It doesn’t start with original sin. That’s for sure.
Morality is usually portrayed as something hard. Given our sinful nature, it is achieved step by grudging step. Make a little progress, then take a step back. Why does it have be so excruciating, then?
Maybe it starts with original sin, or at least that’s how it was sold to me by the Catholic Church as a youth. Maybe other religions too. Me bad. Suffer. Regret. Sorry. Go back to Go and start again.
Somehow the sell job never stuck with me. All I needed to know about morality was taught to me by my parents. Not that I wasn’t a good Catholic as I spent six years studying to be a priest. Alas, the wonders of Catholicism were not the source of my morality.
Punishment from an all-knowing God is a good motivator to be moral, right? Then why are there so many terrible transgressions in and outside organized religion? So much for the punishment motivator.
Though I never thought much about any of this since I walked away from the church, and then drifted slowly away from Christianity as a belief system. Certainly not a premeditated departure. It just happened.
So, what is morality as joy you ask? Recently reading the book Nature’s God, The Heretical Origins of the American Republic by Matthew Stewart, put context around my already existent spirituality. This book outlines the 17th and 18th Century philosophical beliefs of the Founding Fathers who had the audacity and brilliance to create a democratic system based on the value of individual happiness. The first ever such system.
These philosophical beliefs were not just whimsy though. They are based on the science that the there is a force in nature that propels the entire universe. Those same forces apply to the individual and his or her innate intelligence to make continued progress toward a personal morality that can enhance and nourish community happiness.
In my own sphere, the forces that propel planets also propels me. As planets deal with asteroid belts, gaseous explosions and large objects that wander into their spheres, I also deal with my own moral dilemmas trying to survive the uncertainties of life.
Fortunately, it’s a blessing that nature gives us to study and understand our world a piece at a time. That makes possible my current exploration of my own morality and the study of the morality of others, or possible lack thereof.
So, back to the joy thing. From Nature’s God, acting in a moral way toward others does benefit the recipients of good acts since they will be happier. Good thing, right? Yes. The other part of the equation is that if I act in a moral way, I’ll be equally or even more happy than the recipients of my good will. Morality is its own reward. And from our own egotistical existence and our continually pressing need to survive as humans, greater happiness for me and the community spurs increased cohesion and support for each other.
Joy then is the greatest benefit of being a moral person.
Ken Grotewiel is a founding member of the None of the Above Society.
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