I was having a discussion on an online message board once, perhaps a year or two ago. I don’t recall much of the conversation—it quickly seemed to deteriorate, as so many things do, into a fairly ridiculous squabble of he-said-she-said, flaming, inaccurate accusations, stupidity, and general closed-mindedness. In other words, your average friendly “debate.” I believe the topic was a political one, and I think the central hero/villain was Barack Obama. All of that is quite irrelevant, though. What I want to comment on is a point that was made regarding the religious beliefs of elected officials. I paraphrase:
It doesn’t matter to me if a leader is Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or whatever. Any religion is fine; I’m not prejudiced. But I couldn’t trust an atheist president. No, you need someone with accountability—someone who is worried about the consequences of his actions, someone who is afraid of eternity, someone who believes in the reward of good and punishment of evil.
Wow. Really? Reading that post got my hackles up in an instant. There are quite a few things wrong with it, of course, not the least of which is that a bigoted statement is disguised with the handy “I’m not biased, but…” card. The part that I find most offensive, though, is that it insinuates good deeds are selfish and that we only do good for our own benefit—so we can get to Heaven, namely, or receive some other worthy prize.
I’m not buying it.
Karma, of course, is a lovely concept. It’s beautiful to think about, really. Be a good person, and you achieve “positive” points on your record; be evil, and you’re in the red. Then cash in and receive the appropriate compensation. Justice at last!
If that’s the case, then, we’re always working with ulterior motives. There is no such thing as good for goodness’ sake—just actions with good results and the added stipulation of self-benefit. Why, it’s selfish after all.
So, what I wanted to say to the anonymous forum poster: Why do you need your leader to be so self-interested? Why must he worry about himself first, and others second? Why can’t he act simply for the benefit of the world, his nation, and its citizens without fearing personal repercussions of injustice? Isn’t the benefit of mankind and the earth a nobler cause than self-advancement and personal salvation?
From my own standpoint, I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I find the concepts vaguely ludicrous, honestly—especially the pop culture conceptualizations of clouds, halos, and lyres versus flames, horns, and tridents. Motivation for me to do good is twofold. Yes, there is a selfish part hidden beneath: I want to be the best person I can; I want to strive for moral excellence; I want to be a positive example role model for my own self-worth, self esteem, and maybe, admittedly, just a touch for recognition. But even more than that is my desire to make a positive impact on the world—not for credit or fame or karma points—but for purely external benefit. I know I’m far from alone in this. I imagine that every truly moral person believes in these tenets.
And isn’t that the way it should be?
(Pictured, if you’re curious, is a pasture during one of the nastier ice storms last year. Those ripples aren’t waves in the ocean—they’re ice formations from wind. The ice was smooth as glass and several inches thing. I took me a good half an hour to walk less than half a mile, as the footing was so dangerous, even on level ground. The horses were literally sliding down the hills and even into the ponds. It’s a wonder that none of them were seriously injured. I’ve got a video here—watch the mare on the right, and ignore my heavy breathing and foul language. Strange how something so beautiful can simultaneously be so frightening.)