Michael Horner's Blog

    Ethics instruction at school – Moving from the “is” to the “ought”

    Written by Michael Horner

    This is a guest post by Dr. Matthew Etherington (Ph.D. at OISE, Toronto). Dr. Etherington is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada.

    Image by Krissy.Venosdale

    I recently finished reading a book called, Godless morality: keeping religion out of ethics by the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway (2004). As an educational philosopher, I chose to read this particular book because of my research into ethics instruction programs in public schools in North America. Holloway claims that the use of God in any moral discussion at school or anywhere else is so problematic it is almost worthless. Holloway believes that because human beings, including religious and secular people, disagree about what is right and wrong; he then draws the conclusion that there can be no absolute right and wrong. Second, because there are structures of authority that have upheld certain rights and punished wrongs, this must be understood as blind obedience to authority and therefore must be “wrong”. These are interesting assertions but are not well argued. They are however good examples of failing to make the is-ought distinction and committing the genetic fallacy. What is does not imply what “ought” to be. And trying to explain something away because of its origin has little bearing on a claim being veridical. But worse still is that Holloway still speaks in the language of morality, the ontology of morality still remains.

    These types of objections to moral realism and religion reflect the outgrowth of 18th century European Romanticism. Stirner, Nietzsche and Baudelaire all upheld a similar view that truth is invented not discovered— so much the worse for speaking about objective moral values. In the late 1980s, Bloom (1987) found that the language of values had replaced the traditional language of right and wrong. He also traced this back to Nietzsche who “realized that the modern critical principle would make it impossible any more to speak of right and wrong” (see Leslie Newbigin). Regrettably there is nothing enlightened about this line of thinking. The argument is not what is but what “ought” to be. Human beings have a deep sense of right and wrong and we all long for order and justice—it is primarily given as a fact of experience. There is an underlying reality that right and wrong do exist and we often demand that this be recognized. Granted, that we may not always agree with a right course of action, although in many cases we do. As the anthropologist Jack Eller has said, “What precisely humans are supposed to do is less important than the fact that there is something to do and that humans are supposed to do it” (p.159).

    In one sense I agree with Holloway— as moral agents, humans can and do exhibit moral progression but it does not therefore follow that morality is invented or not objective. Our moral progression is rooted in discovery not invention. We discover this moral code in the same way that we discover mathematics, and this moral law transcends time and culture. This is an important difference between the Christian worldview and the epistemology (the source of knowledge) of ethics education taught in schools. Being reflective, empathic, refraining from harm may be necessary conditions for being a moral person but they are not sufficient conditions. If there is a God that exists, who has made human beings in His image, we would expect to have a deep consciousness of right and wrong, a reality that transcends cultures and history and this is exactly what we do have.

    Therefore, if we are to make any sense of ethics education in schools it must provide some warrant for the explicit teaching of moral values. A sufficient justification would be in a God who is the locus and source of moral values. If our capacity for moral responsibility is given as a fact of experience, “we have an argument from essence to obligatory existence” (see Hans Jonas) but obliged to whom? A benevolent God provides a sufficient anchor for responsible morality. Not only do we have a responsibility for something, it is also a responsibility to something—to an ultimate authority to which an account must be given. This authority, values education says, is the human conscience. But in saying this, we are replacing one question with another: namely, where does conscience get its criteria, or what source authorizes its decisions? To whom or what are we responsible in our conscience.

    Without a transcendent God as the locus and source of moral values, the teaching of values education is subjective and arbitrary but surely no school program will admit that bullying, cheating, lying or stealing should be taught as subjective and arbitrary. These acts are offensive and are wrong. One’s right not to be bullied, lied to, cheated or stolen from is grounded in one’s worth (see Nick Wolterstorff). One’s worth is grounded in human beings being made in the image of God. Apart from God as the explanatory source of morality, the question will always remain: on what basis are certain acts really wrong except for the importance that we give to them?

    Unless there is a sufficient theistic grounding of morality, values education is a subjective and arbitrary model and therefore has no justification for children to adopt the values of peace, love, respect, tolerance, cooperation and freedom. The teacher finds herself in the situation of one who applies the ‘law’ but cannot give reasons for the law.

    Dr. Matthew Etherington (Ph.D. at OISE, Toronto) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada.

    12 Responses to “Ethics instruction at school – Moving from the “is” to the “ought””

    • matthew says:

      Jan,
      I am not clear on precisely what you disagree with concerning the argument that the most plausible source for grounding moral education is in a transcendent source, namely a benevolent God. You do suggest that ethics has been a discussion for at least 3000 years, but I am not clear how this relates to the proposition that only if God exists, do moral values exist ? Yes morality has been a discussion for a long time, and still is today, and this is precisely because morality is a reality that we all experience. The real question is, who has the better explanation of morality. It is important to remember that the argument for God being a sufficient source or best explanation for moral values and therefore should be introduced as a live option within values education programs is an ontological argument (it exists independent of personal opinion, is transcultural and trans-historical). Right and wrong exist but it needs a sufficient explanation. I am not sure if you are aware of the many ethical theories, social contract theory, categorical imperative etc, but there are many and although they may offer suggestion why we are moral they all fail the sufficiency test of why we ought to be moral. Free will does not explain morality. And in fact if someone wants to use free will as an argument for morality, we could ask, well the Nazis believed in free will too, their free will. They had no duty towards anyone except themselves and of course free will. You see these arguments never work. I said that unless there is a sufficient theistic grounding of morality, values education is a subjective and arbitrary model and therefore has no justification for children to adopt the values of peace etc, and you asked for support here. Yes, if there is no God, morality is man-made or spins off from biological evolution. If they are man-made, they are arbitrary and determined by those in power, values can change, and therefore not objective—might makes right. If they are spin offs from biological evolution, I have no moral duty to do anything unless it serves my self-interest.

      You and I both agree that we live in a moral universe, and ethics existed long before Plato existed, and anyone else for that matter. By the way, the ancient world such as the Greeks, were asking different moral questions compared to us today but that is a research project. The problem with values education is that it trains young people to think of moral values and ethics uncritically in exclusively secular ways. When you speak of people not attending to the needs of the poor and disadvantage, you are making a value judgment, that these people did something wrong, and you can only do that by presupposing a realm of morality, a standard that exists which is independent of us and our actions and that is what I mean by God being a sufficient explanation, that is, a transcendent source of moral values. Why people don’t help the poor when they call themselves Christian is a question that they would need to answer, but in no way does it therefore follow that a transcendent source of morality does not exist. People lie, but does that mean that therefore truth does not exist? People hate, does this mean that love is not a reality? Do you see my point here?
      In regards to objections to moral realism and religion reflecting the outgrowth of 18th century European Romanticism, I would suggest you read some Isaiah Berlin and especially his book, The Power of Ideas. Here we see a denial of universal values, but a loyalty to the super-self, and this is a dangerous moment in European history. If there is no universal right and wrong, I can do anything, and this exactly what we see. The denial of universal ethics has its roots in Europe in the German Romantics.

      If you look at the history of Scandinavian countries, it is clear that these countries were rooted in the values and heritage of Christianity and in fact today, as many historians’ remark, the freedoms and progress that they enjoy today are indeed the spin offs of their Christian heritage. Moreover, Europe is going through an identity crises, on the one hand it has rejected its Christian identity and so it is rootless, and on the other hand, it wants to secure an identity but it has nothing transcendent to grasp onto. Post-Christian nations within Europe actually provide a good example of the identity crises that occurs when Christianity is rejected. This has led to moral relativism and social dogma and as a result has frozen the European imagination.

      Researcher Christopher Caldwell in his book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, notes that Europe has trapped itself to which there is no solution. But Europe is becoming less confident in its godlessness. There have never been so many bibles sold in either Dutch or Danish as in 2004 and 2005. Books calling for a spiritual revival are growing more and more popular. Peter Hahne’s book urging Germans to get serious about their crisis in “values” after September 11 was a best seller for months. The Dutch historian Joshua Livestro notes a rise in youth churches in the Netherlands from 45 (10,000 members) in 2003 to 88 (20,000 members) two years later church attendance has increased from 9 to 14 percent, and crucifixes have been reintroduced into Dutch catholic schools.
      Tell me what you think Jan,

      Nice talking with you about this very important topic,

      Matthew

    • Jan says:

      Matthew, your comment that “The most plausible source for grounding moral education is in a transcendent source, namely a benevolent God” has me shaking my head. Your position that ethics or morality must be grounded in a “transcendent source” ignores the fact that ethics and morality have been a topic of philosophical discussion for over 3000 years, long before Christianity.

      I believe I previously stated that all students should be required to take course in religion before entering high school. I attended two Anglican based boarding schools for eight years. The first school was in Jamaica, and the course in religion was mandatory. Although it was an Anglican school, the course in religion started with Zoroaster.

      “The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE. His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy. Zarathustra was the first who treated the problem of evil in philosophical terms. He is also believed to be one of the oldest monotheists in the history of religion. He espoused an ethical philosophy based on the primacy of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.”

      I probably spent over one thousand hours attending chapel, and listened to over two hundred sermons from ordained ministers between grade five and grade twelve. I do not recall one sermon that focused on the importance of “believing”. The sermons were generally examples of how to live a Christian life, and the value that would bring to our lives. Unfortunately, there are far too many “Christians” who “don’t walk the talk”.

      Your statement “These types of objections to moral realism and religion reflect the outgrowth of 18th century European Romanticism” is a bit misleading. The works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers were not rooted in a belief in God, but virtues. Aristotle believed that the most important virtues were wisdom, prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity and temperance. Confucianism’s definition of virtue emphasizes interpersonal relations, and Buddha’s ethical teachings are similar to Aristotle’s in that they are also humanistic and thoroughly personalist.

      I am struggling with my words, as I do not want to offend anyone, but I have never been a master of “political correctness”. The paradox is that a statement that no one finds offensive is probably of little value.

      The only conclusion I can reach at this time is that Christianity as a faith or philosophy was “hi-jacked” by the institution we call the church at that time, i.e., The Vatican, for political reasons with multiple hidden agendas. We should all have learned by now, with the benefit of historical hindsight that the primary agenda was control. We now have many Christian denominations, and sadly it appears that too many of them still have this agenda. A few hours channel surfing on a Sunday will reveal that there are churches that have built what amount to “palaces for worship”, although there might be people living in abject poverty less than an hour away.

      The Vatican essentially rejected the lessons they could have learned from history. Was it because it was pagan or heathen history and knowledge; was it because many of the lessons would have come from peoples of different colour, or a combination of both? Perhaps it was an issue of who would benefit from the lessons. They eventually found a way to use Arabic numerals and mathematics, and how to collect interest on loans. Incorporating the use of gunpowder in warfare was apparently not a problem, in spite of its heathen origin. However, the major beneficiaries of gunpowder were those in power or those seeking it. The poor would have to bare the consequences.

      Why did the church not speak out on behalf of the poor or oppressed during the feudal age? Christ had overturned the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple in Jerusalem, and had told the rich they should sell their possessions and give the money to the poor. Yet the people who were spreading the Gospel, and who had “a transcendent God as the locus and source of moral values” amassed great wealth and political power.
      I am trying to put this in to context… Although I am a Canadian citizen, I was born in Denmark. My reading ability in Danish is limited, so it was not until books on Nordic history were published that I learned that some of the English history I had been taught in school was from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. Vikings primarily from Norway and Denmark had been invading Britain for hundreds of years.

      The final invasion was in 1066 by William, the Duke of Normandy. According to Nordic history, Edward the Confessor had promised the throne to William. The Normans were not from France, they were Danish Vikings who had settled in France. King Charles the Simple of France had surrendered the county of Rouen to Rollo, a Viking leader, in 911, and the lands around Rouen became the core of the later duchy of Normandy. The version taught in school is quite different.

      Please bear with me…

      Christianity was established much later in Scandinavia than in the rest of Europe. In Denmark, it was not until the early 11th century, and Lutheranism became official in 1536. Although Henry VIII separated from the Catholic Church in 1534, that was a separation from Rome; he remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings

      Denmark was a significant naval power during the colonial period, but there were no colonial conquests that came close to those of Spain, Portugal, France, England, Belgium, Italy, or Holland. These colonial powers had long histories of established Christianity, the vast majority being Catholics. (Anglicans are Catholics without the Pope.)

      You state:

      “A benevolent God provides a sufficient anchor for responsible morality. Not only do we have a responsibility for something, it is also a responsibility to something – to an ultimate authority to which an account must be given. This authority, values education says, is the human conscience. But in saying this, we are replacing one question with another: namely, where does conscience get its criteria, or what source authorizes its decisions? To whom or what are we responsible in our conscience.”

      Was there not a “benevolent God” during colonial times or the Inquisition? There was obviously no conscience to be found in the colonial powers, regardless of their lengthy association with Christianity.

      Matthew, you conclude by stating:

      “Unless there is a sufficient theistic grounding of morality, values education is a subjective and arbitrary model and therefore has no justification for children to adopt the values of peace, love, respect, tolerance, cooperation and freedom.”

      Can you provide any evidence to support this supposition?

      There is a massive amount of evidence that clearly illustrates that the “values of peace, love, respect, tolerance, cooperation and freedom” were not implemented, in spite of the “theistic morality” or ethics of the time. They have still not been implemented,

      It is truly ironic that the Scandinavian countries, which became Christian much later than most of Europe, and are now among the least religious countries in the world, have much less historical “blood on their hands” than almost every other developed nation. Denmark has a national day care program, universal health care and free post secondary education. They look after the elderly; they also look after those who cannot look after themselves. Danish taxes are high, but their after tax purchasing power is equivalent to Canadians.

      Aristotle’s most important virtues were wisdom, prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity and temperance. Zarathustra espoused an ethical philosophy based on the primacy of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Confucianism emphasizes interpersonal relations, and Buddha’s ethical teachings humanistic and thoroughly personalist.

      One could possibly argue that one reason why the Scandinavian countries are so different is that they never permitted religion to get in the way of progress. This would be a very interesting investigation for someone with the time and resources. (Note: University tuition is either very low or free in Denmark for foreign students. If anyone is interested, the information is on the internet… in English.)

      If nothing else, the Scandinavian countries are living proof that a society does not have to have a theistic grounding to be an admirable society. Another irony is that in Demark, where church attendance is very low, the church is financially supported by the state. The state owns all the churches and church land, and church employees, e.g., ministers, are civil servants.

      Justice, according to the Code of Hammurabi (1772 BC), would have been preferable to the “justice” practiced in the Middle Ages. It did not have a theistic grounding; religion was almost everywhere in the Middle Ages.

      The ultimate benefit of having ethics, morality, values, etc., based on virtues is that no religion has a monopoly on virtues. One can argue the importance of values of virtues without involving a religion or a deity. We have the ability to think, we have the ability to make rational decisions, and most important, we have FREE WILL.

      The question that all professed Christians must ask themselves is this:

      If we were truly created by God, He must have had a reason to provide us with an intellect much greater than any other creation. He also must have had a reason for providing us with free will.

      We all expect, or at least hope our children will use the gifts we provide them.
      If there is to be a “Day of Judgement”, I strongly believe that the first question will be “How did you use your gifts?”

      I suspect the second question will be whether you lived a “good life” because you decided it was the right thing to do (free will), or whether you lived a good life because you feared the potential consequences (compulsion or fear).

      Jan
      This essay would not have been possible without the resources of Wikipedia.

    • Matthew says:

      Hi Anastasia,

      I can tell you have thought alot about this topic. Thanks for sharing.
      You asked what might happen if an atheist child might not be allowed to take this class due to the talk of Deities/Deity. Maybe that would be the case, but surely we are interested more in truth rather than popularity or agreement. Of course many Christian parents are not comfortable with their children being taught ethics with God being left entirely out of the picture as a live option. It is important to note that public schools endorse a neutral curriculum and a neutral curriculum must present all live options without endorsement of any one. If public schooling presents only a secular view of ethics they are no longer being neutral, rather we call this training, socialization or indoctrination. As a live option, God is an explanation for ethics, and so it should be included within a public school neutral curriculum. I think as a parent, I would want my child aware of and educated with all the live options for ethics. I wouldn’t want them sent out into the world upon their graduation day illiterate of religious perspectives. And I am not talking about a symbols and festivals approach to religion but a serious perspectival, inside, approach. For example, how do theists understand moral values and ethics? The purpose of an education is to make students well informed, thoughtful, reasonable, and competent so as to make responsible informed judgments about what to believe and how to live their lives. This type of education requires critical thinking and impartiality which further requires neutrality and this requires fairness to contending points of view, even when there are deep and important disagreements, and then not taking sides.
      You asked about the possibility that if religion comes up, it might devolve into a class not of ethics and morality, but one of “my religion is right and yours is not”. This is a question for epistemology (how do we know which worldview is true), not ontology. The question concerning which religion is the most plausible is not necessary or required in a course that teaches ethics in schools. It is enough to state that God is a live option for ethics, and as such should be included seriously. And this reflects the great monotheisms in the world.
      What we are really looking for here is a foundation for ethics education. We could say that the teaching of ethics is good for society; we could say it helps people, and so on, but this is an explanation for ethics not a sufficient foundation for ethics. Without a foundation I don’t have a moral duty to uphold ethics, although I might have a civic duty, but this is not a moral duty. A sufficient foundation, such as God, doesn’t need further explanation because morality is reflective of God’s nature which is transcultural, trans-historical, and unchanging. Unfortunately, this is not even offered as a live option in ethics education classes. What is offered is only secular views of right and wrong as the only live option. In my field of work, we call this indoctrination.
      Public education can provide a neutral education but only when all live options are studied. Religion is a live option and yet it is rarely given serious study. Rather than ignore religious perspectives public schooling should help learners critique both secular and religious worldviews in relation to ethics within the public school curriculum. If the purpose of a public school education is to provide a neutral education it must include religion as a live option in the curriculum. To do anything less is to indoctrinate students with a narrow secular view of the world.
      Thanks Anastasia,
      Matthew

    • Anastasia says:

      Interesting…I agree with the basics you’ve put forward, both in your main article and now in your response. I suppose the issue comes down to this; What would the syllabus for such a course look like? Two major problems I might see are that
      A. An atheist child might not be allowed to take this class due to the talk of Deities/Deity, and
      B. I would also be afraid that if religion comes up, that it will devolve into a class not of ethics and morality, but one of “my religion is right and yours is not”.

      Don’t get me wrong, I take no issue with Christianity in general…some of my best friends are Christians. But I’m unsure if I’d want my children being taught that there is a single God or the concepts of heaven/hell instead of reincarnation. What sort of language do you think could be used to make positive no child is felt discriminated against, especially in a morals class?

    • Matthew says:

      Dear Anastasia

      Thank you for this discussion. You raise some good points here for sure. I read your examples and they are cause for reflection. My feeling here is that you are making the same error that Richard Holloway makes when we says that it is common sense to do right and as such we don’t need God as an explanation. The problem with this reasoning is that it fails to make the distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology. Moral ontology is one of existence and moral epistemology asks how can we know what is right and wrong. The ethics programs are grounded in moral epistemology and as such they can only try and reason students into doing the right thing – but wait—they all endorse a no preaching clause, only a teaching clause in the program. So in theory schools hope that students will do the right thing but they cannot justify or recommend (this would be preaching) why they should do the right thing, certainly not on secularism. You see moral epistemology is only half the story. One can give examples of people doing morally good things in situations where they didn’t have to, and the programs do exactly that using examples for reflection, but this is only half the story. We live in a moral universe, we all have a sense of right and wrong, and any anthropology course will confirm this, but on atheism, where do these things that we call morals come from? Man, society? What reason can you give me for my moral duty to man or society? When we even talk about right and wrong we am already assuming that there is a right and wrong, in the same way when I look for my sock I assume there is a foot to put the sock on.

      So when you say that you “fear that if we have classes that teach children that the PRACTICE of morality is solely dependent on the existence of Deity, then they will never learn that being moral is a reward in this life, as well as the next” you don’t need to worry, that is, if you make the distinction I mentioned. The practice of morality doesn’t need belief in God, but one day, a child is going to ask you this question when you ask them to do the right thing: “Says who?” The only sufficient answer is that morality comes from the nature of an all God who exists. As it stands, values education cannot point to a basis for validation, although human reason demands some sort of external warranting or further authorization.

      I can summarize the argument as follows:

      1.) An ontological inquiry purports moral education to be a reality worth pursuing;
      2.) An epistemological inquiry suggests that if moral education is a reality worth pursuing, it needs a sufficient source to be explained;
      3.) The most plausible source for grounding moral education is in a transcendent source, namely a benevolent God.

      Thanks Anastasia,

      Matthew

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      Anastasia, that is a profound statement that our motivation for morality determines the value of our behaviour. If our behaviour is motivated by selfishness and pride it nullifies the ‘goodness’ of what we do. I would agree that the reasons we do good deeds are just as important as the deeds we do.

      However, I am not sure what you are suggesting our motivation should be for being/acting moral. You seem to hint that morals are a gift from Gods/God and that somehow our morals are a reward in this life and the next. What are morals a reward for? How do we act morally without corrupted motives?

    • Anastasia says:

      @Matthew
      @Jaime

      Jaime, thank you for your response. Matthew, I’ve yet to hear from you, but I do hope to. Truly, my position is an odd one; I believe in the concept of Deity…in the God and Goddess in fact. I know deep in my soul that, just as we are Their creations same as everything else in nature, that any morality that we have is also from Them. Society and humankind DO have objective reasoning. We know hurting someone else is bad because it causes unnecessary pain and suffering. We know that lying is bad because it taints the truth of the relationship you’re lying to. We know that murder is bad because no one should take away something as precious as life. These statements are all true, and I’d think you’d be hard pressed to find a disagreement. My issue is that people may agree that these are moral/immoral statements only because they know the Gods/God is watching.

      Think of these examples:

      A young child decides to give their pocket money to a charity taker outside of the grocery store, because their father is watching. They would like to use it to buy candy, but know that lots of praise from father will be forthcoming if they donate it instead. If you do something moral for recognition and praise, are you acting morally?

      An older child sees a fellow student they dislike in the hall. They would like to trip this other student, and to humiliate them in front of the students walking around. They begin to move toward the object of their dislike to cause mischief, but stop and walk away when they notice a teacher watching them. If you don’t perform an immoral action simply because you’d get caught and punished, are you acting morally?

      You see, I know that Morality comes from On High. I would never deny that the Gods/God were so wise to deem us worthy of a gift like morals. My fear is that if we have classes that teach children that the PRACTICE of morality is soley dependent on the existence of Deity, then they will never learn that being moral is a reward in this life, as well as the next (whatever you believe that to be).

    • Matthew says:

      Dear Jan, thank you for your thoughtful comments about the teaching of ethics in schools. My argument here is one of sufficiency not necessity. It is necessary to teach ethics, but what is the ultimate foundation of ethics if there is no God or if God is taken out of the program. If there is no God, you and I are not moral creatures and as such we do not have any moral duty to one another. If there is a God that exists, ethics is transcendent and transcultural. You mentioned that if the teaching of ethics were to be based on Christianity, how will you explain to the students the historical truths about the Crusades or the Inquisition, slavery and other moral atrocities all done in the name of Christianity? This is not an argument for Christianity; it is an argument for God being the best foundation for ethics. Without God, ethics instruction becomes like another subject to study at school. It cannot even make any judgments about right and wrong because you could ask, whose ethics or values are these that you are asking me to adopt? In fact ethics program stay clear of making judgments like this. I think children catch onto this and know that deep down there is no overwhelming reason to act the way the programs encourage. Ethics instruction has been in schools for well over a decade now and reports of bullying have not decreased. If anything they have worsened. Second, it is important here to make the is-ought distinction when we think about ethics. Slavery and broken promises are what is, but surely you and I would agree that they ought not to be this way. People will sometimes say “but look at all the horrible things that the church has done” and of course we could easily say the same thing about secular atrocious. But this just proves the point that what is, and what ought to be are entirely different. When we say that “ought not to have happened” we are assuming some higher standard of right and wrong. What is that higher standard? Man? Society? I don’t think so. Man and society are terrible benchmarks for morality as history shows. The only sufficient case that case made for ethics instruction (the ought not the is) is that there really is a God who exists and in whose nature reflects morality. When people commit atrocities, religious and secular people alike, they stray from what ought to be. Without God there is no ought, rather only what is. And yet none of us live life like this.
      Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      Anatstasia and Jan, thanks for being so open about your position. I love being able to hear from people about what they base their decisions in life on. Both of you have suggested that morals do not need to be founded in an absolute deity, that humanity has a moral awareness without any religious connection. How did that develop do you think? Jan you mentioned that Aristotle and Socrates were able to discuss ethics without any connection to religion. Where do you think their moral awareness comes from? Why is something right or wrong? And how do we discover that it is right or wrong?

    • Anastasia says:

      I don’t post here very often, but I will try to at least answer your questions in regards to my own statement. In my experience, people can be spiritual, religious, or both. To be spiritual may mean that you have a deeply held set of morals/beliefs but are not a part of an organized religious institution. To be religious means you follow your sacred texts down to the letter and attend a religious institution but have no beliefs other than those you’re “meant” to have. At least, that is how I have come to define it…

      As for my being Pagan, I suppose I should’ve been more specific. I’m what is normally called an Eclectic Wiccan. This means I follow the Wiccan Rede, am polytheistic, and believe in the Three Fold Law, but I do not worship a specific pantheon like many other Wiccans do. If you wish, here are some things I believe in;
      -Reincarnation (no Heaven/Hell, just the Summerlands where the soul rests and reflects before rebirth)
      -Balance (there is a God and a Goddess, just as there is male and female on Earth)
      -Purity (one should always strive to keep one’s body in good health…no drugs, no smoking and only rare drinking)
      -Respect (there are many in this world who are disabled/need assistance to live, and they are to be respected too)
      -Environment (animals have souls and feelings similar to humans, and shouldn’t be used. Thus, I’m vegetarian.
      -Tolerance (this goes for different races, sexual orientation, religions, ethnicity, etc.)
      -Three Fold Law (similar to karma, what you put out comes back three times)
      -Rede (“An ye harm none, do what thou will”, basically do not harm yourself or others in life
      -Prayer (as it was the Lady and Lord who created us, so we should show our thanks everyday)
      -Spells (much like prayer, but with a ritual…I personally have a good life so have little need for spells
      -Responsibility (there is no “original sin” or Devil/Satan, everyone’s actions are on their head aalone

      There are many other nuances to my beliefs, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what I feel to be the truth ffrom my viewpoint. Please, let me know if you have any further questions.

    • Jan Loimand says:

      I agree with Anastasia; “Ethics” has absolutely nothing to do with any religion. Socrates and Aristotle actively discussed ethics several hundred years before Christianity was established.

      I am curious to know what Anastasia means by “Pagan”; the definition appears to be a moving target. Can anyone describe for me the difference between being “religious” and being “spiritual”?

      Do “Christians” consider the Dalai Lama to be a “Pagan”? Traditionally it referred to religious traditions that are polytheistic or indigenous. Buddhism is not polytheistic, and was established long before Christianity.

      It may be indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, but Christianity was originally indigenous to the Mediterranean region of Europe.

      Ethics and Morality should be taught in school. I also believe Religion should be taught in school, and I mean Religion, not some denomination of Christianity. Children should be taught the basis beliefs of all major religions and their denominations or sects.

      Why Ethics should not, or probably can not be based on religious beliefs.

      If the teaching of Ethics were to be based on Christianity, how will you explain to the students the historical truth about the Crusades or the Inquisition? What about the colonial period when “Good Christians” destroyed entire civilizations in their quest for wealth” What was ethical or moral about slavery?

      In Canada, how will you explain why the treaties signed with the First Nations were not honoured? Why is it that in a Christian society, true female equality is still on the horizon; why do the wealthy in Canada not pay their fair share of the tax burden?

      In the USA, the situation is much worse. Why is there so much racism and bigotry in this “Evangelical Nation”? One would think that if a nation collectively had accepted the “Message of Christ”, universal health care would have been established there decades ago.

      “Christianity” does not have a very illustrious history in terms of “ethical behaviour”

      Perhaps one course that could be better taught in high school is history. “Civilization” did not start in Europe, regardless of the “opinions” of Rome.

      There were cultures in Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia that were far more advanced in science, education and medicine, and what could be considered ethics than Europe. The church at that time rejected this knowledge because these cultures were not “Christian”, i.e., they were “inferior”.

      I believe I have stated before that if one chooses to live a “Christian” life only because they believe that Jesus Christ was the “Son of God”, then their position must be that the “Messenger” is more important that the “Message”.

      I consider “Jesus Christ” to be a “Son of Man”, and not the only person who could be described as a “Son of Man”. The “Message” exists in similar forms in other religions.

      Christianity should be based on love, not fear. The decision must be made freely, i.e., “free will”, not under duress, i.e., fear of possible consequences.

      Jan

    • Anastasia says:

      I’ve already gotten my Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Business, but I can tell you that I do believe that I fully support having ethics/morality courses taught in schools, perhaps as young as middle school. I was (and still am) a tomboyish “geek girl” growing up, and got picked on every week without fail. It didn’t matter what my “crime” was… good grades, outperform the slothful girls in gym, the fact I enjoyed reading, that I was developing early, or that I wore glasses rather than contacts…I would be mercilessly bullied by boys and girls alike. Had there been a class on Morals or Ethics, that might have been squelched.

      The only thing I disagree with the author on is the need for religion to be involved. While I am a very religious person, I am Pagan…not Christian. Morality does not have to depend on God as a locus, though I see how it can. However, I am kind and respectful to my fellow beings (human and nonhuman alike) because it is the right thing to do, not because I will have to answer to the Lady and Lord when I die. I volunteer at animal shelters because it is good to helpp those that are hurt. I am understanding to my mentally or physically handicapped customers because it is good to treat others as you want to be treated. I do not steal, lie or cast spells/prayers on others due to the fact that it is deplorable behavior. True, there is the Rede to consider “An ye harm none, do what ye will” and also the Three Fold Law…but I truly believe that I’d act the same even without these parameters.

      One should strive to be good in one’s actions, words and beliefs because in your soul you know it is bad to cause unnecessary pain and suffering, not because your parents/teachers/Gods are watching. If one portrays fitting behavior simply so they will not get “in trouble” then they are not truly a good person, they are simply bowing to whatever authority that watches them…be it their God(s), the law, their spouse, society, etc.

      Thus, it is my belief that while Morality Class should be a welcome addition to any and all schools, we should strive to keep religion out of it…whether that religion is Wiccan/Pagan, Christian, Islamic, Jewish and so on.

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