Moral Values

It was with keen interest that I read the piece by Carlo Fonseka on ‘Ethics and politics’ in the Sunday Island of March 14, 2010, and the contending viewpoint by R. M. B. Senanayake the following Tuesday.

Human civilization existed long before all known religions of today. We see pockets of such societies at present as well like Veddahs of Sri Lanka, Maoris in New Zealand, Aborigines in Australia, Pygmies in Congo, etc. No civilization can exist without a binding code of conduct by way of morals and ethics. All that goes to prove that religion, as we understand it today, is not a prerequisite for the existence of organized, civilized society.

The founders of religions only codified the already existing morals by way of Ten Commandments, Five Precepts, etc. They did so having the well being of the contemporary society at heart and to suit the natural and geographical environment in which they lived.

Thus, Prophet Mohamed, for instance, living in an isolated, vast, sandy desert with hardly any vegetation or flora, preached the killing of animals for food. How far this is a valid proposition in the modern day global village, where enormous resources are wasted and grave environmental problems, including speedy rise of global temperature, are created as a result of large scale animal farming, is another matter. On the other hand, the Buddha, living in a vast sub-continent with abundant green vegetation that could provide human food with all the necessary nutrients, derided all kinds of killing for whatever purpose.

Human moral values are innate and inherent in their very nature. That is to say, such values are biological, instinctual and embedded in their very genetic scheme. Some of those instincts are common with those in the animal kingdom. Team sense, group instinct, maternal affection, brotherly care are some such examples.

There is also a code of law among all animals, living in collective groups. It naturally entails an enforcing mechanism as well, even in non-human societies in order to punish the miscreants. Needless to say, man’s code of law is much more complicated than those in the animal kingdom.

Thus, my moral values are totally independent of any religion, contrary to the position of Mr Senanayake. Basically, I am guided by my own conscience, which is instinctual. Maybe, fear of punishment plays a role, too. And I hold that what is true of me should be true of other men and women as well.

Dharmapala Senaratne
Gothatuwa New Town.