By James A Young click here to send comments to Mr. Young
Unfortunately, for the early years of my life I was not concerned with understanding ethics. I was, like so many others, content with the vague and shallow idea that being good was all there was to it. And being raised in a Christian environment, I thought that the Christian god was the sole arbiter of what was good and evil.
Of course, I was submissive to the authority of my church, whose moral instruction shaped my views concerning what god considered good and evil. When I became a religious fanatic, morality and ethics became all about pleasing my god. My treatment of other human beings became of secondary concern and was reflected in my intolerant and malevolent behavior towards others who were different. Eventually, this hateful attitude led to the undoing of my religious faith as I struggled with reconciling my sanctimonious malevolence with any realistic notion of being a good person.
Thus, a new chapter of my life was forcefully opened in which I began to reexamine everything I believed on blind-faith. It was a difficult and painful process because I could not find much capable of withstanding critical scrutiny. After several years of this intellectual makeover, I was forced to admit to myself that I had become an atheist.
But what was I to do now that I no longer had a god to whom I could attribute all morality and ethics? Interestingly, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had assumed the role of arbiter of good and evil. I also realized that what I considered good and evil no longer had anything to do with divine mandates from heaven, but rather was solely concerned with the equitable treatment of other human beings. Most importantly, I realized that my greatest challenge would not be the equitable treatment of others who were like myself, but rather it would be the equitable treatment of others who I thought were objectionably different.
Yes. I am well-aware philosophers have argued about morality and ethics for hundreds of years. I have learned much from them. But at the end of the day, I must decide what it is that I want morality and ethics to accomplish for both myself and the people I interact with.
Over the years, I have created a list of numerous principles that reflect my ethical ideals. I will share with you the one ideal I think most important of all.
“We must not subject others who are different, to malevolent treatment that we ourselves do not wish to be subjected to.”
What is the reward for applying ethics to our interactions with others, you ask? For me there is only the satisfaction I derive in knowing I am aspiring to be the best I can be, especially in my treatment of others who are different. That alone is more than sufficient.