Friday, October 17, 2008

A Recent Attempt......

Does Morality Require God?

Khairil Azhar Md. Yassin[1]


A series of argument have been offered in favor of a God-based ethical and moral system by convincingly refuting parallel, competing systems like secularist, relativistic, and situational ethics which advocate the alleged superiority of their standards devoid of God or religious concepts and precepts. Specifically, this paper will examine (i) popular theories of Western ethics, (ii) religious ethics, particularly that of Islamic ethics and its sole dependence and reliance of God and religion, and (iii) an overview and enunciation and articulation of Islamic perspective of morality. This perspective is provided in the context of modern ethical theories by comparing secular theories with Islamic ethics wherein morality is inextricably linked with religion.

Among the major consequences of the scientific worldview is the illusion that humanity is slowly progressing and ‘evolving’ towards a highly advanced state of being – the zenith of ‘civilization’, hitherto unseen, with scientific and technological endeavor and blind skepticism toward anything ‘sacred’.[2] While an elite minority has improved in its material quality of life, mankind as a whole has sullenly witnessed a decline in the quality of the human beings and their relationships. The pride of those who rejoice in the achievement of modern man is only matched by their indifference to the serious ethical and moral crisis and suffering that plagues humanity as a whole.

The grim statistics of the twentieth century makes a harrowing reading. It has witnessed over 100 million deaths – the ‘collateral damage’ of the wars waged for global domination. Almost 3 billion people live in less that $2 per day, while the world’s richest 225 people combined annual income of the world’s 2.5 billion poorest.[3] Ten million hectares of ancient forest are destroyed over year.[4] In the ‘year of millennium’, the U.S. society alone witnessed 2.18 million violent crimes including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault; 1.37 million adult and 203 900 juvenile drug arrests; over 1 million victims of abuse by intimate partners; 879 000 confirmed child victims sexual physical and psychological abuses; over 30 000 suicides; and 17.8 percent of all households victimized by theft or burglary.[5] The U.S. has over 12 million alcoholics with 104 million alcohol users; over 14 million illicit drug users; between 16-25 million people living at or below the federal poverty level; over 2 million people homeless at some point during the year, with at least 444 000 homeless on any night; over 1.9 million prisoners in crowded jails and prisons; 46 000 new AIDS cases with over 13 000 deaths annually; and estimated 22 percent of the adult population suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.[6] And such grim statistics are only the tip of the iceberg.[7] Regardless of whether one considers moral deficiencies to be the root or an outcome of such problems, it is undoubtedly a moral problem when one turns a blind eye toward them.

No society, in human history, has ever been without at least some standards for what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In fact, it would be difficult, if not impossible to think of any aspect of life that does not have an ethical dimension. Economics, politics, education, family life, socialization, health care, war, peace, science and technology, all have moral and ethical implications. Prior to the ‘age of enlightenment’, the source of such moral and ethical standards for much of the world was primarily religious teachings.

The last two hundred years, however, is roughly the first period where the dominant worldview has advocated the superiority of moral and ethical standards devoid of God or religious influences. Such notions had their roots in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, during the so-called age of enlightenment, where the scientific and technological revolution began to question and supplant the belief system and authority of the Church. Secular ideologies were, nonetheless, predictable reactions to the Catholic Church, with its increasingly authoritarian role in not only religious affairs, but also political and economic, as well as its discrimination against non-Catholic segments of society. The ‘Free Thought’ movement of the nineteenth century in America and Western Europe continued to make it more ‘acceptable’ to reject the dogmatic ways of the Church. Finally, in the age of Science and Information, catalyzed and spread by capitalist globalization, it is not surprising that such a major paradigm shift has occurred.

This paper, thus, attempts to: (1) examine popular secular theories of ethics, (2) analyze religious ethics, particularly that of Islam, and the dependence of its morality on God, and (3) provide an overview of Islamic perspective of morality.

[1] Khairil Azhar Md. Yassin is an Assistant Lecturer/Tutor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, International Islamic University Malaysia. The author is grateful to his cousin, Ahmad Zariff Sulaiman, PhD (Kent, Canterbury) for his assistance and comments.
[2] Another casualty of the emergence of the scientific worldview has been the drastic and disastrous decline of the moral and spiritual ordering of the universe which was considered an essential part of traditional Judaism and Christianity. The emergence of the scientific worldview in seventeenth century Europe heralded the conflict between science and Christianity which continues unabated, in one form or another, until today. Current sociological and anthropological trends indicate that as scientific and technological dominance continues to increase, the moral and spiritual ordering of the universe will almost cease to exist, since practically no one will believe in it anymore. For an excellent discussion of these points, see Rodney Collin, The Theory of Celestial Influence: Man, Universe and Cosmic Mystery (London: Arkana, 1993) and W.T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1960), especially chapter three entitled “The World as a Moral Order”.
[3] Global Policy Forum,
[4] Green Peace,
[5] For further information, see U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,; National Institute of Mental Health,
[6] For details, see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
[7] The statistics cited refer generally to the United States. Nevertheless, there are of much wider significance in as much as the US is considered to be the ‘most advanced country in the world’ and, rightly or wrongly, very widely seen as a kind of an ideal society. At the same time it should be noted that such figures are constantly fluctuating and they have been cited only to illustrate the main point of widespread moral decline. Social problems are multiplying around the world and were one to examine such statistics for other countries, no doubt, there would be differences, but today such problems would not be entirely absent anywhere. In addition, nearly every society in the world suffers from ethical and moral decline.

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