a proverbial guideline of conduct for Christians, Jews, and others. It is derived in its modern form from Jewish and Christian sources. The negative form of the rule was stated in Jewish literature, as in the Book of Tobit (4:15) in the Apocrypha: “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.” It was also stated negatively by Confucius and other teachers of ethics. The Christian rule, which posits a fraternal ethic from the practical basis of personal realism, is taken from two New Testament passages, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Both Gospel texts report the exhortation of Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount.
As a paradigm of this principle in action, Christians look to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, interpreting the Torah’s exhortation to “Love the Lord your God, and your neighbour as yourself” in its widest sense.
Islamic Ethics
Muslim Ethics are based on the Koran, which is regarded as the Word of Allah given to Mohammed, and on the Hadith, which is a vast collection of sayings and stories which have passed into the canon of Islamic Ethics.
The Koran declares that “reforming the earth” is the ideal of human endeavor. The basic criticism of humanity in the Koran is that it is too proud and too petty, narrowminded, and selfish. “Man is by nature timid,” says the Koran. “When evil befalls him, he panics, but when good things come to him he prevents them from reaching others” Individuals become so selfish that they lose sight of its Creator—only when nature fails them do they, in their utter frustration, turn to God.
The Koran insists that individuals maintain a concern for their fellow human beings. By doing so, they will develop the inner moral quality that the Koran calls “fear of God,” (meaning “to guard against danger”). By this quality humans can tell right from wrong and, above all, can evaluate their own actions properly, escaping self-deception, a danger to which they are always exposed.
As Muslims engage in this struggle, they are engaged in a “Holy War”, an inner Jihad. When the struggle to implement the teachings of the Koran broadens to involve others, and to nclude armed struggle, it becomes known as greater Jihad.
Islamic Ethical teaching has been influenced by philosophy, especially the medieval philosophers that were working on the Aristotelian works that sparked the Scholastic movement. The legalistic interpretation of the Koran has been modified by custom (N.B. Many of the extremes of Islam, that attract the condemnation of the “Christian West”, are often more cultural than Muslim!), by humanistic, philosophical and mystical reflections on the nature of Allah.
Jewish Ethics
The Torah is the basis of all Jewish Ethical teaching. The Torah is believed to have been given to Moses by God. It contains 613 mitzvot, or Commandments governing the day-to-day lives of Jews. Roughly two thirds of these commandments are positive. The Jew submits himself to these out of love for God, expressed through the Covenant. This covenant beteen Man and God is summed up in the Shema:-
“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your Heart, and with all your Soul, and with all your Strength” Deuteronomy 6:4
Loving God is done by carrying out the Commandments.
As the Jews carreid out their daily lives, questions of interpretation of the Law came up, and the Rabbis (Teachers) discussed the best rendering of the Law. Their explanations about how the Law sould be obeyed were codified ans collected together to form a vast and complex collection of writings called the Talmud. The overall application of these tachings througout the daily lives of Jews is called the Halakah, and advice is issued on following the Halakah by Rabbinical Courts (the Bet Din).
Many Jews, influenced by the changes of the world around them, have sought a more contemporary interpretation of the Torah. They claim to be keeping the commandments in principle if not by the letter. These Liberal or Reform Jews see their religious practices as being an expression of love for God without the rigorous application of the letter of the Law.
Hindu Ethics
Hinduism is a vast and diverse system of beliefs, practices and customs, loosely grouped under the umbrella of Indian Culture. What follows is a summary of the main points of Intellectual Hinduism, as practiced by the more educated, urban Hindu. Many peasant Hindus practice a religion more akin to the animism of indigenous tribal belief. In the Upanishads, there are four principles applied to Human Life:-
  • Wealth (Artha)
  • Desire (Karma)
  • Duty (Dharma)
  • All leading to salvation, or liberation from the cycle of reincarnation – Moksha
Karma (Sanskrit for “action”), in Indian philosophy, the sum total of a person’s actions, good or bad. These actions are attached to the soul as it transmigrates and each new body (and each event experienced by that body) is determined by previous karma. The belief in karma, which can be traced to the Upanishads, is accepted by all Hindus, although they differ on many points: Some aspire to amass good karma and a good rebirth, while others, regarding all karma as bad, strive for release from the process of rebirth (samsara) altogether; some believe that karma determines all that happens to a person, whereas others attribute a larger role to destiny, divine intervention, or human effort. One form of karma (prarabdha) is believed to be determined at birth and worked out during the present life; another form (sanchita) remains latent during this life; and a third (sanchiyamana), amassed in this lifetime, matures in a future life.
Each Hindu belings to a particular social group, known as a Caste. Withi a person’s life there are stages (or Ashrams), each stage bringing with it a different set of artha, karma and dharma. Often when a child is born, complex charts are drawn up to indicate what it’s dharma will be through each stage in its life. Fulfilling its duties, including moral obligations, for the sake of God, leads eventually to Moksha (but only after many lives).
Sikh Ethics
Sikhism stresses the unity, truth, and creativity of a personal God and teaches union with him through meditation the Name or God, and surrender to his will. It also advocates active service rather than the Hindu ideal of ascetic withdrawal. Loyalty and justice are admired, smoking and intoxicants forbidden. Sikhism also rejects the Hindu caste system, priesthood, image worship, and pilgrimage, although it retains the Hindu teaching concerning reincarnation and karma.
The ultimate spiritual authority is the Guru Granth Sahib, consisting of hymns by the ten Sikh gurus (“teachers”) and Hindu and Muslim devotional poetry in several languages. It teaches self-control, forgiveness, commitment, love for God and humility. These five values are demonstrated in the organisation and architecture of the Gurdwara (place of Worship), which has no seats or pews (everyone sits as equal), a langar (kitchen) where everyone takes part in prepariong a communal mneal, and (in the case of the Golden temple at Amritsar, the centre of Sikhism) doors facing the four points of the compass, idicating open-ness to everyone.
All Sikhs have a duty to provide help for those wo need it. Sikhs immerse themselves in society and community, and in living out the three duties:-
  • (1) Keeping the name of God in your thoughts
  • (2) Earming a living by honest means
  • (3) Community Service (highly valued by Sikhs)
Some Sikhs join the Khalsa. The name means “pure”, referring to the inner circle of the guru’s chosen. They take names that indicate equality (all males are known as Singh (Lion), while all females are called Kaur, meaning princess. Members of the Khalsa have an obligation to defend justice and freedom.