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Could ethics exist without religion?

Could ethics exist without religion?

Does our moral behavior derive from religion? Is it possible for us to be moral without being part of any religious group? One thing that is certain is that Western culture is based on Judeo-Christian philosophies. Almost every aspect of Western Culture is based Judeo-Christian beliefs from our legal system to our mores. However, our moral behavior did not all derive from religion. Social mores all derive from what is best for the collective. If everyone kills one another or steals from one another then it would be a detriment to the society. Therefore, governments exist not only to protect people but to punish people who violate basic social mores.

If you look at the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), there are certain traditions that you may look at as being uncivilized. In the old testament of the Bible a woman who cheated on her husband was to be stoned to death. In addition, if a virgin was raped, then the man who ravaged the virgin would have to compensate the victim's family and then marry the victim. It's traumatizing enough for anyone to be raped especially a young girl. But imagine tragedy of a young girl being required to marry her rapist and be a submissive wife to him; she would be victimized every day. Sadly, if she cheats on him then she would be stoned to death.

There was an article published in Psychology Today which stated that moral behavior and religion are not linked. People who are religious are more likely to commit acts of violence against one another than people who are not religious. It was also written in the article that religious people are more likely to go to war than people who are not religious; the author of the article mentioned that human history shows that religious people tend to have more combative impulses than people who are not religious.

Ultimately individuals determine what is ethical and what is not. The basis of ethics is to refrain from any behavior that compromises another person's physical, psychological, or emotional health.

About Sandy Kubrick

Sandy Kubrick is a staff editor for God Discussion. Posts by Sandy may come from diverse contributors.
  • somersetsimon

    "Western culture is based on Judeo-Christian philosophies. Almost every aspect of Western Culture is based Judeo-Christian beliefs from our legal system to our mores"

    I often see this stated as fact, but I don't know what the evidence for this is. What particular aspects our legal system and current cultural mores are directly attributable to Judeo-Christian beliefs?

    In terms of the legal system and our views on morality, there has never been a society where murder, theft and lying have been acceptable and such a society would never survive so any claims that religious edicts such as the Ten Commandments establish our legal system are a bit dubious.

    I can understand what the Psychology Today article was getting at. For most people, our logic and natural empathy may prevent us from committing some act, but you could come up with a religious justification for going ahead

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    • Spuddie

      "Almost every aspect of Western Culture is based Judeo-Christian beliefs from our legal system to our mores"

      Its really more of a declaration of Christians who want to put their religious "tramp stamp" on modern culture. Something repeated so often to be considered a fact. Even though you won't find a single Christian who can come up with a real answer as to what specific to the religion our culture is allegedly based on.

      Religion confuses morality with adherence to arbitrary rules and deference to authority. It avoids actual moral consideration. When something is allegedly God's will, any act, no matter how atrocious can be justified and declared moral to the religious minded. Those who use religion as inspiration to beneficent acts are so rare that they are celebrated. People who use religion as inspiration to act badly are as common as dirt.

  • Rick L.

    Ethics stem from understanding one's self, and one's relationship to all that is not self. It has nothing to do with religion unless one is too ignorant or too lazy to think about these relationships without the aid of an entity with an agenda.

  • GordonHide

    If we regard a moral code of conduct as something which causes us to treat other members of the group we belong to in a different manner to non-members we can see this behaviour in other social animals. Other social animals don't have religions so at least some social behaviour is completely independent of religion. We are preprogrammed to behave in a co-operative manner. (The efficacy of this programming varies wildly between individuals).

    Really this is what you'd expect. Social instincts and emotions are traits gifted to us by natural selection. This is so because a co-operating group can achieve so much more than any number of rugged individuals. It is therefore more likely that co-operating group members will pass on their genes.

  • colourmegone .

    Considering the horrific acts committed by the religious it seems that ethics exist DESPITE religion.

  • kso721

    having good ethics precede religion. as do love, empathy, altruism, and community.

  • Hello.IsItMeYou'reLookingFor?

    I think the world would be an even better and more ethical place without religion… but thats just me.

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