Monday, October 21, 2013

One can be Moral without being Religious

By Saeed Qureshi

While I contend that man can be moral and righteous without being religious, I am in no way suggesting, that one should abandon practicing religion. Morality, essentially, is a virtue that is personal and the human beings follow it out of social or personal obligations or volition.
Let us put it like this, that even in heathen and secular societies, the people, at the same time, tell lies and speak truth. Truth is a component of virtue that one believes not because of religious compulsions or motivation but because it is a positive social value that is appreciated while its antonym is disliked.

When we are speaking truthfully, we seldom think we are doing so because the religion ordained so, but because this was right and commendable to do so. Same mindset applies to other countless virtues and ethical values that we practice in our daily lives.

To be law abiding, to care for others, to be compassionate and considerate, to be kind and humane, to treat aged and children with kindness, not to steal, murder, or rape and so on,  are invariably considered as virtues that are cherished and commended  equally in the irreligious and the rigidly religious societies.

The religious commandments or injunctions if vigorously and earnestly applied during our social dealings, then of course, we may not err or indulge in immoral and unethical pursuits either by word of mouth or by our actions and deeds. Yet in our daily life and in social interactions, we make a mess of the moral codes ordained by our religions.

Irrespective whether we believe in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or any other religion, countless times we lie, swindle, weigh less, adulterate the foods, and charge more. We do not keep our promises. We molest, kidnap, speak rough even use abusive jargon, enter into fratricidal disputes, tamper with out utility services meters, evade or do not pay our tax in full.
We solicit jobs through bribery or influential contacts; prefer our relations and friends for jobs or contracts via nude and unabashed nepotism and so on. We seldom think that all these vices and foul activities and are forbidden by religions and despised by the society.

Therefore, whether we are religious or not, we demonstrate outward social behavior without keeping in mind all the time that these are do’s or don’ts contained in the religious codes. If we still persist in good behavior as well as bad behavior then certainly we are simultaneously complying and breaching the tenets of the religion.
The claim or argument that religion fosters absolute morality would look convincing if we can divide the human race into two clear sections, one being wholly moral because of being religious and the other being entirely immoral because of being irreligious. We know we cannot draw out such clear-cut distinctions.

If morality were entirely exclusive to religions then the human generations existing before the advent of religious eras would have been immoral. In the prehistoric ages when there was no ownership of land or property, the communities would be knit into bonds of fraternity, work together, equitably divide their food and resources, and share each other pains and pleasures. Those generations might be believing in spirits, demons and souls but certainly, they were not the adherents of traditional religions that sprang later.

Even the wicked Pharaoh admonishes Prophet Abraham for falsifying his real relationship with Sara, who was his wife but he faked her as his sister. In this episode, the conduct of the heathen Pharaoh looks more moral as compared to the religious apostle Abraham. If we accept the plea or ruse of Abraham as the need of the hour, then we are tainting or bending the inviolable religious canons with regard to the virtue of truth.

The core aim and underlying purpose of any religion is absolute morality and piety. In addition, it connects the creation that is human being with the creator that is almighty God. In religion, there cannot be any compromise or modifications on the belief in a super human power or God. Nevertheless, when the faith pertains to the affairs of the societies or mutual interactions, the laws and traditions of the religion mingle with the mundane laws of the society and thus the people follow both of these.

The Christian Orthodox Church is succumbing to the pressures and imperatives of the modern societies to the extent that it now permits marriages for nuns and priest. Of late, it has conceded to the use of condoms and even gay and same sex marriages. Beyond the cardinal belief in God, the religions flourish and remain vibrant on the strength of their customs and rituals, which are vigorously practiced. The faithful relish, cherish, and draw bliss and spiritual elevation by observing these countless religious chores that become an integral part of our social milieu.

They feel that their bond of obedience with God is strengthened and the reverence for the messengers is reinforced. The examples are Hindus converging on the river Ganges every year and celebrating various festivals like Holli and Krishna Janamashtami. Muslims celebrate religious days, pray, fast and perform pilgrimage. The Jews go to Jerusalem and Roman Catholics go to Rome.

Every religion has a pantheon of deities, an array of rituals and an assortment of customs and innumerable taboos and shibboleths. In Christianity, there is a vast plethora of symbols that are dutifully performed during the service. Some of these are use of candles and rosaries, images of saints, chants ,incantations  prayer books, incense, holy water, long robes, everlasting light before the alters, serving of bread, the special architecture of the church buildings and so on. As stated above, In Hinduism, there are countless deities as symbols of various powers, the river Ganges as purifier of sins, the temples, and the sacred books: Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads and Purana.

In Jewish faith, there are countless symbols such as tabernacle, Star of David, the holy books Torah and Talmud, Sabbath, festivals and circumcision and so on. In Islam, the mosque, the minarets, the curved sword, the green color, the holy house of God in Mecca, the sacrifice, the two sacred festivities: one after the fasting and another on the eve of pilgrimage. The list is long. I shall leave other smaller religions that are immersed in a sea of customs and rituals.

Arguably, while these customs and traditions are fervently and zealously followed by all the religions, yet this does not stop them from killing each other and occupying each other’s lands and enslaving them. In history and even in present times, there have been horrendous ethnic cleansing of the adherents of one religion by the followers of the other religion such as between Jews and Christianity and Christianity and Islam, Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Muslims etc.

Simultaneously, the religious and secular, or irreligious societies profess principles, precepts, and laws that are intrinsically moralistic. However, at the same time morality could be variously interpreted and is relative in case of each society. In permissive yet religious societies as in the West and the Far East, such pastimes as nightlife, clubs, drinking and dancing are integral part of the social life. In dogmatic Islamic countries, these social features are sins to be liable for harsh punishments.

Yet in these glamorous and socially open societies, people respect each other, give charities to the poor and downtrodden, take maximum care of the toddlers and young children, and maintain nursing homes for the old people. They behave politely and respectfully to each other. Any discrimination based on color, ethnicity religion or gender is unlawful. Although, these and similar other values are preached by religions, yet these are manifestly practiced in religiously liberal societies. It means it is the culture or the law that enforces these good traits. That eliminates the difference between being religious and non-religious in order to be socially moral.

The citizens of these religiously tolerant countries obey the civic rules, seldom taint the food, or tamper with their meters. Their agitations and protests rallies are orderly and peaceful. They maintain environmental cleanliness and respect the rights of their neighbors. They are by and large peaceful and allow religious freedom for all believers. Such societies are havens of civic comforts and facilities.

These are moral and human manifestations of such societies, which accord scant or customary regard to religion. Nevertheless, they believe and practice the well-established principles of morality, ethics, and good conduct. These serve their people well and manifest good governance for the welfare of their people.

Temperamentally humans when born, possess inbuilt good or bad traits with varying degrees. These traits are not influenced by external factors and remain as the unalterable part of one’s personality till the last breath. These may be suppressed under peculiar conditions or circumstances but can never be eroded or rooted out from the body. As such socially and temperamentally, some people tend to be highly moral, less moral or conversely highly immoral or less immoral. A miser and greedy man can never be generous, a brave person cannot turn coward and a cruel person would be devoid of compassion, a timid would not be outspoken and an introvert not to become an extrovert, et al.  

Humans tend to be hypocritical in posing as moral and religious by exhorting others to be good while they would be wicked themselves. The religious clerics, clergy and preachers though preach moral values, do not offer practical examples by their own conduct. They ask others to be frugal and simple, while they themselves gloat in wealth and lead lavish lives. They crusade against the moral evils and goad reverence for God. Yet they exploit their adherents by using wrath and pleasure of God. Many of them work as touts of the respective government .They are known for hoarding money and eve caught in heinous rape of minors.

Such a sermonized morality looks to be sham and mere humbug. As morality is ingrained and very personal to an individual, my accent is on social and individual moralities and not political. In politics, morality is nonexistent as the interests of state supersede the moral contours set by religious movements and gospels as well as the traditional social or individual morality. For this reason an absolute religious government is hard to work for a longer period of time. Secondly the religious doctrines and tenets are meant for a specific period of human societies and become outdated and collide with the emerging conditions in subsequent times.

 In simple words, the societies are dynamic and evolutionary while the religions are static.   Thirdly morality is a universal virtue and is not subservient exclusively to the religion. Fourth, we have seen that the religious societies get infested with divisions, factionalism, power struggle and disharmony because of irreconcilable sectarianism.  







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