Dr.Muata Ashby: Introduction to Sema Tawi part 1














Ethics and the Relationship to Religion

By Sebai Maa



The term Ethics comes from the Greek “rpoc” which means “custom.”  Ethics is considered as a branch of axiology that includes Aesthetics, Ethics, epistemology, Logic and Metaphysics.  The term “Axiology,” comes from the Greek axia, acia, meaning value or worth.  This is a study of value, what is of value or worth while or quality.  Ethics tries to understand what constitutes morality; that is, defining what is right from what is wrong.  It is usually thought that the ethics are based on what is valued, so the concepts of value theory and meta-ethics have been associated with ethics.  In Western traditions ethics is at times referred to as moral philosophy since so much of western ethical reflections have been influenced by religious thought, dealing with right and wrong in human behavior.  Since all religion have been to contain a moral element, and since the western religious approaches to ethics dominated the researches into ethics historically instead of secular methods, a moralistic approach was taken for the study of ethics.  Therefore, a theistic religion, which promotes the idea that ethics arise from revealed truths that are given by divine sources will lead to the study of ethics from the standpoint of theology.  Works on Ethics in Western philosophical treatises were developed within the literary culture of religious ideas based on the Old testament of the Hebrew Bible had a great influence on the western ethical philosophers either directly or indirectly.  However, since there were import differences of opinion as to what the ethical teaching of the bible was different understandings related to ethics arose.  Some philosophers have indeed suggested that either modern comprehensions of the bible are wrong in itself.  Consequently, Jewish thought has struggled with understanding the interaction between morality and the law. 


The golden rule and the Ten Commandments have had a strong influence on western ethical and moral thought.  The teaching from Judaism often referred to as “the Golden Rule” Which originates in the 18th verse of Leviticus 19, in the Old Testament has had a profound impact on western ethical philosophical thought.  “Thou shalt not avenge, not bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.”  This is one of the most famous and oft-quoted principles from the bible.  Thought the golden rule has not been applied in many human interactions and acting in contradiction with it has led to national and international conflict, it is an altruistic ideal that fascinates many people due to its intrinsic truthful nature.  So the inability of culture to rise to the ethical ideal does not diminish the recognition of it but neither does that recognition promote cultural altruism either.  This is one of the perplexing aspects of human culture which has occupied the minds of many ethical and moral philosophers throughout history.  The Ten Commandments are prominently features of Judaism and Christianity. 

Many believe that the Golden Rule, which teaches people to “treat others as you want to be treated”, is the common denominator of all moral codes and religions.   The ethic of reciprocity (or “The Golden Rule”) is a general moral principle found in virtually all religions and culture, often as fundamental rule, a fact which suggests that it may be related to innate aspects of human nature.  Altruism takes the theory of a golden rule to a higher standard in that a person should place others, needs, well being and happiness, before oneself.  As far as the subject of ethics in religion goes; it has been explored by the religions in one of two approaches. 


The first approach is by religious agency and demand the deity of a religion provides the ethical framework or regulation and demands their use by the religion’s adherents; this may be thought of as a categorical imperative.  Another approach is by exploring ethics as a separate entity from religion which religions is used to promote virtue in their adherents for their betterment and the betterment of and harmony in society; this may be thought of as an altruistic imperative.  It might be well justified to that all human cultures, at some point in their history, have established what they believe to be a moral (ethical) and principled standard for establishing and maintaining order in a society even if they apply it to their own society and selectively to others.  The primary standard may be regarded as the injunction against harming others and the highest expression of that moral sanction is to refrain from killing.  Therefore, from that highest of the humanitarian ethics we may accept the concept of non-killing as a universal canon or dictum that leads or least should lead to peace and harmony in society.  Therefore, we can say that policies and concepts that promote conflicts that directly or indirectly lead to social strife and killing are anti-humanitarian ethics or ethics of a purpose other humanitarian conceptions, purposes or goals.  In the study of religion it is important to distinguish between morality and ethics for the purpose of understanding the distinctions as applied in scholarly studies.  Ethics may be defined as: A set of principles of right conduct; theory or a system of moral values; “An ethics of service is at war with a craving for gain” (Gregg Easterbrook): ethics (used with a sing. Or pl. verb): The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics. 

Ethics here is to be thought of as a system or way of thought arrived at through the reasoning faculty of the mind.  It is a theory developed through logical and rational and perhaps scientific reflections based on experiences gained from the world.  When thought of as a discipline separate from religion, ethic has been associated with reason, science, humanism or secular humanism.

In religion ethics are arrived at through divine agency or enlightened leadership but is does not prelude a philosophical or phenomenological reflective process.  In religion, ethics are also referred to as morals or a system of morality that is rejoined to promote virtue.  Virtue is promoted so as to purify the personality and cause it to become a proper vessel for higher spiritual experiences.  So in religion, rules or regulations for proper conduct may be given to religious aspirants by a god or goddess or by a personality that has had communion with god or goddess.  In Christianity Moses received the Ten Commandments from God; in Ancient Egyptian religion the Laws of Maat were given to the priests and priestesses by the God Djehuti.  So when thought of as a discipline within or arising from religious experience, ethics has been associated by theologians with morality.  In this context morality may be defined as “a concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct 2: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong.