By William Markiewicz
Morality is one of humanity's main philosophical preoccupations but it doesn't belong so much to philosophy as to religion; it is what gives religions their universal power. The very concept of morality is different for each; no philosophy serves morality but for philosophers morality should serve philosophy. For religion, morality is identified with God himself, thus it is the supreme value.
Why, in all religions, is God moral? As only the human is sentient/compassionate I think that empathy, compassion, are expressions of superior evolutionary level. So empathy is not a fruit of some theory but comes from inside, from human innate 'higher' instinct and religion was its first possible outlet. The naturally empathetic individuals became gurus and prophets to transmit what they carried in them to the less empathetic majority crowd. Empathy at its core is not philosophical because philosophy tends to explain everything while empathy is logically unexplainable. Empathy entered the world of religion -- built religion -- primarily because religion explains very little. Gratuitous virtue is an abstract concept. Reward is promised but not guaranteed. St. John of the Cross in his beautiful poem, Saint Francis of Assisi, Sufi mystics, Jewish mystics, all spoke of gratuitous love for God with no reward expected.
"God, I am not afraid of your hell and I don't need your paradise. Why do I continue to serve you? Because I love you." -- Balshemtov.
TirukKural, long before Christianity said: "The narrow minded say: 'be good to the virtuous ones' but who will offer consolation to those who don't deserve it?" One pharaoh, I don't remember which, described how a Phoenician who didn't recognize the pharaoh laughed in front of him at the Egyptians, calling them stupid, because they were saving drowning enemy soldiers who had lost the battle. The pharaoh thought to himself, "And I am proud of this kind of stupidity."
Morality, compassion, empathy, is an attitude toward the weak. The strong don't need morality in order to function; common sense is enough. In the mythical societies of gods and giants there was no need for morality because each individual was an efficient fortress. Morality makes sense when there is a division into strong and weak. The first facsimile morality begins at the biological level -- protection of the young. Of course this is still self interest. True morality earns its appellation and its titre de noblesse in situations which disregard self-interest. In many cases it is rewarded against all odds, therefore morality is not an anomaly but a very respectable notion. Being an instinct, moral behaviour cannot be wrong. Athenian democracy and Christianity have merit in that they codified it.
Christianity is the most 'empathetic' religion of all as it introduced the concept of 'love' into its fabric. Other religions emphasized 'justice' and 'pity' which is not necessarily love because it is more distant. Still the Greeks, long before Christianity, released prisoners right after the battle. Hate and cruelty toward the enemy were virtually unknown. Democracy born in Athens introduced the concept of sharing power rather than grabbing power. Who was stronger and who was weaker was irrelevant. So, democracy is the only non-religious expression of morality. Let's remark that democracy, like religion, doesn't explain itself, it affirms only its moral superiority. Later came communism which abandoned the notion of empathy in favour of the more ancient concept of 'justice.'
The democratic view of justice is based on compassion rather than on punishment. Let's imagine a situation where one person guilty of horrendous crimes is hidden among the innocent and it is impossible to detect him. In a totalitarian society the whole group may be perpetually imprisoned or even liquidated just to make sure that the guilty one doesn't escape. In a society where democracy and/or Christianity prevails, the group will be released sooner or later because "It is better to release one hundred guilty than to punish one innocent." Of course I am talking about those who practice, not only preach.
We know how morality expresses itself, we know its tremendous power over us if we are empathetic, but it still doesn't explain to us what exactly is morality. It's an instinct, like sex and other hungers, like fear of death. In sum it joins the herd of our most intimate enigmas.