Let’s see. Definition of Integrity: 1. Strict adherence to a standard of value or conduct. 2. Personal honesty and independence. 3. Completeness: unity 4. Soundness
Can someone like myself who does not believe in supernatural beings have a standard of value or conduct? I think so. Long before the religions we know of today existed there was knowledge or a sense of right and wrong–the idea of what Christians call the golden rule. You knew it when something upset you or hurt you. You knew how it felt to be hurt. So you had that as your guide how to treat with others. Everyone knew what a fair trade looked like. People knew even without religion when to hold back the whole truth to spare someone’s feelings. Native Americans running through the woods with their bows had friendships with each other, would fight and die to protect someone they cared about, or to protect their land, their way of life, or the harmony they revered with nature that sadly doesn’t exist anymore. Even as far back as the Neanderthal there is evidence to show early human beings cared for their elderly, wounded and/or sick.
So yes, I do think the godless can have a standard of value or conduct. I do not spit in the faces of people who displease me. I do not run through the streets with a sword hacking at people. I do not steal and I try really hard not to take advantage of or use people. I try to be kind. I try to treat others as I would like to be treated. This is not difficult for me. For me it’s merely doing what feels right. So yes, I think, heathen though I be, I do possess some integrity according to this definition.
Personal honesty and independence? What a strange combination, those two words. What does honesty have to do with independence? And what does independence have to do with honesty?
Ever…ignore what you really feel strongly about inside…and instead stand in agreement of something you know is wrong? Join your friends in some activity you don’t feel right about, but you do it anyway because you want them to like you and you want to fit in? I think that has to do with having personal dishonesty with yourself, and giving up your own independence–what you know in your heart is right–for the sake of some dependency you feel on having friends or keeping friends. Someone with integrity will step away from the crowd holding stones ready to execute someone, and that person will say no, this is wrong. I’m not going to do this. Even if it means the crowd suddenly hates him. Even if it means it might cost him his own life.
That is honesty. Being honest. Not being afraid to be honest. Putting who you are and what you really feel you stand for ahead of being something you’re not or being something less than who you are to fit in, not attract negative attention, etc. That’s how I think the two words honesty and independence stand together to mean integrity. You have to have independence to be that one who doesn’t follow the herd. To be the one who says I’m taking a different road in order to be honest with who I am and what I have in my heart.
Can a heathen (and when I say heathen I mean specifically a person who has no religion or little to no belief in the supernatural (because many Native American tribes accused of being “heathen” were in fact very spiritual), have this combination of honesty and independence? Yes, I think so. Is it hard to achieve? Yes it is–for both the godly and ungodly (ever wonder what godly means from the examples we are given?). Really, who wants to step in front of an angry blood-thirsty mob and risk being pelted to death with stones to make a stand–just to say something isn’t right? How many of us, heathen or otherwise, have that kind of courage to achieve that level of integrity? I won’t claim I could. Oh yes, maybe if it was a dear friend or my child or someone I loved or a relative. But put my life in jeopardy to save a stranger just for the sake of standing up for what I believe in? I would certainly hope I could do it, but honestly–such an act would be exceedingly difficult for anyone with a strong instinct of self-preservation. And what that means, I think; some definitions of integrity are harder to possess than others.
Completeness. Another interesting word. What is it to be complete? Is a religious person any more complete than a non-religious person? I’d like to say I’m complete, but I really think as long as I am wanting or needing anything I don’t already have, I’m not complete. I should be happy with what I have. Obviously it’s enough because here I am successfully surviving. So why do I look around for more? Why do I wish I had a garage for my car or a better floor in my kitchen, or a guy friend who isn’t romantically interested that I can just be myself with and be one of the guys with?
To be completely satisfied with everything and to no longer have any wants, needs, wishes, goals or destinations you’re trying to reach or accomplish, is to become stagnant and stop moving forward. So in a way I think completeness is not altogether a good thing. What is completeness? Do I need to be married to be complete? Do I need to have a child? Do I need closeness with a supernatural being?
How do we define it? Completeness? I think the definition is bound to be different for every person. I think completeness comes when you’re comfortable in your own skin. You no longer care what other people think. You’re happy with your life and what you have and you don’t feel you have to compete with Bob your neighbor or have such and such car to create the right image. You don’t need outer trappings to give impressions, real or false. You don’t need that kind of crutch. You don’t need to go to church just so others will see or believe you’re a good person. You don’t have to do or say things all the time to prove to others or yourself that you are. You just are, and you’re happy in your existence and in the world. You do still have desires, but you can be happy with or without them. Take or leave them. You have goals but you have a plan B or even a plan C if plan A doesn’t pan out. Life happens and you enjoy the ride. You enjoy what you are and are true to who you are. That I feel, is completeness. Whatever it takes to get you there. If you need that special someone. If you need a child. If you need religion…that’s because you’ve decided those things are very important to you and you need them to feel happy and complete. Do you really? Only you can know and no one else. So yes, I think the godless can reach the point where they feel completeness or completed. I think anyone can. And that is, according to my Webster II dictionary, another definition of integrity. I also think it’s another one perhaps very elusive–very difficult for many of us to achieve, find, or possess.
Unity? I’m going to skip over that one. I think unity and completeness are similar enough in their definition that the above thoughts I just tried to write, applies equally to both.
Soundness. Ah yes, the most interesting definition of all, i think. What is soundness? I hear that word and I think of horses. A sound horse is strong in his bones, tendons and muscles. He carries his weight evenly and steadily on all four feet. He can jump, land squarely, carry weight, pull a load, go the distance, endure. He is not weak. He is not going to be sore or fall lame from a day of being worked. He is in shape. He is fit. He is reliable and dependable to perform the tasks put to him. He is sound.
Applying this idea to human beings, I think for a person to be “sound” you would have to be someone who is reliable, there for friends or family in times of need, dependable, a shoulder to lean on. A fair weather friend would not meet this definition. A person who is a friend because he or she wants something from you…wouldn’t fit that definition either because he or she would vanish the moment their agenda is achieved. Someone who is there even when it takes work, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s uncomfortable…. That friend who cares for you when you’re sick, or takes you to the hospital so you can have surgery when you have no one else who can drive you…. The friend who doesn’t stumble, who doesn’t turn away when adversity comes, but who after a rest now and then (because soundness is only maintained if this person first and foremost takes care of him/herself!), keeps coming back, keeping his feet, his balance and being true to who he is, and those who come to trust in him.
Again, I think any one regardless of their religious beliefs or non beliefs, can be “sound.” There are other definitions of soundness as well, yes, but this is getting long and my fingers are cramping up. I maintain however, that any other definition of soundness, if written down and scrutinized, would result in a same or similar conclusion that anyone can be sound–again supporting my theory that anyone can have integrity, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe.