Leading A Moral Life
Leading a Moral Life — Moral Living –is the foundation for a Leading Fulfilled Life within our Spiritual Practice. We are morally responsible for three things: Our fellow humans, Earth and its biosphere, and for the Continuing Creation of the Growing>Organizing>Direction of the Cosmos.
While many of our Moral Precepts are traditional, other Precepts are forward-looking. Humans who become moral in our sense of G>O>D> may rightly conclude that they have changed the Growing>Organizing>Direction of Continuing Creation into the Good>Organizing>Direction> of Continuing Creation.
This Essay presents the Moral Precepts of the Path of Continuing Creation as of the year 2018. This Essay is the culmination of five other related Essays: Evolution of Cooperation, Biological Evolution of Morality, Evolution of Morality in Human Society, Moral Failures of the Major Religions, and Moral Progress Since the Old Major Religions.
This Essay is also the first of three inter-related Essays providing Guidance for Our Lives:
- This First life-guidance Essay is about the Moral Life. It’s about “Shall-Not-Do” behaviors and “Shall-Do” behaviors. For example, we shall not steal, and we shall care for our children.
- Next come two smaller, intervening Essays presenting topics related to Moral Life:
- Why the Morality of Radical Sharing is Impractical and suboptimal.
- Moral Precepts for Societies and Governments.
- The Second life-guidance Essay is about the Virtuous Life – for example, the virtue of being temperate, and the virtue of helping strangers. It’s about should-do behaviors, and praiseworthy behaviors. The Virtues extend beyond Moral Precepts. For example, it is a Moral Precept to share your wealth with your young children; but it is a Virtue to share more than a small percentage of your wealth with needy people outside your family.
- The Third and last life-guidance Essay in this series is about the Fulfilled and Happy Life. It’s about behaviors that we like to do. This Chapter encompasses the Spiritual dimension of our Lives.
The three life-guiding Essays present a progressive continuum of human behavior extending from evil, to immoral, to moral, to virtuous, and finally to fulfilling behavior. A host of behavior-descriptive words can fill in points along this continuum. Moving from worst on the left, to best on the right, we might come up with adjectives like these:
evil — cruel — immoral – mean-spirited – selfish — indifferent — doing no harm — law-abiding – civil – courteous – polite – virtuous — considerate – helpful — caring – sharing – giving – charitable – affectionate – loving-and-creating.
Why Should We Be Moral and Virtuous?
“I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.” “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.” — Albert Einstein 1
Some readers may ask, “Since no one can prove whether or not “God” existed before the Big Bang, why should we be Moral and pursue Virtue?”
Readers may also ask, “Why should we be Moral and pursue Virtue in view of one or more of these conditions:
- All the answers of science seem to lead to still more questions.
- The four forces of the universe appear either (a) to be “carried” by virtual particles, or (b) to be “perturbations in force fields” — depending simply on how we look at them. (See our Essay on Concepts from Physics)
- Every system of coherent mathematics has a “trapdoor” that leads to a truth outside that system. (See our Essay on Insights from Mathematics)
The Practice of Continuing Creation offers this two-part answer:
- While it may be impossible to know the whole truth about the cosmos, we do know a lot of approximate truths, and we learn improve on them every day.
- As the Existentialists say, “Existence before Essence.” This saying means that even though we do not know the ultimate essence (final truth) of life, we still have our existence (our actual lives). So, while we do not know all the answers, we each still must live, here and now, and therefore we must strive to live as rightly as we can, day by day.
Is Morality Absolute?
Since there is no anthropomorphic “Super-person God” who intervenes in human affairs, morality is not handed down from on high. Instead, morality has arisen naturally as part of the evolution of the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Universe over the millennia.
- As we discussed in our prior Essay The Evolution of Cooperation, the evolution of Morality began before Humans existed on the Earth. Humans are hardly the only creatures on Earth who have evolved a morality.
- The earliest one-celled creatures evolved by incorporating other one-celled animals into themselves, for the symbiotic benefit of both.
- Sister-ants work in close cooperation. They do not murder their own queen, and they usually attack only ants of other species or in other colonies.
- Many mammal species such as wolves have a code of behavior that nurtures their young, keeps peace, and promotes cooperation within the pack.
Although human Morality was not handed down by God, it has evolved naturally from G>O>D>, because the processes of the Growing>Organizing>Direction> of the Cosmos include the processes of evolution.
Taking the longest and widest view of The Process of G>O>D>, there is no absolute morality. The morality of ants is different than that of humans. In fact, cooperation between sister-ants may not rise to the level of morality, since ants do not have consciousness and do not really have freedom to choose. But their genetic and instinctual cooperation is surely a forerunner of morality.
Even within human society, morality is not absolute because we can see that moral standards change over time. For example, in tribal societies, it is often immoral to marry outside the tribe, while in a modern industrial democracy, this is not so. Even more recently, pre-marital sex between consenting adults is now considered moral in many industrial societies.
Cooperation, morality, and ethics, being creations of G>O>D>, evolve. Therefore, even human morality is not absolute.
The evolution of human morality is most fully described by the science of Sociobiology, a term made widely-known by the biologist Edward O. Wilson (Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975), and in The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt (2012).
Note: Ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. We can continue using “morals” in this Chapter because most people feel that “morality transcends cultural norms.” However, we do put forward “decision rules” in this Essay (e.g., when killing is and is not murder), and those could be called “ethical rules.” Therefore, this Essay could have been titled, “Leading a Moral and Ethical Life.” The content of this Essay is more important than this definitional distinction.
Is Human Morality Cultural?
If Human Morality is not absolute, is it cultural? That is, do moral standards vary among different human cultures? Yes and No.
Yes, because some human societies today think it is moral to practice cannibalism and slavery, while other societies today think those behaviors are immoral.
No, because the historical progression of G>O>D> shows us that Human Morality, like technology, has evolved and progressed over the centuries. So, while tribal societies may practice slavery and child labor, modern industrial nations, informed by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and enriched by the industrial and communications revolutions, have largely outlawed those practices.
Morality must be continually cultivated, or we find ourselves slipping back into barbarism.
The Three Moral Alignments
We Followers of G>O>D> direct our moral behavior toward three overlapping constituencies:
- Toward People: Family, Friends, Neighbors, Tribe, Citizens, Humanity
- Toward Earth and its Biosphere
- Toward G>O>D> — the Growing>Organizing>Direction> of the Cosmos
During our evolution as a species, we first morally aligned other People. Today, we know that our morality toward other people grows out of an earlier mammalian morality; which in turn evolved from Earth; and still earlier from the processes of G>O>D>.
Our three-directional Morality can be represented as sides of a Moral Triangle or Moral Triad. For Followers of G>O>D>, no one side is dominant, because all three are interdependent and mutually-defining.
The triangle representation illustrates the fact that we will constantly face difficult trade-offs between the three sides. When we push outward (progress) on one side, we must take care not to pull in (regress) one of the other two sides and thereby decrease the size of the triangle.
As we face trade-offs between the Three Moral References of Life, we will also face tradeoffs in most of our moral decisions. Different eras of human history have emphasized different points of the Moral Triad:
- In ancient hunter-gathering societies, Mammalian nurture received the most emphasis.
- The Great religions of Buddhism and Christianity extended Morality to all Humanity.
- Today, we must place increasing emphasis on Earth, because if we do not stop our depredation of the environment and the accelerating extinction of species, we are dooming the future of our species on this planet.
- Our 21st century alignment with G>O>D> means that we must pursue new knowledge, new technology, and new art while we maintain the other three Key Alignments.
Whenever possible, the best way forward are strategies that advance two or even three sides of the moral triangle simultaneously. For example, a person could decide to build a smaller house in order to use up fewer natural resources (morality benefiting Earth). At the same time, the house could be given the latest and best solar roof (morality benefiting the technological progress of G>O>D>).
Moral Redemption Within the Path of Continuing Creation
The Practice of G>O>D> holds that people can achieve moral and spiritual redemption. Good behavior later in life can make up for bad behavior earlier in life. The process of redemption requires admission of wrongs, turning to G>O>D> and to other people for help, change in behavior, change in attitude, apology, restitution, specific amends, and “living” amends. Living amends includes good and moral behavior in all three moral directions, and helping other people who want to recover and be redeemed. The Author himself has lived most of his life on a Path of Redemption.
The Moral Precepts of The Way of G>O>D>
The Moral Precepts of G>O>D> for western civilization in the 21st century fall into two groups:
- The Moral Precepts of Do No Harm. This is the Morality of “Shall-Not- Do,” or the Prohibitive Moral Precepts. This is the Morality that is most often addressed by laws and justice. These Rules are all limitations on selfish taking by individuals and groups. The Moral Precepts of Do No Harm apply universally and equally to all humans, and universally to the entire ecology of Earth.
- The Moral Precepts of Doing Good. This is the Morality of “Shall-Do” — the Morality of extending care, or the Proactive Moral Precepts. These Rules are about sharing and giving. The Moral Precepts of Doing Good are most strongly applied to one’s immediate family, in lesser degree to friends and associates, and in still lesser degree to strangers.
In other words, the first group is stricter and is applied more universally than the second group.
For example, the negative precept, “Do Not Murder,” means do not murder any human being; while the positive precept “Share Your Wealth and Time Fully with your spouse and children,” would not be accepted it if were, “Share your Wealth and Time fully with any and all human beings.”
In reading the Lists of Moral Precepts, remember that there are frequently “edge questions,” where one Precept rubs up against another.
For example, it is moral to pursue new knowledge; but is it moral for an Astronaut to board a rocket and go explore the moon when he or she may never return to help raise his or her children?
“Absolute dictated morality is lazy morality, because it requires no thinking.”
— The Rev. Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange, Unitarian-Universalist Minister
The Moral Precepts of the Church of Continuing Creation are not liberal new-age fluff. They are traditional; even conservative. Why? Because they are part of the trunk of the human evolutionary tree. They have evolved over thousands of years to become well-suited to human biology and sociobiology. Without a strong trunk, the branches of culture cannot grow and divide. There can be no creativity and no civilization without order and stability. The Moral Precepts here in the Book of G>O>D> are fundamental, conservative, cross-cultural Moral Precepts for our time.
Moral Precepts of Do No Harm – Introduction
The Moral Precepts of “Do No Harm,” are often summarized by the “negative version” of the Golden Rule (also called the Silver Rule) which says, “Do Not Unto Others as you would Have Them Not Do unto you.”
Or, put More simply – “Do No Harm.”
Many of the Old Religions (plus Humanism) have their own versions of the Silver Rule:
- Judaism: As Rabbi Hillel wrote in 1st century BCE, “That which is hateful to you, do not to your fellows; this, in a few words, is the entire Torah; all the rest is but elaboration of this one central point.” [See Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis, page 45.] — Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbos, Folio 31a, Schottenstein Edition, A. Dicker, trans. (New York, Mesorah Publications, 1996).
- Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)
- Confucianism: ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23)
- Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udana-Varga 5:18)
- Humanism: “Don’t do things you wouldn’t want to have done to you.” (The British Humanist Society)
(Quotations selected by Stephen Anderson from the Scarboro Missions list.)
The Do No Harm Precepts should be and are extended outward from the family unit to encompass all humanity; and outward further to encompass all living things, and outward still further to encompass the entire Ecosystem, Climate, and Geology of Earth. (The Precepts of Doing Good, however, are not extended as far, as we discuss later in this Chapter.)
The Morality of Do No Harm Can Be Situational
The moral principles of Do No Harm can be difficult to administer in the real world. Proportional Justice requires attention to the motives, premeditation, and mitigating circumstances surrounding each moral violation.
For example, intent has always been very important in judging violations of the Morals of Do No Harm. Killing someone by reckless accident is not murder, but “Involuntary manslaughter.” Murdering someone after willful premeditation is worse than murdering someone out of sudden anger. Murder and manslaughter are both “wrong,” i.e. they can never be good, but murder is more wrong than manslaughter.
Therefore, over centuries the law has evolved many different levels and shading of the fundamental wrong of taking another human life. Here are just some of the situational distinctions addressed by the law:
- Intended harm is worse than accidental harm.
- Aggressive harm is worse than defensive harm.
- Defensive harm can be proportional to an attack, or out of proportion to an attack.
- Harming children is worse than harming adults.
- Harm motivated by sadistic pleasure-seeking is worse than harm done to steal money.
- Murder is worse than manslaughter.
- Murder can be in the first, second, or third degree.
- Harm done to life and limb is worse than harm done to wealth and property.
Killing in self-defense, and killing an attacker in order to save the life of a family member, is usually not prosecuted at all. Most of us would not see these acts as immoral.
Consider having to choose to save a stranger or a family member from a natural disaster, such as a falling tree. Many Christians claim they would have a difficult time with this choice. But we Followers of G>O>D> would not, because love and concern for family members is biologically and morally stronger for immediate family members than it is for strangers.
Difficult questions can arise, often depending on individual circumstances: How can we choose one good over another? When can good ends justify bad means? When can a lesser wrong be used to fight a greater wrong? In response to this need, important institutions and practices of law evolved over the centuries, including: experienced judges, consistency through precedent, right to legal representation, jury of one’s peers, a hearing before a trial, extenuating circumstances, and many others.
The Book of G>O>D> holds that Western Civilization’s body of law is a magnificent product of the evolutionary processes of Continuing Creation.
The Moral Precepts of Do No Harm – The Book of G>O>D>’s List
No one shall have other gods before G>O>D>.
This Moral Precept updates the First of the Ten Commandments in the Torah (Exodus 20).
We update it here because G>O>D> is the most accurate vision we have of all prior visions of God down through history. G>O>D> incorporates and corrects all prior visions of God. Moreover, as our historical and scientific knowledge increases, our conception of G>O>D> will change accordingly.
This moral precept keeps our thinking accurate and on-track, so that we do not fall into errant worship of false Gods. In this way, we avoid the great harm of religious warfare, where civilizations slaughter each other over their competing visions of God, all of which are inadequate, incorrect and dated.
No one shall venerate G>O>D> as an image or as written words.
Since G>O>D> is the process than creates and sustains all things, G>O>D> itself cannot be contained in any idol, image, symbol, or description. It follows logically that no such representation should ever be venerated. However, words and symbols, each of them understood to be imperfect and partial, can be used to partially explain aspects of G>O>D>. (This restates the Second of the Ten Commandments in the Torah. “Do not make graven images of God” (Exodus 20:4).
No one shall misstate the meaning of G>O>D> for selfish or frivolous ends.
This Precept updates the Third of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, which is, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7).
No one shall biologically father or mother more than two children.
This Moral Precept exists because the world is over-populated, and getting worse every day. Earth is now carrying 4.4 billion people, and this is expected to increase to 10 billion by 2050. It is not at all clear that we will avoid triggering accelerating and irreversible global warming as a result. With such global warming will come desertification, water shortages, violent storms, loss of species, increased pollution, and violent social unrest. (For a complete discussion of these problems, see our Essay, Overpopulation Threatens Continuing Creation.)
Everyone wants economic development, wants to live like people do in the industrialized west, but there are not enough world resources to provide that standard of living for everyone. The easiest and most effective solution to this problem is to reduce world population through attrition.
We must champion the survival and well-being of the planetary biosphere over and above the numerical expansion of our human population.
Unfortunately, a major moral shortcoming of Old Religions such as Catholicism, Mormonism, and Islam is that they encourage unrestricted childbirth.
Max Weber, the “father of sociology,” wrote that all bureaucracies seek first and foremost to preserve themselves and increase their power. That is the real reason why these and other “faiths” still encourage unrestricted childbirth in the 21st century.
No one shall restrict the birth of an unborn child once that child has entered the fourth month since conception; unless the mother’s life is at risk, or the conception is the result (or likely the result) of rape or incest, or unless the child is highly likely to have a medical condition that would severely diminish the child’s quality of life.
Note: It follows logically that no one shall restrict the births of girls in favor of the births of boys. The cultural practices of the Chinese and a number of other cultures do this, and it is immoral.
No one shall father or mother a child, whether biologically or by adoption, who cannot provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, and parental
love for that child in concert with the existing benefit programs of their society.
Couples who commit to raising a child shall also commit themselves to the sanctity and full duration of that task.
Couples who commit to raising a child shall not commit adultery, because it threatens the stability of the child’s family.
A major shortcoming of the Torah’s Ten Commandments is that they say nothing about morality within the family; nothing prohibiting spousal abuse or child labor.
And Jesus said virtually nothing about parenting or the importance of the family, except “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 New International Version.) In Christianity, nearly all the morality of family relationships had to be supplied after Christ’s death, as we first see in the Letters of St. Paul.
No one shall murder another human being.
Murder is killing another person for pleasure, financial gain, for power or rank, out of jealousy, out of many types of anger, and killing for no reason at all.
There are degrees of murder; and differences between murder and manslaughter, all of which are defined according to our complex and evolving body of law.
Murder does not include killing in self-defense to avoid imminent danger of severe harm to you or your family. It does not include most (but not) all killing done by soldiers during war or police officers trying to prevent an imminent serious crime.
The original commandment in the Torah, “You shall not kill” originally meant not kill another Jew, i.e., another member of your tribe – the Tribe of Israel.
Murder can be thought of as stealing another person’s life.
In fact, all the Moral Precepts of “Shall-Not-Do” come down to a prohibition of stealing – stealing life, possessions, freedom or sanity. “Do Not Steal” is a limitation on one’s own selfishness; on one’s own strength, for the greater good of the group.
No one shall murder any creature, animal or plant, who is a member of a threatened or endangered species; nor shall anyone kill or harm any animal for any purpose other than food and clothing.
Note that this Moral Precept is less radical than the analogous First Precept of Buddhist Dharma (Teaching), which says, “Avoid killing or harming living beings.” [Buddha Dharma Education Assn. & BuddhaNet.com or .org]
Most people think it is surely worse to cause the death of a human through negligence than cause the death of a non-human mammal through negligence.
Most people also think that creatures who resemble us (like chimpanzees) are more worthwhile than creatures very much unlike humans (like spiders). So, we often think it is worse to allow the death of a mammal than an insect or reptile. Also, it seems worse to most of us to permit the death of a cute and cuddly mammal, such as a Koala bear, than an ugly mammal like the warthog.
But modern science within G>O>D> teaches us that it is usually worse to kill the last breeding members of an insect species than one of our 7.4 billion humans. In fact, it may be morally worse to kill 20% of the world’s honeybees than one human being, because honeybees pollinate the world’s millions of flowering plants. No pollination, no baby plants, no foodfor us to eat.
The world needs a “United Declaration of Plant and Animal Rights just as it already has a U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
No one shall steal or significantly harm an ecosystem or habitat of our biosphere, be it local or widespread; and no one shall steal or significantly harm Earth’s atmosphere, waters, and land.
To ignore this Moral Precept, as President Trump is doing in 2017-18 by denying climate change, is to “Court the Wrath of God,” according to Jerry Brown, Governor of California. Specifically, Governor Brown said, “I don’t think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility … this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed.” 2 We Followers of Continuing Creation completely agree, except we would say the “Wrath of G>O>D>” rather than the “Wrath of God.”
Where conflicting objectives arise in the preservation and use of Earth’s natural resources, decisions shall be made by appropriate legal authorities provided they are informed by the up-to-date scientific studies.
No one shall intentionally harm another person.
This Moral Prohibition encompasses harms of all kinds, including: physical harm, enslavement, torture, economic harm, sexual abuse, isolation, denial of freedom, emotional abuse, and brainwashing. Harm also includes denial of opportunity, money, or recognition to any person based in any part on the race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, or gender-preference of that person.
This Moral Precept is similar to the Third Precept of the Buddhist Dharma — to “Avoid sexual misconduct.”
In today’s world, hiding women within walls or dressing them in airless black bags is fundamentally immoral. It violates human biology by denying women access to sun, air, wind, and authentic face-to-face interaction with other people.
No one shall intentionally harm the mind or spirit of another sentient creature.
Although we hunt, raise, and kill animals for food, no one shall prolong their death nor treat them cruelly during their lives. Such cruelty includes close confinement and force-feeding.
No one shall corrupt the innocence of children.
The moralities of tribal societies are often cruel toward women, children and animals. Tribal women endure beatings, genital mutilation, and death by stoning. Children are exploited for labor and sex. Tribal belief systems have too often not seen the light of reason and science.
Therefore, it is wrong for people in the United States today to say, “All religions are fundamentally alike,” or that “they are all based on the Golden Rule.” They are not.
No one shall kidnap (steal) or harm human beings or other living creatures.
No one shall kidnap (steal) or harm creatures belonging to a threatened or endangered species by taking them out of from their natural habitat. However, creatures may be protectively removed under due process of law if the removal is protective and furthers the survival of the creature and/or the habitat.
No one shall steal or harm the possessions of other human beings, or steal or harm the habitat of threatened or endangered plants and animals. However, people may expropriate food, shelter, and clothing from the wealthy if they and their families are threatened with starvation, grave illness, or violent harm.
This Moral Precept is similar to the Second Precept of the Buddhist Dharma is “Avoid Stealing.” Note that the imprecation to “Avoid,” does not rule out the possible necessity of stealing food for survival.
In New Zealand, important rivers and other natural features have the legal status of “persons.” This view has been taken from the Maori tradition. (See our Essay, Overpopulation Threatens Continuing Creation” for more.)
People who claim to be Christian are often the same people who believe in “Buyer Beware,” and believe that it’s perfectly okay to use obfuscation and complexity to take advantage of ignorant, uneducated people. Credit card entrepreneurs, paycheck lenders, and ‘medical’ coverage scams are rife with such moral corruption.
Note that certain livelihoods are inherently involved in theft. The people who invented the credit card contributed to society by making monetary transactions and records more complete. However, executives of credit card companies are stealing when they fail to clearly explain the cards’ high fees and escalating interest rates.
Storefront “payday lenders” are particularly likely to steal from people by lending them money they cannot afford to borrow, and then foreclosing on the borrower’s vehicle, leaving the owner no way to get to work. These “predatory” practices arise in cultures dedicated to the unfettered principle of “caveat emptor” — Let the Buyer Beware.
[ this example is presently in the Overview: ]. Say you work in the field of finance. If you are a traditional banker, and lend money to small and medium businesses to help them grow, you are contributing to the Practice of G>O>D>; you are a “pie-maker.’
But if you work for a credit card company and your particular role is to create the obfuscating rules, the indecipherable fine print that first over-extends credit and then escalates the borrower’s interest rate beyond all reason, then you are not aligned with the Path of G>O>D>; you are not a “pie-maker,” you are a “pie-divider.” You might argue that it is up to the “invisible hand of market competition” to correct this situation. But we say, “No, the moral path is NOT always the path of unfettered markets. The moral path is a matter of individual choice and individual responsibility.”
No one shall lie (steal the truth), unless the lie is very small and telling the lie avoids the occurrence of great harm to others.
This Moral Precept is similar to the 8th Commandment of the Torah, “Thou shall not bear false witness,” which does not prohibit lying, but only lying against a “neighbor” when it “really counts,” e.g. when you are before a judge or a court.
It is also similar to the Fourth Precept of Buddhist Dharma, to “Avoid lying.”
No one shall break solemn oaths, promises or contracts, except under extreme circumstances.
This precept could be seen as a version of Do Not Steal and/or Do Not Lie. However, it is important enough to deserve mention on its own. All cooperation between free and independent individuals depends on their mutual adherence to this moral principle. Contracts for exchange of goods and services are enforced by law. The marriage contract is traditionally “enforced” by God and God’s agents (even if they are only congregation members who wield the mild powers of social exclusion and disapproval.)
No one shall covet the spouse, children, possessions, or powers of other people, nor the habitat of other living creatures; nor harbor resentments; nor or seek any redress of grievances outside the law.
Buddhism correctly teaches that desire is the root of all psychic suffering, and keeps people from living within G>O>D>. However, the Path of G>O>D> shows us that desire is hardly the root of physical suffering.
The Moral Precepts of Doing Good – Introduction
While the Prohibitive Moral Precepts of Do No Harm were about limits on taking, the Positive Moral Precepts of Doing Good are about giving – about sharing within our families, sharing across generations, across neighborhood, tribe, nation, and across the entire biosphere.
The Moral Precepts of Doing Good is expressed by the Positive Golden Rule. The Positive version of the Golden Rule is the version we are all most familiar with, and the one that was said by Jesus:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
(Luke 6:31. See also Matthew 7:12)
The Moral Precepts of Doing Good in Real Life
In real-world application, the Positive Moral Precepts usually require “management.”
First, We find that the Positive Golden Rule lacks specificity. It begs the question of what the moral behavior is.
For example, say you are a walking near your house and you meet a traveling Stranger in need. The Positive Golden Rule tells the you to treat the Stranger as you would have him treat you. But what is that treatment? Do you give the Stranger your spare change, or water and a lunch, or a free three-week stay in your home?
Clearly, the actual moral behavior comes not from the Positive Golden Rule, but from the cultural learnings of the two people on the road: Does the Stranger expect you to give him a three-week stay in your home? Do you expect to give him such a lengthy cost-free stay? The answers are culturally determined. If the two of you are in New York City, a gift of your spare change would be sufficient. In a remote desert of the Bedouin Middle East, a three-week stay in your home might be more appropriate.
Second, in practical application, you are naturally willing, and morally correct, to give more help to your family members than you are to strangers. Unlike the Moral Precepts of Do No Harm, the Moral Precepts of Do Good naturally apply with decreasing strength as individuals move from helping family members, outward to helping their circle of friends, to their circle of neighbors, to citizens of the same nation, and even further out to helping strangers from distant and unusual cultures.
Third, Positive Moral Precepts shade into Virtues. So, while a middle-class woman (or man) may follow G>O>D>’s Moral Precept and give 5% of her time and/or income to charity, if she gives 20% she is practicing a Virtue. We consider Virtues in the next Essay.
There is a Moral Rule that goes even beyond the Positive Golden Rule. This is the more expansive, “multi-cultural,” version of the Positive Golden Rule called the “Positive Platinum Rule,” which says,
“Do to others as they would want you to do for them.”
Following the Platinum Rule, the expectations of the Giver don’t count. Only the expectations of the Receiver count.
So, for example, a beggar asks you for money. The beggar would surely like you to give him not just the spare change in your pocket, but all the cash in your ATM account as well. The Platinum Rule instructs you to give the Stranger all that money.
The Platinum Rule is a shorthand expression for the “Morality of Radical Sharing.” As we will discuss fully at the end of this Essay, the Morality of Radical Sharing is contrary to the Process of G>O>D>, because it is irresponsible and ineffective.
Here is Jesus’ expression of the Platinum Rule in Christianity:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21; also Luke 18:22; and Mark 10:21)
While it might be argued that love, empathy, and concern can be freely given because they are inexhaustible, Jesus is here encouraging his disciples to give away all their wealth.
Of course, the vast majority of followers of the Old Religions do not give away all their wealth, because they also see that it would be irresponsible and ineffective in the longer run. Only a small minority of people — monks, priests, nuns, and some missionaries — adopt a vow of poverty. (See our next Essay, Why The Morality of Radical Sharing Doesn’t Work”)
Moral Precepts of Doing Good – The Book of G>O>D>’s List
Keep a sound body, mind, and spirit.
Each of us shall strive to keep a sound body, mind, and spirit, so that our lives may contribute most fully to G>O>D> and to the lives around us.
As part of this effort, and as an outward sign of it, we shall not take any mind-altering substances including alcohol. If our lives and our beings are in rhythm with the Growing>Organizing>Direction of Continuing Creation, we have no need for stimulating or depressing effects of mind-altering substances. This Moral Precept is analogous to the Fifth Precept of Buddhist Dharma, “Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.”
Weave our lives into the Pattern of G>O>D>, and G>O>D> into the pattern of our lives.
Each of us shall strive to live a life that contributes to the Growing>Organizing>Direction> of the universe.
This is what the Desert Religions were trying to describe, albeit anthropomorphically, when Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37); and “The Kingdom of God is in your midst,” (Luke 17:21). It is also expressed by the Westminster Catechism of the Presbyterian Church: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
However, “Interweaving Our Lives with G>O>D>” is very different from the Prime Islamic dictate, which is “Submission.” (In fact, the word “Islam” means Submission.) Participants in G>O>D> do not submit to anything. We do not kneel or bow down. We are not subservient; nor are we blindly accepting. Each Follower of G>O>D> is a conscious and pro-active part of the Continuing Creation, and we will not deny our individual powers.
Love and care for our children
Each person shall love, support, care for, and educate every child that is born of or adopted by that person.
Many animal species care for their young because it helps ensure that the parents’ genes, which are carried in their children, will survive beyond the childhood years when the children are small and vulnerable. Sociobiology teaches us that we humans naturally wish to pass on our own genes, and our family’s genes, more than we wish for strangers to pass on their genes. The human drive to care for our children is so strong that it could be called a “Moral Imperative,” meaning that it is rooted in our very biology, pre-dating all culture.
The biology of G>O>D> shows us that we humans should care MORE for immediate family members than we do for other people. Enlargement of equal care from family outward to all people is not consistent with the biology of self-preservation, especially now when we have so many humans on our planet that we are like an infestation on the Earth. Therefore, the Way of G>O>D> calls for a Moral Precept of “Family First.”
In the New Spirituality of the twenty-first century,
- Concern for Family comes first.
- Concern for the biosphere and Earth comes second.
- Concern for humans outside our immediate families comes third.
However, our mammalian drive to preserve Human Life need not conflict with our need to preserve our Earthly environment.
All the following things are still totally immoral and utter anathema: Ethnic cleansing, euthanizing the infirm, child labor, commanded selective breeding, cruel and unusual punishment of criminals.
Once a person is born, or near being born, that person has full rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and full protection of the law. However, it is also totally moral and critically necessary to limit the world population by means of safe birth control and family planning supervised by democratic governments. Birth control that prevents conception is vastly preferred over birth control by abortion. Birth by abortion must be reduced, world wide, until it is reserved on for cases of rape, incest, and disease.
Honor Our Fathers and Mothers
Each of us shall honor and help care for our father and mother.
The primacy of Family extends upward to the prior generation as well as downward to the next generation.
Strive to Practice an Earth-centered Livelihood, and Strive to Consume Goods and Services that Do Not Harm the Earth. Practice what Buddhism calls “Right Livelihood;” choosing, if at all possible, occupations that further the evolution of G>O>D>, the wellness of planetary ecology, and the quality of human life.
Strive to choose a career farming crops, welding steel girders, designing better microscopes, or educating children. Avoid careers writing advertisements for cigarettes or lumberjacking in old-growth forests.
Examples of Right Livelihoods:
- Creating or administering the creation of new technology.
- Creating new science, or furthering its reach.
- Finding new historical knowledge, or disseminating it.
- Creating new art, or performing and displaying it.
- Producing goods and services with increasing honesty, efficacy and efficiency (including environmental efficiency and administrative).
- Helping people access the opportunities and legal remedies due them under law.
- Living self-sufficiently, consuming organic food, using green energy.*
*However, people adopting low-carbon, organic lifestyles must take care to not reject ”high science,” for such science may be needed to create cheap solar energy, safe nuclear fission, and effective, universally available birth control for an Earth that remains “infested” by the human race. Similarly, choose to own two cars when two meets your family’s needs, and not three
Perhaps the most important choices people can make is to establish (hopefully to elect) elect Earth-centered governments. These governments should pass laws creating economic incentives that correctly reflect true environmental costs, leveling the playing field so that people making Earth-centered life decisions are not economically penalized for doing so.
Practice Positivity, Courtesy, Counsel, Cooperation, Empathy, and Sympathy
This is a Moral Precept and not a Virtue, for three reasons:
- These attitudes and behaviors cost nothing except a small amount of time.
- Unlike money, these “character-assets” are abundant and self-renewing.
- The practice of these behaviors benefits both the receiver and the giver.
Nearly all of these Practices happen through speech. “Right Speech,” which is an important part of Buddhism’s Eight-fold Path, is spiritually important, for what we say molds what we think, and what we think molds what we believe.
“Act as you would be, and so you shall become.”
Each of us shall cultivate a Positive Attitude and practice Right Speech; practicing Respect for the rights and opinions of Others, Common Courtesy, and Helpfulness in the course of our everyday lives.
“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” — Desiderate Poem
The Buddha said we should start by refraining from telling lies. After that, we should speak the truth, speak no gossip, speak to the point, speak without rancor, speak gently and politely, and speak at the right time.(this may be from Buddha Dharma Education Assn. & BuddhaNet. M. I, 179)
The Practices in this Precept are similar to Catholicism’s Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy which are intended to relieve spiritual suffering:
- To instruct the ignorant.
- To counsel the doubtful.
- To admonish sinners.
- To bear wrongs patiently.
- To forgive offences willingly.
- To comfort the afflicted.
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Each of us, except the poor and the infirm, shall give 3% of our money and/or time to charities for human, animal or environmental welfare.
Those of us who have above-average wealth shall give more than 3%, in proportion to their wealth.
This Precept is similar to the moral requirement in Islam for every financially stable Muslim to give 3% of his or her annual wealth to members of the community in need. In Arabic, this charity is known as zakat which literally means “purification,” because zakat is considered to purify one’s heart of greed. (From www.islamreligion.com –)
The Talmud prescribes for Jews to give a 10% tithe to the poor. In Hebrew, this is called the “maaser.”
The discipline of G>O>D> holds that as an alternative to giving such things as food, shelter and medical care to the poor, it is of equal moral value to give one’s time and money to support “causes of advancement,” such as scholarships, environmental organizations, scientific and medical research, and the arts. For us, charity also includes giving to members of one’s extended family, if there is no understanding or expectation for recompense.
Routines and Disciplines for Practicing Morality
Morality is developed through concentration and practice – the same way that a person learns to play a sport or a musical instrument. We replace old habits by learning new habits; we replace immorality with Morality.
The most powerful force determining our Morality is the training we have as children, followed by the experiences we have as young adults.
As mature adults, the practices and disciplines most helpful in developing our Morality are Mindfulness, Positive Thinking, and Meditation. These three practices are interrelated, and they are also useful is developing Virtues and attaining a Happy and Fulfilled Life. Since they are so adaptable to different parts of the Path of G>O>D>, we devote a series of three successive Essays to them later in this book.
We have two smaller Essays presenting topics related to this present chapter on The Moral Life:
- Why the Morality of Radical Sharing is Impractical and Suboptimal.
- Moral Precepts for Societies and Governments. This Essay includes a discussion of the morality of war.
Following those, we take up our last two life-guidance Essays:
- The Virtuous Live
- The Fulfilled and Happy Life
Essay edited on 12-18-17
- Albert Einstein, from Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman, Editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side, 1979, Princeton University Press. And from Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930.
- @Bill Whitaker, CBS reports, Sunday 60 Minutes, 12/10/2017, http://cbsn.ws/2BPgWk0.