Here is a take on some of the issues opened in this thread and in the ‘Free Will’ thread from the director of the Center for Naturalism, borrowed from his new book: Encountering Naturalism: A Worldview and Its Uses - ISBN: 978-0-9791111-0-5
There are several important personal implications of naturalism that make it a useful and inspiring worldview. First, by seeing that you are indeed completely caused to be who you are, both physically and psychologically, you discover yourself fully connected to the material and social world around you, and ultimately to the cosmos that generated our galaxy, solar system and planet. You discover yourself, a person, to be completely at home in what looks to be, finally, an impersonal, non-purposive universe. This is the basis for what we might call a naturalistic spirituality, an approach to existential questions that celebrates the strange and wonderful fact that nature transcends the demand for ultimate meaning.
Second, naturalism shows that since you didn’t create yourself, you can’t take ultimate credit for who you are in the way traditional supernatural notions of the self make possible; only supernatural souls have contra-causal free will that endows them with ultimate credit. You, a natural creature, have to share credit for your successes and good deeds with all those conditions - people, places, things, and genes - that made you a good person. Even your striving for goodness has its causal roots, perhaps in parental expectations and an inherited predilection for empathy and selfless action.
When we see the causal story behind virtue, there are no longer grounds for feeling morally superior, prideful, self-important, arrogant, or for holding any other self-aggrandizing attitude or belief about yourself. Just be grateful for your good fortune.
Third, and for the same reasons, you can’t take ultimate blame for being nasty, selfish, lazy, fearful, or any other personal failing. These characteristics too are fully caused, owing their existence to a host of genetic and environmental conditions: your parents (their genes and parenting skills), your community, peer group, schools, and all the unpredictable happenstances of your life.
Seeing that you don’t have contra-causal freedom reduces unnecessary and counterproductive guilt and shame aimed at the self for its sins…
...Fourth, when we understand we are not self-made and can’t take ultimate credit or blame, we might discover a deep, abiding acceptance of ourselves and our situation. There’s no causally privileged agent who could have done otherwise in the circumstances of your life as it unfolded; all your decisions, good and bad, arose without benefit of a supernatural self that made things happen as they did.
This rather startling realization, so contrary to the Western assumption that individuals can (and should) transcend their circumstances, releases us from the regret, protest, shame and guilt wrapped up in the supposition that we could have done otherwise as a situation developed. Seeing that, for instance, I was fully determined to do badly in a job interview prevents me from wasting hours or days in self-recrimination, time I could spend more productively in preparing for the next one.
On a larger scale, appreciating the full scope of the causal network that is nature - a process that far, far transcends us - grounds a stable acceptance of what is in all its manifestations, personal and global. Such acceptance, although it might seem like passive resignation from the standpoint of Western radical individualism, actually works as a sturdy foundation upon which to pursue our projects, less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of our own reactive psychology.
This isn’t to deny the importance of our strivings, but to put them in a wider perspective that might give us some measure of serenity. Although achieving serenity is rarely mentioned as a goal in our hypercompetitive culture, it’s arguably central to mental health, in which case naturalistic acceptance works greatly to our personal advantage.