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Religions Typically Rely On Ethical Theories Religion Essay

Religions typically rely on ethical theories which are explained and shown by some sort of higher power. Ethics are also known as moral philosophy and are essentially the ideas of what is right or wrong, and good or evil. Although each religion varies the framework for these concepts, certain aspects are usually always wrong, for example murder is usually wrong no matter which religion you follow. Other aspects like eating animals are acceptable by some and forbidden by others. The most popular religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism all display some similar and some unique ethical ideologies. One is not better than the other per say, but the choice of which to follow really becomes a matter of one’s personal choice, and what feels like the best option for the individual person. Through my research I was able to determine which of these ethical traditions best suited my own ethical ideal.

Buddhism’s ethics are derived from the perspective of Buddha and other enlightened people who are believed to have followed him. The religion’s scripture includes a set of moral codes, the “Pancasila,” which like most other religions includes no killing, lying, sexual misconducts and stealing. There is also a rule of no intoxicants which differs from many of the other traditional religions. In choosing to become Buddhist, you are agreeing to a vow of committing to these moral codes and to avoid these negative actions. The religion’s Monks and Nuns agree to follow an even stricter set of moral rules found in the “Vinaya.”

Buddha himself is believed to have given basic guidelines to follow the “Nobel Eightfold Path” (the way each Buddhist should live). The overall ideas include the belief that all life is sacred and living creatures ranging from the tiniest insects to human beings should never be harmed by anyone. There is a split in the ways to follow the belief system by the members of the religious community. Traditional Buddhists believe in following all of the scriptures guidelines. Western Buddhists, conversely, feel that there should be a more practical approach to answering complex moral dilemmas in the real world. This approach may require not following all of the “Vinaya”, and using basic Buddhist teachings to help interpret the “Vinaya” concepts’ practicality in the real world. This allows the religions ethics to derive from more than just “Buddha’s enlightenment” or traditional Buddhism. In turn, non-Buddhists may see more insight from the religion than before.

The ethics of Hinduism reflect the idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that when there is a death of the body, the soul/spirit is reborn in another being. If you believe in Hinduism and the idea of reincarnation, then it is understood that by following all of the religion’s practices you can move up the chain and eventually reach the highest point. By the same token, you can all descend all the way down as well. According to “Karma to Grace” (a well-known Hindu organization) the 6 levels to this chain are as follows: Deve, Asura, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost, and Naraka (at this point you have entered the religions version of “Hell”). Past the life of a human being, Hindu’s believe that a soul can enter into one of 2 God like states, the “Deve”, or “Asura” levels. For this reason the human stage a soul enters is the most important on Earth because only from here can you reach the “Nirvana.” The nature of believing in reincarnation shapes the religion’s ethical policies.

Since you can always end up being reborn into any life it is important that Hindus always act in a selfless manner. This means that Hindu’s should always benefit others without the thought of oneself. The term for this is known as “Karma” or the “do not to others, what you would not want done to you” rule. The idea of “Karma” when combined with the knowledge that someone else’s sorrow (although it may be their own fault) is the sorrow of everyone since everyone’s soul is linked, is the main founding principles of the Hindu religion. Empathy is exemplified in the Hindu religion and the role of women is upheld at a very high level. Other key values include kindness to all, and hospitality in any way possible for every creature. During the late twentieth century Gandhi helped to reform and layout all of the traditions Hindu’s should follow. These ideas include non-violence, active creation of “truth through courage,” rejection the feelings of cowardice with relation to pain and harm, and vegetarianism.

Confucianism ethics stem from the idea that maintaining and properly acting in relationships with individuals is, overall, the most important thing anyone can do. To be ethical by Confucians standards means doing exactly what is required out of each unique relationship. For example the relationship a person would have with their parents would be very different than that of a random stranger. Your parents have given you everything, therefore you owe them everything. On the other side of the spectrum, a stranger you owe nothing too. That does not mean a person should not acknowledge someone, but as a relationship is built the severity of what is owed in that relationship grows proportionately. Confucians understand that loving the whole world equally is not practical or possible because you cannot have the same relationships with everyone. There are no real rules or laws that can be true or unbroken because relationships may come into play and it is one’s duty to fulfill those requirements. Confucius himself said “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Leaders who follow the Confucian belief system are supposed to avoid forcing people to act well, but instead should lead by example. Honesty is held as one of the most important values in the religion because without honesty a relationship is not being carried out well.

Confucianism is very prevalent in China and has been for many years. There are many connections with Confucianism and Buddhism and it is probably most attributable to the fact Buddhism was very prevalent among people who lived during China’s Tang Dynasty.

Jewish ethics are largely derived from the Hebrew Bible, which contains many fundamental legal tenants and bits of prophetic wisdom. Most Jewish ethical ideals originate from the Torah’s themes and teachings. The Ten Commandments provide ethical rules for what one should and should not do. Some of the ethical ideals contained within the Ten Commandments are honor your father/mother, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, and do not desire your neighbor’s property/wife. The Biblical prophets urged all people to lead righteous lives. Rabbinic Judaism expands upon the principles outlined in the Bible. According to myjewishlearning.com:

Rabbinic Judaism adopted many of its terms for ethical behavior from biblical usage, but re-shaped some and added many others of its own, such as bein adam la-havero (the entire realm of interpersonal relations) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness and caring). The rabbis of classical Judaism and the authors of medieval legal and ethical works displayed particular concern for maintaining respect for human beings—k’vod ha-b'riot—and directing human impulses into channels that protect the privacy, dignity, and reputation of every individual.

Justice, peace, kindness, and self-respect are among the character traits that are revered in Jewish ethics.

A text called the Talmud contains a principle known as the Golden Rule, which essentially summarizes Jewish moral teaching (Chodos). The rule states “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it” (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a). This maxim is often used in modern times as “do unto others as you would have done unto you” and appears in many different religions’ ethical teachings. It can be argued that the Golden Rule is one of few universal ethical principles. The Golden Rule is very similar to the Hindu concept of Karma, which was previously discussed.

Honesty in business is an important aspect of Jewish ethics. According to Tamari and Aronson, a frequently quoted passage from the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) teaches that one’s judgment in the next world rests on the question "were you honest in business?" Respect for parents is another important Jewish ethical concern. One of the Ten Commandments urges followers to “Honor thy father and mother.” As such, Jewish families maintain very close and respectful relationships. According to jewishenyclopedia.com, “the Talmud tells parents to teach their children a trade and survival skills, and children are asked to look after their parents.” Also important for Jewish people are ethical speech and charitable giving.

Christianity follows many of the same ethical beliefs as Judaism, as the Torah exists as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. The Ten Commandments from the Old Testament are incredibly important to Christian ethics, as well, though there is slight variation in their interpretation. These basic principles are enhanced by teachings through the Psalms. One fundamental difference is the emphasis Christian ethics places on loving one's enemies. Christian ethics in general stress the need for love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of sin. The Christian is supposed to exhibit virtue and to refrain from vice. Christian ethical principles are based on the Holy Bible’s teachings; according to gotquestions.org, “By using the principles we find in Scripture, Christians can determine the ethical course for any given situation.” While not every situation is explicitly outlined in the Bible, Christians use the sacred text as a framework to outline ethical behavior, and then apply it to everyday life. Furthermore, according to allaboutworldview.org, “The task of Christian ethics…is to determine what conforms to God’s character and what does not.” Christian ethical beliefs are directly related to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Christian God.

According to Powell, all ethical Christian behavior is meant to evoke the Kingdom of God. The Book of Isaiah describes this as a virtuous society where all live peacefully with God and nature. In Christian ethics, it is important to preserve integrity, and to not exhibit hypocrisy. Other qualities that Christians strive to attain are honesty, forgiveness, and rejection of materialism (allaboutworldview.org). All of these qualities are directly related to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Islamic ethics emphasize an adherence God's will and the principles of Qur’an, regardless of one’s environment. A lengthy Qur’ran passage stresses certain moral commandments that Muslims are to follow, and this moral code is similar to the Ten Commandments of Judaism. According to John Kelsay, Islamic ethics preach that mankind has the ability to figure out God’s will and to abide by it.

The teachings of the prophet Muhammad are integral to Islamic ethics. Muslims believe that Muhammad was sent by God to remind human beings of their moral obligation, and confront the ideas in society which opposed obedience to God. Some of these ideas included: worship of multiple deities besides Allah, the trait of manliness, focus on legacy, and compliance with ancestral traditions (Kelsay). All of these concepts were to be eradicated in an effort to stress that Muslims must submit to God’s will.

As with Judaism and Christianity, peace is an important element of Islamic ethics. According to Ghamidi, Muhammad allegedly once stated “"Mankind are the dependents, or family of God, and the most beloved of them to God are those who are the most excellent to His dependents." Since Islamic ethics fundamentally stresses obedience to God, and God wills them to be peaceful, in turn, followers of Islam would be expected to peacefully coexist with their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, radical terrorists have twisted the Qur’ran and teachings of Muhammad into something that does not emphasize the real vision of Islam, and this has become an incorrect perception of what Islam is all about. Truthfully, as an ethical matter, Islam is a very peaceful system of belief.

While all of the ethical traditions are good models to live by, I maintain that my own personal ethical ideal is Christianity. In researching each ethical tradition, I found flaws that made me less prone to follow that concept of ethics. For instance, I do not think traditional Buddhist or Hindu ethics are easy to apply in contemporary society. As a Christian, I can best relate to the tenants outlined by Christian ethical theory. Jesus Christ’s teachings are great lessons to live by and to emulate. I find that the teachings in the Holy Bible are still very relevant when applied to the modern world. I do not think that animals should be intentionally harmed for someone’s joy, but I feel that human beings should be able to exert some kind of control and use animals for food, as this is the natural order of life on this planet. This would contrast with the ideas outline in Buddhism and Hinduism. Even though some elements such as Karma and the teachings of Gandhi share similarities with the Golden Rule and Jesus’ teachings, there are specific patterns of behavior that make Buddhism and Hinduism inaccessible for me.

I like the emphasis that Confucianism places on honesty, but this is a principle shared by most ethical traditions. What bothers me about Confucianism is that someone must seemingly earn respect, rather than people treating everyone with an inherent amount of respect. Based on my qualms with Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, I was able to narrow down my ethical ideal to the three monotheistic religions that are most similar to one another: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Much of the ethics between these three belief systems are shared principles. For example, the Ten Commandments are excellent ethical principles. One of the commandments stresses that you should not kill. If everyone in the world were to adhere to this principle, we would not have murder. Think of what a wonderful, peaceful world that would be. I think everyone can agree that murder is wrong, but in practical settings, people begin to justify their sinful actions. Having a commandment explicitly state that you should not kill is important. Furthermore, the commandment decrying theft is another important ethical principle to live by. Again, people make excuses for why they can steal, but if they were to obey this commandment, then there would be no such gray area.

The Golden Rule is another fantastic ethical principle that exists in Christianity among other ethical traditions. I think that the Golden Rule is emblematic of Jesus Christ’s teaching, and it is a great standard to live by. If I would not want something to happen to me, why should I inflict that action on someone else? This principle is extremely fair, and gives proper perspective to our actions. It also prohibits people from acting too selfishly. For example, if I am hanging out with a friend and we are hungry, and my friend does not have money for lunch, I will let her borrow some money so we can enjoy lunch together. If I were in the same situation, I would want my friend to do the same for me. If we all lived our lives this way, the world would be a much friendlier and more charitable place.

While the Ten Commandments and Golden Rule are tremendous ethical principles, they are not distinctly Christian. The reason that I chose Christian ethics as my own personal ideal is because of the aforementioned tenants as well as the ones that are solely possessed by this ethical framework. One important aspect is forgiveness. Jesus Christ stressed forgiveness and love for one’s enemies, which is something more significantly emphasized in Christian ethics than anywhere else. Loving your neighbor regardless of what they have done to you is an admirable quality. It is not easy to live by such a standard. For example, if someone says something to me that is hurtful and offensive, my natural inclination is to be angry at this person. However, using Christian ethics, I need to be able to forgive this person’s behavior and try to foster good relations with them.

The world would be a better place if we did not hold grudges against other people. Of course, if we all followed the Golden Rule there would be no reason to get angry at someone else, but Christian ethics teach us that we all sin and it is impossible to live without sin. The Christian God forgives people for their sins, which is an encouraging sign. While it is no excuse to purposely engage in sinful behavior, it stresses the idea of second-chances and redemption. I believe that that everyone makes mistakes, and that everyone is entitled to another chance. I know from my own personal experiences that I have made some terrible mistakes, but I felt remorse for my actions, and I wanted the opportunity to make up for what happened. An ideal ethical world, in my opinion, allows for the possibility of such mistakes, and stresses forgiveness toward the person who made the mistake.

Based on all my research regarding ethical traditions, I must say that my own ethical ideal most closely emulates Christian ethics. Christianity in general borrows some excellent ethical principles from other belief systems. These, combined with the ethical ideas that are uniquely Christian, combine for an overall outlook on ethics which closely matches mine. I believe in peace, love and kindness, and treating other people the way that you want to be treated. I also feel that it is important to forgive people, since no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes from time to time.

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