If there’s one thing religion has gotten right it’s that over thousands of years it’s that it has “hacked” human nature quite effectively. Something that can “tug at your very heartstrings” sounds like a very effective hack to me. Whether that hacking be due to the directions of an all loving God or just natural memeplex evolution, it has taken place and there is something about religion that resonates with the human soul.
A very big problem that is reached when considering atheism is where to derive ones values and the principles upon which one builds the foundation of ones life. In other words, once you remove the “absolute”, remove God, remove scriptures, remove Christ, how do you replace them with something that will keep you from completely going off the rails? This has no relationship with whether or not God exists per se, but where we derive true principles from.
The scope of this article is to briefly discuss the bedrock that the church contains. For some the abundance of true principles in the church may be reason enough to believe in the doctrines (“by their fruits ye shall know them”). Perhaps this is true. I am not sure, but approach the question with the humility to find that I am wrong either way.
For now let’s suppose that the core message of any religion is how to live ones life (“teach me all that I must do…”) with a huge complex of doctrines as “principle packaging” (“… to live with him someday”).
Do principles need the packaging of doctrine?
This is a fascinating and perhaps ultimately unanswerable question: do the principles taught by the Gospel actually require the packaging they have with doctrine?
My most honest answer: no… but.
The whole thing about principles is that they are solid foundations upon which anyone can live a great and happy life. They are independently discoverable truths.
Let’s pretend that someone who was born atheist grew up and was taught a whole bunch of true principles (things like the golden rule, self-reliance, “love one another”, and so on) and went on to live those principles with a sincere heart — do you think they would see the fruit of those efforts? Of course yes. The joy of serving others or living true principles is not restricted to those who believe in the packaging of the principles alone. Just like a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation (and not God) who lives a life of service due to his belief will reap the rewards of joy throughout his life.
Bill Gates who was apparently born into a protestant Christian home is now agnostic. He shared the following on his AMA: “I’d just like to leave you with the thought that helping others can be very gratifying.” — this is a fantastic example of the application of true principles resulting in joy. We can’t pretend that great happiness or joy are restricted to just members of the church who believe our doctrine, because this would trivialise real values, joy and kindness which cannot be claimed by anybody in particular.
So that’s the “no” part. But not the “but” part.
For a majority of people in the world, principles aren’t good enough on their own to just follow them. We need those principles to be packaged into some kind of doctrinal structure that justifies the why. WHY should I live this principle? WHY should I be kind? Why should I be merciful? Why should I give to the poor? I need some kind of superstructure of eternal rewards and / or consequences to motivate me to take these actions.
But wait — we have the model that as we grow up in the Gospel our motivation moves on from:
- Fear to
- Duty to
All except the lowest of those (fear) does not require a God in it to work as a motivation. Duty as a motivation only requires our fellow man, as does love. Matthew 25:40 “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
The real question is this: Imagine two people growing up, all of their conditions are very similar; they’ve both been taught true principles and live them, but one is a fully believing Mormon while the other is an atheist. I reckon it’s perfectly plausible that the Mormon would be happier because he has a sense of divine purpose and destiny, which puts an extra bounce in his step. But all other things equal I’m sure they’d both receive a lot of joy and satisfaction from living true principles.
Where can we turn for principles?
At the end of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey bears a powerful witness of where the principles he’s explained throughout the book originate from:
A Personal Note
As I conclude this book, I would like to share my own personal conviction concerning what I believe to be the source of correct principles. I believe that correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the Creator and Father of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our conscience. I believe that to the degree people live by this inspired conscience, they will grow to fulfill their natures; to the degree that they do not, they will not rise above the animal plane.
I believe that there are parts to human nature that cannot be reached by either legislation or education, but require the power of God to deal with. I believe that as human beings, we cannot perfect ourselves. To the degree to which we align ourselves with correct principles, divine endowments will be released within our nature in enabling us to fulfill the measure of our creation.
In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are
spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Perhaps it’s a tell-tale sign that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is filled with true principles. “By their fruits ye shall know them”.
Unfortunately I have no way to know for sure: imagine we randomly selected several people, all of which applied similar true principles to their lives:
- An Atheist
- A Mormon
- A Catholic
- A Muslim
- A Buddhist
They’re all happy folks with their beliefs; they all receive joy from the principles they live. Now what? Now how do we compare them and find which one is right?…
Does it matter that one of them is right?