religion required for free republic? Am I crazy or is there a gap in logic here?  This is the position/logic chain that I am told to assume but don’t understand: A free republic needs virtuous citizens. In order for a person to be virtuous they need religion. Therefore religion is required for free republics (and democracies). There seems to be a gap in this logic to me but I am not sure. Can a person be virtuous without religion? Isn’t that were the concept of ethics and morals comes into play?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is one thing for an opinion to assert that a free republic must allow for freedom of religion. It is quite another to assert that religion is requisite to the existence of free republics. The two, religion and free republic, are not mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive. They exist as separate propositions with areas of overlap.

One has but to think of religions that do or did practice revenge rituals, human sacrifices (some might also include animal sacrifices), and extreme forms of sin tests and punishments to know that moral behavior and virtue are not inherent in religion. Moral behavior and virtue may not even be said to be inherent in philosophy, consider the philosophy of hedonism.

This being said, I think it is a fair assertion that moral behavior and virtue are requisite to the existence of free republics, consider what happened during the immoral and unvirtuous era of Robber Barons at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Christianity dominated America.

Reason had to intervene in the shape of sound public opinion and government regulation to impose moral behavior and virtuousness with compassion [morality can, has been, and will be legislated]. Perhaps it is just to say that moral behavior and virtue are inherent only in Reason? It seems just to say that Reason is required for a free republic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I, too, agree that one must accept a place of religion in being the say all when it comes to morality to insure this movement works. But, for some without religion, they can be the same morally without adhering to the principles of any given religious theology. While many believe that morals and ethics are religiously based, they are not the only ideology which includes them.

Posted on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would agree that people can be virtuous without being religious. Some religious people would argue that promises of eternal rewards and/or punishment are more likely to encourage people to be virtuous than if such rewards and/or punishments did not exist.  Some of them would also argue that if moral behavior is simply an individual choice, rather than an obligation imposed by an all-powerful God, there is less likely to be moral behavior.  However, I have known many highly moral people who were not religious.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Good ethical and moral behavior is not restricted to people who have grown up with strong religious beliefs, though many conservative religious zealots will have you believe otherwise. Prisons are full of unethical and immoral men and women who have grown up in the church, or who profess to "find religion," only to find themselves behind bars again and again. I believe that the freedom of religion is a necessary part of a democracy, but no more so than the freedom of its citizens to be non-believers if they so choose.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It's a fine logic chain as long as you think that religion is the only source of morality.  However, that seems like a pretty big assumption to to swallow.

I would definitely argue that a person can be virtuous without religion.  I would say that the history of our country also shows that people who profess to be very religious can also seem to be utterly without virtue.

As far as virtue without religion, all you have to do here is think of something like the Golden Rule (though it comes to us via religion) or Kant's Categorical Imperative.  Neither of these moral rules says that you have to act in that way because God wants you to.  And people can and do act in those ways simply because they feel that it is right.  I do not in any way think that you have to fear God in order to live a virtuous life.

So, yeah, I completely agree with you.  Maybe your college really is trying to indoctrinate you.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial