Sources for Learning Values
I was exposed to identity-sustaining values when I was young: from my parents, from parts of the Bible (like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes), and also from lots of reading which included historical novels, traditional stories, and even science fiction adventure stories. As human beings, we look for what inspires us or raises our hopes. The values that we see in real life or portrayed in stories, help keep us going.
We have to think about the values (or virtues) we witness or read about, and we have to separate the true from the false. Not every prejudice or dogma is a virtue. Parents can teach us life affirming values such as honesty or hospitality. Stories can portray ideals such as integrity, courage, honor, and fidelity. People still represent these "old-fashioned" virtues even in movies, and they won't ever stop doing that.
Virtues are part of our human nature, which is not inherently evil. These moral values never left us, and they are not going to disappear, no matter how much some philosophical systems attack them, or ignorance obscures them. The human mind needs values. They are not for making us "perfect" or guilty, But they are not avoidable. On the contrary, they are necessary for life and civilization. They are nature's expectations for everybody, not just for those who believe in faith.
The reading did not prevent me from getting involved in cultic beliefs, but it helped me later when life got frustrating. My scope narrowed but I kept reading all those years when life didn't seem quite right, meaning I wasn't as happy as they told me I was supposed to be. Reading helped inspire me, and it helped reinforce the positive, and it helped me endure the degradation of not being free to make major decisions about my life. Even what I learned at public school from my Grade 7 teacher about physical fitness and health - these things made a huge difference later in keeping me alive and somewhat intact.
Values, or virtues, require much thought, and are not a simple subject to go into detail about. But I think we have an intuition about them. Life appears more valuable when we are inspired by the good qualities of imperfect people. For example,
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, has something to say about courage, fear and guilt.
Biographies are a great source for learning about values. Everything that inspires us is a virtue, whether it is Chuck Yeager‘s constant heroism or Winston Churchill‘s resolve, or Richard Feynman‘s scientific ability and energy. Their biographies portray imperfect people, but all these things count as life affirming values that we naturally want to emulate.
Proverbs tells us to get wisdom and understanding, which are virtues. On the other hand, frankly, intelligence is an over-rated virtue. To me, the movie
Forrest Gump spells this out dramatically, that there are higher virtues than intelligence. I remember some commentators seemed to resent that movie, and they used “Gump” and “dumb” as a way of describing what they didn't like about the culture. It isn't a desirable thing to be “dumb", but the character of Gump didn't have a choice about it, and it certainly didn't prevent him from knowing the essentials of right and wrong.
Considering the recent corporate accounting scandals, it looks like it is just too simplistic for some people to represent the facts accurately. Intelligent people must be giving the wrong answers to the following questions all the time: "Should I lie?", "Does the value of my word, reputation and stock go down if I lie?", "Does image matter more than substance?".
There was a recent scandal in Canada involving law students misrepresenting their grades in order to get hired. Yeah, some people do all they can to cheapen human existence, but in the end the reaction from many is just revulsion.
Speaking of revulsion, this is the same feeling I have for the heavy government taxation component that goes into the price of gasoline in Canada, as if the government actually produced gasoline. Is government "God" in Canada? It sure seems that way. Do Canadian federal and provincial governments actually think they control all the water, air and soil in this country - and every tree and beaver? Is there any concept of letting people run their own communities and run their own lives and property, or even letting Members of Parliament act independently?
Anyway, back to the subject of values. It's possible perhaps that “obedience to authority” might refer to a real value sometimes, such as respecting laws that protect the rights of others. But other times, it can mean going along with something evil. My idea of “evil” is whatever tends to devalue human life, or ideologies and trends that attempt to reduce individuals to "size zero”.
To me, the individual is a better judge of good and evil than "authority". Putting aside the subject of creation, the idea of “God” is rationally justifiable if you consider God as representing standards of right and wrong. The concept of not always obeying the human authority is in the Book of Daniel, when Daniel and his friends refused to obey the king in order to remain true to their beliefs. Their beliefs may not be the same as objective morality, but they set an example of not violating their conscience under physical threat by the king. I apply this example to resisting and questioning spiritual human "authorities" also, who use spiritual threats based on dubious doctrines and books. They make claims about who God condemns that can't be validated, in order to interfere with the independent functioning of one's conscience.