Moral Code vs Religion

My friend Rob and I get together each Thursday to discuss philosophy, business, and morality. It’s always an interesting conversation with Rob.  Usually it leads to changes in perception, and thus behavior.  We challenge each other’s process and results considerably well.  Topics have included the merits and downfalls of communism and pure capitalism (they are amazingly similar), if pursuing happiness instills a sense of  discontentment, and the goal of life (or what it should be).

There are few things Rob and I disagree on. The beauty of Thursday nights is challenging each other’s thoughts, just for the hell of it.  It makes us better thinkers, and forces us to explain our principles.

The last great conversation we had was regarding religion, our own moral code, and which is the trump card.

Rob’s theory goes something like this; (1) I create a moral code based on my world view and principles. (2) Everything, including religious dogma and even God’s directives get filtered through this moral code before I act.

I, however, I fell on the side of religion/God.  I argued it was a sad life to live (or at least not great as was intended) when you couldn’t follow and trust God over your own moral code.  You wouldn’t be living the life God intended (ie, the Promised Land), or at least not to the fullest. As long as I believed God had supreme authority, meaning his request for me to something outside the boundaries of my own comfort or world view would be correct, and I should do it, I would be living a life of trust, humility, reverence, and deference to the Creator, and thus I’d be living the best life possible.

Rob pointed out that in my choice, I may be asked some day to strap a bomb to my chest.  And, based on who held the trump card in my world view, I’d go ahead and do what was asked.

In contrast, Rob filters everything through the moral code built with experience and philosophy. He believes in God also.  But, in his life, God does not trump his moral code when it comes to dictating his behavior. In Rob’s case, to go kamikaze would fall outside his moral code – man is always an end, never a means to an end.  Thus, God’s request for Rob to blow himself up amongst others would create pain and suffering as a means to his (or God’s) end.  That doesn’t fit with Rob’s moral code, so Rob wouldn’t follow that instruction from God (perhaps thinking that instruction was not actually God, but the difference doesn’t matter).  The point is, Rob wouldn’t do it.

I argued Rob may be living a life which wasn’t as full as God had intended.  The funny thing is, he agreed, but was ok with it.  Rob said, “If that means I tell God no a few times, and I’m wrong, I’m ok with it.  I’d rather be wrong on that side of the line than wrong on the other side.”

I’ve been struggling with this for quite some time now.  My religion tells me to defer to God’s instructions.  However, my moral code agrees with Rob entirely. And, typically there is an intersection of my moral code with my religion.  But, when there isn’t, who/what wins?


Nate Ritter lives in Austin, Texas (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

One Comment on "Moral Code vs Religion"

  1. To clarify one point on the “man is an end” bit…. this does not mean that man’s happiness is what trumps all, but rather man, simply because one exists, is inherently valuable.

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