What is the Relationship between Ethics and Religion?

In Mathew Arnold’s opinion, “Religion is nothing but morality touched with emotion.” This view does not; in anyway, distinguish between religion and ethics.

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According to many scholars, including Pringle Pattison and Bradley, ethics and religion are very intimately related. According to Bradley, “It is a moral duty not to be moral and this is the duty to be religious. But to be moral, is not a duty just as eating, drinking, sleeping etc, are not.

In Samuel Alexander’s words, “There is infact no duty to be religious any more than there is a duty to be hungry.” Religion is a natural human tendency and it may take any form of manifestation. From the above opinion, it is inferred that religion is based upon emotion but ethical sense is based upon reason. People who believe in the identity of religion and ethics lead to forget their differences.


James has written correctly “Live love, like wrath, like hope, ambition. Jealousy, like even other instinctive eagerness and impulse, it adds to life an enchantment which is no’ biologically deducible from anything else. If religion is to mean anything definite for us, it seems to me, we ought to take it as meaning this added dimension of emotion, this enthusiastic espousal, in religion where morality strictly so called can only bow the head and acquiesce.

Relation of Ethics to Religion:

There can be no two opinions about it that religion to be real and high must be related to ethics. In Sanskrit, Dharma means the moral order of the universe. There can be three points of view about the interrelation of ethics and religion. Religion precedes ethics, ethics precedes religion or ethics and religion are interdependent.

Religion precedes morality:


Descartes, Locke, Paley and others believe that religion precedes morality, the latter arising from the former. It is God’s will or veto which decides good or bad.

God’s laws are the ethical criterion. God creates ethics of his own desire and is not bound by any ethical law.

We know his mandates through saints and research books. This opinion makes Gods unrelated to ethics. It is true that God cannot be bound by any law of ‘ought’ but even then if ethics is not subjective or a mere faith. God should tend towards good. A fundamental postulate of ethics is the moral order of the universe. Morality is objective.

God himself is a treasure house of ethical qualities. He orders good and rejects evil. Ethics is based not on his absolute desire but on his ethical nature.


Activities are not good or bad because religious texts say so but the goodness or badness of activities lies in the recognition or knowing of God’s order and dictate. Neither religion nor ethics can stay if God is believed to be either unethical or different or morality.

Religion satisfies the emotional aspect of man. Ethics satisfies the volitional aspect of man. If the complete and all round development of man is desirable, ethics and religion should be complementary.

Religion succeeds morality:

According to Kant, religion is based upon ethics and the existence of God is due to existence of ethics. Kant believes that happiness invariably accompanies virtue in complete good, the highest happiness in included. Virtue is of course the ultimate good but without bliss it is not complete good.

But in the ultimate analysis virtues are not always accompanied by happiness. It is seen quite often that while good people suffer in a number of ways, the bad enjoys themselves. But if the ethical order is true it should not be so.

Thus, Kant imagines a God who arranges for pleasure with virtue and pain with vice in this world. It is God who conjoins pleasure with virtue because while virtue depends upon our volitions, pleasure depends upon the concord of external conditions. Thus according to Kant, God is a postulate of ethics. Martinea also believes this opinion.

According to Mathew Arnold, “Religion is nothing but morality touched with emotions.”

The basis of ethics and religion are different:

But this school forgets the true nature of religion. It is the urge for realisation of God, the first step towards which is ethical attitude. God exists not only in the soul but also in the world.

Thus the aspirant must serve living beings because all the living creatures and their order are God’s creation. In this way, as the author of Gita has said, God is the source of moral obligation.

The basis of moral obligation can neither be man nor society. The individual is the source of moral obligation when he realises the true soul. When the soul is truly recognised, no difference between it and god remains; everything in the world is also appearing to be God. At that stage man spontaneously becomes ethical. Moral obligation becomes the normal law of everything internal and external.

In such stage the volitions of the individual become identical with God’s will. But this does not destroy his freedom. Real freedom lies in becoming God’s instrument because God is the self. His law is the law of self and real freedom is in proceeding along the law of self.

Being based on emotion rather than reason, the religious, state maybe beyond the ethical one but it is still a state of good. Its path passes through ethics. A man with bad qualities cannot be religious. Unethical religion is merely a blind faith. An immoral God is the nature of the devil.

Thus, ethics is essential for religion. But religion does not follow ethics, because both are found on dissimilar grounds. Volitions and emotions should develop simultaneously, not successively. A person is not first ethical and then religious or first religious and then ethical but he is both ethical and religious at the same time. Only an integral outlook can carry man to perfection.

Religion and Morality are interdependent:

Thus, the view that both religion and morality are based on each other is better than both the foregoing one sided view points. Religion is the ideal basis of the ethics. Moral is the expression, in society, of our spiritual consciousness.

A person who sees God in every object turns to social service, unconsciously. A truly religious person sees the entire world permeated by Good. Religion and ethics both make important contributions to the development of the human personality. Their sources are different.

Religion is concerned with the relations between God and the individual. Ethics depends upon volitions and religion upon psychic emotions. In human development, both ethics and religion develop side by side and influence each other. It is possible that in some circumstances religion may be unethical, in which Case if would be inappropriate to call it a true religion. A true religion is faith in the realisation of God and the state of God realisation cannot be unethical. Religious fulfilment satisfies our whole personality. Thus, it must be ethical, because without being ethical it cannot satisfy our volition aspect.

Emotion without action is one sided and lifeless. Religion is incomplete without ethics. Thus ethics acts upon religion and makes it pure and refind. Religion reacts upon ethics and motivates it. Neither ethics can replace religion nor can religion substitute ethics. Both religion and ethics are indispensable for the complete and integral development of the relations between the individual, society and God.

The existence of God is a postulate of both ethics and religion:

Religion and ethics both share the postulates concerning the existence of God and the immortality of soul. Whatever is ideal in the world becomes real in God. It is this same spiritual Reality behind our obligation of ethical ‘ought’.

Human spirit is the incomplete manifestation of divine light. Thus he is naturally disposed to that perfect one. In volition, the ideal of ethics is the disposition towards that perfect one without the basis of God ethical ideal is more imagination.

Urban expresses it in this way, “when he thinks out what is implied in moral conduct and moral judgement, we are led necessarily to a view of the world or universe which is, in principle at least, the same as that which is held by reflective religion. In other words, we are led to postulate the reality of what the religionist calls God.

Unless ethical laws are founded in truth, they cannot become obligatory. Ethical deals motivate us because they are based on that perfect light by whose effulgence we are all illuminate. God is manifest perfection, the treasure of virtues, the reservoir of all values.

Both ethics and religion postulate the immortality of the soul:

Similarly, ethics also demands that the soul be immortal. Human life is short and limited, ethical ideal is great and unlimited. The attainment of its ideal in this short life is manifestly improbable. Ethical ideal can be attained only successively in an unlimited life.

The unrestricted urge of the human being for the realisation of knowledge, beauty and good cannot be satisfied in one life. An ethical life is itself, if the proof of the immortality of the soul.

In this way, both ethics and religion take man, by the path of volition and emotion respectively to the ultimate good, beauty knowledge and complete. Perfection and God both impress each other and both are indispensable for the integral development of human being.

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