I have come to the conclusion that I do not need external motivation to seek good, try to do good, or to do my damndest to be good.
I recently read an article about the human need (or lack thereof) for God. The pro side of the article stated, in essence, that human beings – society if you will – needs God to give us parameters lest we fall into a place where we do not know right from wrong and commit unspeakable atrocities. It is God, the writers contended, that gives us right and wrong. That ethics and morality are owned by God and given to us by the grace of God. I have always accepted such views (in previous decades) because the alternative, I was afraid, would lead to my immediate and painful destruction.
Yet ... here I am happy, successful, content, and most importantly, flame retardant. I wasn't struck down by the almighty for not needing him to make me good.
The discussion, which I have enjoyed immensely, has been philosophized upon by persons much smarter than myself and hosts of articles, essays and books expound upon the spectrum of ideas. The whole thing reminds me of our constant discussion in education, i.e. student motivation and behavior modification.
Education philosophies are bubbling with how best to deal with students. Texts, movements and a host of professional development opportunities are aplenty. Do we offer external rewards to change student behavior and increase student motivation or should our efforts be focues on creating an internal locus of control for students so they study, work, and act appropriately because they want to not because we bribe them to do so?
It may seem an easy question to answer but I offer that the questions are the same for both ethics/morality and school behavior programs. To be consistent, one who believes that God is required in order to have ethical and moral behavior should also believe that students require external motivation (bribes or punishment) in order to have appropriate behaviors. The the contrary, if one believes that goodness can and does exist in spite of the existence of a higher power (or belief in said higher power) then one should also support an internal locus of control (that's fancy education lingo for self-motivation) in students.
I think I believe in the need and existence of both. That is to say, there are students (and humans) who will do good and be good and seek good for goodness's sake. They will study hard, listen closely, follow directions, and act appropriately because that is who they are. On the other hand, there are students who, despite your best efforts, richest rewards and deepest bribes, will poop in your eye. Most kids (and most adults) are somewhere in between.
I suppose that means that some people need God to tell them what to do, how to act, and what to think because they are incapable or unwilling to do so on their own. Perhaps, like my kindergartners, they find peace and comfort in the predictability and comfort that knowing offers them. That is not to say, of course, that someone who needs God or finds peace in prayer is immature or juvenile. Perhaps I should say that I think we are all juvenile and immature regardless of belief. You choose whichever makes more sense to you. Others do not need an external force to define right and good and beautiful for they feel comfortable with not having concrete answers for the big questions.