Thursday, August 14, 2008

Secular Ethics and Living Biblically

This year at Camp Quest, I was in charge of teaching ethics. However, I was tired of the same scenarios presented, and I'm sure the kids were too. So I took a new approach. One of the main things I'm asked when I tell people I'm an atheist is "Where do you get your morals"? Atheists don't have the bible and the Ten Commandments to guide them in moral living. Telling a non-atheist that "morality is innate", though true, comes off a bit lame. You have to delve deeper. I waned to give the kids an intellectual arsenal. So I kept it simple. I stuck with two of the commandments. I started with "Thou shall not steal" and had the kids come up with as many people as possible that stealing effects. The point was to show kids that one action can effect many people. So when you have a moral decision to make, think of not only how it will make you feel, but what the long term effects are. The things they came up with were amazing. They talked about house-foreclosures. They talked about the effects of the economy. They talked about how a store owner could go bankrupt and take it out physically on it's family, and the rise of prices in the store. I'm not saying they fully understood the economics. I was really impressed however of their awareness of others.
However, I also found it necessary not to bible bash, because camp teaches respect for other cultures. It also got me thinking about the messages the bible holds. There's a lot of really horrible stuff in there, and this is going to be atheist blasphemy, but there's some good stuff too. Over the summer I read a wonderful book by A.J. Jacobs, called "A Year of Living Biblically". Jacobs is a secular Jew who decided to take the words of the bible literally. What struck me the most is that he found some great ways of living from some pretty obscure bible laws. Here are some of my favorites:
  • no wearing clothes of mixed fibers: What good could possible come from this? Jacobs found that most clothes without mixed fibers were white, so he started wearing white. Wearing white made him feel more joyous in his everyday life.
  • no plowing the corners of your field: it's believed that not plowing the corners of the field, was so that the passing poor could eat the gleanings the farmers left.
  • not coveting: You can really waste a lot of time being jealous and wanting things. Instead of looking at gadgets at the Sharper Image, get out there and spend time with family and friends.
  • tithing: I don't think a lot of the board member of MN Atheists would complain if we required our members to give 10% of their income. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel damn good when I give money to a charity.
  • Proverbs 31:6 -"Bring wine to the depressed" I'd take some booze for depression instead of being prayed for any day.
  • Observing the sabbath: Not doing anything is silly, but is it really such a bad idea to give yourself some rest?
  • Saying Grace: this can be a helpful tool to help you be grateful and not to take things for granted.
  • This one is my all time favorite-Proverbs 5:1-23 "Rejoice with the wife of your youth....may her breasts satisfy you always, and may you be captivated with her love". I don't think this one needs any explaining.
I know I'm skipping over a lot here, like the token Elisha and the she-bears story, and the whole curse of Ham thing, and......anyway.....

I liken the bible to a Martha Stewart Catalog. I hate the woman, but if I pick up her magazine for whatever reason, and see a kick ass cupcake recipe, I'll sure as hell give the old bitch some credit. I'm humble enough to do so...(speaking of which, the bible teaches humility, and I personally find humble people easier to deal with than ones with inflated egos). The point of all of this is not to promote the bible. I'll be the last person to do so. Where you get your motivation from is not as important as what kind of life you end up living.

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