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Overview of Morality & Ethics

Overview of Morality & Ethics


This lesson will give an overview of why the topics or morality and ethics are important to the study of World Religions.

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Overview of Morality and Ethics

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on an overview of morality and ethics. Religions have various different ways of helping their followers to navigate the moral landscape of helping to make choices between right and wrong. So religions have embedded in them what we might call value frameworks that help adherents decide between right and wrong. These value frameworks are embedded within other aspects of religion. What we might call the cultural aspects of religion, and oftentimes, can't really be separated from those cultural aspects of religion.

For example the current disputes about gay marriage. Those who are for gay marriage might say that Christianity really just had a cultural belief in the heterosexual family. While conservative Christians maintain that no, that is not a cultural belief. That is actually a moral belief. So depending on where you stand in the equation, you might see that as either cultural or moral in nature.

So it can be very difficult to separate a moral belief from a cultural one. Where do these value frameworks come from? Well they come from various different holy books and traditions of interpretation. So for Christianity, of course, the Bible. And theological texts. But also these traditions of interpretation.

Protestants have a tradition known as sola scriptura-- scripture alone. Where Protestants tend to downplay the importance of tradition. But of course, Protestants do use tradition. In fact sola scriptura is itself a tradition of interpretation.

So just to give one example, the Christian Bible, which is of course, partially the Jewish scriptures, doesn't say anything about original sin having to do with sex. But generations on generations of Christians have said that it does. And that stems from traditions of interpretation.

Genesis only says that Adam and Eve realized that they were naked. It doesn't say that they were doing anything. It just says that they were naked. But of course, these traditions of interpretation make their way in. And this issues into doctrines of marriage and so forth.

One might be tempted to think that holy books are not as important in eastern religions. But Hindus take a look at the Vedas. And they view the Vedas as authoritative texts. For Buddhism, the Dhammapada-- the teachings of the Buddha-- contains ethical ideas.

I think we can say that these are present in Eastern and Western religions. And just because a tradition is not being directly invoked does not mean that tradition is not playing an important role in the formation of morality. And of course, the philosophy of religion is going to attempt to take these moral ideas and put them on some sort of footing. Because if we just look at scripture we can find lots of moral ideas.

We can also find lots of disturbing ideas in scripture. Like the slaying of the firstborn of the Egyptians in the central story of Judaism. It's a very disturbing story, where God slays little children. So the connection between morality and religion is not as tight as some religious people would like to believe.

But neither is it the case that morality simply has nothing to do with religion. In fact religion has historically influenced the moral ideas that we hold today.

Thank you for watching this tutorial on an overview of morality and ethics. We said that religions have moral frameworks embedded in them that help their followers to decide between right and wrong. We said that the sources for these ideas come from holy scripture and from traditions of interpretation. Followers generally get their understanding of scripture through religious leaders, who interpret the scriptures for them, generally according to longstanding traditions. We said that both Eastern and Western religions have both scriptures that they look to for inspiration and guidance, and traditions of interpretation of those scriptures.

We just have to vocabulary terms. Morality, which is a code of behavior of conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by divinely inspired religious beliefs. And ethics, which is a code of behavior or conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by non-religious, often philosophical teachings.

Terms to Know

A code of behavior or conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by non-religious, often philosophical, teachings.


A code of behavior or conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by divinely inspired religious beliefs.