Deep Dissection: The Daily Reconstruction of Religion and Morality
The Evolution of Who We Once Were to Who We Are Now
September 24, 2018
The majority of us have the responses to the world’s various situations predisposed to us by the existence of our own moral compass. Eventually, we arrive at a point of “automation,” if you will, when we let our own morals guide us and think less about the actions we take in response to the world. That point arrives after countless testing of our morals and coming to a confident state with them, believing them to be infallible, tested and true.
However, once we stop questioning our morals, we begin to shift in morality as a society and a culture. We are all swayed easily by the growing perceptions in society and our own subconscious will to fit in with those increasingly common perceptions. Positivity or negativity is dependent of a person’s outlook, but the important aspect at play here is that change of our religion and morals on a daily basis.
In discussing this deep topic at hand, we should begin with the question of where our morals came from.
Did they come from teachings of a higher power (in the context of whatever you believe in), or from human nature?
I: The Origin of Morality
Religion can found the basis for many of the morals that we share in common, but we also each have an individual moral compass that differs between all of us. We all feel different about certain issues and we all make different choices in response to those actions. And we all have a different idea of what is right.
Dating back to the predecessor of the first humans, Neanderthals, a sense of family was already present, arguably before a modern religious definition of it. “Discoveries of elderly or deformed Neanderthal skeletons suggest that they took care of their sick and those who could not care for themselves.” It would make sense from a scientific standpoint that we derived this characteristic from them, as we were close relatives and biologically share some of the same basic instincts.
Conflicting with the scientific angle of the Genesis of morality, comes the spiritual angle from a variety of different resources. In most religions there are concepts of a sin-like device, a spiritual burden caused by lack of compassion or following of the Creator’s rules. These rules can be attributed as the basis of many morals still held within society if they hadn’t already pre-existed within human nature beforehand.
The Christian Bible has the Ten Commandments for every Christian to follow along with the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. The Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet are often looked towards as moral guides in Islamic societies. Buddhists have three main beliefs they follow. And just like every preceding religion in this list, almost every religion can be defined as a code or morals passed down in order to achieve a pure soul.
The one set of beliefs that buck this trend is atheism, but atheism can be defined as a non-religion, a lack of designed code of beliefs. Instead, atheists possess a moral compass forged by their own evolving minds. In a sense, they could be defined as the ones that believe that their feelings towards an issue aren’t delivered from a deity on high, but from the power of their own consciousness. In this analysis, they really are an example of how change within our society leads to the foundations of new morals and ideals.
No code of belief is strictly right or wrong from an objective sense, and as soon as you start advocating for one or the other, you’ve played into the bulk of your morals which are different between everyone and have different justifications per person.
Undeniably, the concepts of religion and morality intersect, and at this point we’ve entered a “What came first: the chicken or the egg?” situation. Instead, the best question may not have been at all to ask where or morality and religion come from, but how do they coexist within society?
The answer, given this research, can be summed up as this:
Given our basis of human nature, religion is what elevates us to become closer to a certain image should we choose to adhere. We already know biologically as a species how to love, bond, share and protect, as they’ve been passed down as traits within our blood for centuries. Religion, then, adds additional values to our compass that may be different depending upon religion, but also modifies some of our core drives in life.
Now that there’s some background on how religion and morality intersect, it’s interesting to look at how society can deeply change the outlook and general opinion of not only those who abstain from religion, but those who are deeply and spiritually invested in it.
To best illustrate this, there are some notable examples of how nature and societal change plays into morals and religion.
II: Our Change as a Society
From a common sense perspective, one could easily see how different we are in the year 2018 comparative to our ancestors in the ages long past, even if our source for many beliefs is still the exact same. The Bible, Quran, and many Confucius’s Teachings, etc, are some of the oldest texts to ever have existed, and were probably passed down by word of mouth before formal writing. The truths held within those texts haven’t changed—it’s people’s interpretations that have.
Every rule has a purpose, but purpose may sometimes only be applicable to the era that the text was presented in. This concept is what leads people to gradually change their core values from what the books state to be righteous to their own interpretation. After many generations, people now adapt their core beliefs and morals alongside their religion to a growing world with different criticisms and viewpoints.
The first example to look at how different things are comes from a very devout, religious man, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church. The direction of the Catholic Church before was, in his view, “obsessed” with homosexuality, abortion, divorce and contraception.”
Now, Pope Francis is changing the overall views of the Church by a more “open arms” approach. Instead of condemning those who have committed sin, he chooses to show a completely different angle of Christianity deriving from the core values of love and community. It’s a dramatic shift because a highly religious figure now only interprets the foundations of his religion to situations best applicable to this age.
If you were to look at a timeline, it can be best denoted that centuries ago, religion was feverish, and to not claim every part of the scripture as a part of your moral identity would have made you a suspect for harsh punishment. People who wanted divorce most notably were only allowed a few excuses to get out of their marriages, which is in stark comparison to today’s society which values the ideals of self-determination of love rather than externally arranged marriages.
Atheists have an interesting story to them then. If they hold steadfast to no exact book of morals or written moral codes, how do their morals flow throughout societal change? It’s quite simple actually. Much like an adaptation in our genes, their morals change and adapt with societies new and upcoming problems, forming new morals faster than those with religious foundations because they don’t need to fact check and try to fit in their new morals with a pre-written moral code that might in the end lead to contradiction.
Without the need to look back upon the morals in theology and religion of the past, atheists can more readily adapt and change their outlook on societal issues. For instance, when it comes to homosexuality or other controversial issues among the religious, atheists see no inherent problem with them because they don’t follow an exact text that denounces those ideas. With no reliance on the past, they form their own judgements based on more logical reasoning and a level moral compass that is personalized and dependent on strictly of their own experiences.
A subject I should discuss in this analysis would be how society is different outside of the US, as an external perspective can perhaps help shed light on how we share many morals, but hold drastically unique ones compared to the outside world.
Compared to the US, other nations beliefs evolved in a alternative timeline, rooting from the basics established from our common ancestors and diversifying their beliefs with our eventual dispersing across the globe. Every country values different beliefs, with for example Asian cultures placing a great amount of emphasis on pride, honor, and family as opposed to the West. Countries in the Middle East have an entire different society compared to the rest of the world because of their strict interpretation of their texts. The EU is experiencing a wide religion variety much like the US is, with many different countries having a different majority religion in practice.
Every area evolved differently in terms of religion, and not only did every area evolve with different beliefs taking root, but every person also started changing to adapt to the truths that they see with their eyes in the ever-changing world. Evolving from the truths they were brought up on that formed the basis of their religion and morals, to finding a balance between those and what they believe is right in the current times.
III: My Personal View
I believe that this world is truly a place that can help us better ourselves, by forcing us to test, compare, criticize, morals with our neighbors. We can grow as people and a society if we are to listen to the voices of contradiction and give them a second’s thought. If nobody listened to criticism upon Christianity, we’d still be following the Old Testament and some of the barbaric rules present as opposed to gleaning the messages of love and support that form the foundations of many of our morals today.
I believe that our human nature, by default, contains the basic morals of love, community, care and protection. However, our basic human nature is also wild and survivalist, imbued with the tendency to steal, lie, and hurt others all in the goal of self preservation.
The formations of religions helped us to try to steer away from those ancient impulses, our morals wild hair and religion a comb to straighten us out. We’d be lost to some extent without religions, but those who steer away from religion in a modern day society teach us a valuable lesson that all of us who hold on to every word of religion have lost within ourselves.
We’re all human, and religion, despite being a force that defines itself to mend barriers with ideals of loving thy neighbor, can sometimes create barriers, convincing us that people that don’t believe in our religion can be somehow viewed as morally inadequate, or wrong for their transgressions in a different light than we are, when that is completely inaccurate.
Everyone in this world believes that they are right, while everyone else is wrong. But by believing in this fact, we forget our basic human instinct of family within ourselves. We’re so busy dividing people based on what they believe and what they don’t that we loose what our ancestors had thousands of years ago, a complete sense of community and empathy for those other than ourselves. We all share some of the same morals, despite our religious differences, and we all have no use for these barriers that we’ve constructed.
What I believe is that together we should look around and discover that our religion and morality can be reconstructed daily by the people right next to us, and we can all help each other adapt to this world around us. We don’t become better people by listening to ourselves. We become better people by listening to others despite differences in our beliefs.
*Update: (1/7/19, 5:33pm) Updated Title to Fit in with Deep Dissection Series