Ethics, Morality and Religion- Critiques of Religious Morality

An essay on the main critiques of religious morality.

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"Examine two critiques on the relationship between religion and morality"
Since modern civilisation, there have been questions raised as to whether morality is
dependent on religion. There are many scholars who have endeavoured to prove that
morality is or isn't dependant on religion by exposing flaws in the commonly held beliefs of
people who suggest the opposite.
A modern controversial critique of religious morality is simply- religion is immoral. This
argument is supported by many modern scholars such as Dawkins, Dennet and Hitchens. It is
an argument which uses a variety of biblical, ethical, philosophical and scientific evidence to
prove that religion itself is immoral and therefore cannot be the basis for morality.
Harris attacks biblical scripture for its failings and uses it to prove that morality exists
outside of religion. He says that humans are the `guarantors' of the Bible. Man has decided
what is useful and what is not. Using `golden rule' as an example he says that the "wisest
thing" ever to come out of the bible- "so whatever you wish that men would do to you, do
so to them" Mathew 7:12- has been chosen as the golden rule over other heinous, violent
suggestions in the bible such as "if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, you must
take her to her father's doorstep and stone her to death" Deuteronomy 22:13-21. For
Harris, it is unavoidable that we (man) did not choose the latter as the `golden rule' because
it is immoral- that we have a source outside of religion giving us morality. Therefore, Harris
does not only highlight an issue with immoral suggestions being present in the bible but
points out the fact that man has conveniently chosen to "ignore" seemingly immoral
One major critique of religious morality is that there are flaws in the scriptures and sacred
texts on which moral teachings are based. Some suggest that, due to their nature, they are
interpretable and subsequently culturally relative. An example of this, which is applicable to
present social issues, is the interpretation of some scriptures in the Qu'ran. Extremist
groups often condone their actions in the name of Islam. This can be attributed to scriptures
within their holy book which are left open to interpretation Q9:123 "O ye who believe! Fight
the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah
is with those who keep their duty unto Him". The issue with this is that if there are
scriptures which are open to interpretation and can therefore be misconstrued then it is
questionable whether it is a reliable basis for morality?
Another issue with religious morality which is often brought up is that fear provides a basis
for religion. Can moral goodness really be genuine when based on fear? If, for instance,
someone does not commit crimes or sins due to the fear of the implications (such as hell)
then it is questionable whether someone is acting out of complete unadulterated morality
or acting out for self-preservation.

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In Britain, there is religious freedom. In theory, government and politics are secular- primarily
to prevent the persecution of religious groups by others thus stopping a particular religion
having governmental control. Other places (some parts of the USA) where, for example, it is
a widely held belief that Darwinism is a social evil aren't secular at all. There is, in some
places, evidence to suggest that in fact USA has higher rates of crime, suicide and other
social taboos.…read more

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Social conditioning is the theory that the conscience has no super-natural derivatives and is,
in-fact a result of socialisation. Social conditioning theorises that knowledge of right and
wrong come from responses to authority in childhood such as parents and teachers and
their environment. An extension of this belief is that conscience and morality have a
biological origin, with the evolutionary purpose to promote living harmoniously in a society
with others.…read more


James Roden

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James Roden

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