Conflict between cultural and religious views on ethics

Through careful sociological study, we have found that there is a conflict between cultural and religious views on ethics that affect the majority of any populace.


Ethics are a set of moral principles that govern an individual’s behavior. These moral principles are determined by the social norms, culture and religious teachings of a particular society. Ethics are a reflection of a society’s idea of what is considered morally good and bad, what is just and unjust in terms of decent human behavior. These basic concepts are what guide people on how they should behave towards one another, understand and carry out their responsibilities to society. Ethical behavior is reflected in a person’s values, beliefs, and practices that shape the decisions made by the members of an organization. This means that ethics applies to all areas of conduct and is closely connected to the actions of people, groups, and organizations.

Through careful sociological study, we have found that there is a great conflict between cultural and religious views on ethics that affect the majority of any population. Culture and religion are two different concepts but they are very close. There is a strong relationship between them. A society is a social heritage – the taught patterns of thoughts, actions, and feelings that are passed down from one generation to the next. A society is a group of individuals who live in the same geographical area and share a culture. Culture is all about the customs practiced by these groups of people. Religious practices, on the other hand, are a part of the cultural inheritance, yet two individuals can practice the same culture but have different religions. A good example is both Africans practicing Christianity and those practicing Islam both perform genital cutting.

It is important not to confuse the two concepts especially in this age of globalization and increasing context of plurality. When it comes to the issue of clothing for instance. Clothing is a cultural element. A particular dressing form or color may mean one thing in one culture and something totally different in another. The norms and practices get their meaning from their usage as culture provides the rules of meaning interpretation of customary practices in certain societies. Even in term of religion, the rules will apply differently from one culture to the next. The cultural function of a religion is in a way both conservative and dynamic. This means that it makes the traditions of a culture sacred and provides the society with a common goal that brings together different social elements. However, religion has been a subject that has transformed cultures from one generation to the next. The relationship between cultural and religious views is always a two-sided one. An individual’s way of life influences how they approach religion and in turn their religious attitude affects their ethical behavior. Philosophers argue that religion is just a mere result of social conditioning. Studies have shown that religion is the biggest factor that influences the revolutionary changes within a culture.

Ethical systems in a society are in many cases based on religion and religion is an expression of ethical practices and policies. Religion and culture affect many aspects of a society including the healthcare system as well as international business. They are considered to influence moral purpose and personal strength in the healthcare system by enhancing the welfare of physicians and patients while experiencing ill-health, healing or dying. Communication between physicians, patients, and hospital staff should be done carefully due to the welfare benefits of cultural and religious beliefs. Physicians are required to respect personal culture and religion of their patients while taking into consideration the importance of treatment and care preferences. When it comes to the healthcare system, there is a conflict between what is seen as ethical by the culture and religion. A good example is that is some cultures abortion is acceptable with a valid reason such as if the mother’s life is in danger if she continues with the pregnancy. Religion, on the other hand, considers abortion to be an abomination.

When religion establishes its authority and social control over society, it uses strong tools such as immortality and mysticism. Immortality is the promise of eternal life even after death. This together with the powerful sense of belonging is what has influenced the society for centuries. Culturally, leaders may use religion as a way to justify decisions that are advantageous to a particular religion at the expense of the others. Concepts of ethics come from the history of philosophical thought. They are of two types. Ones that come from the theological doctrine which are a service of religion to establish authority and social control and ethics that are derived from man’s conscience which is an alternative to religion. They go beyond religion and are universal. These are the kinds of ethical principles that will be used in the future to resolve conflicts raised by the advancement of science and technology. Research shows, at this level of advancement, it is crucial to establish whether religion can show the necessary wisdom to save humanity from self-annihilation set in motion by the new scientific knowledge about the human genetic structure.


It is important to realize that the relationship between a society’s religion and culture does not always influence their ethical system. In 1949, China began to follow three ethical teachings: honesty, loyalty, and reciprocal obligation. These three principles fostered trustworthy relationships in business and loyalty to leaders which resulted in obedience to authority figures (Batz). All the factors being taken into consideration the conflict between religious beliefs and cultural views does affect the majority populace as it is what shapes society’s behavior. The connection between religion and culture is meditated by ethical behavior. This means that ethics influence the relations between cultural and religious views. We, therefore, need to embrace the positive characteristics of culture and religion.

Our world is in the middle of a fundamental crisis which is affecting humanity politically, economically, and ecologically. Therefore the representatives of all regions came together and proposed the establishment of global ethics that includes a golden rule that states “do unto others what you want to be done to you” which is a principle in most religions. This rule applies to all humankind regardless of their age, race, gender, religion, language or political stand. It also includes four essential rules which are: do not murder, do not take that which is not yours, do not lie and do not commit an impure act. This worldwide ethic of religions should be distinguished from law, politics, and philosophy. We are faced with the challenges of overcoming ills of the human society today. When religion fails hopefully the global ethics will help us overcome the difficulties that we face as a society.