AS growing worldwide trends show an increase in immoral behaviors, it becomes increasingly urgent for leaders of faith communities to talk seriously about issues of morality and ethics. Ideally, these discussions will lead to the creation and adoption of a universal moral code to help curb these disturbing trends.
Obviously differences in cultural, religious and social values would make such a code difficult to formulate, but a common definition of morality and ethics might allow people of different faiths to cooperate more productively.
It is difficult to create a common definition of morality because every society, culture and religion in the world today differs in its interpretation of the word. But the fact is that today’s global society is on the verge of losing its moral strength and social fabric.
Morality is most commonly interpreted as a complex system of general principles and particular judgments based on cultural, religious and philosophical concepts and beliefs. Cultures and groups regulate and generalize these concepts, thus regulating behavior.
The state of morality in the world today is difficult to judge accurately due to the vast amount of information that would have to be collected and analyzed for a comprehensive analysis.
The interpretation of morality and ethics varies from one society to another, but there are basic universal values. For example, the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – is present in the teachings of nearly every major faith. It is incorporated into the teachings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism.
The majority of every society, irrespective of that society’s religious traditions or philosophies, agrees that certain values, such as honesty and respect for human life, are essential for the survival of the social system. These universal values can be found in the Ten Commandments, the Bible, the Quran, and have been present in the laws of almost of every society since the creation of Hammurabi’s first code of law. Although there are many universally accepted moral values, each culture and faith differs on specific social norms. For example, sexual freedom is a widely accepted norm in the Western Hemisphere, while in the Muslim world it is still culturally and religiously forbidden as set down in religious texts. Studies show that the region has a very low frequency of HIV/AIDS infections, with only 0.3% of adult prevalence.
Despite the widespread acceptance of common values, there is overwhelming evidence pointing to moral deterioration. According to a recent online poll, 66 percent of Americans think that the moral state of the global society is the worst it has ever been. According to a June 2008 poll by the Chicago Tribune newspaper, 81 percent of those polled said that the state of moral values in the United States as a whole were getting worse. Lydia Saad, a Gallup Polls spokesperson, said, “Americans are reliably negative when it comes to rating moral values in the country. Since 2002, a majority of Americans have consistently said the state of moral values is less than good and getting worse.” While not diminishing the level of concern people feel about their societies, it should be kept in perspective.
Illicit drug use
For instance, illicit drug use is a global problem. But the deadly phenomenon of illegal drugs has been addressed effectively by the international community and there is much good news to report with the bad. One hundred eighty countries cooperate with the international drug control system that has been gradually developed over the last 100 years. Because of this system, new recreational drugs, however numerous, are not allowed to spread in the free market. This drug control effort, begun a century ago to confront the opium crisis, has evolved into a body of international law since the United Nations became involved in 1946.
Less than 5 percent of the world population uses drugs (if alcohol is excluded from the definition), and problem users are limited to less than 1 percent.
Areas ripe for increased global cooperation are: creating more resources in the public health arena to prevent people from taking drugs, treating those who are already dependent and reducing the negative social consequences from drug use. This public health effort cannot overlook that over 25 percent of adults worldwide used tobacco, an addictive drug with huge costs to both individuals and the societies of the users. The intimate links between drug money, organized crime, corruption, and national security also call out for even better cooperation between nations.6
For example, the modern slave trade is a growing industry. According to US government estimates, more than 45,000 women and children are imported annually to the United States, the premier destination for trafficked victims. It is estimated that there are at least 30 million victims of slavery in the world today. The UNODC Global Programe against trafficking in human beings recognizes and assists countries in combating this crime. In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Another example of moral decay is the growing popularity and social acceptability of gambling. Gambling is a long-established form of recreation in most societies. Statistics show the magnitude of this phenomenon in a number of societies.
In this segment, the United States is focused on as an example of this growing problem. What is unique about the current gambling situation in the United States is the speed with which it has gone from an undercurrent in American society to a high-profile, socially accepted activity.
The gambling industry has grown 10-fold in the US since 1975. Thirty-seven states now have lotteries. Fifteen million people display some sign of gambling addiction. Two-thirds of the adult population placed a bet last year. There are now approximately 260 casinos on Indian reservations (in 31 states and with $6.7 billion in revenue). The gambling industry has utilized modern technology such as the Internet to boost profits. Internet gambling has nearly doubled every year since 1997 – in 2001 it exceeded $2 billion. The Internet boasts 110 sports-related gambling sites. According to the American Psychological Association, the Internet could be as addictive as alcohol, drugs and gambling.
The amount of money being made has skyrocketed. Gambling profits in casinos are more than $30 billion while lotteries reach about 17 billion annually. “Players” with household incomes under $10,000 bet nearly three times as much on lotteries as those with incomes over $50,000. In 1973, state lotteries had $2 billion in sales. By 1997, lottery revenues reached $34 billion.
Gambling among young people is also increasing: 42 percent of 14-year-olds, 49 percent of 15-year-olds, 63 percent of 16-year-olds, and 76 percent of 18-year-olds take part in gambling. The recent high rate of gambling is also having severe social repercussions, with an increase in related crime and a negative impact on family life.
After casinos opened in Atlantic City, the total number of crimes within a 30-mile radius increased 100 percent. The average debt incurred by a male pathological gambler in the US is between $55,000 and $90,000. (It is $15,000 for female gamblers). The average rate of divorce for problem gamblers is nearly double that of non-gamblers. The suicide rate for pathological gamblers is 20 times higher than for non-gamblers (one in five attempts suicide). Sixty-five percent of pathological gamblers commit crimes to support their gambling habit. Although there is global recognition of the immorality of gambling, it is often seen simply as a recreational activity and expression of social freedom.
It is a controversial and divisive issue. Two decades ago in the United States, just two states had legal gambling and 48 states outlawed it. Today, 48 states have some form of legal gambling. Only Hawaii and Utah do not.
Pornography is considered immoral from the Islamic religious perspective, and Islamic societies have maintained a social code of ethics that promotes and encourages modesty. Social and official strictures limit the open distribution of pornographic publications. In other societies, the viewing of pornography may be considered a freedom to be exercised at one’s personal discretion and this type of material is widely available. One cannot overlook the spread of satellite channels and digital media, which have brought access to pornography to the Muslim world. This industry has claimed many victims among the most vulnerable and defenseless: children and trafficked women. The statistical information below shows both the magnitude of the pornography industry and its economic power.
Internet Pornography Statistics
Pornographic websites: 4.2 million (12% of total websites). Porn pages: 420 million. Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 million (25% of total search engine requests). Daily porn emails: 2.5 billion (8% of total emails). Internet users who view porn: 42.7%. Received unwanted exposure to sexual material:34%. Average daily porn emails/user 4.5 per Internet user. Monthly porn downloads (Peer-to-peer) 1.5 billion (35% of all downloads). Daily Gnutella “child porn” requests 116,000. Websites offering illegal child porn 100,000. Sexual solicitations of youth made in chat rooms 89%. Youths who received sexual solicitation 1 in 7 (down from 2003 stat of 1 in 3) Worldwide visitors to porn web sites 72 million visitors to pornography monthly. Internet porn sales $4.9 billion.
Children internet porn statistics
Average age of first Internet exposure to porn 11 years old. Largest consumer of Internet porn 35 - 49 age group. 15-17 year olds having multiple hard-core exposures 80%. 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online 90% (most while doing homework). 7-17 year olds who would freely give out home address 29%. 7-17 year olds who would freely give out email address 14%.
Children’s character names linked to thousands of porn links 26 (Including Pokemon and Action Man).
Adult Internet Porn Statistics
Men admitting to accessing porn at work 20%. US adults who regularly visit Internet porn websites 40 million. Promise Keeper men who viewed porn in last week 53%. Christians who said porn is a major problem in
the home 47%. Adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction 10%. Breakdown of male/female visitors to porn sites 72% male, 28% female.
Women and pornography
Women keeping their cyber activities secret 70%. Women struggling with pornography addiction 17%. Ratio of women to men favoring chat rooms 2X. Percentage of visitors to adult websites who are women 1 in 3 visitors. Women accessing adult websites each month 9.4 million. Women admitting to accessing pornography at work 13%. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
An issue linked directly and indirectly with pornography is prostitution. It shares the feature of victimizing the defenseless and weak in societies around the world. Half of prostitutes are controlled by human traffickers. It is largely a hidden problem, occurring as it does behind closed doors. While 85-90 percent of those arrested are street prostitutes, streetwalkers account for only 20 percent of prostitutes. In other words, the majority of prostitution occurs discreetly and may be “invisible” to many. Prostitutes also account for 90 percent of arrests, their clients for only 10 percent – meaning that the customers, without whom there would be no sex trade, access prostitution with little fear of legal consequences.
One of the most egregious and immoral assaults on individuals and societies is rape. Across all cultures and religions, it is one of the most underreported crimes. Even in the US, known globally for its liberal attitudes about sex, more than half of rapes go unreported according to the US Department of Justice. This crime affects children as well as adult women. In fact, children are often targeted because of their greater vulnerability. And the negative effects of rape on individuals and societies are profound.
Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression; six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. 12 In 2008, an historic resolution by the UN Security Council classified rape as a weapon of war.
The facts cited above comprise only a glimpse into today’s moral and ethical challenges. The global community has to come to terms and agree on a minimum common denominator of universal moral values and ethics that protects the fabric of global society.
Continuous interfaith dialogue and continuous joint initiatives promoting mutual understanding will lead to improved communication, more effective cooperation and an increase in tangible results in dealing with these important issues.
The support that religious and opinion leaders from various societies and backgrounds offer for global initiatives can help institutions like the United Nations andindividual governments tremendously in facing these challenges and implementing prevention measures.
A common definition of morality could also allow countries to cooperate with each other more easily and would make the work of international organizations much easier.
A universal code of morality would allow the international community to do what international religious bodies and figures, irrespective of their background and prominence, could not. It would allow the global community to counter the deterioration of basic human values by promoting universal values while combating the destruction of society.
A universal standard of morality would ideally apply to everyone, regardless of race or class. It would consist of voluntary societal guidelines, with the Golden Rule at its heart.
For example, lying, stealing, cheating, physically or verbally abusing others, murder, and not destroying the environment on which all life depends, would all be on the “Do No Harm” list. Not all of these guidelines could be enforced through a legal code. It is impossible to place specific restrictions on things such as lying, without invading peoples’ privacy and violating their human and civil rights. It is equally impossible to force others to do good. One cannot force humans to be kind to each other, to respect all life, or to be generous. Individuals would adhere to these principles without being forced to by law, but instead simply for their own good and for the greater good of all.
The potential for interfaith cooperation in promoting moral values is limitless. Post-9/11 developments have greatly accelerated the motivation of mainstream religious groups to work together, making the task easier.
Muslims worldwide can play a positive and cooperative role in this multicultural setting, helping to expand on the common ground with Christians and Jews. These three monotheistic religions share many values, scriptures and legal similarities. The Muslim world and Middle East, though sometimes politically and economically unstable, provide a good example of social stability and public morality. At the core of society is the family, and strong family values are at the heart of Muslim Society and the Islamic religion. This creates a sturdy, wholesome foundation on which to build a healthy society.
A recent BBC story about a Bedouin family supports this observation. It stated that “the trend across the Middle East is for continued close family ties among the old and the young. Religion and widespread traditional social values make it likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.”
On its website, the Jordanian Department of Statistics describes the family as “the basic social unit for the individual because it represents the source of protection, food, shelter, income, reputation and honor.” This emphasis on the family is part of the Islamic religion, which is a reason it is so ingrained in Middle Eastern and Muslim societies. Respect for fellow humans, particularly parents and elders, is very important in Islam, and this helps to keep both the nuclear and extended families together.
The world’s current state of morality is not ideal, but it is not beyond redemption. If interfaith dialogue is established and faith communities cooperate to raise moral standards, improvements can be made.
Positive peer pressure is a powerful tool that can be utilized to raise these standards.
Muslims, Christians and Jews combined make up more than half of the world population. All three of these religions share the same basic moral guidelines, and if the devotees of each religion were to follow its teachings, they could become a powerful moral force for the rest of the world. __