Essay on Religion and Ethics

In the world today, there are two extremely different and distinct sets of values that most people follow. There are religious values, and there are also the ethical values of society. Some people find it important to strictly live by the guidelines of religion, while others feel they need only to obey societies moral codes or ethics. This is a never-ending conflict. Religion and ethics are two very separate entities in the world, and are two forms of values that definitely have opposing views of what is right and wrong. This is why religion and ethics cannot, and will not, ever agree with each other. It is easy to understand how these two sides cannot agree with each other and how they have completely opposing views when analyzing the topics of abortion, war, and homosexuality.

First of all, when examining how religion and the ethical values of society are in constant disagreement with each other, an important topic to analyze is that of abortion. In modern North American culture, abortion is a legal and widely accepted practise. It is considered ethical according to societies criteria, to kill an unborn child.

“Legislative action in the 20th century has been aimed at permitting the termination of unwanted pregnancies for medical, social, or private reasons. Abortions at the woman’s request were first allowed in post-revolutionary Russia in 1920, followed by Japan and several East European nations after World War II (1939-1945). In the late 1960′s liberalized abortion regulations became widespread.”

Specifically in Canada, abortion first became legal in 1967 when the Minister of Justice at that time, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, passed a bill which permitted the act. Abortions also became legal in the United States of America in the early 1970′s. This was, in large part, the result of a high rate of illegal abortions, and a feminist movement that swept through North America. Currently abortion rates are also on the rise. In 1975 for example, statistics revealed that only a mere 4.5 per cent of the women in Canada had had an abortion. Statistics in 1993 however, uncovered that by the early 1990′s, almost 17 per cent of Canadian women had had an abortion at least once. Currently, statistics show that that number is still increasing. As time has passed, more and more people have turned to abortion, and abortion has become more and more of a socially-accepted, and ethical practise.

In sharp contrast to society however, when looking at religion, abortion is not an accepted practise by any means. First of all, Buddhism does not accept or sanction abortion. In fact, “…abortion has been severely disapproved of in the Buddhist tradition.” Buddhism is a religion that teaches that all forms of life must be respected, and places the act of killing a fetus “under the general heading of intentional killing.” Therefore, Buddhism ultimately looks down on abortion as criminal.

Hinduism is no different from Buddhism, as Hinduism also disapproves of abortion. In modern-day Hinduism, abortion is also considered a seriously wrongful action. While there are no Hindu scriptures that clearly prohibit the act of abortion, countless Hindu scholars around the world feel that abortion is an immoral act that is contrary to the values of Hinduism. This perception has much to do with Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was an extremely important figure in Hinduism throughout the 20th century who spoke out against abortion. In fact, one of Gandhi’s most memorable quotes was: “It seems to me as clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime.” This statement is exceptionally powerful, as Gandhi is widely accepted among Hindu’s today, as the “father of the nation.” Many Hindu’s even consider Gandhi an avatar (a re-incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu). Therefore, Gandhi’s thoughts and values play an important role in modern-day Hinduism, and have become the basis through which Hindu people are taught about the wickedness of abortion. Thus, the act of abortion is not considered obedient to the teachings of Hinduism.

Another religion which disagrees with the ethics of society, and proves that religion and ethics have completely different views concerning abortion, is Judaism. Abortion is considered a vice in Judaism. “Jewish law expressly and sharply condemns any effort to cut off the life of a person by even minutes, considering all such efforts acts of murder.” In fact, Judaism teaches Jews to have many children. It teaches Jews to love these children before and after birth. Most importantly, Jewish scripture commands that Jews “be fruitful and multiply.” “True Judaism is in complete contrast to acceptance of abortion.” Jews believe that God “does not need to seek any person’s opinion or approval about anything in His creation. This includes the unborn.” Therefore, Judaism strongly disagrees with the ethical values of society.

The last important view on abortion that should be covered, when learning how religion and ethics disagree, is the Islamic perception concerning this argument. Like most other religions, Islam is also a religion that is against aborting the life of an unborn child. In the holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, it is said (in Surah 25: Al-Furqan: 74) that fertility is a highly prized blessing and that children are a gift of God to bring “joy to our eyes.” Another popular quote from the Qur’an which proves Islam’s resistance to abortion (which is found in Surah 6: At-Talaqa: 2-3) is the quotation which commands to Muslims: “Do not kill your children for fear of poverty, for it is He who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them.” While this quote can be interpreted in a variety of ways, many Muslim followers today view this quotation as a law against the killing of not only living children, but a law against killing the unborn as well. Therefore, through discovering how, in accordance with the ethical values of society, abortion is considered a normative practise which is a human right, and learning how the major religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam feel strongly against the practise of abortion, it seems very clear and obvious that the ethical values of society and the values of religion do not coincide with each other at all concerning this topic.

Another crucial theme to investigate when looking at how religion and societies’ ethics are two very separate value systems, is the theme of war. In the world today, war is most definitely an ethical and socially-accepted form of diplomacy. War is not necessarily something that most people of the world hope for, but it is unquestionably seen as an accepted way to deal with problems between nations. Governments are constantly sending their countries troops to war to fight for things such as land, freedom, and sometimes because of hatred. In fact, there have been several wars in the last one hundred years. War is constantly an issue in the world. In fact, countries have even created rules for war in the form of the Geneva Convention. Now, why would countries create rules for war? Well, many people believe that countries create these rules to make war more ethical and accepted within society. It is obvious that this works, not only evident in the fact that war is constantly being re-created in heroic fashion in hundreds of movies, novels and video games, but because war is promoted by society. Countries encourage men to go to war in the form of propaganda. In truth, during some wars, especially World War I and World War II, countries went as far as to promote their cause with posters and newspaper advertisements. Countries portrayed soldiers as hero’s, and loyal servants of their countries. So, because war is promoted by society, it must be considered ethical. However, war is not seen as a such a righteous and virtuous occasion by all facets of the human race.

Most religions do not agree with societies views of war. In Judaism, unlike societies ethics, war is looked down upon. For instance, Jewish people believe that war is a crime, and that humans need to maintain peace by all means necessary.

“Peace, and the pursuit of peace, ranks high in the scale of Jewish values. War is held to be an abomination permissible only in defence of life. Moreover, not only is the word Shalom (“peace”) always used in greetings, but the rabbi of the Talmud declare Shalom to be one of the names of God. All the more important prayers conclude with a prayer for peace on earth.”

War is considered a wrongdoing on the highest level in Judaism. “The basis of Jewish ethics is the doctrine of Imitatio Dei. Man, created in God’s image, is obliged to be God-like in showing compassion and mercy, practising justice and performing acts of charity and benevolence to all God’s creatures.” Killing, which is obviously an element of war, goes against this doctrine.

Secondly, when understanding how different societies ethics and religious beliefs are through analysing war, it is important to study the important religion of Buddhism. Unlike societies ethical values, Buddhism does not encourage or promote war. In fact, war is strongly discouraged in Buddhism. This is evident in many ways. First of all, Buddhism is based on the five Precepts of Buddha. The first, and most important Precept commands people “to refrain from taking life.” Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) taught that killing (a consequence of war) was sinful and morally wrong. Many of Buddha’s rules in fact, are contained within the most widespread Buddhist scripture, known as the Way of Righteousness. In this scripture, a direct quotation from Buddha himself reads: “All men tremble at punishment, all men fear death; remember that you are like unto them, and do not kill, nor cause slaughter.” It is widely believed that this quotation is a warning to those who want to initiate war. This quote commands men to drop their arms, and stop their fighting. However, the most important evidence which proves that Buddhism prohibits war comes in the Buddhist story, “The Peacemaker.” This story, which is found in Buddhist scripture, tells of a time when Buddha stood between two kings whose kingdoms were ready to go to war over land. The story explains how Buddha questioned both kings, and asked them if a piece of land was worth dying for. He then lectured them about the evils of war, and the scripture explains that Buddha convinced the two men to come to a peaceful agreement. Buddhist people feel that this story demonstrates that Buddha was a great adversary of peace. Buddha taught his followers that war is useless, and a sin in Buddhism. Therefore, it is noticeable that Buddhist values are not at all like the ethics of society.

Now, it is also valuable, when studying religious values versus ethical values, to realize the Islamic ideas of war. Contrary to popular belief, Islam is a religion that does not promote war. While it is widely believed that Muslims are taught to spread their religion through war and conquering, there is a very important Islamic belief of Sufism that suggests otherwise. “Sufism is Islam’s tolerant, mystical and universal philosophy. Its message of sulh-I-kul, peace with all, has been endeared it to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” Through this universal code of Sufism which Muslims believe in, it is taught that all men must learn to accept each others differences, and have patience with others who are different. Sufism’s main message is to have compassion for your fellow man, to have humility, and to be part of a universal love. Wars have nothing to do with this universal love. All wars are based on hatred and anger. This is not Sufism’s message to Islamic followers at all. Islam is a religion which does not support war.

Lastly, it is of great importance when discussing religion and ethics to understand that war is something that is also frowned upon in the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, the United States government (a government which portrays war as an ethical practise) has been preparing for a war on Iraq. In response to a suggested first military strike on Iraq, Archbishop Renato Martino of the Vatican (the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church), expressed the Churches position on the matter. “Everyone knows the way (the Persian Gulf War) turned out. War doesn’t resolve problems, “the Archbishop told an Italian newspaper, “besides being bloody, it’s useless.” Archbishop Martino also warned that war would have “unacceptable human costs and grave destabilizing effects,” and that the Vatican is completely opposed to the concept of war. So, in the end, it seems undeniable that Roman Catholics also are opposed to warfare and all of the negative effects of war. Therefore, through analysing how moralistic and patriotic war is considered by society’s standards, and observing the extreme disapproval that religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Roman Catholicism give against war, it becomes clear just how conflicting societies ethical values, and religious values are, based on war and the state of war.

The final topic that is important to explore when studying the differences in values between the ethics of society and religion, is homosexuality. While it is not the most popular aspect of modern society to some people, homosexuality is absolutely something that is allowed and mostly accepted within society. The acceptance of homosexuals is also constantly growing. Homosexuality in the world today is generally considered ethical. In all first world nations in fact, homosexuals are permitted to live together, show signs of affection towards each other in public places, and in some areas, such as Denmark, homosexual partners are even allowed to be legally married to one another. In the United States, homosexual couples are allowed to legally adopt children. This is something that was never allowed before, but has recently been allowed to accommodate the ever-growing acceptance of homosexuals. Confirmation that society is surely beginning to accept homosexuality was proven in the early 1990′s when two American researchers, an anthropologist named Clellan Ford and a psychologist by the name of Frank A. Beach, did a study of several communities in various countries around the world. They found that “during modern times, ambivalent attitudes (had) prevailed.” Ford’s and Beach’s studies led them to conclude that, at the time of their study “two-thirds (of the 76 societies they studied) consider homosexual activities normal and socially acceptable.” In fact, since their study, more societies have begun to accept homosexuality. This toleration of homosexuality first began in the 1970′s when a large group of homosexuals stormed the American Psychiatric Association conference on successive years and demanded that “homosexuality” be removed from the international list of mental illnesses. Since then, people’s perceptions of homosexuals have changed. Currently, there are television shows which feature homosexual characters, homosexual-rights groups, and countless public figures, such as movie stars, writers, and singers, that openly admit to being gay, and proud of it. In fact, current research shows that about 1-2% of the people in North America are gay. This number is still growing, as public opinion is slowly swaying more and more towards accepting homosexuality.

At any rate, while society has begun to adopt homosexuality as a way of life and legalize it, religions do not agree with this newfound public acceptance of homosexuality. Firstly, it is critical to take a look at the Anglican church’s position on the matter. The Anglican religion does not allow homosexuality. Actually, this point was highlighted in June of 2002, after the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia decided to give their blessing to those in their community who wanted to join in same-sex relationships. In response to the Diocese’s decision to give permission for homosexuals to express their homosexuality, a backlash erupted in the Anglican community across Canada. The day after this occurred, thirteen Anglican bishops issued a statement of regret over the decision that read: “We regret the decision of the Diocese of New Westminster to move independently toward the blessing of same-sex unions.” The statement expressed that the decision that the Diocese made was in complete conflict with the “moral teachings of the Holy Scripture and the tradition of the universal church.” There was also a call by these Anglican bishops of Canada not to implement the New Westminster decision because they felt that all it would do was prove that their religion was weak, and could easily be influenced by a far too liberal society. This Anglican outrage is a true example of a religion showing their disapproval of homosexuality.

The Roman Catholic Church is no different either because, while homosexuality is not considered a disease or an illness by the ethics of society any more, Roman Catholicism’s view of homosexuality is completely opposite to the ethical views of society. The Roman Catholic Church first spoke out against homosexuality in 1975 with the publication of the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual ethics. This declaration clearly made it known that homosexuality was strictly prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church. This created a great debate in society at the time. Then, in 1986, the Roman Catholic Church issued the publication of the Letter on Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. This letter made it clear, once again, that homosexuality was a sin by saying: “Genital acts between members of the same sex are labelled intrinsically disordered.” In paragraph 7 of the letter it stated that homosexuality was an “intrinsic moral evil,” and that “homosexual activity prevent one’s own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God.” Therefore, it becomes clear that the Roman Catholic Church is against societies acceptance of homosexuality.

Similarly, in Judaism, just as is this case in the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church, societies acceptance of homosexuality is condemned. Dating from biblical times, Jews have always looked to the law in Leviticus that states that a homosexual relationship between two men is “an abomination,” and it commands that these men “be put to death.” In modern Judaism, while a homosexual will not be put to death, Jews still follow their tradition and forbid homosexuality because Jewish tradition has always warned “against two males sleeping together.” Therefore, it is warranted to say that Judaism does not have nearly the same view on homosexuality as the ethics of society do.

Finally, the last important religion to recognize, when studying the differences between religion and ethics concerning homosexualism, is Islam. Islam is no different than most other religions when it comes to the discussion of homosexuality, in that it is also prohibited. “Islam teaches that homosexuality is a violation of the will of Allah (God) and also that it is unnatural. It is thus a serious violation of Islamic law.” There is even direct proof of this in the book of Islam. In the Qur’an, there is a parable that tells the story of the nation of Laut. In this nation, the Qur’an explains that many people were lost “deep into homosexuality.” Hazrat Laut (the Muslim prophet), warned the people to stop their evil ways and to stop performing these unnatural and sickening actions, but the people would not listen. The Qur’an then resolves the story by explaining that Hazrat Laut took his family and followers, and left the evil nation. The story then concludes by saying that God then “sent stones and inverted the land on (the homosexuals) as a severe punishment.” Therefore, the teachings of the Qur’an prove that Islam is definitely a religion that does not condone homosexual behaviour at all. Consequently, through observing how the ethics of society view homosexuals as normal, average people that are allowed to do whatever they like in terms of sexuality, and observing how the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Judaism and Islam prohibit anything but heterosexual activity between a man and a woman, it is certain that the ethical values of society, and the moral values of religion do not correspond concerning this subject at all.

Religion and ethics cannot, and will not agree with each other. This becomes obvious when re-examining the difference in values between ethics and religion concerning the three main topics, beginning with abortion. Societies ethics allow for abortion, claiming that abortion is a person’s legal right, and a normal process. On the other hand, the majority of religions feel that abortion is a crime, and an act of murder. Also, religion and ethics have conflicting views when it comes to the topic of war as well. Society promotes and encourages war, while most religions feel that war is a devastating and tragic event that is classified as sinful. Religion and ethics also firmly disagree concerning homosexuality. According to society, homosexuality is becoming more and more of an ethical and accepted form of love in modern culture, while religions still completely prohibit homosexual behaviour and activity, claiming that it is unnatural and disgusting.

Therefore, it is indisputable that the ethical values of modern society, and the moral values and teachings of religion are very different and have drastically opposing views of life. In fact, religious values and societies values are constantly moving in opposite directions of each other, and they will continue to do so for the remainder of eternity.

While ethics and society have always had problems and disagreements between each other based on their extremely different values and moral codes, these disagreements will only get worse in the future as their values become progressively more different. Ethics and society will always be fighting against each other in a never-ending battle of what is right and what is wrong. The struggle between the two will never end, and could possibly result in the downfall of mankind.



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