Our task as humans is to cultivate the world's resources.
Inanimate things, plants and animals all blindly follow the laws that govern them. A species of animal remains in its instinctive patterns of behaviour and habitats for generation after generation.
We humans, however, are aware of an overarching task, to develop the world's resources: materials, living creatures, and our own talents; and can learn to understand and control our environment in order to achieve that task.
The results of such distinctively human activity are called culture, and the vocation to pursue them is called the cultural mandate.
"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion."
"I am a simpleton, am I, to quote such an exploded book as Genesis? My good wiseacre readers, I know as many flaws in the book of Genesis as the best of you, but I knew the book before I knew its flaws, while you know the flaws, and never have known the book."
John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Letter #41 (May 1874).
Recent zoological advances shown that man is not after all unique in this respect, that other species also have culture, poorer than man's but essentially similar.
Animal culture is sharply distinguished from human by their lack of true language, that is, of symbolic signification with infinite generative capacity. They only evolve by random trial followed by mimicry; man has the capacity to project novel thoughts, to invent.
(Determinism) People do what their nature, experience and circumstances make them do. Questions about what they "should" do are futile.
Are there intentions? Is it true that people act on purpose? But if I am asking that question I am intending to seek an answer, therefore intention is real. The very fact that I am asking the question shows that the answer is yes. The assumption that there may be no intention leads logically to the conclusion that there is intention, so the assumption must be false. For more details, see The Concept of Intention.
(Moral Relativism) Right and wrong, in an absolute sense, have no meaning, so you should not to try to tell me what to do.
For a reply, see Moral Relativism.
Our Task entails a duty of constant development and self-improvement.
Creeds, for instance, need to evolve. No creed is permanently valid. A creed which in its original milieu tends to support godliness may, in a milieu with a different dialect (whether developed from the original one or collateral to it), support wickedness. To cling to what once was helpful until its practical meaning has worn away to nothing under the perennial flow of changing mental environments is to guard the oyster instead of the pearl. A once-satisfactory creed that has lost its content needs to evolve. This may involve a fuller statement of what was previously a clear statement but which is now ambiguous. All things being equal it is good that a creed, like anything else, be succinct. But brevity may invite confusion.
But the Task can only be carried out by the collaboration of selves as a whole, so our task is to collaborate in developing the world, enriching all our lives in all possible ways. This common task constitutes humanity in the sense of the moral unity or brotherhood of all selves.
(Otherworldalism) Our true life and task lie at least partly elsewhere, in the spiritual realm, which has no intrinsic connection to the visible world. Spirituality, the cultivation of that realm, is helped by at least some degree of detachment from the visible world.
Life itself rejects this doctrine, and nobody really believes it. For a longer reply, click here.
(Biblical "Legalism" or "Nomism") The Bible specifies permanent rules of behaviour, including those taught by Christ and perhaps also parts of the Law of Moses such as the Ten Commandments. These cover at least the religious part of life.
The Bible gives many illustrations of how the right attitude leads to the formation of good maxims, but these are not fixed maxims to be obeyed perennially. Instead it gives us insight into the relationship of all things to God, and this insight enables us to develop our own maxims. Where God gave people instructions by inspiring people with insight into the rights and wrongs of their situation, these instructions are not universally applicable, even when they are broad rules. Certainly the actions approved by the Biblical writers were generally right. But those actions are incidental to the central message of Creation, Defection and Restoration, and it is by virtue of this central message alone that these writings are rightly called The Word of God. The New Testament never suggests any division within the law of Moses. It says that God's people are not under law at all but instead under his grace. (See Galatians, especially 3.23-25.)