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Can one Be Moral and Not Believe in God?

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Can one be moral and not believe in God?

PHI 103

September 26, 2011

The argument set forth is best understood by the first line given by Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1 in this 1600 play, "Hamlet," written by William Shakespeare (1600).

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?..."

Believing in a spiritual entity or a supernatural supreme being can play a role in one's moral beliefs, but it is not necessary. The argument will start with breaking down what it is to be moral with the definition of moral, which is "of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior," (ethically speaking) "conforming to a standard of right behavior." (Merriam-Webster, 2011) With that in mind now, one can be moral and not believe in GOD, because it is up to the person to choose to be moral, hence "To be, or not to be..." This argument will consist of a brief history in a few religions, church and state, moral education, ethics, and Plato's and Aristotle's take on living morally. Again, believing in God is not necessarily needed for one to be moral; all that is needed is good ethics, belief in oneself, and knowledge.

The origin of religion, experts think, arose from the fear and wonder of natural events (i.e. storms, earthquakes, and the how babies were born). Experts believe that the

explanations of death were the outcome of supernatural powers greater than one's self and the world around them. Religious activities, prehistorically, involved the most essential elements of existence, like adequate rainfall and or a successful hunt for food. Prehistoric people were also believed to have performed rituals intended for good fertility of women, for animals, and for succeeding in hunting as well as making sacrifices for all good fortune. The major religions of today may have been originated between 1500 B.C. and A.D. 600. (Fontaine, 2011)

As time progressed, there came a new understanding with religion being involved in one's life. The justification by faith, the actions of an individual can be justified by their faith as it assists moral goodness and faithfulness to duty. Through Christianity, Christ died for their sins to sit before God's judgment in their place so that they cannot be found guilty. As an example of justification by faith, believers are led to be more loving towards God, their neighbors and to do good works. For instance, treat others the way you would like to be treated. The understandings of justification by faith, good acts towards others, are justified by people using their faith as justification for their actions. (Edwards, 2011) Religion also has a code of conduct, a set of moral teachings and values to uphold when conducting the business of living. From these morals and values, one should

treat others how one would like to be treated, whom one may marry, what jobs may be held, how to dress, and what foods may be eaten. (Fontaine, 2011)

Now let us look at church and state. The understanding of church and state is that each should not be involved in the others development. In other words, government should operate non-religiously and churches should operate outside the boundaries of the government system. This was disagreed by many, because many believed that religion improves the moral character of citizens and should be actively promoted by government. Many others believed that government should support and fund some religious activities so long as any religion is not favored over another. From these oppositions, arose intense debates in the United States of America for issues involving prayer in public schools, government funding for religious schools, government support for religious charities, and the display of religious symbols on government property. (Ivers, 2011) The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof...." Freedom of religion is still an issue today, for it is interpreted by many court rulings "that the government may not promote or give any special treatment to any religion."(Morgan, 2011) Plans, which called for government financial aid for religious schools have been denied and courts

have ruled it unconstitutional to many programs to teach the Bible and or recite prayers in public schools. Yet, church and state are not totally separate, because (1), many of the nation's people are Christians, (2), the nation's motto is "In God We Trust," (3), sessions of Congress open up in prayer, (4), witnesses in court swear oaths on the Bible, and (5), Christians governed the United States since its existence. (Morgan, 2011)

Moving along, morality in both religion and government is a major concern and work together when and if their moral goals desired are with the same intentions. It, of course, is the exact opposite when both entity's desires and views of morality are different, like the belief in abortion. Where religiously it is viewed as morally wrong and governmentally allowed in some states. Moral education is focused on what is right and what is wrong to develop the standard values by which people judge what is important, worthwhile, and good. Moral education is received from many angles of sources one may encounter, beginning with their family, church, friends, teachers, and television. Moral education lessons were given in schools either intentionally or unintentionally in the United States in the 1970's by developing special teaching methods in assistance with dealing with moral questions. These methods if given in a combination approach were called comprehensive moral education.

Inculcation was the effort

to teach values which educators believed to lead moral behavior to children. Values in moral behavior such as honesty, compassion, justice, and respect for others were taught by appropriate praise and punishment and reflected in whichever desired value in the teacher's behavior. Values clarification was designed to assist in developing one's own values and morals by stress setting goals, choosing thoughtfully from alternatives, and acting on their own convictions. Moral development assisted in the development in the abilities to judge moral questions. That which is based on the theory that moral reasoning



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