Ethics in religion
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Most religions have an ethical component, often derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance. According to Simon Blackburn, "For many people, ethics is not only tied up with religion, but is completely settled by it. Such people do not need to think too much about ethics, because there is an authoritative code of instructions, a handbook of how to live."1
Ethics, which is a major branch of philosophy, encompasses right conduct and good life. It is significantly broader than the common conception of analyzing right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or life that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than traditional moral conduct.2
Some assert that religion is necessary to live ethically. Blackburn states that, there are those who "would say that we can only flourish under the umbrella of a strong social order, cemented by common adherence to a particular religious tradition".3
- 1 Buddhist ethics
- 2 Christian ethics
- 3 Confucian ethics
- 4 Daoist ethics
- 5 Hindu ethics
- 6 Islamic ethics
- 7 Jewish ethics
- 8 Neopagan ethics
- 9 Scientology ethics
- 10 Secular ethics
- 11 Shinto ethics
- 12 Wiccan ethics
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 External links
Ethics in Buddhism are traditionally based on the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, or other enlightened beings who followed him. Moral instructions are included in Buddhist scriptures or handed down through tradition. Most scholars of Buddhist ethics thus rely on the examination of Buddhist scriptures, and the use of anthropological evidence from traditional Buddhist societies, to justify claims about the nature of Buddhist ethics.4
According to traditional Buddhism, the foundation of Buddhist ethics for laypeople is the Pancasila: no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or intoxicants. In becoming a Buddhist, or affirming one's commitment to Buddhism, a layperson is encouraged to vow to abstain from these negative actions. Buddhist monks and nuns take hundreds more such vows (see vinaya).
The sole reliance on traditional formulae or practices, however, can be questioned by Western Buddhists whose main concern is the practical solution of complex moral problems in the modern world. To find a justifiable approach to such problems it may be necessary not just to appeal to the precepts or the vinaya, but to use more basic Buddhist teachings (such as the Middle Way) to aid interpretation of the precepts and find more basic justifications for their usefulness relevant to all human experience. This approach avoids basing Buddhist ethics solely on faith in the Buddha's enlightenment or Buddhist tradition, and may allow more universal non-Buddhist access to the insights offered by Buddhist ethics.5
The Buddha provided some basic guidelines for acceptable behavior that are part of the Noble Eightfold Path. The initial percept is non-injury or non-violence to all living creatures from the lowest insect to humans. This precept defines an non-violent attitude toward every living thing. The Buddhist practice of this does not extend to the extremes exhibited by Jainism, but from both the Buddhist and Jain perspectives, non-violence suggests an intimate involvement with, and relationship to, all living things.6
Theravada monk Bhikkhu Bodhi has observed:
- "Buddhist ethics, as formulated in the five precepts, is sometimes charged with being entirely negative. ... [I]t has to be pointed out that the five precepts, or even the longer codes of precepts promulgated by the Buddha, do not exhaust the full range of Buddhist ethics. The precepts are only the most rudimentary code of moral training, but the Buddha also proposes other ethical codes inculcating definite positive virtues. The Mangala Sutta, for example, commends reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude, patience, generosity, etc. Other discourses prescribe numerous family, social, and political duties establishing the well being of society. And behind all these duties lie the four attitudes called the "immeasurables" — loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity."7
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Christian ethics in general has tended to stress the need for love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of sin. With divine assistance, the Christian is called to become increasingly virtuous in both thought and deed, see also the Evangelical counsels. Conversely, the Christian is also called to abstain from vice.
Christian ethical principles are based on the teachings within the Bible. They begin with the notion of inherent sinfulness, which requires essential atonement. Sin is estrangement from God which is the result of not doing God's will. God's will can be summed up by the precept: "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself", commonly called the Great Commandment. Christian ethics are founded upon the concept of grace which transforms a person's life and enable's one to choose and act righteously. As sin is both individual and social, so is grace applied to both the individual and society. Christian ethics has a teleological aspect--all ethical behavior is oriented towards a vision of the Kingdom of God--a righteous society where all live in peace and harmony with God and nature, as envisioned in the Book of Isaiah. Specific ethical behaviors originate in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, and are enriched by teachings in the Psalms and morals contained in historical accounts, see also Biblical law in Christianity.
Christian ethics is not substantially different from Jewish ethics, except in the exhortation to love one's enemy. Perhaps the greatest contribution of Christian ethics is this command to love one's enemies. It has been argued (see Chet Meyer's Binding the Strong Man, and John Yoder's The Politics of Jesus) that Jesus was waging a non-violent campaign against the Roman oppressors and many of his sayings relate to this campaign--turn the other cheek, go the second mile, etc. Understanding these commands as part of a larger campaign makes it impossible to interpret Christian ethics as an individual ethic. It is both an individual and a social ethic concerned with life here on earth.
Other tenets include maintaining personal integrity and the absence of hypocrisy, as well as honesty and loyalty, mercy and forgiveness, rejection of materialism and the desire for wealth and power, and teaching others in your life through personal joy, happiness and Godly devotion.
There are several different schema of vice and virtue. Aquinas adopted the four cardinal virtues of Aristotle, justice, courage, temperance and prudence, and added to them the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity (from St.Paul, 1 Corinthians 13). Other schema include the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven virtues. For more see Christian philosophy and Biblical law in Christianity.
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Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism emphasize the maintenance and propriety of relationships as the most important consideration in ethics. To be ethical is to do what one's relationships require. Notably, though, what you owe to another person is inversely proportional to their distance from you. In other words, you owe your parents everything, but you are not in any way obligated towards strangers. This can be seen as a recognition of the fact that it is impossible to love the entire world equally and simultaneously. This is called relational ethics, or situational ethics. The Confucian system differs very strongly from Kantian ethics in that there are rarely laws or principles which can be said to be true absolutely or universally.
This is not to say that there has never been any consideration given to universalist ethics. In fact, in Zhou Dynasty China, the Confucians' main opponents, the followers of Mozi argued for universal love (Chinese: 兼爱; pinyin: jiān ài). The Confucian view eventually held sway, however, and continues to dominate many aspects of Chinese thought. Many have argued, for example, that Mao Zedong was more Confucian than Communist. Confucianism, especially of the type argued for by Mencius (Chinese: 孟子; pinyin: mèng zĭ), argued that the ideal ruler is the one who (as Confucius put it) "acts like the North Star, staying in place while the other stars orbit around it". In other words, the ideal ruler does not go out and force the people to become good, but instead leads by example. The ideal ruler fosters harmony rather than laws.
Confucius stresses honesty above all. His concepts of lĭ (Chinese: 理), yì (Chinese: 義), and rén (Chinese: 仁) can be seen as deeper expressions of honesty (Chinese: 誠; pinyin: chéng; literally "sincerity") and fidelity (Chinese: 孝; pinyin: xiào) to the ones to whom one owes one's existence (parents) and survival (one's neighbours, colleagues, inferiors in rank). He codifed traditional practice and actually changed the meaning of the prior concepts that those words had meant. His model of the Confucian family and Confucian ruler dominated Chinese life into the early 20th century. This had ossified by then into an Imperial hierarchy of rigid property rights, hard to distinguish from any other dictatorship. Traditional ethics had been perverted by legalism.
Buddhism, and specifically Mahayana Buddhism, brought a cohesive metaphysic to Chinese thought and a strong emphasis on universalism. Neo-Confucianism was largely a reaction to Buddhism's dominance in the Tang dynasty, and an attempt at developing a native Confucian metaphysical/analytical system.
Laozi and other Daoist authors argued for an even greater passivity on the part of rulers than did the Confucians. For Laozi, the ideal ruler is one who does virtually nothing that can be directly identified as ruling. Clearly, both Daoism and Confucianism presume that human nature is basically good. The main branch of Confucianism, however, argues that human nature must be nurtured through ritual (li 禮), culture (wen 文) and other things, while the Daoists argued that the trappings of society were to be gotten rid of.
Hindu ethics are related to reincarnation, which is a way of expressing the need for reciprocity, as one may end up in someone else's shoes in their next incarnation. Intention is seen as very important, and thus selfless action for the benefit of others without thought for oneself is an important rule in Hinduism, known as the doctrine of karma yoga. This aspect of service is combined with an understanding that someone else's unfortunate situation, while of their own doing, is one's own situation since the soul within is the soul shared by all. The greeting namaskar is founded on the principle that one salutes the spark of the divine in the other. Kindness and hospitality are key Hindu values.
More emphasis is placed on empathy than in other traditions, and women are sometimes upheld not only as great moral examples but also as great gurus. Beyond that, the Mother is a Divine Figure, the Devi, and the aspect of the creative female energy plays a major role in the Hindu ethos. Vande Mataram, the Indian national song (not anthem) is based on the Divine mother as embodied by 'Mother India' paralleled to 'Ma Durga'. An emphasis on domestic life and the joys of the household and village may make Hindu ethics a bit more conservative than others on matters of sex and family.
Of all religions, Hinduism is among the most compatible with the view of approaching truth through various forms of art: its temples are often garishly decorated, and the idea of a guru who is both entrancing entertainer and spiritual guide, or who simply practices some unique devotion (such as holding up his arm right for his whole life, or rolling on the ground for years on a pilgrimage), is simply accepted as a legitimate choice in life.
Ethical traditions in Hinduism have been influenced by caste norms. In the mid-20th century Mohandas Gandhi, a Vaishnava, undertook to reform these and emphasize traditions shared in all the Indian faiths:
- vegetarianism and an ideology of harms reduction leading ultimately to nonviolence
- active creation of truth through courage and his 'satyagraha'
- rejection of cowardice and concern with pain or indeed bodily harm
The foundational source in the gradual codification of Islamic ethics was the Muslim understanding and interpretations of the mankind has been granted the faculty to discern God's will and to abide by it. This faculty most crucially involves reflecting over the meaning of existence, which, as John Kelsay in the Encyclopedia of Ethics phrases, "ultimately points to the reality of God." Therefore, regardless of their environment, humans are believed to have a moral responsibility to submit to God's will and to follow Islam (as demonstrated in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, or the sayings of Muhammad) Quran 7:172).8
This natural inclination is, according to the Qur'an, subverted by mankind's focus on material success: such focus first presents itself as a need for basic survival or security, but then tends to manifest into a desire to become distinguished among one's peers. Ultimately, the focus on materialism, according to the Islamic texts, hampers with the innate reflection as described above, resulting in a state of jahiliyya or "ignorance."8
Muslims believe that Muhammad, like other prophets in Islam, was sent by God to remind human beings of their moral responsibility, and challenge those ideas in society which opposed submission to God. According to Kelsay, this challenge was directed against five main characteristics of pre-Islamic Arabia:8
- The division of Arabs into varying tribes (based upon blood and kinship). This categorization was confronted by the ideal of a unified community based upon Islamic piety, an "ummah;"
- The acceptance of the worship of a multitude of deities besides Allah - a view challenged by strict Islamic monotheism, which dictates that Allah has no partner in worship nor any equal;
- The trait of muruwwa (manliness), which Islam discouraged, instead emphasizing on the traits of humility and piety;
- The focus on achieving fame or establishing a legacy, which was replaced by the concept that mankind would be called to account before God on the day of resurrection;
- The reverence of and compliance with ancestral traditions, a practice challenged by Islam — which instead assigned primacy to submitting to God and following revelation.
These changes lay in the reorientation of society as regards to identity and life of the Muslim belief, world view, and the hierarchy of values. From the viewpoint of subsequent generations, this caused a great transformation in the society and moral order of life in the Arabian Peninsula. For Muhammad, although pre-Islamic Arabia exemplified "heedlessness," it was not entirely without merit. Muhammad approved and exhorted certain aspects of the Arab pre-Islamic tradition, such as the care for one’s near kin, for widows, orphans, and others in need and for the establishment of justice. However, these values would be re-ordered in importance and placed in the context of strict monotheism.8
Furthermore, a Muslim should not only follow these five main characteristics, but also be more broad about his morals. Therefore, the more the Muslim is applying these rules, the better that person is morally. For example,Islamic ethics can be applied by important verses in there holy book (The Quran). The most fundamental characteristics of a Muslim are piety and humility. A Muslim must be humble with God and with other people:
“And turn not your face away from people (with pride), nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, God likes not each arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the ass.” (Quran 31:18-19)
Muslims must be in controls of their passions and desires.
A Muslim should not be vain or attached to the ephemeral pleasures of this world. While most people allow the material world to fill their hearts, Muslims should keep God in their hearts and the material world in their hand. Instead of being attached to the car and the job and the diploma and the bank account, all these things become tools to make us better people. Morality in Islam addresses every aspect of a Muslim’s life, from greetings to international relations. It is universal in its scope and in its applicability. Morality reigns in selfish desires, vanity and bad habits. Muslims must not only be virtuous, but they must also enjoin virtue. They must not only refrain from evil and vice, but they must also forbid them. In other words, they must not only be morally healthy, but they must also contribute to the moral health of society as a whole.
“You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in God; and if the followers of the Book had believed it would have been better for them; of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors.” (Quran: 3:110)
The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, summarized the conduct of a Muslim when he said:
“My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or in public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich, to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right.”
Jewish ethics may be said to originate with the Hebrew Bible, its broad legal injunctions, wisdom narratives and prophetic teachings. Most subsequent Jewish ethical claims may be traced back to the texts, themes and teachings of the written Torah.
In early rabbinic Judaism, the oral Torah both interprets the Hebrew Bible and delves afresh into many other ethical topics. The best known rabbinic text associated with ethics is the non-legal Mishnah tractate of Avot, popularly translated as Ethics of the Fathers. Generally, ethics is a key aspect of non-legal rabbinic literature, known as aggadah, and ethical teachings are found throughout the more legal (halakhic) portions of the Mishnah, Talmud and other rabbinic literature. This early Rabbinic ethics shows signs of cross-fertilization and polemical exchange with both the Greek (Western philosophical) ethical tradition and early Christian tradition.
In the medieval period, direct Jewish responses to Greek ethics may be seen in major rabbinic writings. Notably, Maimonides offers a Jewish interpretation of Aristotle (e.g., Nicomachean Ethics), who enters into Jewish discourse through Islamic writings. Maimonides, in turn, influences Thomas Aquinas, a dominant figure in Catholic ethics and the natural law tradition of moral theology. The relevance of natural law to medieval Jewish philosophy is a matter of dispute among scholars.
Ethics in systematic form, and apart from religious belief, is as little found in apocryphal or Judæo-Hellenistic literature as in the Bible. However, Greek philosophy greatly influenced Alexandrian writers such as the authors of IV Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, and Philo.
Much progress in theoretical ethics came as Jews came into closer contact with the Hellenic world. Before that period the Wisdom literature shows a tendency to dwell solely on the moral obligations and problems of life as appealing to man as an individual, leaving out of consideration the ceremonial and other laws which concern only the Jewish nation. From this point of view Ben Sira's collection of sayings and monitions was written, translated into Greek, and circulated as a practical guide. The book contains popular ethics in proverbial form as the result of everyday life experience, without higher philosophical or religious principles and ideals.
More developed ethical works emanated from Hasidean circles in the Maccabean time, such as are contained in Tobit, especially in Chapter IV. Here the first ethical will or testament is found, giving a summary of moral teachings, with the Golden Rule, "Do that to no man which thou hatest!" as the leading maxim. There are even more elaborate ethical teachings in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in which each of the twelve sons of Jacob, in his last words to his children and children's children, reviews his life and gives them moral lessons, either warning them against a certain vice he had been guilty of, so that they may avoid divine punishment, or recommending them to cultivate a certain virtue he had practised during life, so that they may win God's favor. The chief virtues recommended are love for one's fellow man, industry, especially in agricultural pursuits, simplicity, sobriety, benevolence toward the poor, compassion even for the brute and avoidance of all passion, pride, and hatred. Similar ethical farewell monitions are attributed to Enoch in the Ethiopic Enoch (xciv. et seq.) and the Slavonic Enoch (lviii. et seq.) and to the three patriarchs.
The Hellenistic Jewish propaganda literature made the propagation of Jewish ethics taken from the Bible its main object for the sake of winning the pagan world to pure monotheism. It was owing to this endeavor that certain ethical principles were laid down as guiding maxims for the Gentiles, first of all the three capital sins, idolatry, murder, and incest, were prohibited (see Sibyllines, iii. 38, 761; iv. 30 et seq.). In later Jewish rabbinic literature these Noachide Laws were gradually developed into six, seven, and ten, or thirty laws of ethics binding upon every human being.
Germanic Neopagans, including followers of both Asatru and Theodism, try to emulate the ethical values of the ancient Germanic peoples (Norse or Anglo-Saxon) through the form of the Nine Noble Virtues.
Secular ethics is a moral philosophy in which ethics are based solely on human faculties such as scientific reason, sociobiological composition, or ethical intuition, and not derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance. Secular ethics comprise a wide variety of moral and ethical systems including consequentialism, freethinking, humanism, secular humanism, and utilitarianism, among others.
The majority of secular moral concepts are based on the acceptance of natural rights and social contracts, and on a more individual scale of either some form of attribution of intrinsic value to things, Kantianesque ethical intuitionism or of a logical deduction that establishes a preference for one thing over another, as with Occam's razor. Approaches such as ethical egoism, moral relativism, moral skepticism, and moral nihilism are also considered.
Wiccan morality is largely based on the Wiccan Rede: 'An it harm none, do what ye will'. While this could be interpreted to mean "do no harm at all", it is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one's actions.10
Another element of Wiccan Morality comes from the Law of Threefold Return, which is understood to mean that whatever one does to another person or thing (benevolent or otherwise) returns with triple force.11
Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess,12 these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy.citation needed
- Aristotelian ethics
- Catholic moral theology
- Divine command theory
- Ethic of reciprocity
- Ethics without religion
- Evolutionary ethics
- Islamic bioethics
- Simon, Blackburn (2001). Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-19-280442-6.
- Singer, P. (1993) Practical Ethics, 2nd edition (p.10), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Simon, Blackburn (2001). Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-19-280442-6.
- Damien Keown The Nature of Buddhist Ethics Macmillan 1992; Peter Harvey An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics Cambridge University Press 2000
- Robert Ellis A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity (Ph.D. thesis)
- Carl Olson, The Different Paths of Buddhism p.73
- Bodhi (1994). For other examples of Buddhist discourses that promote ethical behaviors among laity see, for instance, the Sigalovada Sutta (referred to as "the Vinaya of the householder" by Buddhaghosa) and the Dhammika Sutta.
- Islamic ethics, Encyclopedia of Ethics
- Harrow, Judy (1985) "Exegesis on the Rede" in Harvest vol. 5, Number 3 (Oimelc 1985). Retrieved 26 February 2007.
- Gerald Gardner, High Magic's Aid, London: Michael Houghton, 1949, p.303
- Farrar, Janet & Stewart, Eight Sabbats for Witches.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1981/1994). Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts (The Wheel Publication No. 282/284). Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. (Originally published 1981 and transcribed for Internet publication in 1994.) Retrieved 2007-11-12 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html.
- Bullitt, John T. (2005a). The Eight Precepts (attha-sila). Retrieved 2007-11-12 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sila/atthasila.html.
- Bullitt, John T. (2005b). The Five Precepts (pañca-sila). Retrieved 2007-11-12 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sila/pancasila.html.
- Davis, John Jefferson (1985). Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co. ISBN 0-87552-222-X
- De La Torre, Miguel A., "Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins," Orbis Books, 2004.