[Level 3: Pinnacle]
In simple terms, when we think of morality, we think of right and wrong, or good and bad. Some peo- ple derive their morality from a religion or a philos- ophy, while others develop their own morality based on their personal observations and experiences in life.
Morality and politics
Morality is generally considered to be an individual phenomenon. However, politics can be seen as the social forum in which individual acts of morality cumulatively become social morality.
In researching the relationship between attitudes in morality and politics, Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham studied the differences between progressives and conservatives in the United States.
Haidt is a professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Graham is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California.
They found that Americans who identified as progressives tended to value care and fairness higher than loyalty, respect, and purity. Americans that self-identified as conservative valued care and fairness less than loyalty, respect, and purity.
Overall, both groups provided the highest overall weighting to “care,” but conservatives valued fairness the lowest and progressives valued purity the lowest.
Experimenters suggest that this division is due to historical factors in which Conservatism tends to develop in closely knit, ethnically homogenous communities, whereas progressives are more likely to be found in port cities that contain significant cultural diversity.
Many people derive their morality directly from their religion and make the automatic assumption that morality depends on their religion.
However, The Westminster Dictionary of Chris- tian Ethics states that religion and morality “are to be defined differently and have no definitional connections with each other. Conceptually and in principle, morality and religious value system are two distinct kinds of value systems or action guides.”
There is a wide range of secularism, moral traditions, and religious value systems coexisting within many societies. The monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) tend to define right and wrong according to laws and rules set forth in their respective scriptures, and these laws tend to be absolute.
The polytheistic religions (such as Buddhism) are less absolute and encourage people to consider the intention of the individual and the circumstances in order to determine whether a person’s actions are right or wrong.
Views on morality can vary dramatically in different countries. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 Global Attitudes survey polled more than 40,000 respondents in forty countries on their views on extramarital affairs, gambling, homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, alcohol consumption, divorce, and the use of contraceptives.
Respondents had to decide if each was morally acceptable, morally unacceptable, or not a moral issue. Affairs, gambling, homosexuality, and abortion appeared to be unacceptable to most respondents.
Premarital sex and alcohol use were seen as somewhat unacceptable. However, contraceptives and divorce were seen as mostly acceptable (only 14 percent deeming it to be unacceptable).
Overall, countries that were either African and/or predominantly Muslim tended to find most of these activities morally unacceptable, while countries with advanced economies tended to be considerably more accepting.
In twenty-two of the forty countries surveyed, a majority responded that belief in God is a requirement for one to be moral and have good values. At least 75 percent of those surveyed in six countries in Africa say that faith in God is essential to morality.
In the Middle East, approximately 70 percent or more agree. With only 37 percent of responses reflecting that a belief in God is a prerequisite to being moral, Israel is the only country in the Middle East without such a majority.
The Pew Research Center reports: “Many people in Asia and Latin American also link faith and morality. For example, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Malaysians almost unanimously think that belief in God is central to having good values.” On the other hand, most Australians do not believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral.
It is a critical MPI principle to develop and refine your own moral code. Clearly the decisions you make in order to maximize your impact on your own life and the world will need to incorporate some kind of compass.
However, one aspect of this that does merit further discussion is the issue of whether or not humans should develop their own moral codes based on their own experiences, observations, and accumulated knowledge, or if they should have moral codes prescribed for them (e.g., by religion).
Monotheistic religions provide absolute moral codes that followers must adhere to, which raises many issues.
Our ability to develop morals
By presenting a moral code, religions imply that humans are not capable of developing their own morality. This contributes to people feeling that they are much less able than they really are.
Freedom to determine our own morality
The lack of freedom is an enormous, fundamental, and central problem created by monotheistic religions, and this problem takes center stage when it comes to morality.
It seems inconceivable that any human would agree to give up any kind of freedom, particularly the freedom of thought, which directly influences one’s ability to determine one’s own mortality.
Not only do the monotheistic religions impose their absolute rules of morality upon their subjects, but they also go one critical step further.
They threaten their subjects with the most extreme punishment imaginable in the event that they do not adhere to their moral code and their moral code only.
The juxtaposition is ridiculous at best and exceedingly damaging at worst. Threatening people with a punishment worse than death if they do not follow a moral code is itself the peak of immorality.
Morality is ultimately an integrated system of rules that enables groups of people to cohabitate in something that resembles harmony. Morality is modern society’s way of avoiding conflict, mitigating the response to aggression, or punishing aggression in a manner that pours water on the fire rather than the fuel.
Are we born with morality?
In Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says that we are born with a hardwired morality and that we start life with a deep sense of good and evil.
His research revealed that babies and toddlers can judge good and bad actions of others and, further, they want to reward the good and punish the bad.
They also acted to help those in distress, and they felt guilt, shame, pride, and righteous anger.
This research was conducted at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center, also known as the Baby Lab, run by Dr. Karen Wynn.
Researchers conducted tests on children under two years old to see what they understood about good and bad behavior.
In the first test, babies watched a puppet show of a cat trying to open a box. A bunny wearing a green shirt came along and helped to open the box, while a bunny in orange slammed the box shut.
Afterward, babies were presented with both bunnies and asked which one they liked best. More than 80 percent of the babies in the study preferred the bunny in green. So babies have the ability to understand the difference between good and bad before being able to speak or walk.
And they appear to have a basic sense of justice. Bloom writes: “We are by nature indifferent, even hostile to strangers; we are prone towards parochialism and bigotry.
Some of our instinctive emotional responses, most notably disgust, spur us to do terrible things, including acts of genocide.” Bloom suggests that the role of parents and society is to address this by developing the innate moral beliefs that already exist inside a baby’s mind.
This research is in direct contrast to the view that humans require religion in order to have morality.