Morality and Religion 


Morality can be based only on religion, but morality and religion are not one. Morality as a principle does not exists without religion even thought morality as a practice, as a particular case of behavior, is not dependant directly on religiousness. A common argument that connects them both is the other, superior world. Because it is the other world, it is a religious world; because it is a superior world, it is a moral world. This shows both the interdependence of religion and morality as well as their independence of each other. There is a certain inner consistency that is not automatic, mathematical, or logical but rather practical; divergencies are possible but sooner or later the dependence is reestablished. Atheism, after all, ends up as a negation of morality, and every true moral transformation starts with a religious renewal. Morality is a religion transformed into rules of behavior - that is, into man's attitude toward other man in accordance with the fact of God's existence. To have to fulfill our duties regardless of the difficulties and risks we face (this being moral behavior as distinguished from behavior motivated by interest), such a demand can be justified only if this world and this life are not the only world and the only life. This is the common starting point of morality and religion.

Morality was born by prohibition and has remained a prohibition until today. A prohibition is religious by nature and by origin. Out of the Ten Commandments, eight of them are prohibitions. Morality is always a restrictive or prohibitive principle which opposes the animal instincts in human nature. The Christian ethic can serve here as an example - not as the only but as the most famous and the most evident.

The history of religion is full of seemingly meaningless prohibitions. However, from the point of view of ethics, there are no meaningless prohibitions. Of course, a prohibition can have a rational meaning too, but utility is never its primary aim.

Morality is not " life in harmony with nature" as the Stoics defined it. It is rather life against nature, provided that the word "nature" is understood in its true sense. Like man, morality is also irrational, non-natural, supernatural. Natural man and natural morality do not exist. Man within the limits of nature is not man; he is, at best, an animal endowed with reason. Morality within the limits of nature is not morality but rather a form of selfishness, a form of wise and enlightened selfishness.

In the Darwinian "struggle for survival," the best (in the moral sense) do not win; only the strongest and the best adjusted do. Biological progress also does not lead to human dignity being one of the sources of morality. A Darwinian man may reach the highest degree of biological perfection, a "superman," but he will remain without human quality and, therefore, without human dignity as well. The latter could have been given to him only by God.

Social progress as a prolongation of the biological progress has the same effects on morality. The English moralist Mandeville asks: "What is the significance of morality for the progress of society and the development of civilization?" and answers very simply: "None. It may even be harmful." According to him, the means that are usually blamed as sinful have the most stimulating effect on a society's progress since " what increases man's needs promotes his development the most." To be more definite: "The so-called moral and physical evils of this world are the main driving forces that make us social beings."

If all progress, biological as well as technical, is to be found in Darwin's theory of natural selection where the stronger suppresses and even destroys the weaker, morality must be in opposition to this essential point of progress. Morality has always demanded protection, compassion, and regard for the weaker and less capable. Thus, morality and nature have been in opposition with each other from the very beginning. "Get rid of the conscience, compassion, forgiveness - those inner human tyrants. Oppress the weak, climb over their corpses..." The parting with morality is very evident. Destroy the weak versus protect the weak - those are the two opposite demands that separate the biological from the spiritual, the zoological from the human, nature from culture, and science from religion. Only Nietzsche consistently applied biological laws and their consequences to human society. The result was the rejection of love and forgiveness and the justification of violence and hatred. For Nietzsche, Christianity, especially Christian ethics, was "the most poisoned poison that had ever been instilled into the vigorous body of the ardent mankind."

In Phaedo, Plato expounded a genuine ethic: ordinary courage is only a kind of cowardice, and ordinary moderation is only a hidden lust for pleasure. That kind of virtue is only a commercial business, a shadow of virtue, a virtue of slaves. A true moral man has only one desire: to be away from the physical and closer to the spiritual. The body is the grave of the soul. In its earthly existence, the soul never reaches its aim, and true knowledge comes only after death. That is why an ethical man is not afraid of death. To truly think and live means constant preparation to die. Evil is the force that rules the world, and morality is neither a natural possibility of man, nor can it be based on reason.

Established ethics have never been rationally proved and, of course, they cannot be proven by this method. Plato referred to metaphysical proofs instead of anthropological ones, which made him the forerunner of theologically based ethics. This development was lawful. It is well known that Plato proponed a teaching about preexistence which stated that every item of knowledge is only a remembrance. An integral part and necessary presumption of such a teaching is the idea of immorality.

Plato's meditations on ethics led him directly to the religious position. Two other ancient thinkers, Epictetus and Seneca, were led to a specific religion (Christianity) through similar meditations. There are very certain indications that Epictetus was a clandestine Christian, and that Seneca corresponded with Paul. In his De viris illustribus, Jerome includes Seneca in the list of church writers. 

Christianity is a striking example of a perfect harmony, a strong mutual affinity, and almost a unity of a great religion and great ethics. The art of the Renaissance, completely inspired by biblical themes, proves that great art joins them. 

From a historical point of view,  moral thought is one of the oldest human thoughts. It is preceded only by the idea of the divine which itself is as old as man. These two thoughts have been closely connected throughout history. In the history of ethics, there is practically no serious thinker who has not decided about religion, either by borrowing the necessity of religion for moral principles or by proving the opposite. The whole history of ethics is a continuing story of the reciprocal permeance of religious and ethical thought. Statistics cannot be proof in this matter, but it can be pointed out that religious moralists prevail, while atheists almost never do.

The so-called laic (secular) ethical movements which stressed the independence of ethics from religion showed that every moralistic thought or activity naturally tends to approach or even to identify with religion. Notwithstanding the contradictory course of these ideas and their oscillation between religion and science,  their development is of great importance. Schoolbooks in French state schools, where moral instruction replaced religious instruction, followed the catechism format of teaching religious doctrines in Christian churches. This trend had a permanent tendency to maintain an independent position against religion which all the while continued to approach it unconsciously. 

Therefore, it is possible to imagine a truly religious but immoral man and vice versa. Religion is one kind of knowledge, and morality is a life lived in accordance with that knowledge. There remains, however, a certain discrepancy between knowledge and practice. Religion is the answer to the question of how to think and believe, while morals are the answer to the question of how to desire and aim or how to live and behave. The tidings of the other world also imply a demand to live in accordance with this wide and infinite vision, although the demand itself is not identical with the vision. Jesus' sublime ethics were a direct consequence of an equally strong and clear religious consciousness. However, the inquisitors' devotions were also sincere, even though this assertion sounds paradoxical. "Believe and do good deeds" - this sentence, which us repeated in the Qur'an more than fifty times, points out the necessity of uniting something that people tend to separate. It expresses the difference between religion ("believe") and morality ("do good") as well as the imperative that they should go together. The Qur'an uncovers a reverse relation and shows how religion can find a strong incentive in morality: "You will not believe until you give amply of what is dear to your heart." It is not: "Believe and you will be a good man," but the reverse: "Be a good man and you will believe." To the question of how one can strengthen his faith, the answer is: "Do good and by so doing you will find God."

 

Excerpted from the book "Islam Between East and West" by 'Alija 'Ali Izetbegovic. Mr. Izetbegovic is considered by many to be the hero of Bosnian Muslim resistance during the siege of Sarajevo who led his country to independence from the genocidal campaign of Yugoslavia.

 


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  15 Comments   Comment

  1. MS RASHIDA MUHAMMAD from United States

    I contend that morality and religion must be one. Without true religion you have no morality and without morality you can not have religion. I am not speaking of religion per se as a set of dogmas created by men but the word of our creator which is written in nature and in everything natural.

  2. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    Yohan,

    Please do not get too emotional on my response. Though we have never met, by your writings ( though I disagree with most of them ) in your past post I trust you to be a man of inteligence and a committed Christian. There is no other interpretation of the crusade, every historian agree that the Christians then were excessive, they murdered, they killed and they took vengeance when the got Jerusalem. This was the edicts of the then Pope, his Eminence order that taking back " Chistian holy places " by way of force. And the Inquisitions, the Jews were driven out and they took refuge in Muslim countries. Didn't you know that the late Pope John Paul 11 had apologised many times for the massacres of the crusades and the excesses of the crusaders ? Is that not an admission ? Is there any other way to interpret or look at it ?

    Do you know that every historians agree that when Muslims ruled Jerusalem, the defeated Christian armies were allowed a safe passage home ? The Muslims did not seized the opportunity to inflict vengeance, they forgave their opponents and adversaries. There are no two sides of the story here Yohan.

    And on Jonah, he is one of the Muslim Prophets

    ( Jonah - peace be upon him ) his story was mentioned in the Holy Quran, in the Chapter of Jonah ( surah Yunus ) The fact that he was in the belly of a big fish, little does it matter how he was saved. Of course I have my own view on how the Prophet was saved. But what relevance has this question got to do with the subject matter that we are discussing ?

    Let me state here that Jonah ( J - pbuh ) was saved by the will of GOD.

  3. Yohan from Bhutan

    Kris MacPherson,

    I do not have a desire to enter into argument with you. My point is "whatever happened in the past, we do not know all the causes. We are given to know only certain part of the report in the form of interpretation either favouring one side as righteous or condemning it as irrational". We can not form our independent judgement now to accept whether Christians were the object of persecution or vice versa although the other way round can hardly be proved. We can take the present situation to judge men in their behaviours by the Laws of God. As such, I advise you not to dwell in the past, taking grieves from it but look to the future, imagining how it will be when all the conflicting, petty nationalities vaporise as the blessed Messiah Rules the Earth. If our present actions are such that they do not reconcile us for that time, then know that we are the problem right from now and have links to the past! We shall be responsible to have continued the chain of sorrows...!!

    Under this situation, I ask you a question: who saved Jonah: the ship sailing to Tarshis or the great fish that swallowed him up and vomited on the shores safe after three and a half days? We need to understand God's purpose in every action of men in nature. Nobody takes blames for the past misdeeds unless living the present by principles that produced them then.

    The main article looks much like "Christian" in its elucidations. I am for it.

  4. Yohan from Bhutan

    Khalil,

    The difference between the beasts and men is that men pave way to fulfil their desire and the beasts take shortcut. The beasts are counted upright in this for matching their action with the need instantly. Men hide behind the veil, scheming how he might avail what he wants without moving his shadow, to avoid being charged for his actions. I say this for even the saints of the Sovereign Lord have been charged by the sinners even for the best of their actions.

    The question here thus: Morality, by whose standard? Who defines it for the people of faith?

  5. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    Yohan,

    You are in a denial. What about the crusades ? The inquisitions ? Who massacred and drove the Jews out if not the Christians ? And the Muslims protected the Jews. Who were the preprators in the inquisitions ? Are they not Christians ?

    And I am not going to deny the sectarian killings of Muslims among one another in Iraq.

  6. Yohan from Bhutan

    How long has Christian killed Catholic (and Muslim and everybody else)? Richard questions.

    Has Richard brought this issue in the right sense? Distorting the facts is the enemy's acts. History mentions that Christians are the real victims of various regimes, dogmas and sects rather than otherwise. It is crime of that extent on the individual that charges the victims for the crimes of the offenders/ criminals.

    This is similar to charging the Jews for the holocaust they brought an end on the Nazi regime.

  7. Shafique from Canada

    Sorry I beg to disagree with Richard. Every religion preaches peace and love. This are the two main characteristics for having high moral value in one's life.

  8. Tamim Islam from U.S

    I agree with Brother Adam. Faith comes first. Without faith, good works are all in vain. There are a lot of good man in the world, but their goods are no good, because they do not recognize the Creator of goodness - Allah. They rely and have faith in themselves.

  9. Tony from USA

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    This was a beautifully written, and well thoughtout message being delivered. I totally agree with it's message....Many of the people who follow the christian faith, are void of moral behavior. They think that they will be forgiven for their acts of immorality....Only since following Islam; have I begin to understand the balance of religion, and morality.

  10. Adam from Nigeria

    But for the last paragraph, I may have completely concur with Bro 'Ali.

    I look into the Qur'an and find that the phrase is always "..believe and do good deeds.." not the other way round so where do we get the concepts of doing good before believing? No matter the perception of the good deeds a kuffar does it will not benefit him cos on the day of judgement those deeds will be ...haba an mansurah.. scattered like dust!

    If you are a believer and still doing evil then you check your belief for a believer by necessity should (always) be a doer of good. This was the principle and has been the principle and will continue to be until the last day..insha-Allah.

  11. abdulhadi muhammad anda from nigeria

    i beleived that morality has to do with a dress code,what is wrong if i decided to dress decently than appearing almost nake and called it modernation while the other as uncivilized.pls let us teach our children to dress proper i.e.by wearing HIJAB all the times and any where.

  12. Y A from UAE

    I like the last paragraph. Still I can't get it how ethics are against human development it's a harsh idea. I think that comes from an athiest point of view that believes in natural laws only, may be that's what the writer was trying to say...hmm which means that athiests are not likely to adopt ethics if they truly are athiests in both heart and mind. now i've got it

  13. Mogamad from ZA

    How apt! Too often Muslims feel their responsibilities end at the door of the masjid!!

    We should all have more compassion for each other no matter what the faith. You cannot win over an enemy with force, but love can conquer all! This compassion and love must, however be in accordance with the model of Islam demonstrated by the last Prophet(S.a.w).

    PS to Richard - A shifting morality is essentially no morality, as has been proven by the passage of the last 100 years. This is the same as saying all religions are equal.

    If I had to choose between my 14 year old daughter getting married etc and her being another teen pregnancy statistic, I would choose the former.

    I'm sure that she would too, looking at the amount of infertile middle aged women "pulling out their hair" to conceive.

  14. Khalil from Saudi arabia

    Qur'an chapter Ar-Rum (The Romans)verse 30

    30:30 AND SO, set thy face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, [25] turning away from all that is false, [26] in accordance with the natural disposition which God has instilled into man: [27] [for,] not to allow any change to corrupt what God has thus created [28] this is the [purpose of the one] ever-true faith; but most people know it not.

    Man by natural disposition is moral. Heis not of animal origin or animal instincts

  15. Richard from US

    I believe that morality and all the various prohibitions are the

    result of people (men, primarily) who have seen the animal

    instincts of humans and seek a higher standard. It's a good idea

    in principle, but morality and the need for prohibitions need to

    change as society changes. Not so long ago, girls became wifes

    and mothers in their early teens. Would you have your 14-year-

    old daughter take a husband and bear children today? Clearly

    moral standards must and do change. And yet there is great

    resistance in changes to morality/prohibitions - even when it is

    clear that the changes (e.g. forgiving old hatreds) would be

    beneficial to humankind. How long has Sunni killed Shia? How

    long has Christian killed Catholic (and Muslim and everybody

    else)? All in the name of a dogmatic approach to religion and

    morality. Someday it is my prayer that we will put down our

    differences and embrace the one true message of religion - love.

    rr