Help the GGSC raise money to launch Greater Good in Action - Click Here
   

 

Does Ethics Require Religion?

By James A. Donahue | March 1, 2006 | 0 comments

There is a spectrum of views about how religion and ethics are related—from the view that religion is the absolute bedrock of ethics to one that holds that ethics is based on humanistic assumptions justified mainly, and sometimes only, by appeals to reason. These two extremes tend to be argued in a way that offers little room for compromise or pragmatic solutions to real issues we face everyday.

The relationship between religion and ethics is about the relationship between revelation and reason. Religion is based in some measure on the idea that God (or some deity) reveals insights about life and its true meaning. These insights are collected in texts (the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, etc.) and presented as “revelation.” Ethics, from a strictly humanistic perspective, is based on the tenets of reason: Anything that is not rationally verifiable cannot be considered justifiable. From this perspective, ethical principles need not derive their authority from religious doctrine. Instead, these principles are upheld for their value in promoting independent and responsible individuals—people who are capable of making decisions that maximize their own well-being while respecting the well-being of others.

Even though religious and secular ethics don’t derive their authority from the same source, we still must find a way to establish common ground between them; otherwise we’re condemning ourselves to live amidst social discord and division.

I believe we can accommodate the requirements of reason and religion by developing certain qualities that we would bring to our everyday ethical discussions. Aristotle said that cultivating qualities (he called them “virtues”) like prudence, reason, accommodation, compromise, moderation, wisdom, honesty, and truthfulness, among others, would enable us all to enter the discussions and conflicts between religion and ethics—where differences exist—with a measure of moderation and agreement. When ethics and religion collide, nobody wins; when religion and ethics find room for robust discussion and agreement, we maximize the prospects for constructive choices in our society.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 
About The Author

James A. Donahue, Ph.D., is the president and a professor of ethics at the Graduate Theological Union.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  • How to Help Teens Find Purpose

    April 16, 2015

    Teens are naturally driven to seek new experiences—and that may be the key to helping them develop a sense of purpose in life.

  • Can Music Help Keep Memory Alive?

    April 21, 2015

    A conversation with the makers of Alive Inside, a new documentary about how music is helping people with dementia.

  • How to Help a Narcissist to Forgive

    April 14, 2015

    Narcissists struggle to forgive people for even minor transgressions. But a new study points the way forward.

  

Greater Good Events

How Compassion Creates Resilience, with Kelly McGonigal
International House, UC Berkeley campus
May 20, 2015


How Compassion Creates Resilience, with Kelly McGonigal

A book event for The Upside of Stress


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

The Path to Purpose By William Damon Looks at how children are hampered in their search for meaning, and how concerned adults can help them find it.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement