Morality and religion

March 2, 2009 at 12:15 am (morality, society)

I find it interesting that when apparently sensible moral codes are applied in an extreme way across society, it simply does not make people “better” even by the standards of that moral code (let alone in an absolute sense). There have been comments on Lisa’s blog about how prevalent homosexuality is in the Arab world, linking this to the strict gender segregation that is enforced in these societies. You might think you could make people chaste by separating the genders, but it seems not. Another example is how much more dangerous it is for a woman to travel around North Africa alone compared to sub-Saharan Africa, even though the religious mentality is supposed to promote respect and dignity for women. I’ve travelled alone in the latter part of the world, even across national borders, but I wouldn’t dream of doing that in the former. In Cairo, women are sexually harrassed in the street, which is puzzling when you consider that wearing of hijab has become widespread there in the last few decades – the intended effect being the exact opposite.

I seriously doubt whether any society or culture is really more moral than another. The majority of people are probably pretty self-serving, even in a culture with a strong religious component. Different cultures have different emphases. My own – western Europe – emphasises fairness and equality and tolerance, and it falls down on this too of course, but this emphasis has shaped our cultural mentality. I think it’s possible for different cultures to equally view each other as being less moral than themselves.

Do our own efforts – for example, religion – make any difference? I think there’s room for free will, in the same way that there’s room for individual earthquakes’ sizes to be dynamically determined despite their following a well-defined distribution overall. I think that religion can be a tool to lead someone towards being a better person. At the very least it can inspire you to think about acting selflessly. But does being religious automatically lead to this? – no. Religions do not have a monopoly on morality either.

It’s usually taken for granted, but actually quite interesting if you think about it, that religion takes morality and spirituality and yokes them together. Why should that be? Why should it be that God (or gods) is about goodness? Why is that so universal a concept?



  1. *~Ange~* said,

    even if you are with people you can still get harrassed in cairo.

    i was with my MUM and another older woman and i still got harrassed.

    and the funny thing is it only happened in cairo.. not in the other cities.

  2. Tiffany Nicole said,

    I agree 100% "i't has to come from within a person and cannot be enforced from outside."

    I (seriously not even joking) have met a stripper who had more morals than a preacher. Literally!

    She took her clothes off for a living but, would never let anyone physically touch her (needless to say she didn't make a ton of money) she did'nt sleep around or do drugs & I met a guy who knew the Bible and the Tora inside out and would tell you about your 'sin' in a hot second but, he was the biggest man whore I have ever seen.

    So I think it's ironic and a little bit funny that outside influence of relegion sometimes has little to do with ones morality.

    Although I do think outside influence like relegion can provoke thought in someone to persue learning more about themselves and their own morality and someone can grow and build firm morals for their own self but, the want of learning would come more from the inside. I think.

  3. Sarah said,

    Ange – it’s bizarre, and quite sad really.

    Tiffany – it sounds like we have similar views. Your story about the stripper and the preacher was pretty funny! and again, kind of sad in a way.

  4. Achelois said,

    You know I still don’t understand morality and religion! I can’t really understand how non-religious people construct their sense of morality. How do they begin? Do they borrow from religions? Do they do it independently? Or do they draw morality from TV like Dawkins suggests?

    • Wrestling said,

      The humanists say “reason is our map, compassion is our compass”. So it’s basically the Golden Rule and making the choice to do what is compassionate in every situation. They debate a lot amongst themselves about moral issues, but I think that is quite positive.

      I don’t know where they get the inspiration to be compassionate, though. What is the underlying world view? I asked this question to them but didn’t really get an answer that I could understand. I guess compassion is just considered to be the thing that makes us most happy and fulfilled.

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