Does morality stem from religion?
- ‘Morality’ is defined as “a doctrine or system of moral conduct,” principles, virtue, and “conformity to ideals of right human conduct.”
- ‘Religion’ is defined as “the belief in a God or a group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods,” and also as what humans “regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.”
- The world’s most popular religions are Christianity (at an estimated 2.38 billion people), Islam (at an estimated 1.91 billion), and Hinduism (at an estimated 1.16 billion).
- Gallup’s Religion 2021 stats reveal that 35% of Americans reported to be Protestant, 22% Catholic, 9% Christian (nonspecific), 2% Jewish, 1% Mormon, 6% other, and 21% no religion. Respondents reported their religion was 49% very important, 27% fairly important, and 25% not important to them.
While Americans increasingly identify themselves as 'not religious,' many continue to claim to adhere to morality without believing in religion. The truth is, however, that morality without a god or religion could never be absolute, always leading to moral relativism, which is inherently flawed. Without an established god or religion to define right or wrong, one is stuck with key flaws in moral relativism—that anything goes and there are no objective truths.
As science requires the idea of objectivity, that is, 'faithfulness to facts,' morality similarly requires an absolute, objective source to define right or wrong. Without objectivity, moral relativism removes our ability to discuss what we observe as being right or wrong. A major criticism of moral relativism is that horrendous customs are more likely to exist 'if approved by the codes of the societies in which they exist.' For example, while cannibalism is considered wrong today, it has existed in certain cultures throughout history. Some even currently strive to justify cannibalism based on varying cultural customs. But just because something has happened in cultures past (whether that is cannibalism, slavery, human sacrifice, etc.) doesn't make it morally right. This is just the beginning of these 'blurred lines' that moral relativism creates.
Plus, when God is taken out of the equation, one will not find an enlightened, peaceful utopia, as evidenced in the moral decline of modern America. In the end, even the brightest people in society cannot prove something is right or wrong without an objective, outside source, and isn't that what the best, most intelligent people insist on? As 81% of Americans claim to be concerned about the moral decline of society, it may be time to throw out Dawkins' morally relativistic anthologies and open that dusty, old Bible again.
Morality is instinctive and predates modern organized religion. Humanity's earliest concepts of morality are found in ancient oral stories. Deities in these stories acted and functioned as characters portraying the moral struggles of mortals' early civilizations. 'There is a clear analogy with purely human client-relations, which are validated in the Homeric narrative since the poems were probably originally sung at the courts,' writes British philosopher John Hare. Religions may well stem from these early communications.
Religious or not, it's observed that 'babies exhibit empathy, fairness, justice'; thus, moral concepts are naturally understood. In America, 23% of citizens are non-religious, with other religions varying widely, yet our culture insists on upholding morality. Just look at cancel culture, the #MeToo movement, or the trial of George Floyd's murderer. Our culture proudly seeks 'justice for all' without requiring a state-sanctioned religion to intervene. Moreover, US criminals are majoritively religious and virtually never atheistic according to a statistic, 'self-described atheists made up a mere 0.1% of the federal prison population.'
Finally, despite lacking religion, other ape species possess moral compasses, and mammals exhibit sympathetic social responses that primatologist De Waal calls 'altruistic impulse.' Dr. Ralph Lewis clarifies the impulse is motivated by 'intense empathic distress' and that 'in humans, the same emotional brain circuits are activated when we observe others feeling pain,' driving us to altruistic actions.
As Socrates sagely asked, 'Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is right?' And as the classic Greek myths show, the gods' involvement in human matters breeds various moral issues. If anything, religious doctrine stemmed from humans' innate morality, but not the other way around.