Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Dog's Eye: The Good People

Jack Johnson sat on a beach (presumably), strummed his guitar, while singing Good People and asking where they'd all gone. In Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! the Patrician, speaking to Sergeant Vimes, says "I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people.You're wrong of course. There are, always and only, the bad people." No doubt, he would have repeated those exact words to Jack to correct him of the erroneous belief there are any good people.

There are good people, right? You think you're a good person, and you think your friends are good people. That adjective even applies to some of your family members.  But what happens when the same person is described as 'good' by one person, but 'bad' by another person? Who's right? The fact good people sometimes do bad things is also problematic. The inverse is also true; most bad people are capable of good deeds. It starts to get very messy when you think along these lines, and the only solution, which is to find an objective measurement of goodness, is even more difficult to swallow.

Jack Johnson laments the dearth of good people, suggesting, somewhat naively or perhaps idealistically, that there used to be more of them. The Patrician, on the other hand, doesn't believe there are any good people. Is this simply a difference of opinion, or can we determine who is wrong and who is right? Country singer Luke Bryan wrote a song called Most People are Good and despite being quite a sappy tune, I think it represents the majority view. However, the majority view and the right view are not always the same thing.

When the question is 'is so and so a good person?', a much more realistic response is 'it depends'. A person's goodness is demonstrated by what they do, and to a lesser extent by what they say. We can only judge this goodness through our direct experience or the experience of others. Naturally, these views are coloured. They are not even remotely objective. Assuming we think it is necessary to have one, does an objective measurement of goodness exist?

Jesus was often tested by the religious people of his time, who wanted to justify their own behaviour by tricking him into supporting what they did and said. Jesus famously called these people whitewashed walls and hypocrites, among other things. On one occasion, a young lawyer came to ask Jesus a question. He began by addressing Jesus as Good Teacher. I'm sure he only meant to be polite and respectful (Luke Bryan's defence), but Jesus seized on the opportunity to teach the man, and everyone listening, a very important lesson. Jesus replied,'Why do you call me good? God alone is good.' (Mark 10:18)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes one of the ancient prophets when he says 'there is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who does good, not even one.' (Romans 3:10-12)

God alone is good. Compared to him, everyone is bad. Many people don't like this. They don't accept it. It's too unpalatable and it's based on a fairy tale. That's fine. I'm not telling you what to believe, but accepting it does provide a realistic framework within which to view and understand the world we live in. As far as popular culture's opinion of human nature goes, it seems Pratchett's Patrician is closest to the mark. In such a world full of bad people, accepting there is a God and that he is good offers real hope; life sustaining hope.The Patrician forgot to mention that.

No comments:

Post a Comment