Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One can be Moral even being Irreligious

Upright Opinion
December 2, 2010
One can be Moral even being Irreligious
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 moral 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, 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 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 jargons, 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 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 or 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 and purpose of any religion is absolute morality and piety. In addition, it connects the creation, which is human being with the creator, which is an 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 marriages.
Beyond the cardinal belief in God, the religions flourish and remain vibrant for their customs and rituals, which are vigorously practiced. The faithful relish, cherish, and draw bliss and spiritual elevation by observing these. They feel their bond of obedience with God strengthened and the reverence for the messengers reinforced. The examples are Hindus converging on the river Ganges every year and celebrating various festivals like Holi and Krishna Janmaashtami. Muslims fast and perform pilgrimage, 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 counltess deities as symbols of various powers, the river Ganges as purifier of sins, the temples, and the sacred books: Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads and Puranas.
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 cleansings 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.
Both the religious, 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 traffic rules, seldom taint the food, or tamper with their meters. Their agitations and protests rallies are orderly and peaceful. They maintain environmental cleaniness and respect the rights of their neighbours. They are by and large peacefcul and allow religious freedom for all believers.
These are moral 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.
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 inseparable 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.
Such a sermonized morality looks to be sham and a 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.

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)

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1 comment:

  1. This is a very broad topic. It all boil down and depends how an individual he or she defines "moral and righteousness". Scholars and intellectuals have been baffled for decades to define righteousness and moral reasoning.

    A religious person comes up with many religious exercises so that they could become righteous according to his believes and standard as right standing with God, when an Agnostic or Atheists or pagans or nonbelievers will generally define moral as without guilt because there is no concept in them of righteousness or sin, it is all boils down to moral reasoning either good or bad.

    In any religion, righteousness is a person and not behavior and sin is the opposite of behavior. Therefore, in religion righteous or righteousness is an identity of a very high moral person who is pure from all sins. For non-believers or atheist or agnostics there is no concept of sin only reasoning of morals. Therefore they cannot or can never get the degree of righteousness.

    Now let’s look at the morality between a religious or non-religious person about the Lie, truth, swindle, stealing, murder, using abusive language etc that Mr. Saeed has mentioned in his article. This is where I will draw the line:

    If a non-religious person no matter him or her always speaks truth, never lie, never swindle and do all the good deeds of this world, never hurt any one in this world. Still he can not and can never reach to the level of a righteous person, until he or she believes in one of the 3 Main divine Religions of today. Righteousness is only sacred to a much respected High moral religious person from these 3 divine religions. A person out side these 3 divine religions cannot achieve the degree of Righteousness.

    In order to achieve the degree of "Righteousness" a person should do all the good deeds of this world and plus should attend, follow and practice and than past the test of the school of righteousness from one of the 3 Main divine Religions school of thought that was sent into this world by God. You're talking about getting a degree of PHD in "Computer Science" by completing the High School Diploma. This is what Mr. Saeed is talking about. This is not possible.

    To me a non-religious person can never get the degree of "Righteousness". All the good deeds that Mr. Saeed has mentioned exist today because of these 3 Main Divine Religions. There were five prophets who had divine books and independent teachings. They are referred to as Nuh (Noah) (AS), Ibrahim (Abraham) (AS), Musa (Moses) (AS), 'Isa (Jesus) (AS), and Muhammad (SA). All these Prophets appointed to prophetic mission and sent towards mankind as bearer of divine religious laws and a divine book by God (Allah), the Merciful.

    Before the dawn of these 3 Main Divine religions started from Prophet Ibrahim, majority of the people were illiterate; people were living in the darkness of Jiyyaleah. At that time some people worshipped idols of stone and wood; others worshipped the planets, stars, sun and moon; still others worshipped their kings and rulers. 99% people believed in Polytheism. The poor people were ruled by the chiefs. They were subjected to their cruelty and injustice.

    Thus, there was meaningless existence of all the good deeds. There were no concepts of all the good deeds that Mr. Saeed has mentioned. It is because of these 3 main divine religions that all these good deeds came and thought and started practicing in every society on this planet earth as the followers of these religions started spreading through out the world. Today in order to follow these good deeds you do not have to believe on any religions what so ever.
    Therefore a non-religious person may have good moral, with the same token a religious person may not have good moral. But the truth is both of them are eventually affected by the teachings of good moral because of all these 3 main divine religions school of thought directly or indirectly whether they believe on the religion or not that is beside the point.