Friday, June 10, 2011

Morality sans faith

QuickAs usual, not-so-quick context: for my capstone class, I had to write a paper about my career choices and such, and being at a Christian University, many of the questions I was supposed to answer revolved around God, God's "calling" for my life, and such things. I decided, as I have as of late, that I don't want to pretend that I have an active faith or even know what God is all about, because there's no reason to, and it's counterproductive anyway. So I began to answer the pertinent questions thus:

The question of how God fits into all of this is a very complicated one for me, personally. Or, conversely, it could be framed as a very simple one, depending on how you ask it. As far as I am certain, and as far as my conscious decisions are concerned, God has not really had any effect on my decisions or career choices thus far.

I haven't posted here in forever, mostly because I've been really busy with school and just life in general (and because I have a Tumblr now to fire of shorter thoughts before they're gathered into a long-winded post here). Since this essay turned out to be a good thinking/writing out of my current position (or lack of position) on God, faith, and the surrounding matters, I thought I'd post the relevant parts here. The contents also partially explains my lack of writing here. A significant reason is that I've been busy, and my mind has been very full dealing with other things in my life, pushing less critical things like this to the back burner. But part of the reason it's not so critical at this point, and another reason that I haven't been dealing with such things, is because I've kind of reached an end of sorts. I've more or less been here for a while now, and I talked about it in my last post. But I've reached somewhere that I am pretty comfortable in, personally, at least, and it's a place that doesn't involve God, except peripherally, because of those around me. I'm not opposed to the idea of God, or Christianity (although I'm very opposed to many expressions of Christianity I've witnessed), or theism in general, and I'm open to faith if that's where I end up. But right now, I just don't have any reason to go there, I don't have any need for a divine being or any reason to go seeking after one. It's an interesting place to be, especially when I'm surrounded by Christians and people who are varying degrees of concerned with my eternal destiny, and what they see as a revocation of my faith. In reality, I have simply acknowledged that as far as I'm aware, I have at no point in my life had any more than a fa├žade of a faith, designed to fulfill expectations and act like I was supposed to. When I went looking for something beyond that, the only things I found that made sense and resonated with me personally had no need for God to get involved. So that's where I ended up.

Anyway, as tends to happen when I sit down and write, that was a longer digression than I was intending. And I'll digress just a little more before getting to my essay, by way of introduction to what I actually wrote about: many (probably most) Christians rely on their faith and God as the source of their morality, and to a great degree, meaning, ambitions and motivations. As a result, many assume that non-theists, with this source of all morality and meaning ripped out of their lives, have no moral structure and no meaning in their life. I've heard this kind of rhetoric repeatedly from Christians who just don't understand that God and faith are not the only valid source of morality and meaning. There has recently been an effort by atheists to counter this notion, including billboards asserting that you can be "good without God." I'm a huge fan of this effort, but it has ruffled a lot of Christians' feathers, to the point that many of the billboards have been vandalized in various ways. I sort of understand (but disagree with) the opposition, and am severely disappointed by (but unfortunately not surprised by) the vandalism. But anyway, that's another topic, I have an essay to excerpt from. Maybe more on that later. What now follows is an excerpt of my career essay that does a decent job of detailing what my morals, ambitions, motivations, and goals are in the absence of faith. Because I do, in fact, have a decent moral framework that is not dependent on God any kind of faith. Anyway, slightly-edited-excerpt time:

To answer whether or not I see God's direction in my career path, what talents God has given me, and how I see myself serving God in my career, my answers are, simplistically, "no", "none", and "not", respectively.

Of course, it is a little bit more complex than that. My parents, for one, would certainly argue that God has given me these talents, whether I acknowledge it or not, and that God has been guiding my career path, and indeed life, regardless of whether I acknowledge God or not. And if God does indeed exist, and is something similar to the Christian God, that would be true. Additionally, I don't pretend to know for sure whether or not there is a God, and whether or not he or she has done these things in my life. But none of my conscious motivation or decisions have really taken that into account. What has affected my decisions significantly is my personal beliefs and morals, which are certainly influenced by my Christian upbringing, and still bear significant resemblance to generic Judeo-Christian morality. But prior to coming to college, and processing through significant discussion and 40,000 words of blogging, my motivations for such morals were solely out of conformance to my upbringing. That base has now shifted to a vague moral humanist kind of foundation, built on a basic belief in common human dignity and human rights, and some sense of the ubiquitous Golden Rule – things that are hardly exclusive to Christianity, or even theology. But that is from whence my motivations stem.

As for God's role in my life? As far as I can tell, and as far as I'm concerned, my talents and aptitudes are a result of genetics, upbringing, opportunity, and generally, the great cosmic dice of stochasticity. I realize that I am insanely privileged to have drawn the metaphorical lot that I have – a heterosexual, cisgendered, white, middle-class American male attending a private university with talents and skills that I was given the opportunity to build, take advantage of, and expand upon, and ones that, with the aforementioned education, usually result in a solidly upper-middle-class starting wage. My consciousness of this privilege, along with my other beliefs, motivate my desire to use those skills and resources, within and beyond my career, to advocate for minorities, support those fighting for human equality whenever I can, and work to end oppression, discrimination, and economic disparity where I can. This can include something as simple as contributing monetarily to organizations and efforts that do this work, as well as things like using my skills for things like building a website for Haven, working for organizations like Agros International, and getting directly involved myself in advocacy and assistance.

So these are the things that influence my day-to-day and long-term choices, rather than morals and mandates stemming from God or a Christian worldview. And these are the things that will continue to motivate my life, regardless of where my faith, or lack thereof, ends up landing. Any faith I ultimately embrace will necessarily be very concerned with these kinds of priorities, and the root motivation will likely be bolstered by whatever theology I may end up with. My career path decisions thus far have largely been motivated by opportunity and alignment with my skill and talents. As I mentioned above, I am very fortunate that those things line up with a career that is in demand and well-compensated. These motivations are influenced by my moral framework and beliefs – working for Agros, for instance, was an excellent pairing of my passions and skills with my beliefs. And beyond that, my greater vocation – what I do with my time and other resources outside of my job – will be greatly influenced by that as well.

So briefly, I see myself not so much serving a God that I don't understand or believe in as much as I see myself serving a humanity that I see very clearly all around me – working, as best I can, to make the world a better place for everyone, especially those less privileged than myself. I am in a good position to do so largely because of the talents, skills, and aptitudes that I ended up with through a combination of nature, nurture, and luck, and I intend to use that position to work for the bettering of the world in general. That is my service, my motivation, and my career plan.