Sunday, January 16, 2022

How to start living ethically.

I'm a little bit fried tonight. Pretty sure I've mentioned that I'm temping for the New Mexico Legislature as a legal proofreader again this year. The 2022 regular session starts Tuesday, so we've swung into session mode -- which is to say we're working seven days a week until it's all over on February 17th. It's fun and mostly interesting, but exhausting. I'm already tired, and the session hasn't even started yet.

So I was grateful when I checked the comments on last week's post on making the mundane sacred and discovered a great follow-up question: "But to start living ethically, does one need to articulate their morals clearly to themselves so they are aware of living intentionally?"

It sure looked like a blog post topic to me (thanks, Jo!), and I didn't have anything else teed up. (I did have a couple of ideas, but they're both Curmudgeon's Corner material and they could probably stand to ripen a little anyhow.) So here's my response:

If you believe it would be a good thing to live ethically and you would like to do so, then yes, you should spend some time working out your own moral code.

Teodoraturovic | Wikimedia Commons | CC 4.0
Notice I said your own moral code. Now, lots of people adopt the moral code they were taught as children. Maybe their parents taught it to them, or maybe they learned it in church, or maybe they soaked it up from TV or the kids around them or Western civilization in general. That's a moral code, certainly, and a lot of folks just stop there.

But many folks, as they mature, begin to question some of the tenets of this hand-me-down morality. I'm not talking about theosophical questions like the nature of deity or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin -- although people question those things, too. What I mean is things like whether abortion is wrong. Or whether gay marriage should continue to be legal. Or whether the poor deserve to be poor. Or how rich is too rich. That sort of thing.

It often comes to a point where folks with these questions decide their beliefs about these things differ profoundly from beliefs held by those around them. But then they experience cognitive dissonance: Should they stick with the religion they were brought up in because all of their friends and family still follow it? Or do they turn away? And if they do leave the church, how do they orient their personal moral compass? Where is their true north?

For some folks in this situation, joining a different church is enough. But some bail from monotheism entirely.

I'm of the opinion that you don't need to be religious to live a moral life. It's a truism, I think, that many atheists and agnostics live more ethically than a lot of religious people. The difference is that the folks who have broken away from the religious mindset have spent time thinking about where their moral true north is -- and with any luck, they're then able to orient their lives around it.

Pagans have a slightly different dilemma. We don't have the rich theosophical history that Christianity and Judaism do. And while pagan philosophers definitely existed, their full belief system might not be a great fit for modern humans. Sure, the Greeks were deep thinkers -- but they also thought slavery was okay. And Roman women -- even the ones who weren't slaves or prostitutes -- weren't allowed to vote or hold political office.

But modern-day Pagans can do the same kind of deep thinking about ethics and morality as anyone else, and we can develop our own moral code. Our gods may not have inspired a holy book, but they have their virtues, and we can choose to live up to them.

It was Socrates (according to Plato) who said an unexamined life is not worth living. If you want to live ethically, but on your own terms, that's a great place to start.


These moments of deep, bloggy thinking have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

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