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Day 17 – Q 3. Do religious beliefs interfere with ethics in public life? Critically examine.

3. Do religious beliefs interfere with ethics in public life? Critically examine. (Hint: Is it ethical to burst firecrackers near hospitals or offering prayers on loudspeakers near a school?)

क्या धार्मिक मान्यताएँ सार्वजनिक जीवन में नैतिकता के साथ हस्तक्षेप करती हैं? समालोचनात्मक जांच करें। (संकेत: क्या अस्पतालों के पास पटाखे फोड़ना या स्कूल के पास लाउडस्पीकर पर नमाज़ अदा करना नैतिक है?)


A person’s religious beliefs are an integral part of his/her identity which influences all aspects of his/her life including interactions in public sphere. Ethics in this public life of an individual is based on multiple sources, of which religion is an important source. This interaction has historically seen great variations with religious and secular ethics contesting for space in public ethics.       


  • Religious belief refers to attitudes towards mythological, supernatural, or spiritual aspects of a religion. Religious beliefs are usually codified have been a stable and wide-reaching force in human culture.
  • All religious traditions believe that their faith represents a path to enlightenment and salvation. By contrast, ethics are universal decision-making tools that may be used by a person of any religious persuasion, including atheists. 
  • While religion makes claims about cosmology, social behavior, and the “proper” treatment of others, etc. Ethics are based on logic and reason rather than tradition or injunction. 
  • Ethics in public relationship are governed by power. They comprise contradictory values and influence ethical decisions in public relationships. Seven principles of public life are selfless, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
  • Ethics in private relations helps in humanizing public relations and play an important role in forming the base for moral values of a person.

In this regard, religious beliefs play the following role in ethics involved in public life:

  • Religion helps in establishing ethical conduct in individuals which is reflected in public life of individuals as summation of individuals is public. For example, Buddhist religious ethics has helped in harmonising public life in Bhutan where happiness of everyone is emphasised over material possession.(Gross National Happiness)
  • Religious belief is at the root of charity efforts which is present even in capitalist countries. Such efforts help alleviate sufferings of people on a larger societal scale. For example, efforts of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
  • Struggles for justice and downtrodden in public life are generally inspired from religious beliefs of individuals. For example, Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts during India’s struggle for independence have religious basis like Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya(Truth),  etc.
  • Religious beliefs can be great motivators for bringing in social changes in the country. For example, Sant Gadge Baba in Maharashtra inspired many towards cleanliness drives at local level using religious symbolism.

Though religious beliefs play many a positive role in ethics in public life, there is other side of the coin too. Certain religious beliefs have an adverse bearing on ethics in public life which can be seen as below: 

  • Burning of fire crackers during Diwali has grave impact on health of citizens as well as environment. This religious belief has a bearing on others in public life where vulnerable sections like disabled, patients are more affected. It hampers ethical conduct of an individual in society where individual religious beliefs overpower public responsibility.
  • Uncontrolled use of loudspeakers during both festivals and prayers calls have an impact on the well being of individuals in the society. It is aggravated in sensitive zones like hospitals and schools where normal functioning is hampered. Here, religious belief and practice out of it overpowers societal responsibility.
  • Demands arising out of religious beliefs affecting regular functioning of society and impacting individual choices. For example, demands for ban on non veg food during jain festival of paryushan and demands of halal food by muslims.
  • Various religious processions affecting normal traffic flow and leading to obstructions where religious belief is overpowering civic duty in public life.
  • Grants for certain religious functions by government affecting the secular nature of government functioning where religious doctrine dominates secular values.


Religion is a means towards attaining individual spiritual enlightenment where percepts within it for public functioning should be understood in the context of the development of the religion at the same time, the secular ethics developed through human history should be prioritised over religious beliefs in public life.

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