Morality requires no punishment or reward; only a desire to make heaven here, on Earth
I am agnostic about God, happiness and everything else. I am agnostic about everything because I want to keep my mind as open as possible to see what happens next. So if there is a god, great. If there is a place called “Heaven”, I’m good to go. When I think of that place called “Heaven”, I am reminded of this quote by Albert Einstein…
It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere… Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. (emphasis mine)
I am in total agreement with Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all time, on these points. Although I could go into detail on each of his points in this article, the main point I want to focus on is motivation. What is our motive for our actions in life? Are we being good to others in the hopes that we will go to heaven? Or are we nice to others because we notice the immediate benefits of good human relations?
I submit that we are not here to be goody-two-shoes just to go to heaven. If there is a god, and a place called Heaven, it is our charge to make heaven on Earth. Why wait for heaven in the afterlife when we could build our own heaven, here and now?
I believe, like Einstein, that ethics doesn’t arise from religion. Religion can be used as a reminder, sort of like tying a string on your finger to remind you to get the milk on the way home. But I don’ t believe that religion holds a corner on ethical behavior.
I don’t think ethical behavior requires reliance on a book written by men prone to error. Rather, I think of ethical behavior in terms of my own experience. So I behave in such a way that I can sleep at night. I don’t want to have the faces of suffering people in my mind when I lay down to rest for the day, so I avoid causing suffering to others to the greatest extent possible.
I wasn’t raised religious, but I was given many opportunities to partake in religion as a child and as a young adult. So I had to find my own way to morality. And most of what I learned about morality came from experiences with reputation and with empathy or noticing how others respond to me and my actions.
So, my experience has been that morality comes from the gut and the chest. By my own hand, my chest may burn with guilt, or my stomach may pang with remorse. My body is my barometer for my behavior. I notice how I feel after I do something with or to others.
If I don’t like the way that I feel after I do something to or with someone else, then I stop doing that thing and consider alternative behavior. I know that might seem complicated, but I’ve known nights that I could not sleep based on my actions. So I’m mindful of the relationship between how I act with others, and how I can sleep at night.
I work in customer service. I help my customers solve problems with software running on very large data storage systems. I develop routines to make it easier to make decisions working with customers for greater success. I have noticed that when I solve a problem that vexes a customer, I get a hit, a sort of high, and I feel good. I guess that’s dopamine working to make me feel good about what I just did. I’m nice to people because I like how I feel after I’ve done something nice to someone else.
There is nothing grand or spiritual about what I practice for ethics or morality. I just notice that I feel better when I’m nice to other people than when I’m mean. In a past life, so many years ago, I was not a very nice person. I have said mean things, just like everyone else has said to me at one time or another. For those other people taught me how to behave by their own actions. I have hurt feelings, I have burned bridges, lost good friends and generally, have made a mess of my life. And I’ve noticed how I felt after I did those things.
As I matured, I began to take notice of how I feel after I said something not so nice. I also noticed a burning sensation, like a warning, if I was considering action that might be hurtful or spiteful to someone else. I also began to take notice that I sleep better when I’ve been nice, helpful or even just considerate. In a way, that better sleep is a sort of mini slice of heaven here, on Earth. I am nicer to people because I want to feel better after my interaction. I want to sleep better knowing that I did the right thing.
I’ve tried the point scoring method of human interaction and found it wanting. There is no such thing as winning an argument with your wife. There is no such thing as winning an argument with your friends. There is only earnest debate and that’s it. No longer do I have a discussion to win something. There is nothing to win. And if there is a winner, there is almost certainly a loser. So I’m not into winning against someone else. I’ve tried that and doing so disturbs my sleep at night.
If there is a heaven, how do we know we’re ready to go? We don’t. But we can make heaven on Earth our home. We make heaven on Earth by living in harmony with our surroundings. We make heaven on Earth by honoring the people around us. We honor the people around us through our behavior. We do what we say we were going to do. We don’t keep score. We don’t get even. We find a way to get along. We err on the side of peace.
I have no personal adversaries so I don’t worry about who I might meet in the day ahead. I don’t look over my shoulder because I have no reason to. I forgive easily because I have enough for today. I don’t have to look far to find a reason for gratitude, for they are all around me.
I have even made a habit of finding reasons for gratitude, like a subroutine in a program. I just notice the reasons for gratitude first and I notice how I feel after acknowledging a reason for gratitude. This is the foundation upon which I work from when I interact with others.
I set up my life in such a way, that I don’t need other people to change for me. I don’t need other people to do what I say. I don’t even have to tell other people what to do. Like with my kids. I don’t tell them what to do. I just give them choices. I don’t tell my wife what to do. I don’t want to have to tell anyone what to do. I just say, this is how I live, and if you like what I have, follow me.
I am not motivated by the prospect of heaven or hell. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are my rewards. Fear and angst are the natural consequences of unethical behavior. I follow my gut so that there is no complicated text to follow. There are no complicated rules to follow. I act the way I do, not because this is how the world is. I act the way I do because this is how I want the world to be.
I am making my little heaven here and now, one good deed at a time, on Earth.