What Is the Relationship Between Religion and Morality? | Owlcation
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It is not clear whether the Nicomachean Ethics has a consistent view of the relation between the activity of contemplation and the other activities of a virtuous life see Hare, God and Morality, chapter 1, and Sarah Broadie, Ethics with Aristotle, chapter 7.
But the connection of the highest human state with the divine is pervasive in the text. One result of this connection is the eudaimonism mentioned earlier. If the god does not care about what is not divine for this would be to become like what is not divinethe highest and most god-like human also does not care about other human beings except to the degree they contribute to his own best state.
This degree is not negligible, since humans are social animals, and their well-being depends on the well-being of the families and cities of which they are members. Aristotle is not preaching self-sufficiency in any sense that implies we could be happy on our own, isolated from other human beings. But our concern for the well-being of other people is always, for him, contingent on our special relation to them.
We therefore do not want our friends to become gods, even though that would be the best thing for them. Finally, Aristotle ties our happiness to our end in Greek, telos ; for humans, as for all living things, the best state is its own activity in accordance with the natural function that is unique to each species.
For humans the best state is happiness, and the best activity within this state is contemplation NE, b17— The Epicureans and Stoics who followed Aristotle differed with each other and with him in many ways, but they agreed in tying morality and religion together. For the Epicureans, the gods do not care about us, though they are entertained by looking at our tragicomic lives rather as we look at soap operas on television.
We can be released from a good deal of anxiety, the Epicureans thought, by realizing that the gods are not going to punish us. Our goal should be to be as like the gods as we can, enjoying ourselves without interruption, but for us this means limiting our desires to what we can obtain without frustration. They did not mean that our happiness is self-interested in any narrow sense, because they held that we can include others in our happiness by means of our sympathetic pleasures.
The Stoics likewise tied the best kind of human life, for them the life of the sage, to being like the divine. The sage follows nature in all his desires and actions, and is thus the closest to the divine.
Morality and religion are connected in the Hebrew Bible primarily by the category of God's command. Such commands come already in the first chapter of Genesis.
In the second chapter God tells Adam that he is free to eat from any tree in the garden, but he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Eve and Adam disobey and eat of that fruit, they are expelled from the garden. There is a family of concepts here that is different from what we met in Greek philosophy.
God is setting up a kind of covenant by which humans will be blessed if they obey the commands God gives them.
Human disobedience is not explained in the text, except that the serpent says to Eve that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but will be like God, knowing good and evil, and Eve sees the fruit as good for food and pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom. After they eat, Adam and Eve know that they are naked, and are ashamed, and hide from God. As the story goes on, and Cain kills Abel, evil spreads to all the people of the earth, and Genesis describes the basic state as a corruption of the heart 6: This idea of a basic orientation away from or towards God and God's commands becomes in the Patristic period of early Christianity the idea of a will.
In the Pentateuch, the story continues with Abraham, and God's command to leave his ancestral land and go to the land God promised to give him and his offspring Gen. Then there is the command to Abraham to kill his son, a deed prevented at the last minute by the provision of a ram instead Gen.
Abraham's great grandchildren end up in Egypt, because of famine, and the people of Israel suffer for generations under Pharaoh's yoke. Under Moses the people are finally liberated, and during their wanderings in the desert, Moses receives from God the Ten Commandments, in two tables or tablets Exod.
The first table concerns our obligations to God directly, to worship God alone and keep God's name holy, and keep the Sabbath. The second table concerns our obligations to other human beings, and all of the commands are negative do not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet except for the first, which tells us to honor our fathers and mothers.
The Greeks had the notion of a kingdom, under a human king though the Athenians were in the classical period suspicious of such an arrangement. But they did not have the idea of a kingdom of God, though there is something approaching this in some of the Stoics. This idea is explicable in terms of law, and is introduced as such in Exodus in connection with the covenant on Mt. The kingdom is the realm in which the laws obtain.
This raises a question about the extent of this realm. The Ten Commandments are given in the context of a covenant with the people of Israel, though there are references to God's intention to bless the whole world through this covenant. The surrounding laws in the Pentateuch include prescriptions and proscriptions about ritual purity and sacrifice and the use of the land that seem to apply to this particular people in this particular place.
But the covenant that God makes with Noah after the flood is applicable to the whole human race, and universal scope is explicit in the Wisdom books, which make a continual connection between how we should live and how we were created as human beings.
For example, in Proverbs 8 Wisdom raises her voice to all humankind, and says that she detests wickedness, which she goes on to describe in considerable detail. She says that she was the artisan at God's side when God created the world and its inhabitants.
Jesus sums up the commandments under two, the command to love God with all one's heart and soul and mind see Deuteronomy 6: The New Testament is unlike the Hebrew Bible, however, in presenting a narrative about a man who is the perfect exemplification of obedience and who has a life without sin.
New Testament scholars disagree about the extent to which Jesus actually claimed to be God, but the traditional interpretation is that he did make this claim; in any case the Christian doctrine is that we can see in his life the clearest possible revelation in human terms both of what God is like and at the same time of what our lives ought to be like. He takes the commandments inside the heart; for example, we are required not merely not to murder, but not to be angry, and not merely not to commit adultery, but not to lust see Ezekiel Jesus tells us to love our enemies and those who hate and persecute us, and in this way he makes it clear that the love commandment is not based on reciprocity Matt 5: The theme of self-sacrifice is clearest in the part of the narrative that deals with Jesus' death.
This event is understood in many different ways in the New Testament, but one central theme is that Jesus died on our behalf, an innocent man on behalf of the guilty. Jesus describes the paradigm of loving our neighbors as the willingness to die for them. This theme is connected with our relationship to God, which we violate by disobedience, but which is restored by God's forgiveness through redemption. In Paul's letters especially we are given a three-fold temporal location for the relation of morality to God's work on our behalf.
We are forgiven for our past failures on the basis of Jesus' sacrifice Rom. We are reconciled now with God through God's adoption of us in Christ Rom. And we are given the hope of future progress in holiness by the work of the Holy Spirit Rom.
All of this theology requires more detailed analysis, but this is not the place for it. There is a contrast between the two traditions I have so far described, namely the Greek and the Judeo-Christian. The idea of God that is central in Greek philosophy is the idea of God attracting us, like a kind of magnet, so that we desire to become more like God, though there is a minority account by Socrates of receiving divine commands. In the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the notion of God commanding us is central.
It is tempting to simplify this contrast by saying that the Greeks favor the good, in their account of the relation of morality and religion, and the Judeo-Christian account favors the right or obligation. It is true that the notion of obligation makes most sense against the background of command. But the picture is over-simple because the Greeks had room in their account for the constraint of desire; thus the temperate or brave person in Aristotle's picture has desires for food or sex or safety that have to be disciplined by the love of the noble.
On the other side, the Judeo-Christian account adds God's love to the notion of God's command, so that the covenant in which the commands are embedded is a covenant by which God blesses us, and we are given a route towards our highest good which is union with God.
The Middle Ages The rest of the history to be described in this entry is a cross-fertilization of these two traditions or lines of thought. In the patristic period, or the period of the early Fathers, it was predominantly Plato and the Stoics amongst the Greek philosophers whose influence was felt.
The Eastern and Western parts of the Christian church split during the period, and the Eastern church remained more comfortable than the Western with language about humans being deified in Greek theosis.
In the Western church, Augustine — emphasized the gap between the world we are in as resident aliens and our citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem, and even in our next life the distance between ourselves and God. He describes in the Confessions the route by which his heart or will, together with his understanding, moved from paganism through Neo-Platonism to Christianity.
Augustine accepted that the Platonists taught, like the beginning of the prologue of John, that the Word in Greek, logos is with God and is God, since the Intellect is the mediating principle between the One and the Many John 1: But the Platonists did not teach, like the end of John's prologue, that the Word is made flesh in Jesus Christ, and so they did not have access to the way to salvation revealed in Christ or God's grace to us through Christ's death.
Nonetheless, it is surprising how far Augustine can go in rapprochement. The Forms, he says, are in the mind of God and God uses them in the creation of the world.
Human beings were created for union with God, but they have the freedom to turn towards themselves instead of God. If they turn to God, they can receive divine illumination through a personal intuition of the eternal standards the Forms.
If they turn towards themselves, they will lose the sense of the order of creation, which the order of their own loves should reflect. Augustine gives primacy to the virtue of loving what ought to be loved, especially God. In his homily on I John 4: He held that humans who truly love God will also act in accord with the other precepts of divine and moral law; though love not merely fulfills the cardinal virtues wisdom, justice, courage and temperance but transforms them by supernatural grace.
The influence of Augustine in the subsequent history of ethics resulted from the fact that it was his synthesis of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire after and Greek philosophy that survived the destruction of the Western Roman Empire, especially in the monasteries where the texts were still read. To understand this, we need to go back into the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The church had to explain how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could be distinct and yet not three different gods. The doctrine of the Trinity comes to be understood in terms of three persons, one God, with the persons standing in different relations to each other.
The church came to talk about one person with two natures, the person standing under the natures. This had the merit of not making either the humanity or the divinity less essential to who Jesus was.
In the West knowledge of most of Aristotle's texts was lost, but not in the East. They were translated into Syriac, and Arabic, and eventually in Muslim Spain into Latin, and re-entered Christian Europe in the twelfth century accompanied by translations of the great Arabic commentaries.
In the initial prophetic period of Islam CE —32 the Qur'an was given to Mohammad, who explained it and reinforced it through his own teachings and practices. The notion of God's Allah's commands is again central, and our obedience to these commands is the basis of our eventual resurrection. Disputes about political authority in the period after Mohammad's death led to the split between Sunnis and Shiites. Within Sunni Muslim ethical theory in the Middle Ages two major alternative ways developed of thinking about the relation between morality and religion.
These standards that we learn from reason apply also to God, so that we can use them to judge what God is and is not commanding us to do.
He also teaches that humans have freedom, in the sense of a power to perform both an act and its opposite, though not at the same time. The second alternative was taught by al-Ashari d. He insists that God is subject to none and to no standard that can fix bounds for Him.
Nothing can be wrong for God, who sets the standard of right and wrong. With respect to our freedom, he holds that God gives us only the power to do the act not its opposite and this power is simultaneous to the act and does not precede it. A figure contemporary with al-Ashari, but in some ways intermediate between Mu'tazilites and Asharites, is al-Maturidi of Samarqand d.
He holds that because humans have the tendency in their nature towards ugly or harmful actions as well as beautiful or beneficial ones, God has to reveal to us by command what to pursue and what to avoid. He also teaches that God gives us two different kinds of power, both the power simultaneous with the act which is simply to do the act and the power preceding the act to choose either the act or its opposite.
Medieval reflection within Judaism about morality and religion has, as its most significant figure, Maimonides d. The Guide of the Perplexed was written for young men who had read Aristotle and were worried about the tension between the views of the philosopher and their faith.
Maimonides teaches that we do indeed have some access just as human beings to the rightness and wrongness of acts; but what renders conforming to these standards obligatory is that God reveals them in special revelation. The laws are obligatory whether we understand the reasons for them or not, but sometimes we do see how it is beneficial to obey, and Maimonides is remarkably fertile in providing such reasons.
Aquinas, like Aristotle, emphasized the ends vegetative, animal and typically human given to humans in the natural order. He described both the cardinal virtues and the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, but he did not feel the tension that current virtue ethicists sometimes feel between virtue and the following of rules or principles.
The rules governing how we ought to live are known, some of them by revelation, some of them by ordinary natural experience and rational reflection. But Aquinas thought these rules consistent in the determination of our good, since God only requires us to do what is consistent with our own good.
And from this natural willing are caused all other willings, since whatever a man wills, he wills on account of the end. The principles of natural moral law are the universal judgments made by right reasoning about the kinds of actions that are morally appropriate and inappropriate for human agents. They are thus, at least in principle and at a highly general level, deducible from human nature.
Aquinas held that reason, in knowing these principles, is participating in the eternal law, which is in the mind of God Summa Theologiae I, q. Aquinas was not initially successful in persuading the church to embrace Aristotle. Aquinas was a Dominican friar. The other major order of friars, the Franciscan, had its own school of philosophy, starting with Bonaventure c.
First, Scotus is not a eudaimonist. He takes a double account of motivation from Anselm —who made the distinction between two affections of the will, the affection for advantage an inclination towards one's own happiness and perfection and the affection for justice an inclination towards what is good in itself independent of advantage Anselm, De Concordia 3. Original sin is a ranking of advantage over justice, which needs to be reversed by God's assistance before we can be pleasing to God.
Scotus says that we should be willing to sacrifice our own happiness for God if God were to require this.
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- What Is the Relationship Between Religion and Morality?
Second, he does not think that the moral law is self-evident or necessary. But the second table is contingent, though fitting our nature, and God could prescribe different commands even for human beings Ord. One of his examples is the proscription on theft, which applies only to beings with property, and so not necessarily to human beings since they are not necessarily propertied.
Third, Scotus denied the application of teleology to non-intentional nature, and thus departed from the Aristotelian and Thomist view. This does not mean that we have no natural end or telos, but that this end is related to the intention of God in the same way a human artisan intends his or her products to have a certain purpose see Harechapter 2.
Modern Philosophy Europe experienced a second Renaissance when scholars fled Constantinople after its capture by the Muslims inand brought with them Greek manuscripts that were previously inaccessible. In Florence Marsilio Ficino —99 identified Plato as the primary ancient teacher of wisdom, and like Bonaventure cited Augustine as his guide in elevating Plato in this way. His choice of Plato was determined by the harmony he believed to exist between Plato's thought and the Christian faith, and he set about making Latin translations of all the Platonic texts so that this wisdom could be available for his contemporaries who did not know Greek.
He was also the first Latin translator of Plotinus, the Neo-Platonist. For both traditions of thought, a fulfilled human existence was a moral and religious whole. But their opposition to efforts to reduce morality to one lesser aspect of the religious life evidences their sensitivity to the importance and relative priority of the moral norms.
This point could be further illustrated within a number of diverse traditions, but it becomes even clearer when we survey the historical development of religious thought.
Not only do traditions tend to highlight moral requirements as they develop over time, but major religious controversies and schisms giving rise to new religious traditions usually effect dramatic ethicization of aspects of the older traditions, thus indicating how important the issue is for diverse religious communities. Many examples from the history of religions could be given: To be sure, each of these important moments of religious change involves more than moral reform nor are the allegations of the "reformist" tradition always correct.
But it is noteworthy that in each of these cultural contexts the effort to highlight and assert the priority of the moral norms is of such urgency that it could well be an important contributing factor to major religious change.
It is also noteworthy that in these quite different contexts change is always unidirectional; religions do not efface the distinction between religious and moral norms as they develop, nor do they subordinate moral requirements over time. On the contrary, just as a theoretical appreciation of the importance of moral norms would suggest, traditions move toward greater clarity about the distinctiveness and relative superiority of moral requirements.
One final matter deserves attention: The supreme guide to conduct in these traditions, it is said, is God's command, and because this command is not always moral, these traditions are fundamentally opposed to any idea of the distinctiveness or superiority of moral norms.
This viewpoint is associated with forms of divine command ethics in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many believe it finds its strongest biblical support in God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac Gn. In fact, the issue of divine command ethics is a complicated one.
Theoretical defenses of this position as voiced by al-Ghazali in Islam and by William of OckhamDuns Scotus, and Kierkegaard in Christianity usually arise in contexts where the very authority of the tradition is under attack by rationalist critics.
These defenses may seek less to represent the tradition in its integrity, therefore, than to place it beyond assault. Examined with less apologetic interests in mind, the traditions themselves do not necessarily support the religiously authoritarian reading they are given.
While biblically based traditions trace their norms to God's will, this will is usually viewed in such ethicized terms as to render it unthinkable that God could ever require anything fundamentally wicked or immoral.
The Abraham-Isaac story in Genesis 22 is no exception to this rule. Readings based on this passage alone such as Kierkegaard's tend to omit the fact that, several chapters earlier, in Genesis In many ways, the episode in Genesis 22 reinforces this impression: The God of the Hebrew scriptures, unlike deities worshiped by idolators, does not demand the slaughter of children. Indeed, this was precisely the lesson drawn by most later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim commentators.
In this single text, therefore, we see both sides of the biblical tradition: Taken together, these ideas do not suggest a religious attitude that would subordinate morality, but one that discovers moral intentionality at the tradition's highest level of authority. Universality and the Moral Rules We have seen that the term universality has several distinct meanings when used in reference to moral rules.
It signifies the fact that at least the basic rules of morality are the same across cultures. It also signifies that these rules are to be regarded as applying across cultural lines presumably to every human being.
All who are human are members of the moral community and bear the rights and responsibilities of this status. A survey of different historical traditions bears out the presence of these ideas, although historical development and other considerations sometimes render matters complex.
Common moral principles One of the most striking impressions produced by comparative study of religious ethics is the similarity in basic moral codes and teachings. These prohibit killing, injury, deception, or the violation of solemn oaths. Lewis has called basic moral rules like these "the ultimate platitudes of practical reason," and their presence and givenness in such diverse traditions supports his characterization.
Also remarkably similar are norms bearing on social and institutional life, especially economic relations. While none of these traditions condemns private property though common possession is sometimes viewed as appropriate for the religious elite, or is thought to have prevailed during a utopian era at the beginning of timeall are solicitous of the needs of the disadvantaged or powerless and, in different ways, all encourage active assistance to the poor.
Christianity accomplishes the same end by encouraging extreme sensitivity to the plight of the weak or needy. Despite their other differences, Confucianism and Daoism share the Chinese conviction that the mark of just rule is a prosperous and happy peasantry. Both laud generosity by the rich and powerful, and both vigorously condemn economic oppression and rapaciousness.
The caste system of Hinduism, though opposed to any notions of social equality, aims at ensuring a livelihood and a share in the social product for all members of the community. This was accomplished by means of the jajmani patronage system, involving the exchange among castes of services and goods at socially established and protected rates.
Finally, while charitable giving in Buddhism goes largely to the monastic community and is directed toward spiritual attainment and not toward economic need, this community itself often has been a refuge for the poor and for orphans and widows. Furthermore, Buddhism espouses a vigorous ideal of shared prosperity in its conception of the duties of the righteous monarch cakravartin. Similar assessments of individual moral worth Beyond these common moral principles, interesting normative similarities may also be identified with respect to the role played by individual decision and intention in the evaluation of moral worth.
We have seen that while intention does not figure into the rightness or wrongness of a particular act, it is a crucial consideration in estimating the merit or blame of the moral agent.
This aspect of moral reasoning, as well as the centrality of the individual agent as moral subject, is apparently well appreciated by the major traditions under discussion, although again some historical perspective is needed. Very often during their earliest periods, traditions evidence an objective assessment of moral culpability: Similarly, the earliest strata of some traditions at times display notions of collective guilt whereby all members of a community are regarded as meriting punishment for the wrongdoing of a few.
Characteristically, however, these less differentiated ideas give way over time to greater precision in the assessment or apportionment of blame. In the Hebrew faith, Ezekiel's rejection of collective punishment Ez. This process of differentiation becomes particularly apparent during moments of radical religious change. None of the "daughter traditions"—neither Buddhism, Christianity, nor Islam—defends the idea of corporate punishment, whereas all put much stress on intention in assessing individuals' deeds.
Jesus' criticism of religious and moral hypocrisy may not be fair to the Jewish tradition from which he sprang, but it is fully consistent with the spirit of greater interiority in the assessment of worth that marks the development of biblical faith. Much the same might be said of the Buddhist remolding of the doctrine of karman to the effect that karmic consequences are seen to derive from the willing of the agent rather than from the outward deed.
The importance of intention niyah in validating religious and moral observance in Islam and of the kindred concept of kavvanah in rabbinic Judaism exemplifies this same process of increasing precision in the assessment of individual worth. Differences between traditions Despite all these remarkable similarities, there are also important differences among the codes and teachings of these traditions. Thus, the permitted range of sexual conduct differs from tradition to tradition, with the concept of sexual chastity apparently not ruling out polygamy in some cases ancient Israelite religion, Islam, Confucianism but requiring monogamy and even recommending celibacy in others monastic Christianity and Buddhism.
Wrongful killing, too, is variously defined. For Jews and Muslims, killing is permissible if done in self-defense or to punish wrongdoers whose conduct is believed to threaten the community. The New Testamenthowever, suggests a stance in which even self-defensive killing of other human beings is prohibited. Buddhism and Jainism take this position one step further by discouraging the killing not only of human beings but of all sentient creatures.
Differences of this sort represent an important object of study. Why is it that traditions whose moral attitudes and teachings are in some ways similar tend to differ in other respects? But the significance of these differences for our basic understanding of the relationship between religion and morality should not be exaggerated. For one thing, these differences are manifested against a background of basic similarities in moral teaching.
Morality and religion
It is sometimes assumed, because religious traditions hold widely different religious beliefs, that their ethics must correspondingly differ; what is remarkable, however, is that these great differences in beliefs apparently do not affect adherence to at least the fundamental moral rules.
Furthermore, where moral differences do occur, they do so within the permitted range of moral disagreement. For example, even though Western religious moralists have vested sexual conduct with great importance often intolerantly imposing their norms on other culturesthere are many different ways in which societies can organize sexual conduct so as to fulfill the more basic moral objective of protecting human beings from injury.
In some circumstances the welfare of women and children might seem best accomplished by polygamous relations; in others, monogamy might be desirable. Changing circumstances within a single tradition can even recommend a movement from one pattern to the next, as has been the case for Judaism and, to a lesser extent, Islam. That traditions would differ over a difficult moral issue like this is almost predictable.
What would be surprising, and what would throw open to question any claim that religions are basically respectful of the moral rules, would be teachings that permit rape or other violently abusive sexual acts. But no major historical tradition tolerates anything of the kind. Some differences in these teachings are also traceable to differing moral ideals or standards of supererogation.
We have seen that, above and beyond the basic moral rules which are largely negative and prohibitorythere are a variety of positive encouragements to generosity, sharing, and self-sacrifice.
Since views of what is "above and beyond the call of duty" normally differ even within cultures and between individuals, it is not surprising that differences among religious traditions should be marked.
Indeed, some of the disagreements with respect to sexual conduct and killing just mentioned are also differences of this sort. New Testament Christianity, for example, would interpret self-sacrifice to imply celibacy, disregard for material wealth, and abstention from physical self-defense.
Buddhists and Jains adopt very similar norms possibly less for reasons of self-sacrifice or altruism than as part of a vision of spiritual self-cultivationwhereas Judaism and Islam tend to associate self-sacrifice with unstinting obedience to every provision of their respective religious laws.
This may require extreme efforts at charity and the willingness to accept martyrdom in the name of the faith, though neither tradition advocates poverty, celibacy, or the renunciation of self-defense. As important as they may be for the study of comparative religious ethics, however, these differences with respect to supererogatory ideals are matters about which reasonable and morally well-intentioned persons can disagree, and they do not affect the traditions' agreement about the basic moral rules.
The element of reciprocity here is aptly expressed by the Golden Rule of Christianity Mt. While Christians are justly proud of the moral wisdom represented by this simple decision procedure, the Golden Rule is by no means limited to Christianity. Jesus' teaching is initially drawn from Hebrew scriptures Lv. Within rabbinic Judaism a negative form of the Golden Rule "Do not do unto others.
In the Analects Parallels like these led early missionaries and scholars to speculate on the possibility of historical borrowing or even parallel divine revelation in the East and the West. But this similarity of moral perspective does not have to be attributed to anything more than the essential and universal logic of the moral reasoning process.
While the Golden Rule is an impressive intuitive guide to responsible moral decision, its focus is too narrow. In making moral choices, we must consider not only the immediate neighbor but all other persons affected by our conduct or choice. Hence the requirements of universality, objectivity, and impartiality in moral reasoning.
In fact, the term impartiality, though widely used in moral theory today, is inappropriate, because it suggests detachment and distance in reasoning when what is really required is genuine empathetic concern for all those affected by our decisions. In this respect either omnipartiality or omnicompassion would be a better term. When we examine the very highest reaches of religious thought, we are struck by the ways in which adoption of this perspective is encouraged.
In the Western traditions believers are called upon to imitate God while trying to develop their own moral and religious lives. The various metaphors for God that express the traits to which believers should aspire convey this moral point of view: God is the creator and king of all the world, the righteous ruler in whom there is neither partiality nor injustice. He is also a parent who loves his creatures with tender mercy and concern.
Modeling their behavior on God's, Jews, Christians, and Muslims are thus called to distance themselves from selfish interests and to adopt an omnipartial point of view. Some Asian religions share this teaching. In the ancient Chinese and Confucian traditions, Shangdi "lord on high" and Tian "heaven" represent the standard of impartial justice. Knowing no favorites, Heaven judges by merit alone and casts out the unworthy.
Mystical traditions, which often place less emphasis on obedience to God and more on the adherent's experience of a transcendent reality, arrive at this standpoint in a different way.
No longer clinging to the self, one participates sympathetically in all of reality.
Do We Need Religion to Have Good Morals?
The Daoist adept, in achieving mystical insight into the Way, participates in its spontaneity, generosity, and support of all living creatures. It may be objected that the picture of universal compassion presented here is one-sided: Certainly these things are true.
But once again, historical perspective is in order. One of the salient features of all traditional cultures is their tendency to view themselves as human, while outsiders, often all those beyond the narrowest boundaries of a local community, are looked upon as enemies, barbarians, or less than fully human.
Frequently this assessment has a real basis in self-perpetuating conditions of conflict and vendetta that render every outsider untrustworthy and dangerous. To some extent, we see this mentality in the early strata of many of the literate traditions, although even there universalist elements are discernible. For example, Genesis contains many passages in which Yahveh is depicted as little more than a tribal deity who fights without quarter on behalf of his people, whereas other passages display remarkable universality of perspective.
Sometimes the two impulses are joined.
A poignant example occurs in Genesis 21 when the working of the divine plan on behalf of Isaac's lineage leads Abraham to expel Hagar and her son Ishmael into the desert.
In a moving passage, Yahveh personally intervenes to save the lives of the abandoned pair. Though his first loyalties may be to Israel, the chosen instrument of his purpose in history, Yahveh reveals himself as a God whose compassion and concern transcend national lines.
As traditions develop, one finds an almost invariant movement from relative particularity to greater universalism. If such development can be found within the traditions, it once again shows itself most dramatically at moments of decisive religious change. Christianity's abandonment of Jewish religious law, for example, opened its community, "the new Israel," to a membership drawn from the entire ancient world.
Paul's statement in Galatians 3: Similarly, Buddhism, by rejecting Hindu notions of caste, severed the geographical ties to India that had characterized Hinduism and, as a result, Buddhism became a world religion.
But probably no tradition better illustrates this tendency to universalism coupled with the possibility of intolerance than Islam. Over the centuries, Muslims' willingness to use the sword in defense of their faith has earned Islam a reputation, especially among Christians, as a paradigm of religious intolerance and persecution.
In fact, Islam's record in this regard is much more complex than its foes admit. If I was god, I would transmit my message directly into everyone's brain. That way problems with translation and subjectivism would be removed and people could make informed decisions and moral choices based on the full facts, rather than miscommunicated ideals.
This would end all translation and transmission problems too. Clearly, no gods have imparted such a universal moral message into the minds of mankind. If there is a supreme and omniscient creator god then it is responsible for creating the way that our brains work. Such a being knows that we can only interpret life subjectively, and that no text will mean the same thing for any two people.
Therefore by design, any sacred text must only be designed by God for the specific culture into which the text arose.
Fundamentalists largely hold that their scripture is the only authority we have as regards to the truth: It is an absolute truth. However, in order to select which text they consider inerrant there must first be non-scriptural basis for this selection. Before a person considers a text inerrant, they are in a position where their position in the world dictate their knowledge of religious texts and their approach to them.
These secular and coincidental factors determine whether a person comes to decide that a text is inerrant. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures. It is an illogical situation that once a fundamentalist has chosen a text, they then deny that they have no other source of authority: If there is no source of authority other than the text they've chosen, then their reason for selecting the text has become invalid.
Beyond this point of self-contradiction it can be seen that the reasons are complex psychological ones. Fundamentalists have been unable to arrive at a logical criterion for how a secular living person should select which text is true out of all the religious texts available in the world, all of which have adherents who claim their chosen books are inerrant. All claim that correct prophecies validate their text, and all claim that all the other texts don't really have correct prophecies.
It is impossible to investigate all such claims yourself, in one lifetime, so it appears that a logical intellectual choice based on prophecy is impossible. Or it is ignorant: A choice can't be made without ignorance until a person has actively investigated all claims of prophecy by all religious texts.
Until the individual has done this, they're merely guessing which one can be judged, by criteria of its prophecies, to be "more" divine than other texts.
That God has inspired multiple correct prophecies in multiple religious texts or that magic operates as part of the natural laws of the universe, and supernatural prophecy-making is possible whether or not God has a part in it.
Of all the prophecies that have not come true such as the thousands made about the end of the worldetcyou could very sensibly infer that any true prophecies are only true by coincidence and luck, not by supernatural means.
In all cases, it can be seen that judging religious texts by their prophecies is a poor method. Faith is a cultural and psychological phenomenon.