This article continues the discussion of the practical application of the ten moral principles described in the article, Principles to every day life and the advantages of living by those principles.
Moral Principles Are Practical
Moral principles are reality based. They are determined by the reality of physical existence and our own natures as human beings. The purpose of those principles is to guide our choices and actions to achieve success as human beings and to be all we can be. The ultimate purpose of moral principle is the enjoyment of our lives.
Be One's Best
In the "Principles" article I said the reason one will want to be the best they can be is because, "Anything less is ... failure to live the life that is possible, which will, at best, lead only to a life of regret and disappointment, but, more likely, to a life that ends in grief or despair."
Why would anyone want to be anything other than the best they can be? I have asked a number of individuals this question, but the question is always misunderstood. The most common answer is, "well nobody is perfect." When I remind them the question is about why anybody would want to be less then they could be, the answer is modified to something like, "well, we'd all like to be the best we can, but that doesn't mean we are be able to."
At that point I usually give up. Simple English just seems beyond the comprehension of some people.
Just in case you missed the point, the question is not about being perfect or being what someone else thinks is best, it is about being the best one can be, and no more than that.
It's Your Life
The most common excuse I hear for failing to be one's best is, "I'm only human, nobody is perfect." I have no idea what anyone else believes, "perfect," means, but what it means in human terms is achieving all one is able to achieve to be the most successful and happy human being possible.
One's own personal fulfillment, success, and happiness is the entire and only purpose of moral principles. Some may seem hard, and they are, because life is hard and success and happiness must be earned, but failing to live morally is much harder, because it is a failure to have the life that is possible.
Are You Religious?
I have no interest in denigrating or arguing against any religion. I personally have no use for any form of supernaturalism, magic, mysticism, or religion, but what others choose to believe does me no harm, and I certainly mean no harm to those who choose to embrace some form of superstition. There are some ideas that come out of religion, however, that greatly discourage living morally and choosing to be the best human being one can be.
Belief In Another Life The purpose of ethical principles, commonly called morals, is to provide one guidance in living life happily and successfully in this world. Most religions teach that there is life after death and that no matter how badly one fails to live their present life, they will, or can, get "another chance" at life in some future existence. However a religion describes that future life, or the requirements for obtaining it, the belief that one's present life does not matter that much, since they are going to have another one anyway, is an enormous impediment to living this life as what it actually as, the only life one is going to have. If one does not make the best of this life they possibly can, they have wasted the one opportunity they have of achieving true joy, success, and happiness.
Belief In Forgiveness Perhaps the worst idea propagated by religion is the notion of forgiveness—the idea that one can do wrong and evade the consequences of that wrong either by the, "grace" of God, or by some kind of "payment" such as an indulgence. Reality does not forgive anything and wrong choices always result in bad consequences which cannot be evaded or covered up. Certainly one can accept the consequences of wrong choices and "pay" the penalty and learn from them. But reality forgives no wrong choice or act. So long as one believes there is some way to be forgiven for their failures to be the best person they can be and that there is some way to evade the consequences of their wrong choices and behavior, there will be little incentive to be the best moral individual they can be.
Belief That Intentions Are Moral Virtue Not only religion but many social and political views promote the idea that as long as one's intentions are good, as long as, "their heart is in the right place," whatever they do is morally good.
This terrible mistake enables vicious scoundrels to have a sense of moral rectitude, because "they mean well" and love people—at least people who aren't their direct victims. It is the explanation for why so many members of organized crime are "good Catholics." It is also the explanation for why crooked politicians and morally reprehensible celebrities are held up as paragons of virtue, because they have empathy for others such as the deprived and underpriviledged of their community.
Reality does not care what your intentions are, your motives just do not matter. No matter how much empathy you have, how sympathetic or compassionate you feel, or how much you, "love humanity," if you defy reality and do what is morally wrong, whether you know it is wrong or not, the consequences of your actions will be bad, at best, and frequently disastrous.
No matter how good your intentions are or how much you "feel" you are doing good, if what you do is morally wrong the consequences will always be harmful to yourself and frequently to others. It is still true, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. All men mean well." [George Bernard Shaw]
Belief In Mystic Sources Of Knowledge The belief that there are sources of knowledge other than that which is derived by thinking based of the evidence of reality, is not only taught by all religions but many philosophers and other academics as well. It is perhaps the most disastrous of wrong views that simultaneously cripples the mind of the individual that accepts it and makes it possible for every possible scam to be put over.
The are two common religious versions of this lie, revelation and inspiration. Revelation is not so much a danger to an individual's own thinking. Revelation is the belief that some knowledge or "truth" is imparted by some mystic means to certain individuals who are then authorities on some specific teaching. This belief is harmless except to those who surrender their own thinking to some authority. The inspiration version of mystic knowledge is the belief that knowledge is, or can be, imparted to any individual by being directly placed in their mind, by God, the Holy Spirit, or some other mystic medium. This version of mystic knowledge is very dangerous to an individual because just any idea one has, especially if they are not certain of its source, can be mistaken for infallible inspired knowledge which they blindly accepted and act on. The extreme varieties of "inspired" knowledge is recognized as a kind of mental illness.
There are several varieties of the secular version of the mystic knowledge lie, from some imagined, "inborn," knowledge, sometimes called, "a priori," knowledge conferred by heredity or the evolved human nature, to some version of, "instinct," or, "intuition," or, "inspiration." The secular versions of mystic knowledge have all the same problems as the religious versions, but are even more insidious because they seem to be a rejection of mysticism, and are usually couched in scientific or technical language which makes them more plausible to the gullible.
There is no magically acquired knowledge. There is only one way to acquire knowledge, the old-fashioned way of hard study and the rigorous application of one's ability to think. Everything else, any supposed knowledge gained in any other way is credulity, gullibility, and superstition.
Not Opposed To Religion, Opposed To Immorality
One reason I do not oppose religion is because it is only one of many mistaken views that dominate the beliefs of others, some of which are many times more harmful to those who embrace them than most religions. Most religious individuals are socially decent, honest, self-supporting, a positive contribution to their community, and no threat to anyone else.
Moral principles, however, are not social, not for the sake of societies or communities. Moral principles pertain only to individuals and how they can (and must) live if they are to be personally successful and happy in this world. The things I point out about religion are only those things that can interfere with an individual's own fulfillment as a human being in this the only world in which they shall ever live.
The danger of all religion is that it prevents an individual from being the best moral individual they can possibly be. Far from being the means to moral virtue, religion is one of the worst impediments to human virtue and success. If your goal is to be the best human being you can possibly be, to achieve success and enjoy true happiness, religion can only prevent that achievement.
There Is No Reason To Be Less Than Your Best
If you do not choose to be the best human being you can be, whatever your reason: it's too difficult, no one can be perfect, I'm as good as anyone else, I don't believe it's possible, etc. you will never be truly happy. You may think you can be satisfied with the little your half-heartedly lived life will achieve, but you never will. For a while the temporary pleasure of a leisurely life may satisfy you, but you will never evade the consciousness that you are not what you could be, that you have already missed out and are missing out, more and more every day, the kind of life and achievement that was and is possible to you. In the end you will regret every failure, every lost opportunity, and every wasted resource you squandered because, "it was too hard," to do better.
If you are not going to be the best human being you can be, what are you going to be? What else is there that could possibly be worth wasting you life for, because that is what it is. You life is your ability to achieve and make something of yourself worth living for. If you don't use your life to achieve all you can and be the best you can, you have simply wasted your life.