From Beit-Hallahmi’s book “Psychological perspectives on religion and religiosity” (pgs 132-133)

Developing a moral compass

The panhuman experience is that parents are the carriers of morality, as they convey to their children a fantasy of a world ordered by right and wrong, reward and punishment. Socialization in all cultures focuses first on impulse control and then on competition–cooperation skills. Ethical reasoning everywhere involves the capacity to transcend self-interest (Singer, 1981), because going beyond the egocentric perspective is the starting point for sympathy and concern, leading to responses in terms of justice and fairness.

The academic study of moral development has largely ignored religion. Jean Piaget, who pioneered moral development theory, believed that the ethic of cooperation and justice is learned in interaction with peers (Piaget 1932/1965). Lawrence Kohlberg argued that religiosity and moral reasoning are inherently unrelated, and justice-based moral reasoning develops out of perspective-taking abilities developed in social interaction: “When members of religious groups attempt to support the content of moral beliefs, they fall back on the general forms of moral judgment or moral principles that develop regardless of religious affiliation” (Kohlberg, 1981. p. 303).

In individual development, the earliest moral intuitions appear before any learning about supernatural agents, and innate empathic arousal together with internalized empathy are the motivating force behind moral orientation (Hoffman, 2000; Decety and Batson, 2009; Zaki and Mitchell, 2013). References to divine authority are sometimes used by parents to bolster their authority in disciplining children, and examples can be found in all cultures (Geertz, 1960). Nunn (1964) found that this “coalition” with divinity was prevalent among parents who were ineffectual and powerless.

Kohlberg (1981) described six stages of moral development, and only the three top stages are of concern here. Stage 4 reflects a social-order perspective and accepts outside rules without internalizing. Stage 5 reflects a social contract perspective, with individuals holding different views, but cooperating in a democratic society. Stage 6 is an ideal position of following universal justice principles, without any other considerations. Conservative religious individuals exhibit increased preference for Kohlberg’s conventional stage 4 and decreased preference for the principled reasoning that is exhibited in stages 5 and 6 (Deka and Broota, 1988; Richards, 1991)