Strong values, weak wills

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

There are plenty of people on this earth who have strong values.There are many people who believe in monogamy, abstinence from sex, drugs, and alcohol. Many adhere to a religious system, following the Ten Commandments. Some people ask a simple question when in doubt of how to conduct themselves: “What would Jesus do?”

Looking across the landscape of America, it appears that the vast majority of people who have what we might call “good old fashioned family values” are religious. Whether they’re Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Jews, or Muslims, these people who strive to live a virtuous life are often living their life in accordance to their religion. They draw their moral strength from their god. They rely on scriptures and the ancient teachings of a central figure of importance.

And that is what makes me nervous. I am no expert on theology but I believe that being humble, respectful to your elders, generous to others, and loving towards your neighbor are all virtues that are extolled in one way or another by all major religions. That a person needs to draw the strength required to live his life in virtue from some deity that may or may not exist is, in my eyes, a form of weakness.Religion has its place. And instead of getting into an argument about whether or not God exists, or whether or not religions are a sham, I will say this: religion can be a crutch. For those whom humility, respect, and love do not come naturally, but for whom such virtues must come from without, and enforced by the fear or submission to a higher supreme being, I ask you this: without your Bible, without your God, could you live in virtue? Without your faith and submission, would you have the strength to do the right thing?I know of many religious people who do what is right because they believe that doing the right thing will get them some kind of reward in the afterlife. They abide by the rules set forth by their religion because to break these rules would anger or disappoint their God, and they would be movingfurtheraway from that reward.

I do what is right because it will benefit people here on this earth. I have my own reasons for living the way I do. I abide by my own code of conduct and hold myself up to my own standards, standards set by myself and not a set of rules forced upon me by any society, culture, or religion.

A man is lying on the ground, bleeding from the head and moaning. A Christian man passes by. He may stop and help the man, perhaps he may even take him to his home to tend to his injuries. But what is his motivation? He is motivated because he feels that it is the right thing to do. Why is it the right thing to do? He may believe that helping this injured man is what Jesus would do. It is what a “good Christian” would do.

I, on the other hand, do so out of the compassion for my fellow man. I know that if I was injured, I would want someone to help me. I know that this man needs medical attention, and because all life is precious, I should do everything in my power to help him.

I learned the value of compassion somewhere along the journey of my life. I may have been exposed to Christianity throughout my life, but by no means do I believe in God and Jesus Christ in the way that a baptized Christian would. I do not pray, I do not worship, I do not read the Bible, and I can only recall half of the Ten Commandments. But I do strive to live as a good person. Some might call it a “Christ-like life”, but I find that it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. It is a more basic goodness. Love, compassion, and kindness are basic values of morality. And they can have nothing to do with the worship of a deity.

Let me end this by saying that I’m not claiming to be someone who leads a perfectly Christ-like life. I’m no priest. I do curse when talking with my male peers (never around women or elders). I do look at pornography. I am not an industrious person every last second of my life. But like Ben Franklin, I believe I am a far better person for trying to live a virtuous life and to adhere to a code of conduct using my own discipline and willpower. Is it so much to ask to meet such like-minded people?

  • goodheart

    I agree about being a good person by feeling and knowing what is right not by reading something but through life experience and having compassion. I am the same way. BUT there are things that we do not have experience or knowledge of and this is where some research may help. You look at pornography? Do you know what percentage of those individuals you are watching were abused or have mental health or drug issues??? Sex is for people who share love… it is a special thing, not to be perverted… or impure. You ruined your whole text/argument by adding that ignorant comment and doing what you do. You still have some searching to do; as we all do… good luck :)

    • Dana B.

      Goodheart? I doubt it. You're just a high-handed idiot. You must be a fucking feminist. Pornography and prostitution have been around for as long as men have gotten erections. Maybe you should do some research yourself you ignorant ass. How dare you come on someone's website and assert your prudish conservative bullshit: sex is for people who share love? Please. Do yourself a favor and go back into the fairytale book you came out of. I cannot tell you how much I hate people like you, the gall you people have in presuming what sex means to everybody, and telling what people to do in their bedrooms. Get real. Everybody has a choice, so unless people are holding guns to the women to force them to act, they've got just as much responsibility for their actions. And get off your high horse while you're at it. Because if anything, its you who fucked it up by getting all moralistic. Really, please, just take your self-righteous head out of your ass. Your shit stinks too, but maybe you forgot that since you've got your nose buried in your colon for so long.

      As for Wistful Writer, thank you for sharing with us. I think you're right about being better for at least trying. But I also wanted to say that maybe there's more good being done by religion than bad: what if all those people weren't being good because there was no religion? Maybe all that really matters is that people treat each other good, forget about the reasons why.

      • Gary
        • lol damned Internet fads…I must unfortunately admit that I know such things.

      • Hi Dana,

        Thanks for writing, and thanks for your rather passionate post haha.

        As for your point on religion, I take it that you're more concerned with the ends than the means. I must admit that in many cases I would side with your argument, that the ends justify the means. That is, if people act good in pursuit of God, then that's better than people not acting good at all.

        But my argument isn't really an assault on religion itself. Rather, I'm concerned with the fact that people may pursue moral goodness because of the system of rewards and punishment set forth by Christianity. In contrast, from my limited understanding of the Jewish faith, there is no such system of eternal reward in an afterlife to motivate them to perform good acts. And so I suppose I am in reality addressing a more Christian perspective and value system, which make sense because American is predominantly a Christian nation.

        In any case, I am more specifically concerned with the consistency of the actions of Christians. I suppose it isn't really fair though, considering that there are undoubtedly people whose faith runs the gamut from non-practicing to devout believer. Even so, my ethical question is this: are people truly of good heart if they perform good deeds in order to reap a reward? That is, should we be concerned with the motivations of people, or are the end results the only thing we need to examine? Of course, I believe we can see that I am of the former belief: that motivations (and means) are just as important as the ends, if not more so.

  • Thanks goodheart for reading and commenting!

    Instead of addressing your views on pornography (a debate which can really only end in stalemate), I'll explain why I ended with that paragraph.

    I don't believe that my admittance of watching pornography ruined anything at all. The point was to be honest and to ensure that I am not putting myself on a high horse. I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not a perfect person. I do not lead a perfect life. If I ended this without balancing it out with the fact that I have very human faults, I would come off as a self-righteous preacher on my high white horse, casting my judgmental glare upon all those below me.

    I needed to show that I am only human. Despite the fact that I have very normal flaws, I have the discipline and willpower to live according to a code of conduct, and that is my real point: I don't rely on God and a threat of hell or reward of heaven to keep me in adherence to a code of conduct. Because at the end of the day, when someone thinks that God isn't looking, or forgets that God is watching, he will slip up and behave in a way that deviates from his code.

    But anyway, it's always good to hear that there is someone out there like me.