Undeterred by little feedback to the previous post, I shall now turn to organised religion. Could anyone reading this post, please read the first 1 fo their own orientation.
An organised religion will, almost by definition, have a hierarchy, which for the sake of convenience, we can call a clergy. In an unorganised religion, you can have special people who have direct contact with the supernatural entities, but with an organised one, often, only the clergy can legitimately claim they are in direct contact or can interpret what the supernatural entities want. It is possible for others to make such claims, but the clergy will add them to their numbers, brand them a heretic, accept them as exceptional or ignore them. In some religions, the ordinary members may have communication, but the clergy will have the final say in the interpretation. So for many religions, there is considerable power invested in the clergy.
The areas that religions claim power over can be extensive, even all aspects of the lives of the followers. The aspects to be looked at here will be values, morals and ethics, which are all closely related. These are of interest because if you can control these, you can possibly control a person’s behaviour, partially or wholly.
We need a quick aside at this point to talk of values, morals and ethics and what distinctions to make. Morals and ethics are often thought of as the same and they are very closely related and often are interchangeable. Morals can perhaps be thought of as internal rules, that is, as part of a person and ethics as external ones, as part of society or as a member of an organisation. Values are the result of morals and ethics and are arrived at through intuition, imitation, education and imposition and, also, by reflection on what values we have or what other people possess.
Having said this for the purposes here ethics and morals will be treated as one and henceforth referred to as ethics.
Values are one of our most important spurs to action (or inaction). Actions (and the lack of them) are how we all make a difference to the real world. These actions can be judged to be ethically good or bad or neither, by ourselves and others, so different ethical systems may give different opinions. The result(s) of our actions or inactions may be immediate or may never be known and are usually in the vast period of time in between, but we carry them out in good faith, reasoning that the results will be good. There will be times when we carry out an action, in the knowledge that there cannot be a good outcome. In such a case we look for the least bad outcome.
To give an example from real life (in which we have to ignore the wider ethics of war and government control and concentrate only on the actions of the protagonist), I recall a documentary about the landing of American forces on the island of Okinawa during World War II. One of the American Marines was stationed on cliffs looking at other cliffs. The Okinawan civilians had been ordered by the Japanese government to kill their children. Some carried out these orders by throwing their children from the cliffs across from the Marines. The children would land on rocks below and this would not kill then but would break their legs or backs and when the tide came in they would drown. Faced with this, the Marines shot the children as they fell as this would be a quicker and less agonising death.
There are, of course, ethical codes which say that no matter the suffering to be endured, under such circumstances the children would be left to suffer.
This bridges us (somewhat callously) into ethical codes and the systems used to derive or support them. It will be seen by some that I am clearly a consequentialist, that is, I look at the outcomes to judge actions. An example of a consequential ethical system is Utilitarianism. Usually, an ethics system which rigidly adheres to its values and ignores consequences is called deontology and a clear and powerful example of this is Kantian Deontology.
Religious ethics are often deontological, being concerned with forming a code that is to be adhered to, regardless of the outcome, as that comes from God or the Gods or the Will of Heaven or some other supernatural source that is to be held higher than the human subjects that the code applies to.
This code is delivered by the clergy and may be altered by them due to their direct and special connection.
In further posts, I will set out my views on values and their acquisition, briefly discuss the merits of ethical systems, give my views on their application and further look into the topic of the psychopathy and religion.