The first in a series of “Why I won’t raise my children in religion” is based on the subject of self-interest. I ask that you stick with me here as the will take some explanation.
I have a personal philosophy that every significant action we as humans take is based out of self-interest. When I say self-interest, I don’t mean it negatively. In fact, it is self-interest that drives us to act humanely. When driving down the road, I know that it is in my self-interest to obey the law in order to stay alive. Likewise, it is also in my interest to make sure that I am not the cause of injury to another so as not to violate my values. Our very foundation of laws and ethics are centered around each of us living as well and as long as possible. I don’t believe that we obey authority strictly because we don’t want to suffer the consequences of not obeying, but that the reasonable person will obey because he or she knows subconsciously that the laws are there to preserve. This is why civilization works.
The first issue I have with religion of any stripe is that it is perhaps the only activity in which we:
- Invent a figurehead (God) who is infinite, perfect, and conveniently inexplicable;
- Worship this figurehead for *his* infiniteness, perfection, and inexplicability;
- Decide to love this God and commit ourselves to a lifetime of devotion; all so we can
- ATTAIN SOME SORT OF PARADISE AFTER OUR DEATH.
My question is this, if there were no salvation, would all Christians love Jesus and devote their lives to him? I think not. (Think Pascal’s Wager) Religion is a way to try to pursue our own self-interest and gain a sense of belonging all while espousing the altruistic nature of it. We can feel good about ourselves because we are part of a group that is devoted to “something greater than ourselves.” In short, we love God because of what we can get out of it.
The problem is that this is not a true love relationship. It is far too one-sided to be any true relationship. Trying to love an invisible, infinite, defineless being is pretty difficult. Religion loses the relationship focus and becomes susceptible to political and ideological competition. It also becomes less about the virtue of the core beliefs and more about knowing that my worldview is superior to yours because of all the other people that agree with me. Indeed, religion and faith are tools to classify and divide, not to pursue the altruistic values in which they are shrouded.
Recognizing the inherent self-interest with which we all live our daily lives, we can see and appreciate the unique qualities and independent nature of every person. We are all different; we look at the world from different perspectives. We can think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions, and with the exception of our selfish behavior, be ethical in our dealings with other because we inherently see how that behavior benefits us in the long run.
The problem with this worldview is that we are also selfish. There are plenty of examples of how we act in selfish ways every day as opposed to acting in our self-interest. I view selfishness as the “I want what I want” complex. Damn the consequences. Selfishness is different than self-interest. Self-interest is acting in a way that agrees with our values and the values of society in order to be a productive and respected person in the long-run. Selfishness is the short term interest that tends to go against our values and the values of society, and consequently, somebody loses.
When it comes to parenting my children, I think the trick is helping them to live according to self-interest, not selfishness. If my son acts in self-interest, he will be ethical, helpful, loving, and good because he will inherently understand that living according to these values will be good for him in the long run. However, he does not need the Church to set the rules for him and tell him how to act so he can earn his great reward after he’s dead. No, living in the present, enjoying life now, and getting the daily reward of feeling good about himself for living according to his values is so much more pleasurable.