This paper will explore the relationship between religion and morals. Specifically, this paper will explore whether or not one would need to be religious in order to have morals or whether it is possible to be a descent being regardless of having a religion.
One may wonder what society would be like if people did not follow any sort of social moral code. Most likely, people would not feel guilt or feel resentment. For example, the moral obligation for remembering a birthday or anniversary, or that woman have rights to equal pay and work would not exist in a society that did not follow a social moral code. Obligations, notions of duty, and rights would not exist, perhaps in only the legal sense. In a society without a moral code, the concepts of fairness and justice would not be present. Basically, people would not have the notion to evaluation their own behavior, as well as criticize others for their behavior (Arthur).
The previous description was that of a society living without a social moral code, what would a society without religion consist of? One may wonder if society lacked moral beliefs, would they lack religious beliefs as well? According to John Arthur, who is a professor of Philosophy and also the director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics and Law at Binghampton University, State University of New York, he stated the following:
It seems clear that it is possible. Suppose every day these same people file into their place of worship to pay homage to God (they may believe in many gods or in one all-powerful creator of heaven and earth). Often they can be heard praying to God for help in dealing with their problems and thanking Him for their good fortune. Frequently they give sacrifices to God, sometimes in the form of money spent to build beautiful temple and churches, other times by performing actions they believe God would approve such as helping those in need (77).
In the previous statement by Arthur, he is suggesting that the people he is describing have religious belief, however, live by no moral code.
Furthermore, Arthur defines moral code as having a tendency to evaluate (with or without expressing it) behavior of others and to also feel guilt or remorse when certain actions are preformed. He feels that religion actually involves having a belief in “supernatural power(s) that created and perhaps also control nature, the tendency to worship and pray to those supernatural forces or beings, and the presence of organizational structures and authoritative texts” (78). Therefore, religion and morality are certainly different. One relies on personal attitudes in regards to different variations of behavior, for example, killing, lying, and cheating. Religion on the other hand, relies on the prayer and worship.
The connection, if any between social moral code and religion is the question at hand. Some people believe that religion is necessary in order for people to act accordingly. Additionally, it is believed that religion creates the motivation to do what is right, because God has rewards for those who comply with His commands. Those rewards being a place in heaven and also providing happiness and prosper throughout live on earth. On the other hand, those who violate the moral law will be punished by God (78).
There are those who focus on less self-interested reasons for which religion may motivate one to act rightly. As God is known as the creator of all and has intended that His plan shall be followed; it is said that only by living a life revolving around more code, only then can people live a harmonious life with “divinely created order” (78). With that being said, religious motives are by far not the only reasons for motivation. For most people, it is a combination of reasons that are taken into consideration when deciding to do the right thing. Common thoughts are, “What if I get caught? What if someone sees me-what will he or she think? Will I regret this?”(78). Perhaps, one was raised to be a decent being. The act of behaving fairly, as well as treating others with respect is far more important than any gain from cheating or stealing, and certainly more important than causing serious harm to someone.
Therefore, it appears that there are many motives to act rightly that do not involve religion whatsoever. People do, however, worry about getting caught and receiving blame, additionally, people fear what others may think. People also just want to do the right thing, just for the mere fact that it’s the right thing to do or because people don’t want to cause embarrassment for family and friends.
Furthermore, taking all the above into consideration, it would appear that people do not take religious views into consideration when making moral decisions. With that being said, there appears to be no reason that people cannot be moral and yet have no religion at the same time.
When there are situations with multiple moral obligations, it creates a dilemma that needs guidance. In an essay by J. P. Morland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology and Norman L. Geisler, who is Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC, both of which coauthored The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (1990), they suggest trying to fulfill both obligations. “Moral duties cannot be set aside at will. They are, by their very nature as universal moral duties, binding on us at all times and in all places” (Morland and Geisler). Next, the authors suggest that if multiple duties cause unavoidable conflict, then one must always seek the greater duty. In an ideal world, moral duties would not conflict with one another, however, an ideal world does not exist (Morland and Geisler).
In conclusion, while many people feel that being a moral person is reliant on religion, it is not the case. Morals and religion are not dependent on one another. It is possible to make moral decisions by using critical thinking and realizing that there are consequences for immoral behavior, whether it be feelings of shame, guilt, or going to prison or even the fear of God. Furthermore, many people believe in doing the right thing because it’s simply the right thing to do.