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Reflections on Ethics 76
Can we teach morality without involving religion?

by: Catherine Gager

A discussion has been opened on this Reflection. To contribute your own thoughts to this exchange of views, please use the Contact form.

Hello. My name is Cathy. I came upon this site by happenstance and it intrigued me from the beginning. I am not sure if I am Agnostic – because this lends a more positive, still hopeful, there is something out there view, of the universe that I may not possess. However, labels are easy – and I have not found the Universal Atheists site yet (if there is one); so – hey, I guess I can still be an agnostic if so inclined.

Any way – the point I would like to discuss is a comment Vladimir Putin made in the recent issue of Time Magazine (12/31/07). Time selected Vladimir as “Person of the Year”, and that designation to me means nothing and is not the discussion point.

The quote I want discussed was stated in the section: “The TIME Interview. Putin opens a window on his life”. Time asked:

“What role does faith play in your leadership?”

Putin responded:

“First and foremost, we should be governed by common sense. But common sense should be based on moral principles first. And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values.”

This response blew me away because in one way he is stating that common sense in some way “today” is based on religious values. Also, I disagree that “it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values”. I try to be a completely moral person – whatever that means by the way – I try not to lie, cheat or steal, murder, respect and honor – and I’m not religious, nor have religious inclinations. Of course, I’m human and have made stupid mistakes – but common sense is my foremost ideal for most situations.

So the point of discussion is two things – one is Putin’s statement. I would like to hear what other people think about it. Two is – I believe that many people are actually agnostic - even those who profess whatever religion they say they are. Most people say they believe in whatever because of their children. They “believe” because this was the way they were taught and that this is the easiest way to teach their children fairness, honesty - “morality” - by using a guide already in place – a religion.

But cannot “morality” be taught absent religion? Or can it? Putin’s quote sounds to me like, even though he may believe common sense is an ideal unto itself – “today” it is bound by the religious values taught at home and elsewhere. Is that true? – and what does that say about mankind’s limits today?

I find the whole idea disturbing. If a world leader believes this, where can we go? The world will always be in conflict because of such religious and/or political views unless the agnostics and atheists do rise up and take control of the “common sense” of people. And no, I am not implying a “Red Army” approach of nihilism and anarchy.

How can we teach children morality without involving religion?

Any comment(s) will be gratefully received. Thank you.