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The Addition of Religion on Ethics

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The ethical code of conduct does not have a set of standards. It’s definition is made by what society and culture claims. It’s moral code is based on the existence of different theories. This has brought about whether a moral guidance exits. A moral guidance is what is used to define an individual’s moral actions. A moral guidance can relate to anything that speaks about a set of rules or standards that one must follow. This guidance allow individuals to state that specific actions should be seen as right and others as wrong. The actions seen as right would be predetermined by the moral guaidance. Every culture has their own ethical code that is not similar to others. This creates a different moral code for every individual. Individuals in similar culture have similar ethical codes with minor differences. For religious cultures, an individual’s ethical code should be centred on God’s word to us. However, others believe that God’s word is does not change the moral code, if there is any. An individual’s ethical code is based on what their morals, values, and what actions they view as right or wrong. The way one acts in society is based on their ethical code. Many individuals have different ethical codes depending on their situation. They can have ethical codes based on what they believe in, what their culture say, or what their work employment says. Every one of those has a different ethical code. What an individual believes in is overthrown by what society believes in and that can also be overthrown by what their work employment believes in.

An individual’s ethical code is rarely defined by what they believe in. Jesse Prinz (2007) states, in the article “The emotional construction of morals”, that the set of moral duties does not depend on what the person, themselves, believe but what the society or culture value as a moral duty. There is little free will as a set of rules is already given for individuals to live. There are instances when a person’s ethical code conflicts with the culture’s. In these instances, an individual must decide which ethical code they wish to follow. They can either focus on their ethical code or those set forth by society. Society creates the ethical codes that everyone living in that society needs to abide by to a certain extent. There are some cases where a person can go against the ethical code but that is only in minor ones. The right ethical codes can be broken but there should be a reason for the break. If a person commits murder, they should be able to define why they murdered the victim. If the act of murdering cannot be defined in the sense of justifying it then the act of murdering someone is seen as morally wrong. If the act can be defined and justified then it is seen as morally right. Wrong actions need to be justified when they are created depending on what the society views as a wrong action. When there is a moral guidance, some ethical codes are similar regardless of the situation. This become the basic ethical codes that everyone should follow. The moral guidance creates a universal ethical code that all should abide by.

Many scholars believe that moral code is defined by the divine command theory. This states that an individual’s actions is determined right or wrong depending on whether or not is is commanded by God. Stanley Hauerwas and Alasdair McIntyre state in the book “Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy (1983) that an individual’s and society’s relationship to God transforms their moral character. They focus on what God’s word says and that is how they base their ethical code. Religious ethics give individuals principles to decide what they view as right or wrong. The authority and content of an individual’s ethical code when it comes to right and wrong are given by God’s word to us. The Ten Commandments are one of the greatest example. The Ten Commandments are ten sayings that God has spoken as what is morally right. These Ten Commandments are the rules that individuals should not act. Any action other than the Ten Commandments is seen as morally good. For numerous amounts of people, the Ten Commandments are important for one to live a moral life. The Ten Commandments prohibit individuals from committing idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty and coveting. These Ten Commandments are people’s ethical code. God’s word is these commandments and since God’s word is what bases ethical principles than these commandments state what is right and what is wrong. The Ten Commandments give individuals a set of what not to do. It tells people that if they do not commit any of these acts than they are morally good people. These Ten Commandments are a universal ethical code that every religious Christian individual needs to abide by. It does not defer between individual to individual but works on the religious culture as a whole.

One of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou shall not kill.” While, many individuals take this to mean not committing murder, by physical intentions, there are others who believe it applies to every scenario. In the health care field, there are many controversial issues. A prime example is when one is one life support. A person on life support does not have the ability to act out basic functions one should do. They are called “vegetables” for their vegetable comma state. Health care professionals have the ability to switch of life support after every method of reviving the patient has failed. In the article “Toward a unified conception of business ethics: integrative social contracts theory”, Thomas Donaldson and Thomas Dunfee state that it is important for people in the work place to ensure they follow the rules of ethics that their work place has put.

That ethical code is what keeps them from act out an action that is seen as ethically right. For instance, a doctor has the moral duty to continue trying to save a person’s life regardless of what condition the patient is in. This is because ended a patient’s life is similar to killing a person. Moving life support is taken as murder because a person should continue living until they are physically unable. The life span of an individual is not something that can be determined. It is hard for a doctor to determine if a patient will ever be able to live again or not. The set of standards that is set does not allow the doctor to act in what they consider is the right option but what God’s word says is.

Some scholars believe that acting out only what God’s word says denies one of his/her free will. Immanuel Kant argues in “The Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals” (1785) that if an individual is able to defend his or actions practically then they are able to do as they seem fit. Their ethical conduct will be based on what they believe is right and not what God’s word says. Kant believes that an individual should have free will only on the basis any action they do has a practical reason for it. Without this practical reason, one should not be able to have their free will. They can do anything they want without caring about the consequences. An individual should be able to do anything they want but when there are negative consequences to their actions, they need to have a reason. Kant’s philosophy also states that since we ought to do something then that action is possible. Religion states that individuals moral obligations are what God’s word says. The Ten Commandments are God’s word and they are existence of the obligations cultures need to abide. The obligations, which came from God, is what defines the existence of God. Since that is what they ought to do, then “God” exists. If “God” exists then our moral obligations are based on what His world says. It is a continuous cycle that creates the need to define what the ethical code is. “God’s” addition to the moral code is the sole purpose the ethical code exits. Without the existence of “God”, there will be no ethical code. The ethical code needs to exist for “God” to exist and vice versa. However, “God” is just a metaphor to allow the continuous existence for an ethical code. “God” becomes a symbol to the creation of ethics and what is right or wrong. It is used as a justification to set laws that individuals need to follow and get rewarded or don’t and get punished. The laws create an ordered culture and society.

The notion that “God” is the only practical reason for one to act morally wrong is not justified as there are other reasons that individuals can use to define their actions. Kant (1785) states that “[f]rom the practical point of view, it is one and the same thing whether one founds the divinity of the [moral] command in human reason, or founds it [in] such a person [as God], since the difference is more one of phraseology than a doctrine which amplifies knowledge”. “God” is used as a metaphor to as what is morally good in order for an individual to succeed. It is not the only metaphor used but it has the biggest ability to create a nationwide ethical code. Every religious individual follows God’s words and take it as their ethical code. It surpasses ethical codes formed from societies or cultures. Ethical codes created by societies and cultures only cater to a specific set of individuals and don’t go worldwide. Being morally right requires the exitance of “God” because it needs a clear definition. There are other metaphors that are used in order to define the ethical code. These metaphors have the ability to give individuals the backing they need to create their ethical code.

There are other religions who believe there is not God. This poses the question that Glen Tinder raised in her article “Can We Be Good Without God?” (1989). Tinder (1989) questions that if right ethical values can continue to hold ground if there are not roots to define them. Tinder (1989) continues to question that can individuals define if someone is morally good or bad without transcendentally defining them. Ethical codes seem to not have a specific definition, the little definition they do have will not hold ground without backing. Individuals define what is moral right or wrong based on God. God’s non-existence removes practical backing on the ethical code. Individual’s constantly ask themselves, “why should I be morally good?”. This creates a need to back their actions. David Little and Sumner B. Twiss, Jr., argue in “Religion and Morality (1973) that religion is created to solve individual’s and society’s problems and removes the anxiety created by these problems. Individuals need clear defined ethical rules in order to function on society. If there are no clear defined rules, individuals no longer know if their action is morally good or right. Individuals then act out free will, but without the Kantian “practical backing”.

Jacques Ellul argues in “The New Demons” (1975) that humans have a need to create something sacred, then create moral duties related to the sacred, and end it with religious practices. When something is sacred it does not only pertain to religion in the sense of “God” or “gods”. It is not only related to “God” but other practices as well. Historic texts, such as the Declaration of Independence, serve as the ‘Bible’ to some individuals giving them rules for their morals and values. American citizens follow The Declaration of Independence to know what is morally good in the society they live in. They do not disrespect the flag and or their country because of what is stated. All the rules stated in The Declaration of Independence is followed and not just a specific part of it. It is not “God” that adds to the ethical conduct but the idea that there is backing of the conduct. Moral and values are formed by any “sacred” document, being, etc. that gives societies, cultures, individuals that ability to back their actions. This creates the notion of what is good and what is bad. The stuff expressed in the sacred texts are considered right and everything that does not abide by them is considered wrong. Individual’s act according to the moral obligations which were created from the sacred entity.

The set of standards set forth by an individual or society depends largely on their religious views. An individual should follow a set of standards that allows them to abide by certain moral duties. The greatest aspect that “God” adds to religion is being able to define what is right or wrong. Marc Hauser believes in the article “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong” (2006) states that nature has created the definition to an individual’s moral duty. An individual can have their moral duty but most of it is set by what the culture and society has already set forward in our minds. What culture and society has already predetermined is the “sacred”. Following this “sacred” allows individuals the ability to say “Thou shalt not kill” is a morally right action. This creates a harmonious living between societies and cultures. If something or someone is treated as sacred it is a “god”. Regardless of whether it is an all knowing being or a text, the effect it has on the culture is the same. It is the set of rules that governs how individuals live. It becomes the law and because of that reason every moral guidance is a “god”.

Iris Murdoch states in “Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals” (1992) that ‘Religious belief may be a stronger motive to good conduct than non-religious idealism. . . High morality without religion is too abstract, high morality craves for religion.” While religion is not the only aspect that defines the ethical code, it is the strongest source of the definition. It gives individuals a specific set or standards to abide by and a clear definition of why. Without this clear definition, individuals are lost, without a clear distinction between right and wrong. There needs to be a “God” or “god” for an ethical code to have a set of standards. Without this guidance, individuals have no set of standards and act with their free will and no practical reason. They will be able to murder, cheat and do any act they wish. The law becomes null because there is no basis for why that should be the law. Creating a basis is important as it allows structure in the world. Without this structure life would be chaotic and individuals will have free reign to commit any wrong doing they want. There will be no respect or order without an ethical code which is derived from a sacred being.


  1. Donaldson, T., & Dunfee, T. W. (1994). Toward a Unified Conception of Business Ethics: Integrative Social Contracts Theory. The Academy of Management Review, 19(2), 252. doi:10.2307/258705
  2. Hauerwas, S. & MacIntyre, A. (1983) Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy
  3. Hauser, M. (2006) Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, New York: Harper Collins
  4. Ellul, J. (1975) “The New Demons “trans. by C. Edward Hopkin
  5. Kant, I. (1785) “The Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals”
  6. Little, D. & Twiss, S. Jr., (1973) ‘Basic Terms in the Study of Religious Ethics,’ in Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr., editors, Religion and Morality.
  7. Murdoch, I. (1992) “ Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals”
  8. Prinz, J. (2007) The Emotional Construction of Morals, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  9. Tinder, G. (1989) ‘Can We Be Good Without God?’ in The Atlantic Monthly         
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