Are you moral because of your religious beliefs?
What does morality mean? Does it exist outside your religious beliefs? How do your perceptions of morality impact your relationships? In examining how different people view morality and how it applies in their lives, Document Women spoke to three women with varying moral codes on how it shapes their lives and interactions.
Morality; principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.
While 21-year-old Ogonna does not consider herself religious; she says God drives her morality. “I’m not religious per se; I believe we should just get to know God through Jesus his son. My sense of right and wrong is driven by what God wills and what he does not.”
She believes morality can exist outside of religion and is subjective, but for her, morality is shrouded in her religion. “People have various things on which their morality is hinged; some people don’t think it is moral to wear trousers while others don’t mind trousers but frown at foul language, etc. Morality is tied to people’s perceptions.”
In all the Abrahamic faiths and even Greek philosophy, religion and morality have been closely intertwined since the beginning. A Global Attitudes Project by the Pew Research Center in 2007 asked the question; “Must Believe in God to be Moral?” Nigeria had a score of 82, favouring a religion-backed code of morals.
When asked what morality means to her as a woman, Ogonna says, “My views on morality are influenced by my wanting to do God’s will, not a man or society.” While she holds on to her faith, Ogonna recognises that ultimately, a person’s moral compass is personal. In interpersonal relationships, she believes that her immediate family shares her values.
However, she says, “Sometimes, you can’t really tell what a person feels because people pretend or hide, so based on what they reflect, I believe we have shared values.” As for her friendships, Ogonna knows that not all her friends are like-minded, but she loves them regardless.
Skittles*, 22, is a Muslim and when asked if she considers herself a religious person, she says, “To an extent, I do. Religion is very important to me, it gives me a sense of purpose and direction.”
Her sense of morality is defined by the impact of her actions on those around her. “If what I am doing or saying negatively affects someone, then I consider it bad. I know good things make people happy so I aspire to do good things only. I know I am doing something bad if I hurt someone in the process.”
She doesn’t believe her morality is derived from religion, instead, she seeks to emulate her parents who she considers truly kind people. “My dad always taught us to accord respect to everybody, not even because of religion, he just always emphasised the need to be kind. I don’t want to put myself on a pedestal but, my basic philosophy in life is if whatever someone is doing does not affect you, it should not bother you.”
Skittles believes that morality is subjective because human beings are different. She also believes the way people were raised is an important determiner of their moral values. As a woman, especially a religious woman, Skittles believes that the rules are different and harsher for women and that women are held to unreasonable standards that their male counterparts are not.
24-year-old Nessa does not consider herself a religious person. Her stance on religion differs from the other respondents in this way “It is a way to confuse and it was brought in for control and to take power from people.” She is inspired by ‘common sense. “It is simply common sense to me. There are certain things you know will be harmful to somebody and, for that reason, you just don’t do them. You should treat others with respect and as they want to be treated. My sense of morality depends on who I’m interacting with. I try to consider people first and their likes and dislikes when interacting with them.”
“Morality has to exist outside religion because there are a lot of people who are religious whose morals are sick. You don’t have to be religious to be a moral person.”
The relativity of morality is evident as coexisting or even being derived from religion; however, there is still an unspoken expectation of morality from women as a result of these religious requirements.
Regarding the most important issues related to family, education, careers, healthcare, finances, politics, safety, and even spirituality, Christianity has continuously placed men above women, at their expense. The World Economic Forum notes that “the denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world”, drawing parallels between governments with social and religious restrictions and gender inequality.
Though freedom of religion or belief is constitutionally protected, its restrictions, interpretations and violations affect women, girls and LGBTI people in worse ways than men.
In Nigeria, This is evident in gender-based violence, rape, forced marriages, kidnappings or otherwise. Similarly, violations of rights related to gender equality also affect women’s, girls’ and LGBTI people’s right to practise their religious beliefs as they want. LGBTI people, women and girls are victims of intersectional discrimination where they are being judged not only by law and norms but also by their religious community.