Civilization’s development began thousands of years ago, well before Mesopotamians and Egyptians settled along several major riverbanks, in what is essentially the middle east (Southwest Asia, Northeast Africa, and modern-day Iraq). These ancient pioneers and innovators helped paved the way our societies are built, from measuring time using the sun and stars, to creating the basic agricultural functions that feed the population. They even influenced the morals we hold standard today.
Any number of elements can contribute to the individual’s idea of morality and their application of it within the world. It can be argued that there are two forces at play that are of greater significance and we wish to examine those briefly in this post. Everything mentioned below is written in generalities and in no way indicative of one person’s ideology. We don’t wish to offend, simply debate:
During our weekly taco excursion, a co-worker of mine (who happens to be one of Short Life Long Road’s developers) and I were discussing where morality comes from. His argument was that religion is the strongest influence when it comes to determining right or wrong, while I argued society dictates morality. This conversation continued over subsequent weeks and taco lunches, but we believe it is time for our readers to join the debate.
To summarize his point of view, religion is responsible for creating cohesiveness within a society. A civilization cannot thrive without conformity or a collective set of ideological beliefs that can be agreed upon. Regardless of what social rules religion imposes as right or wrong, it is the primary source for society’s collective belief system that penetrates into the individual’s moral code. Therefore, religion (the collective mindset) regulates societal norms and what is deemed morally justified.
No one can deny the impact religion has had within any civilization throughout history. Those who conquered the most land had control and essentially forced conformity upon established societies. Dissenters were killed, similar to many religious practices today, and cohesiveness was created. Each empire, and the era/demography they thrived in, was marked by the most popular religion and the ethics they followed at that time–Egyptians, Greeks, Norsemen, etc.
My argument: society influences morality. Back when the first humans were around, morality/humanity hadn’t been learned. There was no formal set of laws or governed way of living.
It must have been a free-for-all!
If someone had something you needed, especially when it was essential to your survival, there was no hesitation to spear them and take their stuff. Morality was driven by instinct. As mankind evolved and the population grew, tribes were made and rules were established so you no longer killed those within the alliances you’ve established. You had to follow the laws to help drive the success of the tribe instead of the individual. It became beneficial for your own survival to adapt these rules because a group could provide more resources than just one person. Different rules/beliefs were created when more groups of people emerged and future generations were acclimated into the world.
Eventually, those rules became religions after generations of differences in interpretation, survival need changes, and combining groups (usually by force). Leaders and kings became idolized, along with the sun, moon, stars, comets etc., but as knowledge grew and cultures changed, beliefs changed with them (societal influences/changes). For example, somebody probably accidentally set a virgin girl on fire during a drought and it began to rain shortly after. From that point on, some large societies sacrificed these women to the gods as a religious practice because they believed they’d be able to provide water to the people that depended on it. Society dictated religious beliefs.
Again, as society evolved, humans learned that our atmosphere controlled the rain and there was no longer a need to sacrifice virgins. Society influenced the change, yet religion still taught those things.
Let’s fast-forward to modern-day (I’m going to pick on Christianity because it was what I’m most familiar with. I sincerely mean no offense, just supporting my argument). Not too long ago, Protestants and Catholics hated each other even though they practiced the same religion at its core. What would cause this? What would cause other branches of the same religion to form–Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Christians, etc.? Was it the environment/society they grew up in that created these differences, or is there a massive fundamental difference where they should be considered a separate religion?
That point aside, as time continues to pass, the idea of Christianity has taken on a congregative approach, no longer alienating slight differences between the groups. Was it society that separated the differences or the religion themselves?
Another thought to consider, do the constructs that uphold morals falter when the cohesiveness of religion or a society lose strength? When the people turn against religion, or any social norm, it forces those entities to make changes.
In the B.C. era of Christianity (Judaism), it was acceptable for men to have multiple underage wives, slaves, and to murder in the name of god. As society evolved, those thing were fazed out as it became socially unacceptable (except murder in war and of criminals, the lines seem blurred there).
Just 30-40 years ago, it was taboo to get a divorce and many people were shunned within their community if they had. Again, as society shifted, divorce is now a common practice, regardless of religious doctrine. Even today, as the LGBTQ community fights for their rights, we can see a shift in the tone of some of the church’s rhetoric. Some still strongly disagree, but others are becoming more welcoming as society continues to dictate the rights and wrongs of religion.
In conclusion, I believe religion was necessary at a time because it was needed to govern a bunch of wild animals. As those animals evolved socially, religion consistently adapted with it, making the construct seem somewhat limited and finite. I believe that someday, we will no longer need religion to base our morals off because those rules and laws will no longer be applicable. We will evolve past such ideologies and base morality on what our definition of humanity is (does humanity come from religion?). In short, it is both, but I believe society influenced religion more than religion influenced society.
Side note: we have also debated that ethics and religion are two separate entities but wanted to keep our content as simple as possible.
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