Morality vs. Religion


Throughout the various chapters in my life, I have encountered and befriended a number of distinct individuals, embracing different cultures and beliefs. Unfortunately, people with inherent diverse characteristics normally tend to clash, however sometimes, the way in which this happens leaves me utterly stumped.

Picture this – here we are enjoying a relaxing picnic near the sea, when suddenly an acquaintance starts berating a friend of mine because he is an atheist and therefore has no morals. She tells him that she had thought he was a ‘good person’ and is therefore very disappointed by his lack of values. This attitude at the time left me so completely astonished that I dared not utter a word, one way or another, however on reflection, I later understood what had seemed to be so utterly senseless at the time. Who says that morality and religion are one and the same?

Most people seem to think that the words morality and religion are interchangeable. Both define a set of norms or a code of conduct by which one should be guided in order to live a ‘good’ and ‘honest’ life in synchronicity with others. Both are precepts which should help people living in a civilised society to co-exist in harmony and happiness. However, they definitely do not mean the same thing.

Religion differs from morality in that it is a specific system, with clear do’s and don’ts, which may explicitly prohibit or require certain behavioural patterns and ideologies from those who adhere to a specific creed. As everyone knows, certain religions are sometimes criticised for being discriminatory to a specific gender, to a particular sexual orientation and to a number of minority groups. This could be a bone of contention when it comes to the strife between a particular person’s religious beliefs, which could clash with his or her moral values. Another issue is when major religions try to use the concept of morality to instil guilt or to use it as an excuse to stress the relevance of their beliefs (for example using morality to explain why homosexuality is wrong and why homosexuals should be ‘re-educated’). Religious beliefs and morality per se may differ in that to a certain extent, morality is unique for each society and each individual, whilst persons pertaining to a particular religion follow a homogeneous and fixed body of learning. One can obviously both follow a religion and have moral values, however we should not make the mistake of thinking that one cannot be found without the other.

Many of the words previously used – ‘good’, ‘honest’ and ‘civilised’, basically mean different things to different people. This could not only be due to personal truths and perspectives, but to a person’s country, the period they were born in, their age, language, race or even gender. In other words, moral values are subjective to many issues, most of them pertaining to the particular individual and have nothing to do with specific religious creeds.

Etiquette is often considered to be part of what we think of as ‘morality’. This usually concerns a number of unsaid and unspecified behavioural issues, social taboos and unofficial laws which seem to govern most societies. It is important to note that something which might offend a particular person’s morality (like, for example, someone wearing a string bikini at the supermarket) could not be an issue at all for another person’s value-system (personally I don’t see what the fuss would be about in this case). Also, something which offends a person’s ‘morals’ usually has nothing at all to do with the creed of his/her religion at all.

The point is that in this world almost everything is subjective, therefore saying someone lacks morals just because his or her code of conduct is different from yours or because it is difficult to understand, is wrong and not at all fair. All it does show is not only ignorance, but also and more importantly, a gigantic lack of respect, which, at least in my opinion, is one of the basics of both morality and religion.