I’ve often heard people talk about how, even if there is a God, “I’m not a bad person.”
The notion is that even if they don’t think about God, or so much as consider Jesus, they couldn’t possibly be “bad” enough to be denied salvation.
Now those arguments can go back and forth forever in terms of God’s fairness. But that isn’t my point today. My point today is to address our rather faulty concepts of good and evil.
You see, lots of people think that they’re pretty good. I maintain that people, as a whole (and this includes myself) aren’t really good at all. Oh, I may be fairly nice, and pleasant to be around, but I’m not good.
The problem is, people think that because they aren’t evil, or even just vaguely bad, then they must be good. I see this all the time. It’s kind of like how almost everyone (myself included) thinks they are smart, or at least above average in intelligence.
But not being evil doesn’t make you good.
Just like not being a villain doesn’t make you a hero.
To be honest, most people are somewhere in the middle, and by and large, we tend toward badness. Not overt cruelty usually, but plenty of little things. Not smiling at someone. Moving past a person asking for money. Not listening well enough to someone in distress. Not honoring our loved ones enough. Being too fixated on our own wants and needs.
No, people aren’t good overall, and that’s regardless of religious beliefs.
But having said that, it’s a good exercise for me to look at my actions in light of God’s expectations and Jesus’ teachings. When I look at my actions by worldly standards, I’ll go pretty easy on myself and pat myself on my own back quite readily. When I apply a spiritual filter to that assessment, though, I come up short, and I realize that while I’m not heinous, I have a long, long way to go before I should be using the label “good.”
In fact, I doubt I’ll ever get to that point.
And chances are you won’t either.
Love thy neighbor as you love yourself.
Use that standard, and you’ll never feel all that “good.”
I think that’s a really good benchmark, sir.
You may have just reminded me to also do a post about Good vs. Evil. I’ve had some other thoughts about it for a long time, but am too tired right now. I’ll let you know when/if I do.
they couldn’t possibly be “bad” enough to be denied salvation(Deacon)
Ah the arrogance, even if its not intended. I keep forgetting, we all need salvation, right?
Oh and to think, if you didnt miss it on the first try….try, try again you will.
To be honest, most people are somewhere in the middle, and by and large, we tend toward badness(deacon)
By the way, my mom is pretty good, in fact more good than bad. It is ok if yours isn’t, that probably explains why you think everyone leans the other way. 😉
I look forward to reading your thoughts. It’s easy I think for all of us to think about what’s “evil” but to never think about what it means to truly be “good.”
Tit for Tat,
You’ve missed my point. It wasn’t arrogance. My point was that people will think, “Well, even IF there is a God, and even IF there’s salvation vs. damnation, sure I’D be good enough to make the cut.” My point is that the vast majority of people (spiritual, religious, agnostic, atheist, etc.) vastly overestimate their own goodness. That they don’t truly define it in a meaningful way. That’s an observation, not arrogance. You continue to be entitled not to think you need salvation. When I mention it, or talk about it in depth, you are entirely within your rights to reject the notion, but my belief in its necessity isn’t arrogance.
Nor is an atheist’s belief that the world would be better without religion arrogance in and of itself. It is simply a belief, wrongheaded though I might think it. The arrogance would be is that same atheist told me I was an inherently idiotic person for my faith, for example.
Even when I speak to the need for salvation, I don’t tell “unsaved” folks that they are worthless. Arrogance would be me saying, “Hey, look I’m saved and I’m better than you” and that’s not the case at all.
As for your mom, maybe she is more good than bad, but by how much? She might be a saint for all I know. I didn’t say all people trended more toward badness, but I think that most do, because you know, there’s a lot of petty shit we do and think, and little things add up, and I doubt that most of us doing big or little things of the “good” variety enough to really outweigh our pettiness.
i TRY to do ‘good’, to practice tikkum olum. do i succeed? poorly. do i still try? yep. do i think that helps make up for the neutrality which is my general state? meh. do i think about this often and consider ways to improve? indeed. do i know many where this type of thinking isn’t even on their radar? you betcha. does this make me a better person comparatively, a good person even, or at least a more self-aware person? nope. way too far from the point i’d like to be at.
But you have the right mind-set, which is cool…you keep trying, knowing there’s always more left to do. I’ll take self-awareness and perseverance any day, which I suspect you have in abundance.
The question of goodness? We need to define evil in this case then we can arrive at some sort of judgement.
What is good? Not breaking the law (by this I mean the laws of the land you live in)? In that sense, most of us are pretty good (on the side of the law that does not need jail time to rehabiltate us).
Just what is the standard we are using for ‘good’ exactly and to what end? If we are using to express we cannot be ‘good enough’ – I guess I’d have to agree (always more we can do better). However, if we are using this just to prove all people are ‘bad’ – I think that might be a tad much.
I see humans dependant on their own choices – to help define themselves. I think we do things that are good and bad – choices have made this possible. I think the bad we do sucks but does it outweigh the good we do…so much so that we are not to be labelled as ‘good’ at all? I beg to differ…so we must be defining good quite differently.
Are we as good as God? No. Will we ever be? No. But does that comparison make us ‘evil’? Maybe in comparison to God, but not in comparison to Ted Bundy or Hitler.
It similar to that idea where Jesus (in Luke) tells us to hate our family in comparison to our devotion to following him (or his teachings). Does this mean we actually hate people? Not really, it just shows, by comparison, that our committment to God is so great not even our family could tear us away from it. In essence, it does not make us hateful, just makes us realize the priorities are to be set by the teachings – which oddly enough safeguard us so we never hate our family one iota.
Point is, Jesus uses this same comparison when someone calls him ‘good teacher’. In comparison to God – no one would say they are good…Jesus does exactly this…gives his gratitude to God. But does this mean Jesus is ‘evil’? No.
In the beginning God created humanity – and it was good. It wasn’t God – add an ‘o’ – and it was good/okay/meaningful/worthwhile/average. Should we be reaching for ‘great’ or just ‘content’?
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It’s a good point, SocietyVs, about defining evil as well.
However, I think people tend to agree more on what is evil. As to whether or not a PERSON is truly evil (as opposed to just plain bad) usually gets based on doing a lot of evil things or what are considered especially evil things.
But people define themselves and those close to them as “good” based on far less evidence to that actually being the case…at least in my opinion. 😉
In any case, my aim isn’t to paint humans as evil so much as to point out that we’re substantially “bad” but are too willing to classify ourselves as good and ignore that other part of things or gloss it over.