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One of the key concepts from this book should be the idea that mankind controls its own destiny. In essence, this is mankind's "Declaration of Independence" from the strictures of Faith. The moment that you assert that God bears some responsibility for the key events of your life, you remove responsibility from yourself for those events. It is true that this may well be a necessary psychological exercise for the afflicted, but it is most certainly no way to organize a society for rapid progress in eliminating the many afflictions which we see on our news programs each day.
Christianity is the basic religion of Western Civilization. But so much of what we today call Christianity is acknowledged to have been derived from sources other than the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you carefully study the Christian Bible, you should find that about all Jesus demanded of us is: 1) a love of God; and 2) the Golden Rule.55 Since "a love of God" manifests itself primarily as a willingness to follow God's rules, the Golden Rule ends up as the only significant commandment of Christianity. Everything else in Christianity is the product of some person writing about Christianity after the death of Christ. What the various sects of Christianity have done, then, is to turn their Faith over to one or the other of these writers, and thereby enslave themselves to the selected writer.
This thought leads to one of my principal observations:

In any mystical thought system, the believers, acting on Faith, turn over control of some portion of their lives to the chief mystic which they choose to follow. Those groups which we choose to call "cults" are simply smaller groups exercising larger control over the lives of their adherents. The concept is the same, no matter which religious group happens to be involved. It is just as true for the largest of religious groups as it is for any of the "cults" which our society decries.
The moment that you deny that some other person has a mystic power over your life, you have freed yourself from the chains of slavery.56 Mankind has not achieved whatever greatness you might attribute to our current state of affairs because of our Faith in God, but in spite of that Faith. Mankind is nothing if not stubborn. We have kept up our Faith, out of the force of long habit, and we have still managed to strive forward up the great ladder of technical progress.
But all of the art works and monuments located at various places around the world, all of the writings which preserve the great vastness of our knowledge, and all of the other attributes of our own actions and the actions of our predecessors, are not achievements of God, but of mankind. Whatever may be the ultimate Destiny of mankind, it is us who will decide that destiny, not any God.
And I am most certainly not the first to recognize this second ultimate Truth. Near the end of the book containing their summation of the progress of mankind towards wisdom, "The Lessons Of History" (1968), Will and Ariel Durant write:

That thought, and the recognition of it as part of the great Ultimate Truth, should be the motivation for us to develop our own Mission for mankind, the accomplishment of which yields "a significance that transcends death."

Any one person can strive for wealth and power to last an individual lifetime. Any really successful person can create enough wealth and power to last a few generations. But the really BIG accomplishments of mankind do not come to us except through continuous striving over many generations. This is something that is basically incomprehensible to most people of wealth and power, who are basically selfish people motivated by selfish desires. The great achievements are truly ubiquitous grants of knowledge and/or power to all of mankind.
No doubt all would agree that one of mankind's fundamental longings is for some form of pleasure. But we have also long known that mankind really needs to seek more than simply pleasure alone. Many of the greatest accomplishments of mankind will each involve an exercise of pure intellect alone, and passion will be totally absent.
Earlier in this Section I noted that the search for an increase in knowledge must be balanced in the proper proportions with striving to increase the happiness and pleasure of all mankind. From the combination of these concepts comes the three-fold Mission for mankind:

a. The Apollonian Task Of Mankind

To increase knowledge of the truth for all mankind, in quantity, in quality, and in dissemination.

b. The Dionysian Task Of Mankind

To increase the happiness of all mankind, in quantity, in quality, and in dissemination.

c. The Task Of Balance

To balance the attainment of happiness and knowledge of the truth such that neither excludes the other but instead both are balanced in appropriate quantities, qualities, and dissemination for all mankind.

I spent an entire Section of this book, Book V, Section E, discussing all of the attributes of the Golden Rule as the basis of moral and ethical behavior among ourselves. It would be quite repetitious for me to go through all of that reasoning again, here. Thus, to briefly summarize, great men down through history have each promoted, to one degree or another, the wisdom inherent in the "Golden Rule" as a basis for our ethical and moral conduct towards each other. Even a modern thought system, such as Utility, can be seen as essentially a restatement of the principles embodied within the "Golden Rule." There is simply no better choice as a basis for ethical and/or moral conduct, and it represents the distilled wisdom of the ages, so that is clearly what we should use for our future guidance.

All living things are pre-programmed by Nature to act in accordance with the "Law of the Jungle." That, of course, includes mankind.
Virtually all of our history to date has been characterized by a dichotomy between close adherence to the "Law of the Jungle" as the rule for external affairs and various attempts to achieve something higher and greater for the internal affairs of each given society. In other words, each Culture evolves a moral code for internal affairs which moves away from the dictates of the "Law of the Jungle," but that moral code is rarely followed strictly by the affected citizens, and the moral code goes almost totally "out the window" when it comes to relations with people outside of some given society.
As I have pointed out several times during this book, the concept that I can survive only at your expense comes from the idea that life is a zero-sum game. However, long experience through several millennia clearly shows that mankind can produce something which is of lasting value without having to destroy something of equal value. The basic premise that "life is a zero-sum game" is WRONG! All of human history teaches us that mankind produces our greatest achievements of a permanent or long-lasting nature when we agree to cooperate with each other for our mutual benefit rather than fight over who gets to keep the limited possessions each of us may now have.
The difficulty arises from who we perceive to be "friendly" towards ourselves, our families, our governments, and so forth. Scientists know that all mankind is related to each other to some degree; all men truly are brothers. But just as brothers might fight for control of a family or a family business, so too our various nations fight for control of our family planet. But most insidiously, we have allowed our inner cities to devolve into a war zone, with ethnic gangs fighting for turf in virtually every block. These squabbles eat away at our essential feelings of security in our homes and neighborhoods and drive us each back into our animal origins for our own protection.
The essential lesson of the "Golden Rule" is that kindness begets kindness, while jungle behavior begets jungle behavior. The commandment of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself" is a commandment designed to suppress jungle behavior, at least among the people in any given community. The wider application we give to this rule of conduct, the better will be the state of mankind as a whole.
So, in any situation where we are presuming to act upon the basis of reason, and where we have a choice between two or more possible courses of conduct, we ought to ask ourselves someplace during our decision-making process which of the courses of conduct are most like the "Law of the Jungle" and which are least like that rule.
In general, unless there is no alternative course of conduct from the course of conduct closest to the rule of the "Law of the Jungle," that course of conduct which is furthest from the rule of the "Law of the Jungle" is the course of conduct which we will feel best about choosing when we reflect upon our actions after the fact.

One principal criticism of the United States in general is that our people are to "here and now" oriented. Our business leaders strive to improve the bottom line for the next reporting quarter, without regard to what long term consequences such shortsighted commands might yield.
Much of what lies beneath the environmental movement is a reaction to this narrow view of the task of mankind. We have failed to protect our own environment, and the consequences of that will affect all mankind for generations. Not even a lowly beast would foul its own nest. Mankind must now see the entire planet as "our nest," and stop fouling our environment.
But I would caution you that this is by no means a call to the barricades for us to defend <insert here the latest endangered species>. It is instead a call for us to begin to develop an ethical approach to business and industry which takes into account the possible negative consequences of any policy implemented by any organization.
The early years of the Industrial Revolution have left their scars upon the face of our Mother Earth. If we are to continue up the ever rising curve of "progress," we must stop defacing our own planet, for the simple end of ensuring the survival of our species; not for a day, or a week or a year, but for centuries and millennia.
Astrophysicists tell us that mankind now lives in approximately the middle years of our own solar system: five billion years down, five billion years to go. All progress of mankind from just another beast to our present state of affairs was accomplished in just a few handfuls of millennia. On a scale of ten billion years, 20 to 30 millennia is less than a drop in the bucket. And even more disturbing, virtually all of the environmental damage done by mankind has occurred within the last century or two. This is a mere blink of an eye when compared against the time waiting to happen in the future.
If our descendants are to have anything at all of happiness, they must have our planet free of the most egregious forms of pollution we have inflicted upon it. Mankind must strive to live harmoniously with Nature rather than acting like an enemy of nature. We see recent progress in the right direction. But we must keep it up, and never forget the consequences of departing from that goal may well be the death of our species.


55 See Book V, Section E, where I explain all of the various attributes of the Golden Rule, including "do as you would be done by" and "love your neighbor as yourself."

56 The practice of Voodoo is also based upon the Faith of its believers. The moment that a person can honestly state that he or she no longer believes, then Voodoo loses all power over that person.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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