Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  9: Religion, Morality and Ethics

Section 1 Introduction

All societies need moral codes in order to survive. Without moral rules there is disharmony and chaos that no society can long survive. The question for this century is where are these codes to come from? Upon what foundation will society build its ideas of what is right and what is wrong, of what is expected of human beings and of what is to be disapproved and possible prohibited and punished?

For millennia humans have rested their ideas of morality within the foundations of the religion itself. Indeed some theorists believe that in one way or another the need for moral guidance or some form of rule for human behavior is at the heart of religion. It is one of the most characteristic features of a religious tradition to have a moral code. So pervasive is this within the cultures of the world that many question whether or not it is possible to have any other foundation for morality.

During the last century post modernist thought had removed religion from serious consideration as a secure foundation for moral rule making. Indeed, in the post modernist age ethical relativity has come to be one of the most popular theories with both ethicists and ordinary folk in western technological societies. Descriptive ethical relativism has led to normative ethical relativism. Part of the difficulties facing contemporary societies is finding a common foundation for a moral order. In the absence of a move toward religious revivalism it is difficult to foresee how a new moral order will emerge. Much of the world has moved to a renewal of the religious foundation for that order. Islam is rapidly spreading its rule of religious law throughout much of the world. Part of the appeal of Islam is its clear depiction of a moral life.  However this clarity is matched by a narrowness and disproval of change within Islamic tradition that is not favored by those seeking social advance.  Even within the advanced technological societies there are indications of a desire for such order. Buddhism has found new followers among some of the most well to do of what are essentially materialistic cultures.

Against the religious revivalism is there any other alternative for finding the basis for a moral life?

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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