Thursday, July 25, 2013

What Makes a "Good Person"?

If I say it enough, it becomes true...right?
Nah. It's all relative.
I've wanted to write my thoughts on this for a while now, but I never could get going on it. So thanks, Jen. :)
I hear this term thrown about from time to time, and it's usually a justification for something less than ideal going on in a person's life.
"I don't drink or do drugs, so I'm really a good person."
"I'm a good person. I go to Church sometimes and don't steal anything."
"It's not like I hurt people. I buy organic and am against animals being abused. I'm a good person."
The problem here is this:

The "good person" generally selects a narrow, arbitrary, and somewhat extreme yardstick against which to measure himself.

But really...what makes a "good person"? Is there a concrete, set-in-stone, objective definition? Some indisputable criterion for defining what a "good person" truly is?
In religious traditions, yes there is. In general Western society, no there is not.

And that is a part of the problem.

Let's look at each of the two items I listed above, and see if we can't tie it all together.
The major issue with being a "good person" is the fact that our Western society overwhelmingly subscribes to the concept of relativism. Everything is relative - everything is a shade of gray. Relativism destroys concepts of absolute definitions in this regard. It turns "goodness" into a concept that depends on economic status, age, gender, family structure, education, and so on. What makes one a "good person" doesn't apply to another in a relativistic society.
"Hey, Surly only looks out for one guy...Surly!"
I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Well, that may be right for you, but ...."
"Right for you?"
This is a very slippery slope. Suppose for a moment we have two people who subscribe to relativism: Mr. X and Ms. Z. Because if what is "right" for Mr. X does not apply to Ms. Z  then Ms. Z has the (self-granted) authority to define what is right for Ms. Z and Ms. Z alone. What is "right" for her has no bearing on Mr. X  because, after all, it's all relative.
The problem with this mindset is that there are no barriers to Ms. Z doing any dang thing she wants.

Lying? "I just said what I needed to say to survive. That's not wrong for me."
Adultery? "It's not wrong for me, because my husband is a drunk."
Theft? "We're poor, so it's not wrong for me because we need the money."
Verbal abuse? Violence? Murder?

When you need that rice, everything else is relative.
Thankfully, most people have a stopping point. But, given this mindset of relativism, it is totally arbitrary. I have yet to hear a coherent, consistent argument for where the "right for me" mindset draws a line.
The best most people come up with is, "when it violates the rights of someone else."
Which rights?
Who granted these rights? Can they take them away?
Are these "rights" also subject to relative interpretation?

In the end, there a few really basic things that are, for the most part, settled on by the relativist as defining what a "good person" is. The list is narrow and tends toward the extremes, and it is actually entirely negative. It is merely a list of things one mustn't do to still be considered a "good person." Things like violence, murder, cruelty to animals, and child abuse are about the only things that really make the list every time.
So as long as I don't do those things, I'm a good person by default, right?


Religious traditions, for the most part, lay out an objective standard to which everyone must adhere. In these contain universal truth, absolutes, and concrete standards that do not succumb to relativism. And, in most cases, these encompass more than the bare minimum Western relativist's "good person" list.

Christianity, in particular, sets the bar very high:

"Well, Jesus, at least i didn't kill anyone."
BOOM! Matthew 5:22 - "But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

"I'm a good person. I don't do anything bad."
Not good enough, says Mark 7:21-23 - "For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man." Even our thoughts must be free of evil.

But Christianity isn't done yet: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

Being a "good person" isn't enough.

Maybe that's part of the reason why relativism is so popular these days. It's easy. It's lazy. It demands nothing, and gives absolute power to its subscribers. It makes up the rules as it goes along to suit whatever situation comes along. Relativism makes life convenient.

Christ demands more. It is not enough to be a "good person," whatever that means. He demands perfection, not convenience.

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