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Religion and Morality
Positives and negatives of religious ethics
• Firstly, get into groups with pens and paper.
• Draw up two lists. The first...
What are the issues in religion and morality?
• There are a number of issues or problems faced
by theologians and philosop...
Tillich’s three types of ethics
• The theologian Paul Tillich saw religious morality
as one of a number of approaches to e...
Divine Command Theory
• Divine command theory takes God to be the source of all
ethics; it is by Tillich’s categories a st...
Scriptural ethics
• The attempt to derive morality directly from sacred
texts such as the Bible or Koran may be described ...
Introducing ‘Natural Law’
• It’s time for groups, pens, and paper again.
• Now, imagine that you are gods, about to
create...
Concepts of Natural Law theory
• The most famous philosopher to develop a theory of
Natural Moral Law was Thomas Aquinas. ...
Moral arguments
• If God is the source of all goodness in the universe, then
evidence of goodness might count as evidence ...
God and goodness
Can you make an argument for God on the basis
of goodness? What would Kant or Aquinas say?
Do any of the ...
Christianity and awareness of sin
• Some Christian thinkers, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, have
tried to argue for a specia...
Conscience
• Conscience (as distinct from consciousness!) is the internal
voice of moral judgement within. If I am thinkin...
Criticisms of religious morality
• Religious morality has been criticised from a number of quarters. Could it
be that fait...
Evaluation questions
• In your essay, consider:
o Is religious morality still relevant, or is it dated?
o Does historical ...
Religion and morality
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Religion and morality

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Religion and morality

  1. 1. Religion and Morality
  2. 2. Positives and negatives of religious ethics • Firstly, get into groups with pens and paper. • Draw up two lists. The first list is all the positive aspects of religious ethics you can think of. The second list is all the negative aspects you can think of. • Be prepared to explain these are argue for them to the rest of the class.
  3. 3. What are the issues in religion and morality? • There are a number of issues or problems faced by theologians and philosophers when debating religion and morality: o Is religion a good source for morality? o Is religious morality out-dated, or not as relevant as it once was? o Are there other, better possible sources for our morality? o What arguments or justifications could be used to support religious morality?
  4. 4. Tillich’s three types of ethics • The theologian Paul Tillich saw religious morality as one of a number of approaches to ethics which have held sway in the western world. Tillich distinguished between three types of ethic: o Theonomy – an ethic given by God o Heteronomy – an ethic imposed by an external source o Autonomy – an ethic from within, developed by ourselves • Tillich argued that the autonomy common in the modern world ought to take place within the frame of theonomy – influenced and structured by religious ideas.
  5. 5. Divine Command Theory • Divine command theory takes God to be the source of all ethics; it is by Tillich’s categories a strong theonomic perspective. • It is argued that there is no morality other than what God explicitly commands. God’s commandments, it is claimed, are directly known from revelation: Scripture or religious experience. • The theory was popular in the Middle Ages, and the moral authority of Scripture was assumed by thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas. • The problem for divine command theory has always been its apparent arbitrariness: would anything God commanded be considered moral? The medieval philosopher William of Ockham argued that it would; even if God were to command murder we would have to regard that as good. God is the source of all values.
  6. 6. Scriptural ethics • The attempt to derive morality directly from sacred texts such as the Bible or Koran may be described as Scriptural ethics; it is held that such documents provide comprehensive and authoritative moral guidance. • This approach was supported by Protestant thinkers of the Reformation era, such as Luther and Calvin, who claimed that a good Christian life could be defined sola scriptura (by Scripture alone). The righteous would follow the written commandment. • The Bible presents various types of ethical teaching, with certain clear ethical laws, such as the Ten Commandments, but also ambiguous moral parables. • It is questionable and controversial whether the Bible presents material for a clear and consistent ethic; on the one hand God prohibits murder, and yet requires the killing of Israel’s enemies.
  7. 7. Introducing ‘Natural Law’ • It’s time for groups, pens, and paper again. • Now, imagine that you are gods, about to create your own world from scratch. You have absolute power. However, you also want your world to be organised and rule-governed. You need a series of rules which will seem ‘natural’ and intelligible to all your creatures. • Draw up a system of natural moral laws which will determine actions. Are they clear? Will they be widely understood?
  8. 8. Concepts of Natural Law theory • The most famous philosopher to develop a theory of Natural Moral Law was Thomas Aquinas. This is a ‘theological’ and so also religious system of ethics. • Aquinas claimed that God as Creator had set out a series of natural and observable moral principles. There is a fixed order or pattern in the universe, as fits with God’s intention. • Aquinas claimed that faith and reason would stand in harmony, and so we could know ethical truths by the reading of Scripture and the exercise of reason together. Scripture and right reason would never conflict, he claimed, because both are God-given. • Those who are rational and faithful would find five Primary Precepts: basic moral commands which God has embedded in nature: preserve life, reproduce, educate, live in society, and worship God. Aquinas: author of Summa Theologica
  9. 9. Moral arguments • If God is the source of all goodness in the universe, then evidence of goodness might count as evidence for God. In part, this view is reflected in design arguments, which focus on the order and beauty of the world around us. • However, another approach to the existence of God is found in moral arguments. Here, the claim is that moral values and the ethical aspect of human life point back to a divine Creator. We need God to explain why it is that we have a sense of goodness within us. • Aquinas argued in his Fourth Way that there is evidence of perfections within the universe, and that each perfection is explained by a more basic, underlying perfection. So, there must be an original source of all perfections, which he held to be God. • Kant meanwhile claimed that ethical practice points to the idea of a highest good (Summum Bonum), and we must assume God’s existence if we expect this to be accomplished.
  10. 10. God and goodness Can you make an argument for God on the basis of goodness? What would Kant or Aquinas say? Do any of the following encourage you to have faith in God? Why / why not? KING MOZART ROONEY GANDHI
  11. 11. Christianity and awareness of sin • Some Christian thinkers, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, have tried to argue for a special role of religion in morality by claiming that Christianity gives unique insight into the flawed and sinful nature of humanity. Other ethical systems, it is claimed, encourage pride and arrogance, with the human seen as moral judge. • Bonhoeffer follows the views of Augustine, that humanity is fallen and guilty of Original Sin. Only by recognising our rebellion from God will we return to an authentic state. • Christianity perceive humanity as having fallen away from its origins, so that it now claims to have knowledge of good and evil. Mankind falsely sees itself as supreme in moral judgement. Bonhoeffer thinks that Christians have unique insight into this arrogance. • Only by recognising disunion with God and seeking restoration will humans lead better lives. Bonhoeffer ties this to religious morality in the message of the Gospel.
  12. 12. Conscience • Conscience (as distinct from consciousness!) is the internal voice of moral judgement within. If I am thinking about eating another biscuit, that part of me which says I ought to be strong is the voice of conscience. • Bonhoeffer argued that conscience was critical for the Christian awareness of morality, since it shows how one is divided within and separated from God. Conscience, he thought, could lead people back to an awareness of God. It is at the core of religious ethics. • Roman Catholics have often seen conscience as an important part of ethics; one ought to act in accordance with the Church and the moral law, but still always listening to the God given voice within. • Cardinal John Henry Newman gave voice to this Catholic view: “if we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One [God] to whom we are responsible.”
  13. 13. Criticisms of religious morality • Religious morality has been criticised from a number of quarters. Could it be that faith is a good basis for morals, or is this problematic or dated? • Plato set out a dilemma in his Euthyphro. Is the good whatever God says it is, or is goodness independent of God and commanded because it is good? This raises a number of problems for Divine Command Theory. If God commanded murder, would it be good? Plato suggests that it’s best to see goodness as independent of what the gods say. • Modern ‘anti-theists’ like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have argued that religion grossly distorts morality because it encourages closed mindedness and violence (as in Islamic terrorism). Perhaps we are better off without the guidance of faith. • Cultural relativists would point out that each faith gives its own moral commands: Christians eat pork, but Jews and Muslims do not. Surely all of these regulations are mutually contradictory, and so religion as a whole is no guide to morality at all.
  14. 14. Evaluation questions • In your essay, consider: o Is religious morality still relevant, or is it dated? o Does historical evidence support religion as a force for good or for evil? o Is it better to see goodness as dependent on God or independent of God? o Is it fair to say that there is a ‘moral law’? If so, do we need God to explain it? o What personal stance will you take on the debate?

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