Religious Ethical Systems
Christianity is one of the world’s major religions
and has also had a huge effect on Western culture and government. Christians
believe in God and also in the teachings of Jesus who they regard as being an
aspect of God. The main basis of the Christian ethical system is the bible and
specifically the 10 Commandments in the part of the bible called “The Old
Testament”. The “Old Testament” is the part of the Bible that is shared with
Judaism and which also influenced Islam. On the other hand Christianity also
derives an ethical viewpoint from the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ teachings are
contained in the part of the Bible known as the “New Testament”. Jesus’
teachings are not exactly the same as the 10 Commandments and have a different
The 10 Commandments are Divine Command ethics. In
other words they derive from laws set down by God. They are also meant to be
objective and universal. Ethics from Jesus’ teachings are similar to the 10
Commandments in that they teach obedience to God but they also stress virtues
as well as the famous ethical principle known as the Golden Rule (see below).
Christianity has split many times into different
versions. Depending on what kind of Christianity a person practices they may
have different ethical views. Some Christians are pacifists others are not for
Islamic ethics derive from the Islamic holy book
known as the Koran. Koran is to be taken as the word of Allah (the Islamic name
for the same God as in the Jewish and Christian faiths). Because Islam derives
from a common root with Christianity there are many similarities but Islam
further emphasises the Divine Command aspect of ethics. Islam teaches that a
person should surrender to God’s will. Whereas Christianity ditched many Old
Testament rules beyond the 10 Commandments, Islam maintained and reinforced
many of them. Consequently Islam has strict rules on the preparation of food,
drinking alcohol and other aspects of life. Consequently Islam also emphasises
the importance of duty more than Christianity.
Like Christianity Islamic ethics are meant to be
objective and largely universal although some rules only apply if you are
actually a Muslim.
The teachings of Buddha are very virtue centred and
although the ethics derive from a religion they are not Divine Command ethics.
Buddhism emphasises balance and harmony: with an avoidance of dangerous
extremes. Buddhism also stresses the various ways in which you can acquire
virtues via what is known as the Eightfold Path (Right Views, Right Thoughts,
Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness,
and Right Concentration).
Although Buddhism does not have commandments like
Judaism or Christianity there are 5 precepts which are similar to commandments
but are more like maxims or moral guidelines.
It is hard to classify Buddhist ethical beliefs using
the terms objective, subjective, universal and relative. This is in part
because Buddhism has a very different view of the world with much of what might
be regarded as reality being a distraction or illusion.
Buddhism does specifically reject hedonism as a view
of ethics. It is people’s obsession with the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance
of pain that distracts them from finding inner peace and freedom from rebirth.
Confucius, (or KONGFUZI or K'UNG FU-TZU) was a
Chinese philosopher who lived sometime between 550 BCE and 480BCE. Although not
a religious figure he has had a similar influence on
Confucius taught an ethical system that combined a
view based on both virtues and duty. Confucius’ ethics had five virtues;
kindness, uprightness, decorum, wisdom, and faithfulness. He also believed that
people had duties towards their family and parents (living and dead) as well as
duties towards the state.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is a moral maxim that has been
phrased and rephrased many times and from many ethical systems. There are many
versions for example:
“Do as you would be done by”
“Love your neighbour as yourself”
Versions of the Golden Rule can be found in the
sayings of Jesus, the teachings of Confucius as well as in the writings of
notable figures in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Some people have
suggested that the Golden Rule is the only possible universal ethical rule
because it builds into itself a degree of relativism and subjectivity.