I think we will all go to hell in a hand-basket, nor necessarily metaphorically speaking, if we cannot rapidly learn to distinguish between the relative merits of religion, ethics and morality.
First – Religion: After all, despite the conviction of our current Prime Minister – miracles do not happen. I qualify that by saying that there are many occasions where unexpected events may appear to be a miracle. I know of no recorded instances where performing a rain dance or praying have actually resulted in a shower of rain. Coincidence is frequently misconstrued as magical!
Religion is a sort of comfort blanket for those who worry that they cannot find answers to why we are here and what happens when we die. In clutching the blanket about them, they blindly accept directions from the religion’s leaders, because they are the chosen ones, able to deliver the messages from some unseen spirit. If the religion’s followers lead miserable, unfulfilled lives, and their belief in a wonderful life after death helps them survive the vicissitudes of this life, then far be it from me to deny them the comfort they derive.
The world has many religions, some largely local, others like Christianity – and in particular that version preached by the Roman Catholic church – as well as Islam, which are virtually global.
My greatest familiarity, at a personal level is Christianity, so I feel on safe ground in highlighting this particular religion, while aware that much of what I say is also true of other religions.
Second – ethics: I looked for a definition of ethics and found:
‘the characteristics and values that most people associate with ethical behaviour:
- HONESTY. …
- INTEGRITY. …
- PROMISE-KEEPING & TRUSTWORTHINESS. …
- LOYALTY. …
- FAIRNESS. …
- CONCERN FOR OTHERS. …
- RESPECT FOR OTHERS. …
- LAW ABIDING.’
This sort of took my breath away, because it drove home how lacking in ethical behaviour, as defined above, are many (all?) of our political, religious and business leaders.
Third – Morals: My own concept of morality is related to understanding the difference between right and wrong – while understanding that these are value issues which vary with culture.
So again I sought a more definitive approach and found this: What are your family’s top moral values?
I quote this excerpt:
‘Renée Trudeau, author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family, shared that when her son was entering middle school they created a “Family Purpose Statement”. She described they “highlighted the top five qualities that were most important to us. At the top of our list: compassion – for self and for others.”
What virtues make your family’s top five list? Some to consider include:
- Acceptance: welcoming others whose ideas and practices differ from your own
- Compassion: understanding the suffering of others or self and wanting to do something about it
- Cooperation: helping your family and friends, returning favors
- Courage: willingness to do difficult things
- Equality: believing everyone deserves equal rights and to be treated with respect
- Fairness: acting in a just way, sharing appropriately
- Generosity: willingness to give resources, help or time to others
- Gratitude: showing appreciation to others
- Honesty: being truthful and sincere
- Integrity: sticking to your moral and ethical principles and values
- Kindness: being considerate and treating others well
- Perseverance: persisting in a course of action, belief or purpose
- Politeness: using good manners, acting in socially acceptable ways
- Respect: showing consideration for the worth of someone or something
- Responsibility: being reliable in your obligations
- Self-control: staying in control of your words and behaviour
- Tolerance: having a fair and objective attitude towards different opinions, beliefs or practices
- Trustworthy: reliably doing what is right even when it is difficult, being true to your word
One way to help your children internalize these characteristics is to notice them. When you see your child being responsible, honest or showing compassion, comment on it. For example, if your child attempts to comfort a child who is hurt, you can say “That’s kind of you to help him.”
This is clearly a western society concept but that is not meant to criticise it. Many of the values listed here repeat those associated with ethics, and the last statement highlights the need to develop empathy – walk in someone else’s shoes.
Two things about it are really noticeable – there is no mention of religion, although there are strong echoes of Jesus Christ’s teachings, and, secondly, when I look at the behaviour of our religious leaders, I wonder who, beyond Pope Francis (despite strong opposition from the establishment in the Vatican) and the Dalai Lama, even make a head-start on sharing these values. For the leaders of most religious sects, being in power is the dominant attraction of their beliefs, it seems.
When you study the scriptures, the development of ethics from the Old Testament and Hammurabi’s “an eye for an eye” through Moses’ 10 commandments, on to Jesus in the New Testament summarising the 10 into 2 – and explaining that your ‘neighbour’ might be a total stranger, yet worthy of your care and compassion – it brings home how established religions have failed over the past 2000 years to maintain the momentum of developing moral concepts as knowledge has grown and globalisation has created greater contact between differing cultures.
It is worth noting that at the time Jesus was alive, Sharia Law was practised by Jews as well as Arabs – and this was before the prophet Muhammed was born. As far as the Arabs are concerned, their progress has been minimal!
Looked at dispassionately, most of the established religions encourage conservatism because they are forever looking back to the Bible, the Torah, the Qur’an, etc for directions instead of realising that changing levels of knowledge require changing approaches to moral values.
To take a fairly trite example, both Islam and Judaism place a great deal of stress on various rituals regarding food. It is highly probable that these, very sensibly, were developed in the Middle East where, pre-refrigeration, hygiene and food storage were not adequate to prevent food deteriorating and affecting health. These rituals are now tied into religious practice, yet they are not now meaningful, merely historical reminders.
At a much more modern level, until the 1960s, any female between menarche and menopause was likely to become pregnant if she was engaged in sexual intercourse. If she was in a continuing relationship, frequent pregnancies meant she was not able to take on work outside family caring and household chores – which, in rural areas would extend outdoors.
Now, with women in developed countries enabled to complete the same education as their brothers, while contraceptive advances have given them better control over their reproductive functions, the patriarchal approach that kept women in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, is being thrown out of the window.
Over the centuries, the religious and mainly male-dominated governments have fought to control knowledge. But that is no longer possible.
The oft quoted “the only certainties in life are death and taxes” must now be amended to include “change”! And conservative males are fighting change, tooth and nail!
I often see it said that you grow more conservative as you get older.
Perhaps I was fortunate that, growing up in the UK, my mother supported the Tory Party while my father was a Labour adherent!
I benefitted by sitting on the fence, seeing both sides of the argument. But I also grew up absorbing an ethical, moral approach to life while eventually becoming an agnostic.
You do not need a god in order to distinguish between right and wrong. You need humility to admit when you are, in fact wrong, and, as with penance in the Catholic tradition – once you have acknowledged your error, you need to work your butt off to try to rectify matters!
I have an 18 years-old granddaughter who took part in Rebellion Extinction in Edinburgh and now has been on the platform in Trafalgar Square during ER London.
I am proud of her willingness to be active in highlighting the failure of governments to accept the fact of the climate emergency and take action – for a start in Australia by setting a carbon price! – to ensure that our grandchildren have a viable world to enjoy.
Conservatism puts a brake on progress and, at this point in history, the only brake we need is on global warming.
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