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by Jeff
Rated: 13+ · Editorial · Philosophy · #1997344
Is the word 'morality' derived from religion? Merit Badge Projects entry (June 2014).
Is the word 'morality' derived from religion?

The short answer is no, morality is not derived from religion. Morality and religion are two entirely different concepts, morality being a doctrine or system of moral conduct or conformity to ideals of right human conduct1 while religion, on the other hand is an organized system of beliefs, typically in connection with a god or gods.2 On the surface those two concepts may have similar or even overlapping meaning to a great many people, but they are, in fact, two different concepts.

In order for morality to be derived from religion, it would imply that religion is the source from where we draw morality. And while many religious systems also include a set of moral guidelines to follow, morality is not the exclusive domain of those who are religious. Over 36% of the population is considered non-religious,3 and the argument that morality derives from religion would then imply that more the one in every three people on the planet has no sense of morals or ethics whatsoever. If that many people were truly immoral, I don't think governments, religious institutions, or other organizations would stand a chance against complete and total anarchy.

"[Religion and morality] are to be defined differently and have no definitional connections to each other. Conceptually and in principle, morality and a religious value system are two distinct kinds of value systems or action guides."4

One can further argue a disconnect between morality and religion by looking at instances that disprove the hypothesis; namely, religious people acting in an immoral way, or non-religious people acting in a moral way. With the entire history of the human race at our disposal, it's not difficult to find ample examples of each. Noted atheists such as businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Brazilian sociologist and activist Herbert de Souza, and American Civil Liberties Union leader Clarence Darrow have all made enormous contributions to the good of the world without adhering to any particular religious belief system. Similarly, look at anyone who currently considers themselves non-religious and ask them whether they have a sense of morality. Whether it's internally motivated or driven by another external force (government, employer, etc.), chances are that most people consider themselves moral, and have a personal moral compass, even if it's not sustained by religious belief in a higher power.

Conversely, look at people with self-proclaimed strong religious convictions who have acted immorally. Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker were popular televangelists before fraud and a sex scandal brought an end to his ministry. Jim Jones led a mass-suicide at his Peoples Temple location in Jonestown. And, of course, there are the Salem witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and a whole host of other religious movements that performed horribly immoral acts in the name of religion. Can morality truly stem from religion if religion itself is the cause (in some cases) of immoral acts?

It's inaccurate to say that morality is derived from religion. These are two completely different value systems and even though morality being dependent upon religion is "an almost automatic assumption,"5 that assumption is – in fact – a completely false assumption. Many religions do include guidelines for morality, and many individuals do look to their religion to provide their moral compass. But that's not the case all the time, and there are plenty of exceptions; people who derive their morality from somewhere other than religious conviction.

Because the prompt included a definitive question, it deserves a definitive answer. No, the word and concept of morality are not derived from religion. Many people have a personal philosophy where the two overlap and interweave, but the concepts of morality and the concepts of religion are not identical and neither is responsible for creating or sustaining the other.


(666 words)

Entry for "Merit Badge Projects. Philosophy Prompt: Choose one of the following topics and write a report/essay/story/poem... 1. Are human behaviours derived from their genes or the surrounding environment? *Check1* 2. Is the word 'morality' derived from religion? 3. How can we distinguish between reality and illusion?

1  "Morality." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/morality.
2  "Religion." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion.
3  "Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism" by WIN-Gallup International. July 27, 2012.
4  The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics by James F. Childress & John Macquarrie, p. 401.
5  The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachels & Stuart Rachels.

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