Main Street USA
[Social conformity?]

Humans are not born complete; we need to learn patterns for living.  Religion has often been the source of this guidance.  Moral rules, sacred texts and leaders, rituals and symbols, and rational reflection about beliefs and practices are some of the most important ways religion acts as a guide to life.

What Should I Do and Why:
Religion and Morality

The Problem of Morality
   Different Types of Morality
Taboo Morality
   Taboo Morality in General
   Taboo Morality in Children
   Primitive Culture and Taboo Morality
   Archaic Culture and Taboo Morality
   Taboo Morality in Adults Today
Allegiance Morality
   The Need to Belong
   Forms of the Need to Belong in Individuals
   Allegiance Morality and Religion
   Allegiance Morality Is Both Good and Bad
The Morality of Universal Laws
   The Idea of Universal Objective Norms
   The Advantage of Universal Laws
   Universal Laws Morality and Religion
   Difficulties with Universal Laws
Basic Value Morality
   Human Well-Being as the Basic Good
   Basic Value Morality and Universal Laws Morality
   Other Characteristics of Basic Value Morality
   The Motivation behind Basic Value Morality
   Basic Value Morality and Religion
   Morality and Mystery

Salvation is more than the attainment of a heavenly condition; it is also the salvation from loneliness that comes from belonging to a group.  Problems of identity can often have a religious element to them and religions often address the important question of who we are.

Knowing how to differentiate good and bad is a great mystery of life.  This morality, to some extent, varies with the stage of development of a culture.  Morality is also something that develops throughout each individual lifetime.  These stages of individual moral development will be called “taboo morality,” “allegiance morality,” “universal laws morality,” and “basic value morality.”

The morals of childhood are based on the dual extremes of punishment and pleasure.  Breaking a rule is only “bad” if one is punished for it.  In the absence of pain or punishment, nothing is morally wrong.  Taboo morality is a collection of specific rules about what feels good to do and what results in punishment; intentions are unimportant.  This type of morality is often the dominant value structure in primitive society, where universal laws and basic value morality do not exist.  The individual moral rules of primitive society can be thought to parallel the scattered primitive folktales that explain the world. Archaic cultures also reflect a substantial level of taboo morality; some archaic cultures used their writing ability to codify the taboos as law. Taboo morality is still part of today’s world; some still base decisions of right and wrong on the probability of getting caught.

Another type of morality is based on the human need to be accepted by others.  Allegiance to a  group and its moral standards can lead to feelings of fulfillment and honor.  In societies where allegiance morality is dominant, leaders and heroes become extremely important symbols of virtue.  In the context of personal development, allegiance morality is a stage where a child seeks to be accepted by the people around them, especially parents.  With respect to the stages of development, allegiance morality is typically the dominant value structure of archaic cultures.  The achievement of acceptance can also be found in the sphere of religion.  Religious ties based on allegiance morality tend to focus on religious leaders and heroes as symbols of the group’s virtues.  As might be expected, groups based on allegiance morality face the constant danger of becoming intolerant or bigoted.

This third kind of morality determines what is good and bad by referring to universally valid laws.  Universal laws morality is first explicitly articulated by historic cultures.  In historic cultures, it is common to find the idea of universally valid norms about good and bad.  The central problem with universal laws is the difficulty in distinguishing whether a law is universally valid or merely the extension of particular social prejudices.  Though most people today would agree that all rules have exceptions, the very nature of universal laws denies this.  However, historic religions sometimes come close to the idea of an exception with the idea of “casuistry,” a set of guidelines for the application of universal laws in an imperfect world.  A common example of casuistry is choosing the lesser of two evils, when it is inevitable that one of the two will take place.

The idea of casuistry foreshadowed a later concept of morality: do good and avoid harm as much as possible.  Unlike the other standards of morality, basic value morality offers no precise standards of what is right and wrong.  Virtue ethics, the moral practice of developing good personal character, is one example of basic value morality.  Basic value morality is not a contradiction to universal laws morality.  Rather, basic value morality tends to follow precepts of universal laws, except when the law will cause harm.  Basic value morality can even be considered as a type of universal law morality, in which the single principle is to promote human well-being at all times.  This type of thinking became the dominant value system in historic and modern forms of religion and cultures.  Religious ideas about the sacredness of every human life are perhaps the strongest ideas about basic value morality.

End of notes to Chapter 8

This page last changed Tuesday May 20, 2003

In The Presence of Mystery





























The Ten Commandments, originally part of the covenant between God and Israel, later came to be thought of as universally valid moral laws.