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Religious Tolerance logo

Introduction to morality & ethics

Diversity of moral belief systems worldwide

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Examples of the range of moral beliefs in today's world:

There are probably more moral controversies active today than at any time in the past. A particular action might well be considered:

bullet highly moral by one group of people,
bullet morally neutral by others, and
bullet profoundly immoral by another group.

An individual's moral code is often derived from a variety of sources, including one's religious affiliation and worldview. (A worldview is a person's outlook on the world as determined by their basic beliefs in deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.)

Five controversies, selected out of many dozens of currently active debates, are listed below:

Action & definition Considered moral Considered immoral
Female Genital Mutilation:(FGM) Part or all of a young girl's clitoris is surgically removed. This leaves them with reduced or no sexual feeling. It is a common social practice among Animists, Christians, and Muslims in some parts of Northern Africa. It is incorrectly viewed by some as a uniquely Islamic religious requirement. FGM is considered moral by some cultures in North Africa, because they believe that it prevents:
bullet The death of any husband whose penis contacts a clitoris.
bullet The birth of hydrocephalic babies.
bullet Poisoning of the mothers milk.
bullet Bad genital odors.
bullet Vaginal cancer.
bullet Masturbation.
bullet Homosexuality.
bullet Adult nervousness.
bullet Neurosis due to excessive sex drive.

Without FGM, the girl may not be able to marry in her culture.

It is considered immoral throughout most of the world, because:
bullet The victim cannot give informed consent because of her age.
bullet Orgasms are sometimes impossible to experience later in life.
bullet Many health problems result from the surgery.
bullet Because of unhygienic operating conditions, infection and even death can occur.
bullet None of the alleged physical or mental benefits of FGM can be supported by medical studies.
Genocide:The "systematic destruction by a government of a racial, religious, or ethnic group." 1 The most serious genocide in the 20th century was the Shoah (aka Nazi Holocaust) -- the systematic round-up and murder of about 6 million Jews. The German Nazi party during World War II considered the Holocaust to be a highly moral act, because it contributed greatly to their racist philosophy. They regarded the "Aryan" race as supreme. Their goal of exterminating every Jew in Europe was considered a great moral imperative. Even during the waning months of the war, the Holocaust was given the highest military priority. The systematic destruction of a race, religion or ethnic group is now considered by civilized nations as the most serious possible crime. It is the ultimate violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2,3 The U.S. has passed the anti-genocidal Proxmire Act. Other countries have similar legislation in place. The United Nations has laws which forbid genocide and make provision for the trial and imprisonment of those responsible.
Spanking:The use by parents of corporal punishment in order to discipline their children and to both correct and control their behavior. Many conservative Christians support spanking because the biblical book of Proverbs requires it of them. See Proverbs 13:24, 19:18; 22:15; 23:13; 23:14; and 29:15. Solomon must have considered it an important topic because he repeated the injunction to not spare the rod a total of six times.

Spanking children in order to correct and punish their bad behavior is a necessity for good parenting. To not spank is immoral because it leads to undisciplined children, who grow up to be misfits as adults.

The Bible is inerrant and thus would not recommend an immoral or ineffective discipline method.

Many religious liberals, secularists, child psychologists etc. believe that children need discipline, but should not be spanked. They consider corporal punishment to be immoral because:
bullet Spanking terrorizes a child.
bullet It is less effective than other methods of discipline, like lecturing and time-outs.
bullet 85% of all cases of child abuse started with spanking and later got out of control.
bullet Many reliable studies link spanking to a higher incidence of emotional, aggression, addiction, anti-social and criminal problems later in life.
bullet Spanked children have a lower IQ than children who are not spanked.
Abortion: The termination of a pregnancy that is either unwanted or is dangerous to the woman. 90%  are done in the first three months of pregnancy; about 9% in the second three months. "Pro-choicers" generally believe that an embryo or fetus becomes a human person many months after conception -- perhaps at birth; perhaps earlier. Almost all believe that an early abortion is a moral choice, if it is needed for emotional or economic reasons, to permit the woman's education to continue, or for other reasons considered valid by the woman after consulting with her physician and spiritual counselor. Pro-lifers generally believe that a just-fertilized ovum is a full human personand should have the complete set of rights enjoyed by any other citizen in the country, including the right to live. Thus, an abortion is an intentional homicide; a murder of a helpless human person. Some believe that all abortions are immoral; others that an abortion is a moral choice if it resulted from rape or incest.
Same-sex marriage: Extending the definition of civil marriage to include loving, committed same-sex couples which may include two gays, two lesbians, one gay and one bisexual man, one lesbian and one bisexual women, or two bisexuals. Civil marriage is granted by the government in order to recognize the mutual love and lifetime committment of couples. It offers substantial status, health, and financial benefits. Under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." If opposite-sex couples can marry, same-sex couples must also have access to the benefits of marriage.

The Bible calls for a man to marry a woman. This has been the definition of marriage since before human governments were formed.

The institution of marriage is in a delicate state. Some surveys conclude that 50% end in divorce or marital separation. Allowing gays to marry might finish it off completely.

Homosexuals are not promoting same sex marriage because they want to marry; they want to attack the institution of marriage itself.

The above are only examples. There are many dozens of currently active, religiously motivated, controversies in the world today. Most have a strong moral component.

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet The Golden Rule and other Ethics of Reciprocity
bullet "Hot" religious controversies menu
bullet Bible passages that appear immoral by today's standards.
bullet What the Bible says about human slavery
bullet Genocide menu

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  1. "Genocide," at: 
  2. The English text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at:
  3. The UDHR text is available in other languages at:

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Site navigation: Home page > Morality > Introduction > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-SEP-9
Latest update: 2010-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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