Christopher asked:

It is sometimes claimed that morality is dependent on religion. Evaluate the claim critically.

Answer by Eric George

The claim itself is quite philosophically regressive. Let me explain further; religion in general, any religious adherent cannot claim that their moral ethics are more superior than the next, because for this to even be thinkable it would have to elevate a particular religion above another within the context of which one is true and the other false. Even then, it gets trickier, because one would have to prove that his or her religion is more moral being true – than another, being false. Trying to accomplish this by using a single religion to differentiate say, good from evil, in contrast to the religion next in line ends up being totally idiosyncratic. Monolithic problems arise when philosophical and theological trends impose the idea that morality began within a religious framework, and therefore this necessarily follows that if for example, religion were to disappear morality would as well, which is totally speculative – based upon conjecture rather than truth. The fact is that generalizations about religion are almost always misleading, for even the most elementary study of the puree of different religions in existence today reveals fundamental contradictions.

Most of the world’s religions have, it is true, developed an ecclesiastical pecking-order of some sort, particular sacred rituals or forms of worship and relative to the topic; less universally, a pattern of moral and ceremonial behaviour to which the collectivity of the faithful are to conform. But this ‘pattern’ is highly irregular, to the point that even the most cursory examination of the theological to moral correlations of any religion push contradiction rather than consensus. For morality to be dependent upon religion, it would mean that ones religious orientation would dictate ones moral ethical duties in expressions of morally sound outcomes paramount over that of a person who is not religiously inclined i.e. agnostics, atheists, nihilists and the likes. This train of thought of course leads to self-defeatist implications, as it cannot solidify such a claim even if it wished to do so.

Christians, for example, truly believed in the religious moral cause of the Crusades during its happening, to reclaim the Holy land (despite thousands upon thousands of innocent people dying because of it). I don’t think any Christian nowadays believes this is still the case, or deems the Crusades a ‘moral incentive’. Belief in a God or Gods to determine ones moral behaviour is to miss the point entirely, that morality and an understanding of it therein can and does exist detached from religion and/or religious orientation completely. Morality therefore, cannot be dependent upon religion, since it can be understood, studied and evaluated outside of religion and separate from it in either case.