Morality is questions of a persons feeling and preference, and based on what is morally good or bad. Religion is a system of belief in and worship of a God. My aim in this essay is to explore the many possible links between the two.
Plato looked at the links between morality and religion with his euthyphro dilemma. When euthyphro found his father had let a man die, rather than dining with his father he set out to prosecute him. The discussion lies in weather God had commanded him to prosecute his father, or weather it was something inside him which told him to do so. Plato considered the idea of there being a standard of good independent of God, which we all aspire to. So this could be interpreted as saying that morality is independent from religion. Whereas euthyphro says that what God commands is good because God commands it. In this case morality would be included in religion, as what God commands would be morally obligatory, and not based on morals of our own.
Some say the many possible links between morality and religion can be reduced to three.
Firstly that morality is autonomous, that it is independent from religion and principles are justified by reasons or experience alone. This links to Davis’ theory of morality being opposed to religion, he talks of James Rachels who identifies the fact that to believe in God we must follow his commands, but to do this is going against what it means to be a moral agent, as this means being completely self-directed. Bertrand Russell says that it is religion itself that prevents us from developing our own morals, as a moral code is imposed upon people by religion.
Secondly that morality is heteronomous, that it is dependent on religious beliefs, or has been based on ideas of religion. This links with Davis’ theories of morality being pointless without religion, or morality requiring religion. Davis talks of a monk who was quoted saying if he did not think God existed he would leave the monastery. It supports a theory that the demands of morality are only worth sticking to if there is a God who will reward you for doing so and punish you for not. He is saying that is there is a reason for being moral, it can only be that it pays to be so through religion.
But this is different to Kant’s view that is mentioned when Davis talks of morality requiring religion. Kant believes that there is something about morality that should lead us to believe in God. He believes that everything we do we do to reach the ‘highest good’, and morality requires us to do this. But we cannot reach the ‘highest good’ without the help of a divine being, and so God should exist to ensure that humanity can achieve what it is striving for; moral perfection. Kant says that if we are virtuous we should be rewarded, and if there is no reward then God cannot exist
There are other arguments that morality gives us grounds for the belief in the existence of God. Some argue that moral laws and commands imply the existence of a moral law-giver or commander. H.P.Owen says that you cannot have a comand with out a commander. He argues that people would not feel morally responsible, or guilty if moral laws did not have some kind of personal explanation, and this personal basis lies in the will of God. Newman argues that we can not feel fear, shame or responsibility at going against our conscience if there is not someone to whom we are responsible, who we are ashamed in front of. Trethowan argues that we come to know god through direct moral experience, and as we have moral obligations God must exist.
In conclusion Mel Thomas makes the point that heteronomy is enviable as even if you don’t follow religion society’s morals are influenced my religious views that have been around for thousands of years.
The third possibility is that morality is theonomous, that both it and religion depend on a common source for principles and values. It could be argued that Aquinas’ idea of Natural Law is theonomous, in that it is based on the idea of an uncaused first cause as the creative source of all, and suggests there is a sense of purpose in the universe that has an end to which everything tends. Though Aquinas uses the ideas of Aristotle as an argument for the existence of God, they were not originally this. The same source provides the basis for both ethical theory and religion. Also the basic principles of Natural Moral Law are both ethical theories in themselves as well as being included in religion.
The idea of theonomy links to Davis’ theory that morality is included in religion. The basic idea of which is that being moral is part of what being religious means. He says that if you feel morally obliged to do something its because it is the will of God, and this makes it morally obligatory.
There are many more arguments for links beween morality and religion, heteronomy, theonomy and autonomy are just a few of the most basic.