When I was in high school, I had a great opportunity to learn more about religions and philosophies of the world, through a book about the life of Buddha, called Siddharta.
The story of Buddha goes that Gautama Siddharta was an Indian prince in a Hindu society who lived a very sheltered life. One day he finally walked outside of his palace and saw sickness, death, and poverty and that realization caused him to want to understand the meaning of mortality and suffering. Through his search, he eventually became known as “Buddha.”
For me, the story of Buddha was slightly interesting. Was was always more intriguing was the Hindu idea of karma, morality, and how people’s placements in society were justified. Ultimately, I believe karma is perversed by many people to justify their self-serving actions.
The Importance of Religion and Morals for Humans
I used to wonder what religion was. I never grew up with it and I never felt a need for it. But, I understood its importance for many people — I simply could never define what religion was.
Today, I have a general definition of religion:
religion = mythology + philosophy
Mythology encompasses all the supernatural elements, God/gods, divine powers, reincarnation, and origin stories.
Philosophy is the guideline for how we should live our lives.
Mythology in itself is not useful — I was a fan of Greek mythology and if you have read their stories, they sound like an ancient Game of Thrones — the Greek gods are amoral, petty, jealous, and treat humans like toys. Mythology is entertaining, but does nothing for improving our treatment of each other.
Religion is important for people because of the philosophy component included in them. Before religion or without religion, the masses of us are simply intelligent primates with a moral center in our brains that make us think of how our actions affect others (this is what causes conscience, guilt, morality, remorse, compassion).
I believe that religion is very important for giving us a moral structure and because morality is innate, we see religions with plenty of the same principles. The issue starts when people perverse religion and begin using religion to support their malicious views.
No One Thinks They’re a Bad Guy
When I was about 16 or so, I wrote an entire article in my journal about the Westboro Baptist Church, a church that is known for being homophobic and their slogan of “Gods Hates Fags.” I remember the story vividly because I had this strong belief that homosexuality was not a choice and that being homosexual was not negatively impacting others’ lives, so disliking homosexuality had nothing to do with God and being a “bad” person. So my question was then, how do these members live with themselves knowing that they’re bad people? The truth is, they don’t think they’re bad people at all.
So why is God or the Bible mentioned at all for Westboro and other homophobic groups? The reason is simple: people need to “justify” their feelings or thoughts. I wrote “justify” in quotes because it’s an interesting word — it usually means to give reason to something, but when we look at it, it has the same root as “justice,” or about being right. And that was my idea: Westboro had a hateful message, but to make themselves feel right about their views, they looked for evidence in religious texts to let them know that their views were correct and morally superior — they are “good guys.”
It’s through moral superiority where perversion sets in — no one purposefully sets out to do bad things and anti-social actions, but when they do, they need to justify it to themselves and others — this is how people with normal psychology calm their consciences:
“These homosexuals make me uncomfortable, and God does not like homosexuals, therefore I am doing God’s work when I hurt them”
Our consciences are not perfect, so it is no surprise to me the awful treatment of each other when I think about the inner monologue that happens in people doing wicked things:
“These slaves are inferior, so due to social Darwin ideas, we are entitled to owning them and maybe even mistreating them, because it is what Mother Nature demands. “
“Rapes against the lowest Hindu class, Dalits, are justified because they must have been wicked people in their past lives, thus, they deserve this mistreatment from me“
“These Chinese people are inferior savages that are not well-defended, so it is justified for our Japanese army to go into their city and kill and torture men, women, and children.”
Morality, Status, and Wealth
With all of the above said, here’s what I know about the natural state of human beings:
- Morality is a unique evolution in our brains
- People have self-serving biases to make them think of themselves as good people
- When people do “bad” things, our minds justify it somehow
Basically, human beings won’t let the evolution of a conscience stop us from doing shitty things.
This continues to persist because people keep ascribing morality to themselves.
Some wealthy people think of themselves as morally superior, thus that is why they have their high status (a perverse version of karma, if you will).
Some poor people think of themselves are morally superior, echoing the Bible verse Matthews 5:5
Blessed are the meek:for they shall inherit the earth.
The idea that suffering, marginalization, and poverty makes a person a better person is not new. As someone from a lower class, I used to really like this idea too, but then I realized that poor people can also do awful things. And there’s even more evidence against this: there have been plenty of revolutions by poor class of people and when they gain power, they inevitably begin a process of vicious actions against the oppressors, start a new system thinking they are morally superior, but there are always vile actions when the oppressed members gain power (see Soviet Union, French Revolution, Communist China, Rwandan genocide) all in the name of moral justice, of course.
Basically, contrary to a lot of revolutionaries, marginalized and oppressed people, I believe there exists no moral superiority for anyone just because they’ve had a lot of hardships, troubles, and suffering in their lives. This has to be true because a person living a comfortable lifestyle cannot be considered to have an immoral lifestyle. And if you think they are immoral for having more than you and you decide to take their goods from them, then you are not morally superior, but rather, simply jealous, petty, unable to deal with the fact that life isn’t fair, and by that act, you are now morally bankrupt.
In the end, there will always be shitty people and they will exist in all races, countries, genders, social classes, ages, education levels, height, and attractiveness. Remember that.
The lessons are simple:
- Don’t assume anyone has good morals or bad morals based on existing attributes — morality is not some exclusive trait for certain groups of people
- Understand that it’s a human desire to justify one’s actions — no one wants to think of themselves as a bad guy
- Anytime you think you’re different, look at history and remember that everyone once thought that too, before vilifying and killing another group of people
- MOST IMPORTANTLY — watch out for the person who believes they are truly morally superior, because that narcissistic view of oneself and lack of self awareness is sure to be a prelude to some asshole behavior