Ethics is the process of rationally reflecting on morality, and ultimately coming up with a decision that makes one feel like it’s the right thing to do. Contrary to popular belief, humans face ethical issues every single day. We may not realize it, but they’re around us, most commonly at times where we can’t even tell. They’re engraved in our society, and our human DNA. Not convinced? Here are some examples: You might need to tell a friend an important truth, however it has the possibility of ending the friendship. Or, you’ve made plans to spend time with your family, however you decide to “raincheck” because there’s an opportunity to hang-out with the bros at a local bar. Whether or not someone takes a formal ethics class, everybody is an ethical being. In all truthfulness, I think that everybody thinks about ethics. It’s a no brainer that people tend to rationalize and reflect on the decision they’re going to make, particularly when the issue is a serious one. For instance, all students have been there. We’ve all been crunched for time, stressed out about an assignment due date, and had the opportunity to submit work that may have not been our own. Going through the decision making process, we’ve all put ethics into consideration and hopefully came up with the conclusion that it’s the right choice to submit our own, authentic work, and being honest rather than cheating our way ahead. Although this is an outcome, we’d expect for everybody to conclude, it is important to understand that the same ethical conclusion won’t apply the same way to everyone. Hence, it is important to understand the distinctions between religion, ethics, and morality; how they are intertwined and affect one another.
I was personally fascinated by the way religion impacts the ethical decision making process in individuals, as well as the way it justifies the moral behavior of their followers. Religion involves beliefs attitudes and practices which form a bond between an individual and a higher power. I personally believe that religion doesn’t require any ethics, rather, they set the moral principles for what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Religion plays a big role in the ethical decision making process in individuals who follow them. For instance, followers of the Ten Commandments would certainly not accept the idea of adultery, or in simpler words “cheating.” However, people who come from “taboo” religions and societies may approve of the idea of polygamous marriages, and in fact practice them to this day. This was an important aspect that I took-away from my studies on ethics. I use to think of ethics on the surface level – meaning how it related to me personally on a local level. However, I had learned to think outside of the box, and I was particularly intrigued how people of different religions have different guidelines of what is right versus wrong. Although religion sets the basis for what is right versus wrong, I personally think that it is important to challenge ideas and guidelines set-forth by religions. I feel that if people plain and simply follow the moral compass set by their religion, then they’re ultimately motivated by retribution. In other words, acting good out of the fear of being punished if they don’t do what is considered right. I personally feel that the real ethical approach would be to rationalize decisions before doing them, and coming down to the decision which ultimately makes an individual feel like they’re doing the right thing. It’s important to understand that religious text is up for interpretation, and that a different set of eyes don’t always see the same thing. For instance, I was raised to follow Jewish religion and the Torah. The Torah states that the followers of the Jewish tradition should keep Shabbat. Including but not limited to, restricting yourself from using electricity, working, or driving from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Although many of my friends and family follow this tradition, I challenge this idea and don’t practice it because I feel that this is an outdated tradition in relation to our modern day society. Does this mean that I’m unethical? Some may think so, but I feel like this is the ethical decision for me. Therefore, there is no right or wrong way of being ethical. I feel that it personally comes down to the individual and their morals/beliefs. Fortunately, in modern western society, challenging beliefs are accepted since it’s a constitutional right. While in the past individuals were ostracized if they were to go about such a behavior. Furthermore, our reading on ancient Indian history shined a light on how religion and ethics played a fundamental role in the structure of their society’s moral structure.
I was particularly interested in the reading regarding the Ancient Indian caste systems. The Caste system essentially was a complex scale of hierarchy which systematically grouped individuals in different castes, clans, professions, and ultimately determined which “class” they’d be born into. This text challenged my thoughts and I had a difficult time understanding how this conduct was considered ethical. It became evident that Hindu religion and culture was the main influence. According to the text Ethical Thought in India, “These cultural stories lie at the heart of explaining the roles in maintaining social order and the divisions of age, gender, caste, and sect.” (21). Since Hinduism encompassed the majority of India, it made sense that the Hindu followers inherited the belief that this was the moral way to act. However, I still find it troubling to consider this ethical because the unfair scale of hierarchy placed citizens in the lower caste groups to often be oppressed. In fact, it was challenging for me to wrap my finger around the Ancient Indian explanation of how the oppressed castes had to cope with their assigned obligations and fulfill their dharmas – duty. Consequentially, this resulted in a lot of the oppressed to convert to Buddhism. Although the caste system was unfair, it did a good job in keeping society under control. In addition, Karma was a derivative from ancient India and Hinduism. Karma allows people to feel secure. When something bad happens to someone and there’s no way you can get revenge, you leave it up to Karma. In contrast, Karma gives people a reason to do good deeds. People like having incentives. Knowing that the universe will reward you for your good deed gives reason to do it. This was interesting/challenging to think about because it makes me curious if anybody does anything good, just out of the kindness of their heart, rather than always expecting something in return.
All in all I found it very interesting to read how ethics morality and religion of different cultures differ. I would like to conclude by saying that not only do people’s ethics change over the years, however there is also no real instructions on what is ethical. How ethics apply to one individual may not be the same for another. Regardless of a culture, religion, or society, I think it’s important for people to always challenge pre-determined rules/ideas, and to always reflect on their own morals. As Martin Luther King once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”