I've prepared a couple of essays about morality, but the question I need to ask first is do you even want to live a life of integrity and morality? At one time I would have assumed the answer to be yes, but I’m not so sure any longer.
Every time I go to a relative’s house I’m introduced to some new “reality” show that boggles my mind. The latest was Appalachian Outlaws. This show purports to depict the lives of men (I saw no women) who go into the Appalachian mountains in search of ginseng. Cursory research has shown me that the uses of ginseng are largely confined to folk remedies of dubious value. Yet these men make their living finding wild growing ginseng, harvesting it, and selling it. I never learned to whom they’re selling it.
The show focused on the outlaw portions of it. All the men are unkempt, hairy, wear lots of camo, and all of them carry firearms. The ones interviewed (I have to wonder at the authenticity of outlaws who allow themselves to be filmed) all claimed to know someone who’d been shot and killed in the pursuit of the root.
I suppose the History Channel can claim that they’re just showing us average city dwellers how other people live, but we all know that all they’re doing is coming up with some really “out there” people and beaming them into our living rooms. They glorify the lifestyle of these supposed outlaws and make it all seem super cool to live this way.
And that’s just one of the dozens, if not hundreds of such shows out there. Some are reality shows and some are scripted, but all of them glorify wild living, criminal behavior, and/or rudeness. My wife loves the show Burn Notice. I get why, Jeffrey Donovan is in great shape and takes his shirt off a lot. He’s the protagonist – a man who lives outside the law to earn a living; blowing things up, killing people, and stealing things. I bet you could name off a dozen shows right now in which the “good guys” are what we would call “bad guys” if they weren’t on TV.
In real life we go to stores. Ask yourself, how often does a person offer to assist you in the stores you shop? How often do you have to hunt down someone to help you at all, even to take your money? I stopped shopping at a very well-known department store around 1986 because I always had to hunt down a clerk so I could pay. I figured I didn’t need to work so hard just to give them money, which was the whole point of them stocking their racks, and stopped going. I’ve never had a reason to go back.
Either our televisions are influencing the increasing rudeness and downright criminal behavior in our country that I see, or they’re a reflection of it. Neither is a particularly comforting thought.
This, of course, is not a concern for us as non-theists, but is a concern for us as human beings. What kind of lives do we want to be living? Do we want to be able to hold ourselves up as examples of living a good – meaning just and moral – life? And what or who determines what is just and moral?
As non-theists, this is up to us. We don’t have a ready-made morality to slip on. We have to think things out for ourselves. But it all begins with that one question: What kind of life do I want to live?
And, from the answer to that question, we will journey onward to reflect on what morality and justice mean to us as non-theists.