What are the Relationship between “Ethics” and “Religion”? – Explained

In Matthew Arnold’s opinion,

“Religion is nothing but morality touched with emotion.” It does not, in any way, distinguish between religion and ethics.

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According to many scholars, including Pringle Pattison and Bradley, ethics and religion are very ultimately related.

According to Bradley,

“It is a moral duty not to be moral and this is the duty to be religious.” But to be moral, is not a duty hi the sense eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. are. In Semual Alexander’s words, “There are in fact 110 duties to be religious any more than there is a duty to be hungry.”

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Religion is a natural human tendency and it may take any form of manifestation. From the above opinion, it is inferred that religion is based upon emotion but ethical sense is based upon reason. When religion becomes emotional it should not be called ethics.

People who believe in the identity of religion and ethics tend to forget their difference.

James has written correctly that,

“Like love, like wrath, like hope, ambition, jealousy, like every other instinctive eagerness and impulse, it adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or biologically deducible from anything else. If religion is to mean anything definite for us, it seems to me, we ought to take it as meaning this added dimension of emotion, this enthusiastic espousal, in religions where morality strictly so called can only bow the head and acquiesce.”

Relation of Ethics to Religion:


There can be no two opinions about it that religion to be real and high must be related to ethics. In Sanskrit, Dharma means the moral order of the universe.

There can be three points of view about the inter-relation of ethics and religion-religion precedes ethics, ethics precedes religion or ethics and religion are interdependent.

Religion Precedes Morality:

Descartes, Locke, Paley and others believe that religion precedes morality, the latter arising from the former. It is God’s will or veto which decides good or bad.

God’s laws are the ethical criterion. God creates ethics of his own desire and is not bound by any ethical law. We know his mandates through saints and spiritual books.


This opinion makes God unrelated to ethics. It is true that God cannot be bound by any law of ‘ought’ but even then if ethics is not subjective or a mere faith, God should tend towards good. A fundamental postulate of ethics is the moral order of the universe.

Morality is objective. God himself is a treasure house of ethical qualities. He orders well and rejects evil.

Ethics is based not on His absolute desire but on His ethical nature. Activities are not good or bad because religious texts say so but the goodness or badness of activities lies in the recognition or knowing God’s order and mandate.

Neither religion nor ethics can stay if God is believed to be either unethical or indifferent to morality. Religion satisfies the emotional aspect of man. Ethics satisfies the volitional aspect of man.

If the complete and all round development of man are desirable ethics and religion should be complementary.

Religion succeeds morality:

According to Kant, religion is based upon ethics and the existence of God is due to the existence of ethics. Kant believes that bliss invariably accompanies virtue.

In complete good, the highest happiness is included. Virtue is of course the ultimate good, but without bliss it is not complete good.

But in the world, virtues are not always accompanied by happiness. It is seen quite often that while good people suffer hi a number of ways, the bad enjoy themselves. But if the ethical order is true, it should not be so. Thus, Kant imagines a God who arranges for pleasure with virtue and pain with vice hi this world.

It is God who conjoins pleasure with virtue, because while virtues depend upon our volitions, pleasure depends upon the concord of external conditions.

Thus, according to Kant, God is a postulate of ethics. Martineau also believes this opinion.

According to Matthew Arnold,

“Religion is nothing but morality torched with emotion.”

The basis of ethics and religion are different:

But this school forgets the true nature of religion. It is the urge for realization of God, the first step towards which is ethical attitude; God exists not only in the soul but also in the world.

Thus the aspirant must serve living beings because all the living creatures and their order are God’s creation. In this way, as the author of Gita has said, God is the source of moral obligation.

The basis of moral obligation can neither be man nor society. The individual is the source of moral obligation when he realizes the true soul when the soul is truly recognized, on difference between it and God remains, everything in the world also appearing as God.

At that stage, man spontaneously becomes ethical. Moral obligation becomes the normal law of everything internal and external. In such stage, the volitions of the individual become identical with God’s will. But this does not destroy his freedom.

Real freedom lies hi becoming God’s tool because God is the self. His law of the law of self and real freedom is in proceeding along the law of the self.

Being based on emotion rather than reason, the religious state may be beyond the ethical one but it is still a state of good.

Its path passes through ethics. A man with bad qualities cannot be religious. Unethical religion is merely a blind faith. An immoral God is of the nature of the devil Thus, ethics is essential for religion. But religion does not follow ethics, because both are founded on dissimilar grounds.

Volitions and emotions should develop simultaneously, not successively. A person is not first ethical and then religious or first religious and then ethical but he is both ethical and religious at the same time. Only an integral outlook can carry man to perfection.

Religion and morality are interdependent:

Thus, the view that both religion and morality are based on each other is better than both the foregoing one-sided viewpoints; Religion is the ideal basis of ethics- Moral is the expression, in society, of our spiritual consciousness. A person who sees God hi every object turns to social service unconsciously.

A truly religious person sees the entire world permeated by God. Religion and ethics both make important contributions to the development of the human personality. Their sources are different. Religion is concerned with the relations between God and the individual.

Ethics depends upon volitions and religion upon psychic emotions. In human development, both ethics and religion develop side by side and influence each other.

It is possible that in some circumstances religion may be unethical, in which case it would be inappropriate to call it a true religion.

A true religion is faith hi the realization of God and state of God realization cannot be unethical. Religious fulfillment satisfies our whole, personality.

Thus, it must be ethical, because without being ethical it cannot satisfy our volition aspect Emotion without action is one-sided and lifeless. Religion is incomplete without ethics.

Thus ethics acts upon religion and makes it pure and refined. Religion reacts upon ethics and motivates it. Neither ethics can replace religion nor can religion substitute ethics.

Both religion and ethics are indispensable for a complete and integral development of the relations between the individual, society and God.

The existence of God is a postulate of both ethics and religion:

Religion and ethics both share the postulates concerning the existence of God and the immortality of soul. Whatever is ideal in the world becomes real hi God.

It is this same spiritual Reality behind our obligation of ethical ‘ought’ Human spirit is the incomplete manifestation of divine light Thus he is naturally disposed to that perfect One.

In volition, the ideal of ethics is the disposition towards that perfect One. Without the basis of God ethical ideal is mere imagination.

Urban expresses it in this way,

“When we think out what is implied in moral conduct and moral judgments, we are led necessarily to a view of the world or universe which is, in principle at least the same as that which is held by reflective religion. In other words, we are led to postulate the reality of what the religionist calls God.”

“Unless ethical laws are founded in truth, they cannot become obligatory. Ethical ideals motivate us because they are based on that perfect light by whose effulgence we all are illuminated. God is manifest perfection, the treasure of virtues, reservoir of all values.

Both ethics and religion postulate the immorality of the soul:

Similarly, ethics also demands that the soul be immortal. Human life is short and limited, ethical ideal is great and unlimited.

The attainment of its ideal in this short life is manifestly improbable. Ethical ideal can be attained only successively is an unlimited life.

The unrestricted urge of the human, for the realization of knowledge, beauty and good cannot be satisfied hi one life. An ethical life is itself the proof of the immortality of the soul.

In this way, both ethics and religion take man, by the path of volition and emotion respectively to the ultimate good, beauty, knowledge and complete perfection—the God. Both impress each other and both are indispensable for the development of the human being.”


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