Every religion addresses morality in some way. While all religions espouse certain universal moral values, each religion has its own explanation for the source of morality and how virtue is acquired. Many people argue that all values are rooted in religion and therefore cannot be promoted in public education.
Character education is founded on the belief that there are universal moral laws: rules and virtues that everyone agrees on, so they can be taught in public education. For example, we all agree that the Golden Rule is a good thing. All religions agree that stealing, lying, and murder are wrong.
A study of the Bible yields many passages about universal moral law or virtue. Here are some samples:
“You should be kind and humble. Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Treat everyone with kindness.” 1 Peter 3:8
“I want your act of kindness to come from the heart and not be something you feel forced to do.” Philemon v. 14
“No one wins an athletic contest without obeying the rules.” 2 Timothy 2:5
“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10
“I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have.” Ephesians 4:11
“Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk.” Ephesians 5:18
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness: against such is no law.” Galatians 5:22
Separating the practices specific to a religion from the universal values common to all people is necessary, because in America we cannot set expectations in public education that promote one religion over another.
For example, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Christians observe Sunday. Jews observe Saturday. There are religious rituals specific to faith traditions on these days, but having a day of rest is a universal value. We all agree that a “sabbath” or day of rest is beneficial.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is more than a religious law. All religions agree that there have to be parameters around sexual behavior, for the common good. Otherwise rape and child molestation would be acceptable. All religions agree that no one should intrude on the covenant relationship between marriage partners. This is a universal value. In America we believed historically that sexual activity is reserved for a loving, committed, monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual, legalized relationship. Chastity, which means remaining faithful to one’s marriage partner, and refraining from sex if not married, is a public, universal virtue. Society pays a price when it is not followed: battered women, sexually transmitted disease, sexual crimes and imprisonment, children raised in poverty by single mothers, are some of the results that all of society is affected by.
Faith-based initiatives in character education have common ground over universal moral laws, but they differ over where universal moral laws come from (the origin or source). Those who do not believe in God see universal moral law originating in human reason (Immanuel Kant). People of faith believe universal moral law comes from God, that God created moral laws at the same time that he created physical laws such as gravity and thermo-dynamics. God created moral law at the beginning of the world, long before Mosaic Law (Romans 2:12-16; 5:13,14; Genesis 3:22). In fact God is the source, the originator, of virtue because God is virtue. God is morally pure: good, true, kind, compassionate, merciful, just. Every virtue can be found in its perfect state in God. God is the epitome of virtue and integrity. Universal moral law is often called Divine Law by Christians.
The second area of character education where religions differ is over how virtue is acquired. Christians believe it is a “fruit of the Spirit” that comes from transformation and regeneration. Virtue is an expression of Christ within, a by-product of loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Christ, the only morally pure human being who has ever lived on this earth, came to earth to bear the punishment for our breaking Divine moral law. By standing in our place, both justice and mercy were served. Christ’s sacrifice of dying on the cross was for the purpose of taking our moral failure on himself, and giving us his moral righteousness.
Other religions have their own explanations for how virtue is acquired. For example, Buddhists seek nirvana, a state of peace and happiness, by following the Middle Way, a way of life that avoids extremes of self-denial or self indulgence, and through the Noble Eightfold Path: 1) knowing the truth; 2) resisting evil; 3) saying nothing to hurt others; 4) respecting life, property and morality; 5) working in a way that does not injure others; 6) striving to free the mind of evil; 7) self control of thoughts and feelings; 8) meditation.
Hindus believe that every action of a person, no matter how small it is, influences how the soul will be reincarnated. A person who lives a good life and does good deeds will have a better afterlife. But a person who leads a bad life and does evil deeds will be reincarnated in a lower state. Self-control and self-help are the means for living a morally good life.
Islam has strict laws of ethics and morals,
virtue and justice, as described in the Koran. It teaches that life on earth of
a time of testing and preparation for the life to come when good deeds are
rewarded and bad is punished. Duties include prayer or Salat five times a
day, alms-giving (both free-will and required), fasting during Ramadan, and
pilgrimage to Mecca. It too teaches that people should try their best to be
There are faith-based initiatives in the area of character education.
To learn more about the International Education Foundation founded on the principles of Sun Yung Moon, go to www.iefcharactered.org.
To learn more about the initiative of Campus Crusade for Christ, contact www.character.com/cotw/.
A Character Education program originally sponsored by Bill Gothard's Institute for Basic Life Principles, and now incorporated independently may be found at characterfirst.org.
If you would like to have someone speak at your place of worship on the subject of Christian character, or if you would like to start a Character Club at your church, click here.
Return to Home Page