A Higher Morality than Religious Doctrine?
The science of psychology confirms that the first five years of our lives define us permanently. While relatively true, it does not explicitly define the character we become as adults. Most importantly as minors, we are more exposed to what we can as “intrinsic values” from our nuclear family. Those values are sacramental because they are often associated with religion that dictates what is acceptable socially and relinquish on the other hand the wrongdoing.
The core values that are perceived as superior and fundamental to us at a young age, begin to show symptoms of contrast as the world we live in expands and group of people we know increases exponentially. The collision between these values that were once intrinsic now makes them subject to suspicion and doubt. The people who are close to our social bubble also practice their beliefs differently and identify under different—and no—religious denominations.
But to what extent should we define moralism in relation to religion? We tend to be very ethnocentric in evaluating external standards of ethics and values. The evolution of Western civilization after the Renaissance has been heavily influenced by the doctrine of Christianity and its Judaic parentage and its Ten Commandments. But it took Europe a few centuries of living under the Dark Ages influenced by the theocratic influence of the Catholic Church to reach a philosophical revolution to redefine the very establishment of Europe. The gradual decline of the Catholic Church in Europe and the rise of other denominations within the Christian faith led to an increasing criticism to the power religion has over societies. We can see this decline of influence with the significant shift in women’s role in society. To give a practical example, the Bible clearly states that women should cover their head according to 1 Corinthians 11:3: “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.”
The above bible verse clearly commands women to cover their heads, but it is now almost a non-existent norm in most Western societies for Christian women to practice. So is it wrong that hundreds of millions of Western women who might still identify as Christian, for not applying this commandment? The answer is no, simply because the societal practice has changed. Therefore the moral judgement of head covering founded on religious doctrine is now completely irrelevant.
This is one of many examples of why we can no longer use religious doctrine as the primary source of moralism. We can also contextualize our perception of morality geographically. Many countries in the Far East that aren’t even influenced by the Abrahamic religions are the most disciplined nations in the world. The philosophy of Confucius is what defines morality in overwhelmingly non-religious nations like Korea and China. This doctrine has even extended to Indonesia with a very modernist view on Islam.
This can also apply to countries that have experienced a drastic decline in the church attendance but nonetheless enjoy virtually non-existent crime such as Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
These illustrations come with increasing frustration to conservative Christians in the United States who try to influence the political landscape. A more radical shift of religious conservatives in the United States trying to reaffirm the moral foundations of a society come explicitly from the Judeo-Christian interpretation started in the early 1980s. With a declining Christian—and an increasingly non-white population—the reactionary approach that conservatives are employing is likely to continue. This kind of resistance to inevitable change is futile and will only lead to tribalism.
Morality is intertwined with society and society is convoluted with religion. With the many failures of theocracies and their disintegration by the contemporary liberalism that has redefined morality, we may safely conclude that what guides the arrow on the moral compass in society is far less determined by religion than ever before. The new guiding force is a complex combination of modernity, culture, politics, and identity.
November 30, 2018