Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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In the News: Non-Religious Ethics

Image In doing some internet research on the subject of ethics, I came across an article by Rohana R. Wasala, a practicing Buddhist. In his article, titled Ethics and the non religious essence of Buddhism (lankaweb.com), Wasala advocated Buddhism over other religions, noting that Buddhism is not a religion in the traditional sense, in that it has its origin not in a supernatural being, but rather in a philosophy of self.

Interestingly, the author bemoans the fact that Buddhism, as practiced popularly, is not the same as “Pristine Buddhism.” To contrast the two, he states that Pristine Buddhism is free from the element of worship and prayer. He then stated that in contrast, “Unfortunately, Buddhism in popular practice is a different thing. It is today displayed by most followers as a religion.”

This quote is cited to set the context for two other quotes found in the article. The first:

“Ethics is essential for religion, but religion is not essential for ethics. In other words, although religion cannot do without ethics, ethics can do without religion.”

Some might take issue with the statement above. In fact, the author states that “the religious will challenge this statement.” In fact, the statement is true, in a sense. We do not deny that non-religious people have ethics. It may be they even have a similar belief system as the religious in certain cultures or times. However, this begs the question, “Are all ethics equal?” This gives rise to the second quote from our author:

“Believers of dogmatic religions hold that people who don’t share the moral principles of their respective religions are misguided and immoral. They act as if they have a monopoly over moral and spiritual values. It is easy to show that such totalitarian notions are not supported by evidence. There are as many brands of religious morality as there are religions; one’s morality is another’s immorality.”

The sentiment expressed in this paragraph is not logical. The fact that different religions teach different ethical standards does not mean that the concept of a single true ethical standard is erroneous. I can as easily be said that the contradictions between the various religions occur because of departures from the true ethic, established by the true God. It is not axiomatic that “such totalitarian notions are not supported by evidence.”

One true ethic is exactly what Paul argued, both to Gentiles and Jews. In Acts 17, Paul argued for the existence and sovereignty of the God who was “unknown” to them. He then stated that this God, “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man (Jesus) whom He has ordained” (vs. 31). Paul affirmed that Jehovah God, as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, is the One who establishes righteousness. In Romans 1:28, he noted men became unrighteous because “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

In Romans 10:3 he condemned the Jews for seeking to “establish their own righteousness” rather than submitting to “the righteousness of God.”

We don’t deny men can have ethics without religion. We do deny they can know what true righteousness is apart from God. If they do not turn to the true and righteous Creator and Savior of mankind, they are doomed to be, “led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).