On Living Virtuously

As a Christian, living virtuously meant living in a manner that pleased God. Pleasing god (or living virtuously) was explained as:
  • Praying for forgiveness for sins 
  • Accepting Christ as Savior 
  • Frequently reading the Bible 
  • Memorizing Bible verses
  • Being baptized (subject to church rules) 
  • Attending church services 
  • Partaking of the Lord’s Supper 
  • Tithing 
  • Resisting temptations to lie, steal, smoke, drink, party, have lustful thoughts, have sex (outside of marriage) masturbate, etc. 
  • Boldly sharing the Gospel of Salvation with unbelievers
The list of virtuous values and expectations grew over time. Once the initial foundational values were safely under the belt, “more virtues'' were introduced. Newer introductions included (among others) harsh condemnation of “worldly” music, homosexuality and abortion

Eventually the list of values grew ponderous, and these ideals were not just personal for us Christians. These virtues were used to condemn and disrespect from the pulpit the lives of non-Christians who ignore various so-called Christian virtues. Of course, for us Christians, acceptance of the teachings of “the church” held the promise of unending bliss in heaven. Conversely, rejection of certain popular doctrines received threats of God's punishment now and perhaps with hellfire. For today's Christian, religious practice is mostly about keeping your head full of approved religious opinions and their associated pious feelings. It's about praying without ceasing. It's about mental gymnastics. It's about supernatural fantasies. It's about childish pretending.  

In contrast, Stoic Virtues, which predates Christianity by several hundred years, promoted just four virtues:
  1. Wisdom (prudence) 
  2. Justice (honesty) 
  3. Courage (fortitude) 
  4. Discipline (temperance, self-control, moderation)
Stoic virtues placed less emphasis on feeling pious or religious, focusing instead on actually living virtuously and maturely with the rest of society. In short, it was about trying to be a good and noble person, not in order to avoid a threatened punishment or promised reward after death, but to have a good flow of life right now and help make the world better by having lived well.
"The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing." — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IX, 16
When I enlisted in the United States Air Force, I was taught these Three Core Values:
  • Integrity First 
  • Service Before Self, and 
  • Excellence In All We Do 
Not unlike the Stoic virtues, these Core values have practical expression only when interacting with others. Integrity, Service and Excellence have little application to someone all alone on some deserted island.

Christian beliefs and ethics are failing worldwide because they are built on an invisible foundation of rewards and punishmentsAlso, to have Integrity includes the Stoic virtues of justice and courage. It takes courage and a sense of justice to live with unswerving integrity. Likewise, service includes discipline, and excellence requires wisdom. Although I didn’t realize it when I enlisted, it seems obvious now that Stoic principles significantly underpinned my military basic training, and from there the rest of my life. 

Christian beliefs and ethics are failing worldwide because they are built on an invisible foundation of myth and superstition with promised rewards and threatened punishments. The reason for following Christian teachings is more about obtaining Hellfire insurance or earning Heavenly rewards than about living an exceptional life. When the masses of humanity were ignorant or less informed, these ridiculous threats and promises held considerable sway. These days people are better informed and many are seeking something more solid on which to base their lives. Something noble and honorable. Something un-miraculous and real. Something that actually contributes in a measurable way in making life more satisfying.

Some, like me, are finding principles and concepts in Stoic and other Western Philosophies useful and beneficial. Others are finding encouragement from Eastern Thought. As I continue to build my life outside of Christianity, I intend to keep one piece of wisdom front and center. Authentic virtuous living is about much more than being raised to obey a bunch of self-serving religious mandates.
"Being raised right doesn’t mean you don’t drink, party or smoke. Being raised right is how you treat people, your manners and respect. – Anonymous"

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