The Philippines, my wife’s country, is one of those countries where there is a very high number of churches and religious denominations and yet such problems as alcohol abuse, corruption, violence and so on abound (just like in many other countries).
I used to be an atheist (during my teens) and yet my level of morality was probably higher than that of most religious people I used to interact with.
Now that I am no longer an atheist my level of morality is more or less the same as when I was an atheist.
I have never craved having casual sex or cheating on my spouse, getting drunk, I have never even considered the possibility to pay or accept a bribe.
Having become a believer almost hasn’t changed anything: most of the practices I used to avoid as an atheist I am still shunning and avoiding today and so my level of morality hasn’t changed much.
I think the main reason why most religious people who moralize a lot end up doing the exact opposite of what they condemn and moralize about is because they haven’t learned how to truly trascend and outgrow their quote-unquote sinful cravings.
I think that when the only reason why a person abstain from things like casual sex, alcohol abuse and so on is because a book says so or the Bible says so or their parents said so or because society says so what this person is really saying is “I would love to have casual sex or cheat on my spouse, get drunk, have drugs etc but I can’t“.
I recently heard a great illustration that explains this point rather nicely: if you are full of cravings and the only reason why you hold back from caving in to those cravings is because you can’t (because the Bible says so or your parents said so etc), but you actually would like to, this is like you are trying to dig a hole in the middle of the ocean.
The pressure of the water symbolizes your cravings and the hole represents your list of dos and donts. In much the same way as the pressure of the ocean is going to break your hole, the pressure of your cravings and desires is eventually going to get the better of your dos and donts.
That is why most Filipinos (in this blog I am talking about the Philippines but the same logic applies to everyone) officially believe that alcohol abuse is bad, corruption is wrong, violence, materialism, gossip and many other things that are pretty common in the Philippines are inappropriate but these very things are very deeply rooted in the Filipino culture.
So I believe that as long as the only reason why people try to resist their urges to do what’s quote-unquote “immoral” is because an external authority says so and they fail to understand why those things are bad and not inherently fulfilling, there is no way people can truly act moral.
There is actually an interesting passage in the Bible (which is the religious book most Filipinos believe in), but the same logic applies even if someone doesn’t believe the Bible or any other religious book, and this passage says something along the lines that the Creator teaches you to “benefit yourself” – Isaias 48:17.
Actually this concept could be appreciated and understood even if we left the Creator out of the picture and simply reasoned in strictly secular and rational terms.
The famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins talks about the idea of getting rid of such habits as heavy drinking, drugs and so on by learning to link more pleasure to having energy and vitality than to indulging in drinking, overeating etc.
So, regardless of whether one is religious or not the key to true morality is when we learn to dwell on the benefits of parting with negative and toxic habits thereby trascending and outgrowing them rather than simply trying to put up a hard fight to stay away from things that we, deep within, crave and, secretly, like doing simply because some external authority says so and, if you are a Christian, the only way you can accept and internalize what your Creator says is wrong is by understanding why this is the case and dwelling on the benefits of acting moral.