Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What is the role of science, art and religion in the ethics of society?

"We have no government armed with 
power capable of contending with human 
passions unbridled by morality and religion." 
—John Adams

             Ethics is the science of morals. Morals inform manners and manners make up the character of a man. If ethics is the powerful foundation of the character of man, would it not be wise to inquire what it is that informs ethics? What is the role of science, art and religion in the ethics of society? Religion claims to form the lifeblood of societal ethos, demonstrating a strong correlation between societal virtue and religious observance.  On the other hand, science undertakes the search for truth without mysticism. Finally, art is the cultural expression of truth. All three seem to fight each other in a battle of truth and justice.
The role of science in ethics is to reduce ethics to a science for business and corporations.  The secular world is created in order to divide the divine from the human with certain rules of conduct written and enforced. Science is the facts proven true. “Science and technology conferred a new value upon fact and created a new cultural type—the fact-gatherer, the fact-treasurer” which became the new popular character in society.[1] For Sir Francis Bacon, science was a study divorced from art and morals. He condemned the conception of “contemplating the truth” as a study of knowledge. This ushered in the modern era that everything, including human nature, is based on scientific experimentation.[2] Furthermore, Einstein’s theory of relativity had great influence upon not only the scientific world, but on morals and religion. The idea that all things could mean something different for each individual was the new morality. Who needed the old prophets and the old systems? The new morality meant that ethics could be re-written according to each man. This proposed a great moral dilemma: with God out of sight and out of mind, who would be God? The nature of man is always changing from ordered to disordered, however, the nature of God invites man to change from disordered to ordered. Without God, man would spiral downward into a disordered wasteland, but a wasteland with only relics of human ethics.
The role of art is to enhance life, says Nietzsche. Art is used as a tool of inspiration to help its beholder remember something higher and more noble. Collectively, art is a reflection on the culture of society and as modern man has been gradually doing away with God, so has art been gradually doing away with the ideal, the good, the true and the beautiful. Only an unemotional skeleton of societal duties is all that is left of ethics when the good, the true and the beautiful are lacking. Art affects people and people affect art. Art reflects societal customs as Henry James has said, “art is our flounderings shown” and yet it still has the power to change our customs, for good or evil.  “Great art has the power of transfiguring the aspect of the world,”[3]says Jacques Barzun. It, then, could be said that art has the power to impart the good in ethics. As long as there remains a moral people who demand moral art, art will transcend the world to inspire us to contemplate the sublime.
The role of religion is to inform individuals and groups of what is right and correct according to a divine set of laws. As religion teaches the observance of the good and the true, it then expects its people to be agents of choice and to be susceptible to the consequences of those choices. Religion sets the moral basis for making moral choices. History is embellished with the stories of moral choice and action encouraged because of religious observance. Religious communities have demonstrated heroic acts of disaster-clean-up; have set the standard on moral issues from abortion to defining marriage; have formed associations to help lift third world countries and have inspired parents to raise their children with good moral character.
It is important to note the special characteristic of religion, that there must be and will always be a higher standard set by God that transcends all human law. If this were not so, then any man could set his own “divine” law and live accordingly at the expense of his neighbor.  The law of relativity must be absent in religion. James Russell Lowell artfully wrote, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” It is religion that ultimately teaches truth. Humans are continually constructed, mended and reconstructed through the scaffolding of Truth, if they will assume it to be so, afterall, they have a choice.
Science is a means of discovering and demonstrating the material truth, art is a means of sensorial communication of truth, and religion is a means of delivering godly remembrance of truth and redemption from the false. Ethics are influenced by all three vying for the divine position. However, rarely is religion the strongest force of the three. “Art and science...become dogmatizing rivals about who owns the truth--a rivalry that does not keep out envy, trespass, compromise, and confusion.”[4] In contrast, religion, in the truest sense, inspires mankind to love, serve and lift one another, which ultimately has the supreme influence on ethics.

[1] Barzun, The Use and Abuse of Art, Princeton University Press: 1973, 100
[2] Adler, Syntopicon, Art
[3] Barzun, The Use and Abuse of Art, Princeton University Press: 1973, 74
[4] Ibid., 99
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