A question was put to me; “If a person does not believe in God and the tenants of a creator, then what is to keep them from doing whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences?”
My experience and my truth is that a person does not need God for this purpose. It is not the belief in God, nor the belief in God's guidelines or rules that makes a person act good or be good. [By "good", I mean loving, respectful, truthful, generous, thoughtful, supportive, encouraging, of integrity, and all the positive qualities one might associate with "good".]
It is rather the belief in their own worth and in their innate value and significance that drives or motivates a person to take loving, right action, and to consider how their actions impact another.
When a human knows, TRULY knows, their worth, value, and significance in the world, then that knowing, that belief that they have something of worth to bring to the table, that they are needed and necessary creates empathy, understanding, compassion, and connection to others and to community. Out of that, one comes to understand the impact of their actions on others, in the community and on the world (environmental awareness, etc.)
While it is true that some seek to get their sense of value and worthiness from their relationship with their God, it is not dependent upon that belief. I, myself, am proof of that. There are also those who believe in God and yet do not believe in their own worth, value, and significance as a human being. To see the evidence of this, all one has to do is look at their behavior and how they treat themselves and talk to themselves. A person's self-talk speaks volumes about what they truly believe.
It is also true that there are those people in the world whose actions are not what we might call good. For example their actions are often greedy, selfish, thoughtless, hurtful to others, diminishing, discouraging, belittling, lying, deceitful, etc. I could go on, but you get my meaning.
My truth is that all human beings have within them both the light and the dark. It is in embracing and owning that I too have those not-beautiful qualities that moves me out of shadow and into the light where I can see them. This is not for the purpose of beating myself up because I discovered the not-beautiful in me, but rather by bringing these shadow aspects into the light where I can see them (awareness), I can now make conscious and informed choices about how I want to act. How I want to act is driven by how I want to feel afterwards.
I will use the concrete example of adultery: I could choose to have an affair. It might feel good in the moment. But what is it costing me in the end? How do I *feel* in the end? What is really going on here? If I do not value myself, if I believe on some deep level that I am not worthy of love and belonging, then I will *live* out of that place of unworthiness. I sabotage my marriage, I destroy another's marriage, I destroy my children's home, etc.
There is more; the affair was not created in a vacuum. The acting out in an affair can be a distraction or drug that keeps me from looking at what is missing from my marriage. Somewhere something is not working for me. Somewhere some need is not getting met. Perhaps (like my first marriage), I chose a man who is belittling or demeaning in the way he speaks to and treats me. Now we are back to my belief in my own unworthiness. So in my unworthiness, I choose a man who also is disconnected from his own worth, and we co-create a marriage that does not nurture, support, and help us thrive. Because I do not value myself or see myself as worthy, I do not know how to give that in a sustaining way to my husband.
Now take this same marriage example, and nourish it with a belief in self-love, worthiness and belonging. You will get a completely different outcome. When conflict arises, and it will, the woman who knows her own worth will honor the conflict as natural. She will treat both herself and her husband with respect and conscious consideration. Why? Because she *knows* she is worthy of love and belonging. And because she knows this, she may be afraid of the unknown, but her fear does not paralyze her. She has the courage, the strength, and the belief in herself to take conscious action driven by this sense of love and worthiness (as opposed to fear and inadequacy). She is not afraid to set healthy boundaries because she is clear about her own worth. She *knows* she deserves a relationship of mutual love, respect, honesty, value, tenderness, etc. and because she *knows* this, she has chosen a man who ALSO believes he is worthy and they co-create this together.
This is not about a belief in God, but a belief in one's own innate worth.
So in answer to the question: What keeps one from doing whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences? My answer is: Self-love. My belief in my own worth, value, and significance. That is what drives my actions, creates empathy and compassion, and connects me with the community and the world.