Religion is, without a doubt, the most powerful system of beliefs that has been around for centuries. It is, in many aspects, a set of rules, a set of rules that permits believers to live a non-primitive or civilized lifestyle. It’s no wonder, then, that this framework is critical to thinking processes and plays a crucial part in the construction of self-identification and social cohesion, which defines attitudes, social norms. The belief that morality requires religion is widespread and deeply engrained. Moral behavior is an issue for the world’s major faiths. As a result, many people may believe that religious engagement is a sign of virtue or even that ethics are impossible without religion (McKay and Whitehouse). Nevertheless, either of these hypotheses is flawed.
I must demonstrate here that, while religious beliefs may play a fundamental role in some behaviors, they are not the sole element that drives behavior. Therefore, in this research paper, I will in-depth research the eternal question of how religion influences morality and whether belief is essential in the characteristics of a moral person.
Before the modern era of philosophy, it was widely accepted that religion is the undeniable foundation of morality, indicating that there can be no morality without religion. This widely held and deeply established belief that religion is a foundation for morality persists today, as evidenced by scholars who argue that morality is unattainable without faith in God (Iwuagwu 43). The goal of going back in time is to prove that morality and religion were inextricably linked until recently and that our moral lexicon is still heavily influenced by this history.
Other contemporary philosophers have used facts to demonstrate that many religious ideas and behaviors have failed the morality criterion, leading to the conclusion that religion is neither required nor essential for morality (Iwuagwu 43). This viewpoint challenges the long-held belief that character has a spiritual nature: either God created man with moral sense or man learned about right and wrong via Christian dogma. Despite the diversity of various groups, the current moral dilemma generates a larger concern about religion’s influence on morality. If religion has such a strong influence on morals, it begs the question of why ethical standards are being disregarded in our current culture, despite the preaching of untold faith groups in nearly every corner.
Religion, like any other concept, may be divided into different elements with consistent cognitive foundations. There is a wide range of dogmas and behaviors that have been collectively dubbed “religion,” all of which are influenced and controlled by a finite but diverse collection of evolved cognitive predispositions known as “religious foundations” (Hare). These foundations are made up of a set of developed domain-specific systems, as well as the intuitions and predispositions instilled by those systems.
Those theological foundations have historically established a set of norms that we, as individuals, currently observe and that have been passed down through generations. According to studies, those who perform better on religious indices like prayer frequency and religious service participation are more likely to engage in charitable giving (Norenzayan 369). Such results, on the other hand, could be explained by their higher incentive to retain a moral image than avowed atheists. Religious priming studies show that religious priming enhances commitment to moral norms because of these interpretive ambiguities (Hare). This does not, however, imply that religious individuals are more ethical than non-religious people. Spiritual priming causes a wide range of hostile and discriminatory actions.
For instance, such individuals are far more judgmental and discriminatory, vindictive, and supportive of impersonal society standards, even when preserving such standards would hurt individuals, than those supporting neutrality (Hare). As a result, one can argue that spirituality raises social desirability issues and that when comparing believers and non-believers, practitioners are more interested in ‘appearing good’ than ‘doing good.’
Belief Power and Morality
Religion is becoming more and more flexible in modern society, free from certain strict concepts and adjustable individually. Meaning that each person is now in power to choose to which extent they would like to accept or not the principles of a specific religion. Such theory then raises a question, whether the extent to which a person believes in God affects their morality?
I should use Christianity as an instance to exemplify the argument, as Christian belief and church participation both have a significant impact on social morals (Barak-Corren and Bazerman 285). Strong Christian followers are more prone than non-Christians to have an uncompromising moral attitude. This impact could be explained by the fact that persons who have a solid Christian faith are more likely to condemn unethical behavior since their ethical standards are based on a fearful reality and thus are less discretionary and more immutable.
Non-members and marginal religion members, as a result, may tend to have a more tolerant moral viewpoint than firm believers because disparities inexperience with ethical behavior and values among marginal individuals are too minor to contribute to differences in moral standpoint (Barak-Corren and Bazerman 287). People with great faith, on the other hand, are more likely to participate in social networking that encourages adherence to moral standards, and they are also more deeply socialized into their religion’s moral norms, so they will be more likely to condemn immoral behavior.
Moreover, most faiths use positive and negative reinforcement to encourage moral behavior by including ‘god-fearing’ components in their scriptures, such as Hinduism’s idea of karma and reincarnation or Christianity’s heaven-hell and salvation. Even some research has revealed that people who believe in terrifying and punishing supernatural beings are more inclined to act morally or honestly.
Atheism and Morality
There is a widespread prejudice that atheists are immoral and therefore are despised by religious people. Indeed, according to one study, there is general moral bias against atheists across the globe. People believed that those who performed immoral behaviors, including radical people like mass killing, were more inclined to be atheists on all continents (Gervais et al.). Therefore, based on such data, there is a very likely theory to assume that among religious communities’ atheists are mistrusted
Researchers observed who would stop to aid an injured person lying in an alley in a famous experiment recognized as the “Good Samaritan Study.” They discovered that religiosity has little influence on helpful conduct. This research demonstrates that religious individuals do not operate more ethically than atheists, regardless of how we define morality. Although evidence reveals that religion has no impact on character, pervasive stigma against faith, as demonstrated by numerous studies, reflects centuries-old instincts that may be difficult to overcome.
Furthermore, essential human moral inclinations like empathy, compassion, and shame are much older than religiously motivated prosociality and are firmly founded in primate ancestry. In chimps and other animals, such as elephants, particular predecessors of moral instincts, such as emotional contagion, comfort, and sadness, have been discovered (McKay and Whitehouse). These foundational elements of moral psychology are based on intrinsic impulses and emotions that have evolved.
The fall of religious individuals around the world is another essential indicator that religion is not the primary driver of morality. Paradoxically, religion’s importance in public life is diminishing as societies find godless substitutes that perform similar duties (Norenzayan). This implies that atheists and theists raised in liberal countries are socially competent without being spiritual. Scandinavians, for example, are among the least religious people in the world, yet they lead the list of countries with the highest levels of trust and the lowest levels of crime. Humanist sources of prosociality appear to stifle religious zeal as well as believers’ perception that religion is required for morality (Norenzayan). As a result, religious hatred of atheists, while widespread among many Christians, is not unchangeable.
How Does Religion Influence Social Morality
Morality manifests itself in an individual’s acts and determines whether they are right or wrong, and religion has an impact on this. Because part of being a member of a religion is believing in (or at least following) its laws, those rules will shape how people think and what they believe is acceptable. Once you do anything for a while, it becomes typical, and obeying those standards for a number of years renders them part of one’s moral behavior. Following the ethical norms and standards outlined in the Bible or by a religious leader has an impact on the acquisition of moral actions. As a result, religion influences morality through the norms and principles that believers must adhere to.
Furthermore, it is critical to note that different religions have their moral codes, which are further complicated by the fact that other persons within the same religion interpret ethical rules in different ways. The beheading of a French teacher for exposing photographs of the Prophet, for example, must have been morally acceptable to the extreme who murdered him, but it is morally repugnant to other Muslims on the other side of the religious spectrum. Thus, ethics is heavily influenced by religion and the community in which one lives; as a result, it is a collaborative process in which different cultures and faiths accept completely different moral principles that may be objectionable to others.
Religion responded by introducing concepts such as all-knowing, all-powerful gods who execute ethical breaches. The incidence of such ideas increased as human communities grew larger. In the lack of effective secular institutions, fear of God was essential for the establishment and maintenance of social hierarchy. An absolute belief in a vengeful superhuman monitor was the ultimate measure of ethical conduct in those cultures, serving as a public signal of adherence to social norms.
However, we now have new means of enforcing morality, but our evolutionary history remains. Although atheists are as socially moral as religious people, widespread prejudice towards them, as highlighted by our study, reveals centuries-old beliefs that may be difficult to dispel. Nevertheless, we cannot judge any of the groups and state that religion solely forms morality. Even though for some people, it does and serves as guidance through life, for others, morals are formed within the society and other factors. Therefore, religion mandates certain social ethics that may be harsh and outdated at times but instills certain norms of living.
Barak-Corren, Netta, and Max Bazerman. “Is Saving Lives Your Task or God’s? Religiosity, Belief in God, and Moral Judgment.” Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 12, no. 3, 2017, pp. 280–296.
Gervais, Will M., et al. “Global Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice against Atheists.” Nature Human Behaviour, vol. 1, no. 8, 2017, 10.1038/s41562-017-0151.
Hare, John. “Religion and Morality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford.edu, 2019.
Iwuagwu, Emmanuel Kelechi. “The Relationship between Religion and Morality: On Whether the Multiplicity of Religious Denominations Have Impacted Positively on Socio-Ethical Behavior.” Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 6, no. 9, 2018, pp. 42–53. y European Centre for Research Training and Development UK.
McKay, Ryan, and Harvey Whitehouse. “Religion and Morality.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 141, no. 2, 2015, pp. 447–473.
Norenzayan, Ara. “Does Religion Make People Moral?” Behaviour, vol. 151, no. 2-3, 2014, pp. 365–384. Web.