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  • Although there is no uniform concept of religion as well as of morality, but both religion and morality formulate laws of conduct for the personal as well as social goods.
  • In primitive cultures, religion and morality were not distinguished and religion was the only source and guardian of morality.
  • Ordinarily, every recognized religion has moral principles in its fold. However, at times, religion seems to transcend morality, moral principles are violated and sacrificed in the name of religion.

The Divine Command Theory:

  • According to the Divine Command Theory, ethical principles are simply the commands of God. They derive their validity from God’s commanding them and they mean ‘commanded by God’.
  • No further reasons for actions are necessary. Without God, there would be no universally valid morality.
  • As Dostoevsky writes in The Brothers Karamazov, “If God does not exist, everything is permissible”. Without God, there will be moral nihilism.

Socrates’ Question:

Socrates has trapped the supporter of the divine command theory into a dilemma:

  1. If it is said that God loves goodness because it is good, then God could not be the moral guardian. It would imply that ethics has its own independence and autonomy.
  2. If it is said that goodness depends on God’s love then, according to the critics, ethics would become arbitrary. Their point is, if God’s will is the sole arbiter of right and wrong, then even stealing, lying, rape and killing may become morally good, provided God suddenly decides to command these things. Of course, the believer would not admit that Divine commands could be so arbitrary.

Autonomy of Ethics:

  • After the writings of Kant, the notion of morality and its autonomy has gained substantial ground. According to this view point, ethics is autonomous and even God must keep the moral law.
  • In other words, the moral law exists independently of God, just as the laws of mathematics and logic. Even if there is no God, nothing is changed, that is, if we choose to be moral, we have the same duties whether we are theists or atheists.

Kant’s Rational Ethics:

  • Kant believes in the autonomy of ethics, he maintains that there can be no difference between valid religious ethics and rational ethics.
  • God and humanity both must obey rational principles. However, Kant accepts the existence of God as one of the postulates of morality.
  • According to him, without God morality in ideal form is not possible. In Kant’s ethics, happiness is not a consideration for doing one’s duty. But an ideal state of morality requires that virtue should be proportionately rewarded with happiness.
  • Therefore, according to Kant, God is needed to arrange nature in such a way that an agent is given happiness or punishment in accordance with the good and bad deeds. Thus, despite his autonomism, Kant also suggests that morality and religion are related.

Leo Tolstoy: No Morality Without Religion:

  • Tolstoy in the essay “Religion and Morality” writes that the attempts to found a morality apart from religion are like the attempts of children who wish to transplant a flower that pleases them, pluck it from the roots that seem to them unpleasing and superfluous, and stick it rootless into the ground.
  • Without religion there can be no real sincere morality, just as without roots there can be no real flower.

Bertrand Russell’s Humanist Ethics:

  • According to Russell, morality does not need religion for legitimation. In the essay, “A Free Man’s Worship”, he writes that morality does not need a God or afterlife, and since these notions are irrational, so we better learn to live without their support.
  • For educated people, science removed the possibility of religious faith. People are free to think, to evaluate, to create and to live committed to inspiring ideals. So, in spite of suffering, despair and death, human beings are free. Life has the meaning we give it.

Nietzsche’s Claim: God is Dead

  • Nietzsche suggests a world view in which there is no God. God is dead, that is, God is irrelevant to life. In The Gay Science’ a strange character called ‘The Madman’ utter strange words: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”.
  • According to Nietzsche, historically people have leaned on God, religion and traditional ethics as crutches. But Nietzsche thinks people are free to take charge of their lives as individuals.
  • They must take responsibility and figure out for themselves, why they make the choices they make, on their own. He propounds the ethics of inner strength.

Kierkegaard: God is Beyond Ethics

  • Kierkegaard refers to the story of Abraham, who is commanded by God to sacrifice his son. Abraham decides to kill his son for the sake of faith.
  • In this case, religion has provoked an act which is inherently immoral. Kierkegaard says that when one accepts religious life, there is a teleological suspension of morality.
  • Thus, he seems to suggest that religion and morality are unrelated and, at times, they can be antithetical to each other.