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Chqpter I

Whot ls Religion?

Before describing the relationship of religion and morality, the nature


of religion and morality must be discussed. What is religion? What is
morality? Despite their conmon use, these words are frustratingly diffi-
cult to satisfactorily define. So let me try to describe these words.
In contrast to morality, the origin of the word relrglor is etymologically de-
batable. The root word could be the Latin word relrgro (meaning obligation or
bond) or the Latin word religare (rrrrearing to tie or bind). Religion scholars
seem to prefer relrgare, Eq.mological uncertainty about this word contributes
to the abundance of definitions of religion. Within these definitions common
elements are found, but it is obvious that no one definition of religion prevails.

An Elusive Subject
There are several reasons why the word religion is difficult to describe.
One reason is that people usually perceive things from their own perspec-
tive. The stance of the observer and participant applies to the way people
regard religion, as well as morality, politics, and art. No two people see an
activity exactly tlte same way. As unique selves, people look at thints ac-
cording to personality, temperament, and background. Eastem and West-
em peoples see the world differently. V\rhat we see depends on where we
stand or sit. The stance of the observer is crucial.
It is possible to see the activity of religion from various vantage points:
from within only, from half-within, from halr,-without, from fully de-
tachod, and from detached within. Actuallp fully detached may be im-
possible, for it is doubtful that observers or participants can remove
themselves from the place where they siand. The highly prized value of
complete objectivity may be unachievable.
In describing religion it is very easy to be one-sided. We tend to high-
Iight what is most appealing, attractive, and important*to us! Religion as
2 Religion and Morality
What ls Religion? 3
an activity has many sides: institutional, devotional,
doctrinal, mystical,
statjc, ecstatic, substantive, functional, exoteric, and well by focusing on the six dimensions of religion:
esoteric.l experientiaf mythical, doc_
The strong feelings people have about religion irinal, ethical, ritual , and social. Expeiezrr.al rifers
as a human activity also to lelgio,r, u*J"]iurr." U*
come into play. Some humans are very fond ofieligion ing confronted by the numinous{the holy, ,""."4
and whatitinvolvesi
a rnystical state oI union with ujtimate reality.
tu;.';;;;i".
others passionately dislike what it represe'ts. Stiil
others ,,"ithu, lik" r,o, "n"r"rg
The mythical Jimf,nsion per_
dislike, but are merely indifferent. Our age has tains to stories of grea t syrnbolic depth thut
-it rurs"a st ons per"or,ut t _r_"/tt l Jri_"i" qu"roo*
antipathies to religion from several quarteis. Social of life arrd death. Thrc doctrinal d.mrension is"tp
scientists like"F;ud and Lhe formal, syrte#Uea t"ucn_
Marx a ttacked religion vehemently. philosophers like Metzsch" reUgious hadition (e.g., the Triniry in Chriiir
a.d Fe.rer_ 1q 3t " Si"gr rr, rrr*"r_ ,,,,
Buddhism).
1:l::*ll*t:omments agairstit. An A'merican novutirt, *ui r"r"p The ethical dimension dei, *i*, n# p"ople _rrhiri" o".O.rl*
deci.rres tlrc word religion to be moribr.rnd, smelling ", And reLigion should behave, or how an ideal human
of dust and wax. dein! rr,".u_
a recent theologian, Karl Barth, has thundered
thai ,,Gocl hates religiory,,
mersion of r#arl relates to ways in which "rr.JJL"l.
aoct i.r"", arririoiuf lrul,r",
viewing religion as something humans create to make ^yttinitiatory
rhrough sacrificial and/or ";
God confom to their :j::::1 *:r:T""1, rites of passage). The social dirnension hasGe;p_y",,,
rites
de31e1,.!thers have pointed out that the word religion :^::,:i_": o,
3w1
the Jcwish Bible and only four times in the Christian
is not found in ]::-q,
w. ays wtuch religions organize and situate themselves
io do wirh the
Bibie. Many of the peo_ ]n in the larger soci_
ple,l meet preferthe word spirituality to the word religion. ety-the institutional side.z No matter how well chosen
ffrnl" of.," *no they _ufl", un u._
still use the word religion often find ourselves on the iefensive. tivity including these dimensions carurot be described
Furthermore, members of one particular religion
in a f#;il".
. Contemporary Western thinkers sympathetic to religion tencl to favor
the nrystical,/devotional side of religion to the exclusioriot differently. Eachreligious traditio;has tno"u *n"o
often pru.ii." it .,r"ry
tr,"otn", ,raur. orrgtf ["ir"*,f_,ur,fr"
Sincc the European Enlightenment, Western intellectuals originating experiences, stories, and doctrines "t bJ i"pi
should
grr,rn.r. Prinrarily.r prjvate, inclivilrr,rl aflair.
t u.,r" ,"fi completely-the orthodox, conservatives, or fundamentalsL
fii"ruffy
"""r, u
Tlrey r"gorJ r"linior,,r, "^a
of a reUgion.
Whik'headian way, as what ,,one does with hi, Each religion also has those who are willing to
deviate, a"p-i u.a a"_
Col.,i"^po-
.:l]:'l',," 8":9 number or "cultured"ofitu.ii""".,;
despisers., of religion.
velop,,or engage in what pope John XXlU c;led ,ggior;"r;to'brrng^g
:ll].1':-':'y
wrlr) D|come cspecially critical when religion shows its pubJic up to date)-theliberals,progressives, and moderniis.
and social Ur,to.turrut"fy, ao
dlmlnsiol.gnd takes positions on issueslike scriptive words become labels and even srnear wordg
-ur, ubortio,l-thJ - and in the process
"i_,,riro
critics see it, rerigon snouia t"u-i lose their usefulness.
il:1,:iij^,,5::""Ty..As.rrrese
rnc p(rrncal ort or
arena and stay in the private redlm. Another indication of the diversity of religion is reflected
in the fluid
Another factor contribuiing to tle conrplexity ways in which groups or persons refer to themselves,
L of describhg religion c.:n or are referred to, as
be trnced to the academ ic situa tion. religious. The American Humanist Association, for exampte,
Religion is stucliecl .u."ilfiv'Ul,' ,.f,of_ a" .onsi"tent
dilelse disciptines
r_r1..r-i"rr,,*ayir," rl]r'1o#o, ."r, ffitic of haditional religion, refers to hr.unanism in its Ha manist"
:l::.rr,)m lcademic Maniresn I
Ji'hn.,I'sy.r){)t(,Ajsts. lh(, psy(h(,1(r8y ,rnrl pht,nomenology & IIas the highest expression of religious faith. Si^llarty,
\,x i,'r,r)t,sts.,rrll .rrtlrr()pol(,).ii:.ts of ieligion. urrj
slu,ly rcligion *itn tle ,,iJtnoas ot tt"i, theologians allude to Marxism/Communism as a religioi "ociotjisis
rlr*rl,tj,rr. o. q'tru"i:."Ugior,.
l,hjl(,(,)phcrsdelve inkr the rra"if A word that is used to refer to activities or ideas often"se"r,
yi"g
4"1,"1';',,""',r.lr),1',,117,,.y,r,ir,",,,1111,,ry;,1,rr.r,.1ri1r,,n,.-l,,,,kinRrr,rthe a" ioth r"ligiol,s
"rr"rnpii"", "i",g,"^ and antireligious in nature is rather slippery. Attempts
l, r1ri. ,,,r,j,ltll,,r,trr.s,l to fina ott ,"ora"
'r1., ' rr.lr \"turolr.. are understandable. ".
rElrsrL,n
1.,
, .r. ,,r,"r ,t,,,,.,,.,',i,i i,r',',',','"',j,".:.",.:''"',n.urfIl rtnr drsc.plrne<, ar..rl,
i.,r,.i., .r * j|r,,r ,t,..i,it,i,.',,,,,,,:,',:,",:,i.,:' ..r- A particularly dramatic way in which religions vary greatly
is in the
....,t).r t , t t ., . , ,, , .'.:?.tn ) ways they view God or ultimate reality. Thi three g.elt
,,

'.t,tIt:'rt t't tn,tr*,,y,htr We'stern reti


" ,,1.r,,,,,,
.
r
, ,, ,
, t 1 .

,, ,t,r,tt,u,{.rrJ,ir...(rrJ, t','t" t.r,,,r,.,4,,f ac,,rn- ty, and. Islam_view God as"a p"rror,ut i"t,g,o
,,...,
r1. l,j{lt
ir.,.r',""t"t'lt;'.v ,q:"r-fu
be revered|"bT, 9tuistianj
and obeyed. The
t( n,)t (,irsily dc.crib"j God of these religions is described as om_
wris<,f..deing.,orp."J;;;#":3,:1rsr ()f irs rariety and dilersity. nipotent,*omniscient, and omnipresent_the thelstic point
The of view.
onething;il is a ma;y-;iJ;;t;;:5'"t -ay be uncounrabh Religion is nor jusr In the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism,
hcs.rrcmanif ordan j";.;;,";ii};"1.,"Jffffi ,#,x,fil'Jil,ilTfr .
ultimate reality is usually seen in a nonpersonal way. Buddhists
however,
assert that
they do not believe in a personal God. 'ihi" m"un" ti.rat
by t uaitio.rul
definitions of religion (e.g., belief in God o, u "o*"
6"irrgii"d;hi"",,
"rlpr"-"
rNhat ls Religion?
4 Religion and MoralitY 5

Taoism, and possibJ.y Hinduism would not qualify as reliSions'.The very


greatest need of his patients for them to fully recover, namely, a "reli-
gious outlook."
different ways in which religions view ultimate reality explains the prefer-
religion' Among the written Ccscriptions of religion that fit this particular aspect
ence of many scholars for broader, more inclusive descriptions of
religion dynamic rather than static Religions ex- are the following: beliefs about what is ultimately important, a rational
As a human activity, is
ist within cultures thai grow and change' FritjofCapra, a scientist' and the- t rst in reality, "immortal longings," living by convictions that make life
and ultimately worth living, what we trust as giving meaning and value to our
ologian David Steindl-"Rast talk about "new paradigms" in science
develops and evolves is hard to pin down' de- lives, an attitude toward what is considered a determiner of destiny, a de-
the5logy. Any activity that
pendence on powers believed to control and direct the course of nature
fine, or adequatelY describe.
and life, a feeling of ultimate dependence on the Ultimate, a feeling of
Lastly, reiigionis difficult to describe because estimations of its strengths
sociolo- something "unlimited and unbounded," a belief in the ultimate meaning
arld -"uknesJrrary greatly. Some argue that religions are declin.ing;
secularization is winning, especially in affluent of the universe, convictions about the context and purpose of human life
gists of reLigion cont"end that
fact that in the United States mem- as such, "a divine light in the life of the soul," a surrender to ihe will ofGod
iations. Cit"ed as evidence of decline is the
and slmagogues has fallen A in all things, beliefs that help to give hope, courage, and confidence, and
bership and attendance in mainline churches
(Newsweek,Dec.7,1992) has declared that the so-called the binding stance one takes toward the mystery of life and death.3
major newsmagazine
pluraList Arnerica'
luieo-Christiai tradition no longer edsts in modem
However, the evidence is mixed: the Christian religion may be declin- Seeking Answers and Meaning

ing in Europe and North America, but it is expanding in some areas of Religion is also connected with the compelling human tendency to find
Aflica and Asia. Furthermore, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Tao- answers for ultimate questions, to discover the meaning of life and death.
ism, Confucianism, and Shintoism exhibit continuing viiality in their 8eo- A Jewish Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, in a popular book titled
graphical areas. And although the mainline branches of Judaism and Man's Search for Meanin& contends that people can endure suffering if they
-hiistianity are struggling to remain vital in the United States, some of the find meaning in it. Making religion a search for meaning is general and
lnoro conslrvative wings of these religious groups are thriving Also, in broad, but searching for answers and meaning is one part of the total phe-
the United States, the emergence of "New Age" religion or sPirituality in- nomenon called religion.
dicntes that religion in its diverse dimensions is not yet dead or dying. The Descriptions that illustrate this part of religion are: exploration of the ul-
flcl that conflict between religions has intensified in some areas of the timate meaning of life, involvement in the meaning of existence and find-
world points to vitality; dead people don't fight! Mark Juergensmeyer ac- ing our relation to the significant events of life, holistic interpretations of
tually says that religious conflict is the new Cold War. The situation de- life that enable us to make sense of emotions, desires, and attitudes, and
scribed here helps us understand why religion is not easily described' thinking on the ultimate questions of life, deatlr, and reality.a
Three significant ultimate questions humans ask as they seek the mean-
A Whole Greater than lts Parts ing of life are those of origin, destiny, and meaning: Where did I come
from? Where will I end (my final destiny)? What is the purpose of the life
l)cspite the problems in describing religion, the question posed for this in
I now live? When persons sincerely ask these questions they particiPate
(lr.rl)lcr rcmirins: Wha t is rcligion? Definitions ancl dcscriptiotrs may be un-
one of the salient parts of religion.
satisfactory, but several words and ideas keep appearing when religion is
clisctrssed. I wish to highlight seven of these ideas and point to them as in-
Encounter with Ultinate Reality
tegral p,1/'ts of the remarkable ru,hole we are calling religion.
Religion also has much to do with the human desire for contact with ul-
Iwtu Attitudes timate reality, which is also called the Transcendent, the Sacred, the
Religion is connected with inner attitlrdes involving such human Supreme Being, the Powers/Forces of the Universe, or God. One's picture
acts as believing, trusting, depending, and faithing (to verbalize a noun or r.nderstanding of reality conveyed in these words constitutes a "world-
that is really an action). It also pertains to attitudes related to confi- view." The fact that humans adopt worldviews has been emphasized re-
dence, courage, and hope, very close to what Carl Jung once declared the cently. Walter Wink succinctly characterizes five basic worldviews:
6 Religion and MoralitY
What Is Religion? 7

Among descriptions of religion that hiShlight this Part are: the relation
1.The Ancient Worldview, which is biblical but not uniquely biblical, is
between God and human beings, aligning believers with a transcendent
one in which everything earthly has a heavenly counterpart and viceversa.
reality, symbols that establish moods and motivation, making connection
If there is war on earth, there is war in heaven; events occurring in heaven
to something larger, attemPting to establish a right relation between our-
are mirrored on earth. Most ancient Peoples had this worldview
selves and something outside ourselves, and an energy-releasing event
2, The Spiritualistic Worldview divides humans into soul and body.
that raises life to higher power.T The exPeriential dimension of religion
Matter and creation are evil. The soul is trapped in a body until it fhds its
continues to fascinate desPite the increasing secularization of modern life.
way back to heaven, from whence it came. This view is strong in Platon-
ism and gnosticism. An Act of Valuing
3. The Materialistic Worldview has no heaven, God, or soul, but only a
Religion is also related to the act of valuing, evaluating what is o{ supe-
material existence, which is known through the five senses. At death hu-
rior or supreme worth and truly good. Religion is a way of valuing This
mans cease to exist except as chemicals and atoms that once constituted
part of religion is highlighted by the English novelist,/philosopher Iris
them.
Murdoch, who is fond of Plato's insistence on seeking the idea or form of
4. The Theological Worldview posits a supetnatural realm not known
the Good. For Murdoch, religion is primarily "a mode of belief in the sov-
by the senses, and an earthly realm known by science but isolated from the
ereign place of goodness and virtue in human life."8 Murdoch does not use
supernatural.
having an outer and an in- the word value, but her view o{ reLigion as a pursuit of what is truly good
5. An Integral Worldview sees everything as
places her among those who focus on religion as an act of valuing.
ner aspect. It is the spiritual aspect of the ancient or biblical worldview that
Other descriptions of this part of religion are; an expression of human
affirms an "interiority" in all things. It sees inrler sPiritual reality as closely
evaluation and ultimate loyalties, whatever is regarded as ultimate in be-
relaied to an outer physical represen ta tion.5
ing and value, that which determines life and destiny and is thought to be
Among descriptions of religion that embrace a combination of the an-
of importance in the nature of things, that which offers us vision and val-
cient, biblical, and integral worldviews are: a conception of the general or-
ues, concern about experiences that are regarded to be of supreme value,
der of existence, an unseen order in which ollr suPreme good lies in
and activity pursued in behalf of an ideal and against obstacles in spite of
adjusting ourselves to it, the self-transcendence toward what is ultimate
threats of personal loss because of the conviction of its general and endur-
and unconditional in meaning, an experience in which metahuman reality
ing value.e In a society in which one often hears such phrases as "family
is injected into human life, ParticiPation in something ofintrinsic meaning,
values" and "a crisis in values," the part of religion that emphasizes valu-
attributing a sacredness to the world and nature, a basic attitude arising in
ing should have relevance.
an encounter with the whole of reality given to one in one's existence, a
sense of the sacred, sense of a "benign emPowering reality," and a relation
A Yearning for Self-Transformation
with somethhg thought to be of life-shaping importance.6
This part of religion highlights the transcendent, that which is higher As a human activity, religion also has to do with the human desire for
than and beyond us as human beings but known and apprehended in the self-transformation, salvation, liberation, and becoming more human. Be-
inner and deepest self. It remains one of the essential Parts of religion. coming a better person and demonstrating this by behavior, quality of life,
or morality has been a prominent part of religion. Religions are eager to
Dcsirr: t'or Relntionship otld Experieflce show people how they can be changed, liberated, and reborn. Religions
presuppose that people can become better and different from what they
Religion also has to do with the human desire for a relationship with
were before the transformation began.
and an experience of ultimate reality, the transcendent, and the sacred.
Among descriptions ofreligion that center on this aspect are: seeking to
This part of religion naturally grows out of an emphasis on a highet real-
align believers with a trans{orming reality in order to achieve liberation or
ity than ourselves which can be known. This experiential dimension
salvation, Iiving according to the transcendent reality one encounters, a
speaks of things like religious experience, mysticism, a heightened con-
way to be human, living in wholehearted devotion to absolute Soodness,
sciousness, a spiritual birth, and so forth. It also pertains to the dtual di
that which provides strength and courage, "the perception of the infinite
mension, which centers on activities that enhance relationship and
under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of
expcrience, such as prayer and meditation.
Religion and MoralitY
Chopter 2
man," a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming
character when the! are sincerely held and vividly apprehended'
and a
quest f or self-transformation.l0
This particular part of religion comes very close to morality,.and ex- Whol ls Morolily
plains why some people tend to conflate religion and morality Wolfhart
i'unnenberg has nlted that after Kant many German theologians saw reli- (from o Religious Perspeclive)?
gion as a product of moral consciousness, and in so doing neglected the ex-
perientiai and mythical dimensions of religion.ll Nevertheless,.the desire
io be a better person will continue to be an imPortant Part of religion'

The N ce d for CommunitY


Religion also has a bearing on the human need for communities that
suppor"t and encourage Persons in the Parts of religion previously noted
The word morality is no less difficult to define than the word religiory
This can be designated as the social side of religion, just as imPortant as despite its prevalence as a human activity. Practicing morality and being
the personal and irmer side.
a moral person go along with what it means to be human.
A respected American sociologist, Robert Bellah' along with colleagues
The word ethics is often used in association with morality, and the
has y,ursued the need of people to belong, to be Part of communities that
words are even commonly used interchangeably. We hear about people
r'lcr.,iislr and enrich their lives. In Ha&lfs of the Heart, Bellah argued that
who are moral, as well as of people who are ethical. Prudence thus sug-
manv Americans, because of their pursuit of "rugged individualism," gests that we consider these words together, as a package.
haYe failed to find the communities they need. People live richer and fuller
In contrast to the word religion, however, there is agreement on the od-
lives u,len tlrey become Part of meaningful communities.
gin of these words. According to the Oxfod English Dictionary (OED), the
In1'he Courage to Be, Paul Tillich showed that the courage to be a self and
word ethics comes from the Greek word efhos, which primarily refers to
lhe courage to be a part of a community are necessary for human well-
character and/or rnanners. It is further defined as relating to morals, well-
being. Rabbi Harold Kushner is correct in affirming that in communities
doing and not well-knowing only. Ethics is also said to pertain to the sci
"rve learn to understand the world and grow to be human."l2
ence of morals, a scheme of moral science, or a department of study
Religion is not only concerned about relationships with ultimate reality;
concerned with the principles of human duty. Aristotle's writings on
relationships with other humans are equally desirable- ethics are described as a treatise on the science ofethics, which leads to the
With thi; description of the seven parts of religion, we have a starting
further description of ethics as the moral principles or system of a partic-
point for our discussion. There could well be other Parts. Are any of these
ular thinker or school of thought. In the widest sense, therefore, ethics is
parts more important than others? My response, from Gestalt psychology, is
the whole field of moral science, including the science of law.
ihat "the whole is greater than the sum of its Parts." Religion as a whole is
The word rnorality is from the Latin mores, which also means manner or
what matters. The Parts of religion a;e somewhat like the parts of that famous
character. The various definitions of morality are very close to those iust
elephant in a popular poem, in which six blind rnen dogmatically Proclaim
given for ethics. However, the OED also speaks of "moral" as pertaining
jusi what an elephant is, based on the part they have touched! Touching all
to character and concerned with virtue and rules of right conduct. It fur-
rhe pirrts of tl'tis many-splendored thing called religion seerns preferable'
ther mentions the morals of a person or a community, or the habits and
Nevertheless, because we are focusing on the relationship of religion
conduct of a person.
and morality, we can ask which of the seven parts of religion are most con-
This brief etymological excursion shows two things: First, the words
nected with what is called morality. It seems obvious that religion as an act
morality and ethics, from Greek and Latin words, are very close semanti-
of valuing, a search for community, and a yearning for self-transformation
cally. Their similarity in meaning justifies their interchangeable use. Sec-
has connections with morality. I-{o$'ever, before drawing firm conclu-
ond, a slight distinction between the two words is possible, in that morality
siorrs, we must investigate the activity called morality' which can be
seems to focus on l-ruman actions and practices, whereas ethics is primarily
looked at from the perspective of religion as well as the perspective of phi-
krsophy. The next two chapters pursue this large toPic.
10 Religion and MoralitY What Is Morality (ftom a Religious Perspectiae)? 11

concemed with study and reflection on morality. Thus, when we refer to numerical strength. A 1994 almanac showed that Judaism had almost 18
the morals or morality of a person, we are talking about their actual be- million nembers, Christianity had roughly 1.8 billion members, Islam had
havior. But when we speak of the ethics of a person we may be alluding to almost I billion members, Hinduism had almost 733 million adherents,
thet wdtten or unwritten reflections and thoughts about the nature of Buddhism about 315 millioo and Confucianism about 6 million or more
morality. In a word, morality is active and ethics is reflective, to the point members. No figures were given for Taoism, another Chinese religion.
ofbeing philosophical and academic. Ethics is the subject taught in colleges Shintoism, a religion largely conJined to Japan, had over 3 rnillion mem-
and universities, although formerly it was called moral philosophy. bers. The total membership of the above religions, along with primi-
The starting point of morality and ethics is, therefore, very similar to tive/animistic religions, came to approximately 65 percent of the world's
that taken in religion: morality is an activity people engage in naturally population-2 If it is true that all religions have an ethical dimension, then
and continually. Every day humans rnake rudgments and decisions about the moral force of the world's living religions is indeed substantial. To a
how they should live and what they should do. On a daily basis we judge considerable extent, the people affiliated with these religions, however
actions to be good or evil, right or wrong Almost daily we are offended Ioosely, are influenced and guided by the moral ideals that these religions
and horrified by events we read about or see on TV, on film, and in the real espouse and seek to apply.
n orld. Gilbert Keith Chesterton wisely perceived that all denunciation has Looking at the heart or essence of each particular religion prepares us
a moral basis. for looking at religious elhics. In this attempt I am guided by John Hick's
Furtherrnore, our moral judgments and decisions are made in two major view ofreligion as "a culturally-conditioned response to an ultimate, tran-
ways: religiously and/or philosophically. There is a religious morality- scendental reality."3 The question as to whether these religions are the fruit
moral conduct that springs from religious beliefs and experiences. There is of a divine revelation is avoided here, for it seems clear that even if reve-
also a philosophical or secular mordity-moral conduct that sPrings ftom lation is present within a religion, the responses to revelation are at least
philosophical beliefs and views. A religious and a philosophical or secular partially influenced by cultural factors. With these thoughts in mind, I of-
ethics are identifiable and describable. In this chapter I will discuss religious fer below my view of the essence of the world's religions.
rnorality/ethics, and in the next chaPter, philosophical or secular ethics. In
pursuing this approach the great diversity within both religious and philo- ludaism
sophical ethics will become evident. The Jewish religion begins with a mannamed Abraham, who lived orig-
inally in what is now Iraq, and in response to God's call migrated to present-
day Israel, sometime beiween 2000 alrd 1750 B.C.E. Among his descendants
Religious Morality/Ethics
was Moses, who delivered to the Jewish people a body of laws-the Ten
Historically speaking, religious ethics may precede philosophical Commandments and others-which helped to define them as a people. Be-
ethics. Peter Singer, an Australian Philosopher, has edited a book entitled tween the eighth and fifth centuries B.c.E. a series of propheis preached
A Conlpnnion to Efhlcs, in which the great ethical traditions of the world's and interpreted these lawg and laterJewish rabbis compiled a series of ex-
religions are discussed Prior to the treatment of Western philosophical planations and additional interpretations of these laws. Jews have envi-
ethics. Singer acknowledges that the ethical traditions of the world's reli- sioned God, whom they called Yahwe[ Elohim, and Adonai, as holy and
gious bodies are for most of the world's people "the living ethical systems transcendent, one to be loved and greatly respected (or feared). This reli-
to which they look for guidance."l gion includes many stories about the Jewish people, the most important
The influence of Judaism and Christianity on Western philosop\ is being the stories of an exodus from Egypt, the making of a covenant at
generally accepted. If Western philosophical ethics begins with Socrates Mount Sinai, and an exile in Babylonia (modem Iraq). Jewish theol<-rgians
(470 399 B.c.E.), as most moral philosophers acknowledge, then the his- claim that the dochinal dimension ofJudaism is not great, bui this religion
torical priority of Moses (13th century B.c.E.) and the Jewish prophets (8th contains definite beliefs about God-as Creator, as One, as Just, as One
century B.c.E. and following) are apparent. who calls, and so forth. Its morality/eihics spring largely from its under-
The major living world religions include three Western religions- standing o{ God as holy, just, and merciftrl. This understanding affects
lr.rclaism, Christianity, and Islam, and four Eastem religions-Hinduism, the Jews' relationship with God and with other human beings. Such ritu-
Br.rrldhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. These religions have a significant als as the Sabbath, along with Passover, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, and
12 Religion and MoralitY What ls Morality (from a Religious perspectiae)? 13

of God. and that there is life after death in either paradise orhell. The ethics
other religious festivals, assist Jews in living a holy life, one dedicated to
of Islam are largely based on the Koran. There are five central rituals in Is_
God. The Jewish religion may notbe nurnerically strong, but it has exerted
lam, called the Five Pillars: prayer five times a day, fasting during the
an immense inJluence on Christianity artd Islam, as well as on Western cul-
month oJ Ramadan, almsgivin& pilgrimage to Mecca, and reciting the
ture as a whole. Israel is the only nation in which Judaism has a direct po-
creed, which declares that there is only one God and Muhammad is his
litical authority. However, the indirect social and political influence of prophet. The Islamic religion has also had a powerful social influence, and
Judaism in the United States is widely acknowledged like Christianiiy has attempted to control the state in countries where it is
dominant (e.g.,Iran, Arab countries, Egypt, and pakistan).
Christianity
Thc Christian religion began with Jesus, a first-cenhrry Palestinian Jew Hind.uism
(4 B.c.E.- 29 c.E.). Jesus felt called and anointed by Gocl to give himself to
The Hindu religion has no definite founder, but is traceable to a pre-
a ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. His ministry led to opPosi-
Aryan civilization in India going back to 2500 B.c.E. The Aryans, who came
tion and'his consequent crucifixion by the Romans. His followers/disc!
Lo India via Persia (Iran) in the second millennium B.C.E., brought with
ples took up his cause, and, along with Paul, successfully introduced a
them sacred wdtings called the Vedas. Later, the epic po ems Bhagiaad Gita
iaith that w;s at fkst considered a Jewish sect into the Greco-Roman world
atr.d the Ramayana becarne very popular.
of the first century.
Hinduism stresses the necessity of liberation, which occurs when the
Christianity encouraged people to repent (be sorry for) their sin and
atman (self or soul) is united with Brahman (ultimate reality/God). Liber-
trust in God's love (often called "justification by faith") The primary story
ation frees one frorn continuing incamations. Three main yogas, or paths,
of Christianity is that of Jesus, in whom God came into the world This
help one attain liberation: jnana, karma, and bhakti. The Hindu religion
story gave rise to the central doctrine of Christianity, the incarnation,
contains numerous stories of gods and goddesses, who are seen as differ-
whictr;ffirms that God is reveale,l inJesus in a unique way. The ethics of
ent manifestations of Brahman, the supreme god. The strongest doctrines
Christianity largely stern from Jesus' emphasis on love for others, in which
of Hinduism have to do with liberation, reincarnatiory the unreality
self-giving love (agape in Greek) is the norm. Jesus embraced the Ten Com- (maya) of what is considered real (e.g., the world of space and time), and
mandments, and expanded them by calling for love of enemies and perse-
the law of karma. The idea behind this law is that people reap what they
cr.rtors. The most imPortant rituals of Chdstianity are dre Lord's Supper
(Communion/the Mass) and Baptism. Because of its numerical strength, sow; they build up good karma by good actions, become good by doing
good. Theethical views of Hinduism arerooted in these doctrines. Gandhi,
Christianity has maintained a strong social dimension; in some Western
for example, as a faithful Hindu, preached and practiced a good works
nations it has exerted a powerful influence on the state.
(karma) yoga. The rituals of Hinduism include sacrifices to various gods,
meditation, and an intense devotion to a chosen manifestation of Brahman.
At times, Hindus have been content to be one among many religions ex-
Thc Islamic religion began with Mulrammad, a native of what is today
isting in India, but at other times Hinduism has presented itself as the reli-
Sarrtli Arabia. He lived from 570 to 632 c.E. As a young man he received a
gion of India.
series of revelations from Gocl (Allah in Arabic) thror"rgh the angel Gabriel,
which were subsequently recorded in the Qr/rilr (Koran in English), the
tsuddhisnr
scriptures of Islam. Muhammad called on people to submit to God-a
Muslim by definition is one who submits to God. After Muhammad's The religion of Br-rddhism was founded by a young man from India
death, the Arabs who embraced his message took it to other areas of the named Siddhartha Cautama (ca. 563--ca. 483 e.c.r.), who subsequently was
Micldle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Islam believes that through prayer known as Buddha-the enlightened one. Buddha spent almost fifty years
it is possible to establish a close relationship with God. The basic story of telling the people of India about his enlightenrnent experience and how
Islam is that of Muhammad, who became the messenger of God and the they could have a similar experience. The story of Buddha is the primary
seal of tl.re prophets, who include Jewish prophets as well as Jesus. Doctd- story of this religion, but there are stories of other Buddhas and bod-
nally, Muslims believe that there is only one God, that angels are messen- hisattvas (persons of compassion). Among the important doctrines of
gcrs of God, that God speaks thror-rgh prophets, that the Koran is the word Buddhism are:
14 Religion and Morality What ls Morality (from a Religious Percpectiae)? 1s

1. The Middle Path, which promotes a way between self- family relationships. Until recently, ConJucians were very much a part of
indulgence and self-denial. the Chinese establishment that hacl significant social influence. Although
2. The Four Noble Truths: Life is full of suffering; suffering is their power has diminisned, a Confucian element is deeply ernbedded in
due to desire or craving; desire can be overcome; and prac- Chinese culture.
tice of ihe eightfold path helps one overcome desire and
craving. Taoism
3. The Eightfold Path consists of a series of right acts: right be-
Taoism traces its origin to a semilegendary figure named Lao-tzu, who
lief, aspiration, speech, behavior, Iivelihood, effort, mindful- apparently lived during the time of Confucius. Since he did not teach or
ness, and concentration. These acts can lead to nirvana, the
organize his followers, some are reluctant to accept him as the founder of
state in which one gets rid of the false self and becomes one
a religion. Nevertheless, many Chinese have been attracted to Lao-tzu,s
with what is ultimately and truly real. ideas contained in the classic work entitted the ?ro-fe Cftlng ("Classic of the
Way of Power"). Taoism stresses the need of people to align themselves
The ethical dimension of Buddhism sees morality as a way of conquer-
with the Tao (the way), which is thought of variously as the way of ulti-
ing desire and gaining enlightenment (steps three ihrough five of ihe mate reality, the way of the urfverse, and the way persons should order
Eightfold Path). Because of high moral values, Buddhists denounce con- their lives so as to be in harmony with the way of the universe. The major
sumerism, murder, war, and hate. The virtue of compassion is paramount.
story of Taoism is about Lao-tzu and how he wrote the Ta o-te Ching before
The ritualist dimension is less elaborate than that of Hinduism, for there
he left China, never to return. The major doctrines of this religion are:
are no gods. The primary ritual consists of meditation. Also, even though
Buddhism is a missionary religion, in that in seeks to make converts, it has
refrained from imposing itself on the countries to which it has spread in
7. Wu-wei, which roughly means actionless action, or letting
things be rather than forcing them;
both Asia and the West.
2. Living simply, naturally, and nonviolently;
Conftcianisnr
3. Yin-yang, which is the practice of recognizing the comple-
mentadty ofopposites and looking for the unity ofopposites
Tlris religion begins with Confucius, or K'ung Futzu, who lived in
in a balance. Balance may be the dominant virtue of this re-
China between 557 and 479 B.c.E. Confucius studied the ancient Chinese
ligion.
classics and later gained fame as a haveling teacher. His followers took up
his teachings and portrayed Confucius as an extraordinary human being.
These doctrines, as those of Confucianism, illusfate a forceful ethical
In his writings, Confucius does not come through as a religious leader,
dimension. A person who embodies these doctrines will be easy to get
even though he apparently believed in a spiritual power behind every-
along with. Taoism does not seem to have many rituals, yet one form of
thing, a cosmic order to which earthly order should conform. He also be-
Taoismhas funerals that are veryelaborate and verylong. Taoism as a Chi-
licvctl that his vocation came from this heavenly or spiritual power. This
nese religion has not sought to have power over the state. Despite this, its
le'ligion has many stories about Confucius and his followers. Among the
influence on the Chinese people (and Westemers) continues.
important doctdnes and teachings are those which have to do with not
harming anyone, being benevolent to others, observing family relation_
shitrs (e.9., deference of wife to husband, younger sister to older sister or Ethics within World Religions
Lrrother, subject to rr.rler, and so forth), rulers exeicising their power wisely
(if they are oppressive they will lose the ,,mandate oi h"ur."r,,, which The preceding description of world religions noted the ethical dimen-
al- sion in each religion. The importance of this dimension is generally ac-
Iows them to rule), and cultivating the arts that promote peace, Since many
cepted; all religions seem to have conduct they promote and a code to live
of these teachings have clear ethical connotations, it is understandable that
sonre historians have labeled Confucianism an ethical system rather
by. Each religion provides moral guidance that a particular community of
than faith can stand on and ernbody.
a rcligion. However, there are numerous rituals in Ctnfucianism
con_ In their book Hozu I o Liae Well: Ethics in the World.'s Religiorls,a Denise and
rr.'r l|rl kr thr.honorint, and venerati()n of ancestors
as rvell as those tied to
John Carmody compared moral vien's of the major world religions in four
16 Religion and Morality What Is Morality (from a Religious pelspectire)? t7
important areas: family life, work, socialjustice, and nature. To justify the especially sacred. A recent movement led by Hindu women in India to
claim that all religions have an ethical dimension, I plan to compare the protect trees by hugging them provides an additional illushation of the se_
views of nature in the religions we have discussed, as the Carmodys de- rious concern for nature that Hinduism supports.
scribe them. Nature is chosen over the other areas, not because it is more The Buddhist religion speaks of ,,the seamless cornectedness,, of all
important, but because this area corresponds with one of the major con- things. The bodhisattaa ls an ideal Buddhist, so full of compassion that he is
cerns of our time- Interest in ecological and environmental issues is run- willing to delay his own entrance into nirvana in order to issist the enlight_
ning high, and this comparison shows that religious ethics offers r.ts e'nment of all living creatures. Buddhist rituals, especially those connected
valuable resources for clealing with one of the serious problems ofour day. with Zen Buddhism, highlight the beauty of nature and blend the religious
Judaism as a religion has always seen creation as good. because it rep- and the aesthetic in such things as rock gardens and flower a[angements.
resents God's work. Natureis to be appreciated and enjoyed, not divinized This religion also accepts the simple "suchaess,' of things, manifested in this
or worshiped. Human beings were given authority over nature by God haiku: "Evening rain,,/ the banana leaf,,/ speaks oI it first."
(Gen. 1:28), but were also informed that they are accountable to God for Confucianism and Taoism both call for the celebration of seasons and
their actions. The second and older creation story (Genesis 2) has the first the beauty of nature. Their cosmology sees everything as related, parts of
human beings instructed to till the garclen and care for the earth. Judaism a single organism (suggestive of the current Gaia hypothesis, which re-
acknowledges human kinship with animals and nature. Noah took ali- gards the rniverse as one large organism). The significance of the forces of
mals into the ark, supposedly to preserye all the species. Kosher laws nature as important actors in the human drama is acknowledged and re-
about what animals can and car-rnot be eaten, and about how food is to be spected by Taoists and Confucians. Taoism particularly, with its emphases
prepared, minimize the suffering of animals. Also, many Israeli Jews liv- on living naturally, sirnply, and in harmony with nature, has been lifted
ing on kibbutzim obviously live close to the land and treat it well. For the up by some observers as the model for an ecological religion.
Jewish people the promised land given by God has always been a good The preceding paragraphs represent ideals; they do not claim that the
land, "flowing with milk and honey"-a symbol of God's blessing. world's living religions have an excellent record in the ways they treat na-
The Christian religion, a child of Judaism, also appreciates creation as ture. Members of these religions have mistreated the natural world. How-
Cod's work and sees human dominion over the earth as a matter of loving ever, the moral ideals for a kinder, gentler approach to nature are present
stervardship, a responsibility that calls for accountability to God and car.e- within these traditions, rvaiting to be discovered and practiced.
ful management and caringfor creation. Jesus spoke knowingty and fondly The above comparison ofone facet of ethics within world religions need
of the natural world-of flowers and trees, animals ancl birds. There have not imply that there are no differences or disagreements between religions
been Christian leaders like St. Francis ofAssisi and Eastern Orthodox slarsy over such moral issues as the treatment of nature, the distribution of the
(monks), who considered nature a second revelation of God. The ability to earth's resources, or whether war is morally permissible. The differences
see Cod in all things has often been highlighted in Christian faith. Recently, and conflicts between religions are real. Some of these differences are ma-
a "creation-centered spirituality" has emerged within Christianity though Ior, many are quite minor. Many of the conJlicts are not about ideals, but
the writings of a former Dominican priest, Matthew Fox. about practices. Hindus and Christians both affirm that life is sacred and
The Islamic religion also speaks of creation, affirming that the world valuable. But Christians cdticize Hindus about the caste system, and Hin-
need not exist, but does so by the mercy and deliberate creation of God. dus criticize Christians about the practice of slavery. Differences do exist,
Humans should cooperate with nature, so as to enable it to achieve the but when we compare ideals rather than practices they are not great.
beauty and bounty God intended. A tenderness toward animals among Moreover, the differences between religions over morality are probably
Muslims has been observed. The followers of this religion also believe that not any greater than the differences within religions themselves. Some
Cod can be discemed in the natural world which God has fashioned. Con- Christians, for example, are zealously pro-life and antiabortion, others are
cern about pollution is developing within some adherents of this religion. vehemently pro-choice and accepting of abortion, to one degree or another.
In Hinduism, because all creatures are related to Brahman, all creatures And the possibility ofbeing pro-choice, yet not totally accepting of abortion
are related to one another, A reverence for creation can be found in Hin- except as sometimes a tragic necessity, strikes some Christians as an ac-
dr.rism. Hindu rituals are sacramental; they make use of such natural ele- ceptable alternative. The same situation occurs when other moral issues
ments as flowers and water. The water of the Ganges River is regarded as arise. Sometimes I think thai if Chdstians keep talking with one another,
18 Religion and Morality What ls Morality (from a Religious perspectiae)? te
withgreater civility and willingness to listen, they will reach agreement on 4. You shall not engage in sexual immorality (respect
weighty ethical issues. Atother times I am fairly sure that disagieement and and love
one another).2
conflict is a permanent state of affairs between various Chri-stian groups,
even within the same denomination. A document of this nature will not readily eliminate
Another disagreement within one religion relates to a conflict over how conflicts between
religious groups over ethics. It does demonsirate,
Christian ethics should be taught. philip Wogarnar advocates the teaching ground is now being found and that the process
howe;-,h;;rrl -- r"
can
of principles and guidelines for action, but Slanley Hauerwas argues that "*ourri.-*'
Having considered the matter of religious ethics, we
the best way to teach Christian ethics is through narratives and stories.s low tum to philo_
sophical or secular ethics, in order to understand the
Both of these ethicists happen to be protestant! Ii offers little comfort to the essential ideas and
contribu tions of tfus activity.
despairing, but let me hasten to mention that differences and disagree_
mentsamong those who engage in philosophical/secular ethics are
real. The next chapter deals with this matter.
iust as
As usual, there is another side, for despite the disagreements
between
ancl within religions over moral issues, there is larger-measure
of agree_
mr.nt than commonly recognized. There are comrion _oral
beliefs and
*l,Litt wortd. retigions. Their views on nature, family life,
I:l:l.t lyi"g
rvc'rk and socialjustice, as developed in the Carmodys, book,
bear this out.
Thelc' are commonalities within the ethics of worljreligions
that call for
exploration. Certainly Sissela Bok is correct when she sayl
we need to con-
centrate on moral principles we find in common with
people of other reli-
gions and cultures.6 The moral crises of our time demand
an emphasis on
similarities rather than on differences.
The respected Catholic theologian Hans Kiing, .n
Globnl Responsibility:
ln Scarch of a New World Ethic, investigates the corimon
beliefs oi world re_
ligions- Kihg belie":: tl: t u global ethic is emerging
within the retigious
tradttrons ol humanity. Because of these convictjoni he played
a cenlral
role irr the Parliament of the World,s Religions, which -hi"ugn
mel il., in
1993. In this parliarnent, 250 global religiois teaders,
representinl nurner-
ous religions, produced a docurnent entitl ed Dectaratiin
oy a Ctiiat f,tttic.
Thjs document denounces war, poverty, sexism,
unbridlei capitalism, to-
ralrrallan socmlrsm, and environmental destruction.
The signers declare
they have not intended to fashion a global ideology
or a ,"_
ligion,.but have sought a ,,fundamental consensLi, on "i.rg?,.,r,iii"a
binding values, ir_
revocabie and personal attitudes.,, Cenlral to ,i* o, ,n"
-standards
world's religions, the Declnrotion obsewes, is some version of the Golden
Rule: Do unto-others as you would have them
do unto yo.,. fro^ini, g".,_
eral precept, they discovered ,,four broad ancient
havior" in world religions:
guidlline; fo;;;ral be_

I. You shall not kill (in positive terms, have respect for
life).
2. You shall not steal (deal honestly and iairJy).
3. You shall not lie (speak and act iruthfully).