Morality is defined as the generally accepted behavior, thought and actions in the society or within an organization. These are commonly referred to as the accepted notions of right or wrong within a setup. Religion is said to contribute to the increase of morality in the society in one way or another. This paper intends to analyze the several ways in which Christianity contributes to improving moral behaviors in the society. The teachings and practices of the Christian faith have over the years had an impact in changing the behaviors of many people in the world. It teaches that good conduct and loving one another is the basic foundation of the Christian faith1.
The Christian faith helps in making its followers identify who they are and how important they are in the sight of God. The Bible teaches that man is made in the image and the likeness of God and that they are the only creatures with this image. In the II Vatican Council, the same attribute of man is given as the one with the highest authority among all God’s creation2.Therefore, they are given the highest authority to rule and take care of all other creations. “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.”3 It is through this responsibility and obligation mandated to man that compels him to act and behave morally so as to fulfill God’s commandment. Besides, man is called to be a child of God the creator and is ranked as a being with higher authority and intelligence than the spiritual beings like angels. In this perspective, man is required at all times to act like God towards fellow human beings and all other creations4. The bible also teaches that God is righteous and holly and all His counsel are upright and morally acceptable. It is also reported that the Vatican Council II of fathers acknowledged that it is in the ministry of the word becoming flesh and live amongst man that the intimacy of man and God is highly revealed5.
As Christians, man is expected to follow the footsteps of Jesus’ life. Jesus is the word of God which became flesh and dwelt among man. Besides, Jesus is the son of God the father who created all things that are visible and invisible. He behaved, acted, reasoned, felt and lived like man on this Earth. During His time with man in the flesh, He taught and lived as an example of what is expected of the children of God that will share in His promises and inheritance. His promises are the eternal life with God the father through Him as the first born of many brothers who are called to be the children of God. Through this faith, the Christian man is in a position to receive the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. His life is pictured in the four gospels as a man full of the favor of God for He openly admonished evil and immoral behaviors of the teachers of the law. He demonstrated moral living by helping the needy, being a friend of tax collectors and the prostitutes and even gave food to the hungry. By practicing this behavior, one is able to live to the standard of morality that is expected in the society. Therefore, the life of Christ is one important motivator of moral living among Christians6.
Jesus Christ taught man to love one another which is the basic foundation of morality. Love is defined in the Bible as the foundation of Christian faith. Jesus Christ offered himself as a ransom to redeem mankind from sin through his love for man. Consequently, Christians are expected to equally love each other. It is believed that one cannot wrong another person if they love each other. In the Christian faith, love covers a multitude of sins which is one way of moral upkeep. This motivates Christians to act, think, behave and relate to one another in an acceptable way in the society hence moral living7.
Connors and McCormick point out that Christian faith emphasizes on developing a good character in a person. The way Christians behave, conduct and relate to one another defines their unique moral identity. Character is defined as that unique, specific and particular configuration to bad and good habits, beliefs and attitudes that sum up to make an individual. It is a person’s character that defines what choices and decisions to make. Every believer is encouraged by the scriptures and teachings in the Bible to develop characters that are acceptable to all people. An example of the scripture is found in the book of Hebrews 12:14 that emphasizes that everyone should strive to make peace with all people so as to be able to see God8. Character of a person depends on one’s freedom and the capacity to make the right choice. The fundamental characteristics interrelate in a person in order to live morally. These are: freedom, conscience and responsibility9. Therefore, Christians are motivated to make the right and acceptable decisions in the society.
Another motivation of morality among Christians is the Catholic teaching that have been embraced through generations in the history of the church. The catholic theological tradition emphasizes on sacramental principle which say that God comes to people through other fellow men. It elaborates further that the emphasis is to yoke together two antagonistic aspects in life. These are: faith and reason, faith and works, scripture and tradition, church and the world as well as nature and grace. This teaching stresses the fact that mediation principle is of utmost importance for it is through it that Christians get to know the moral truth by a reflection on the human nature and not only relying on the divine revelations. The upholding of the mediation principle as a catholic tradition helps Christians value other fellow men as special beings created by one God for His glory10.
In 1965, the Second Vatican Council made changes in the catholic faith that had greater impacts in Christian understanding of morality. The first change was the Council’s reversal of the teaching on religious freedom from the traditional one. This was decreed in the Dignitatis Humanae. This changed the perception of the catholic faithful towards individuals. This enabled everyone to have moral right. The second change was the Council’s stress on the decree Gaudium et Spes which touched on the sanctity and sacredness of an individual’s conscience. These two great changes supported and promoted an acceptance for human individualism as well as social pluralism. These factors were completely foreign to Catholics before then and there introduction was a big relief. They also were alien to the authoritative and uniform Catholic Church. They have led to increased debates on a number of issues on morality that were agreed upon in the past. These include abortion, divorce and re-marriage, pre-marital sex, participation in war among others. These teachings and changes have contributed to a greater degree in increase of moral living in the society11.
In some teachings of theology, morality is defined as having good life and happiness. It is through this perception that Christians strive to do good and please themselves. It is stipulated that there are seven virtues that are practiced in order for one to be in a position of enjoying life and living happily. Faith, prudence, hope, justice, temperance, love and fortitude are the pillars of the Christian believe in living a happy life. These should be practiced at all times without neglecting or avoiding any one of them. Such teaching and understanding has helped the Christians to practice and feel the urge to live a moral life. Offences of immoral practices in the society like adultery, stealing, prostitution, murder, revenge and abortion are highly discouraged12.
In conclusion, moral living is an obligation in the Christian faith that is achieved through a number of ways. The first and the fundamental principle that propagates this practice are the teachings found in the Bible. The scriptures were written to admonish and guide Christians into living an honorable and acceptable life that is to be desired and be envied by all men. Besides, Christians emulate the life of Jesus who lived to do good and helped the needy, rejected and the less fortunate in the society. He also taught man that all human beings are equal and the same in the sight of God the father and that they are all created in His image. In addition, there are quite a number of principles and theological teachings that govern Christians into living a moral life. These among others are the factors that drive Christians into moral living.
Connors, Russell B. and Patrick T. McCormick. Character, Choices & Community: The Three Faces of Christian Ethics. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1998.
Gula, Richard M. Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1989.
Hanigan, James P. As I Have Loved You: The Challenge of Christian Ethics. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1986.
May, William E. An Introduction to Moral Theology. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publication cooperation, 2003.
Mattison, William C. III. Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008.
O’Connell, Timothy E. Principles for a Catholic Morality: Revised Edition. San Francisco, SF: Harper & Row, 1990.
Robert, Gascoigne. Freedom and Purpose: An Introduction to Christian Ethics. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2004.
Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), Part One, Chapter One: Sections 12-17. Accessed on 13 Aug. 2012. From<http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html>