29 September 2010


***PARADOX: Bad people do good things***

If any of you are like me, you've heard words to this effect in the past. Or at least, heard statements that, when added together, form this conclusion.

But if you are like me, then you probably haven't thought about it too much. Well, I didn't, until the past couple of days.

So here's the thing: Us humans love categorizing each other.

Us and Them
Normal and Different
Introvert and Extrovert

Well, you get the idea. We classify each other. And one of the most time-honored labels is the moral label: Good People vs. Bad People.

We see it all the way into the dawn of history - the people we like are "good," the people we don't are "bad." And with the bad ones, we have nothing in common. Nothing they do are things we approve of.

Now, I'm all for a black and white view of morality: Some actions are inherently good, some actions are inherently evil. But things get a little grey when we get to classifying people as "good" and "evil."  It's the human element.

See, I believe that people are inherently bad. If given a choice of admitting you broke the lamp or denying all knowledge of the lamp's existence, a person in their natural, non-religious, non-moral state will deny the lamp's very existence.

We're all bad. Even Ghandi. Even Mother Theresa. Especially Barack Obama.

*ahem* This is Problematic's editor. The political opinions expressed in this blog post are the sole opinions of Problematic's, not the publishing staff. This includes but is not limited to the fingers, the keyboard, the eyes, and lastly, the editor.

Like I said. Every single person on this earth is naturally going to choose to do the wrong thing. This is where it gets interesting. See, humans don't exist alone without any sort of morality. Look around your world. Churchs, synagogues, mosques, kingdom halls, meditation centers - they all jostle for position in the minds of the pious.

Humans are moral creatures. With the exception of a few atheists who don't believe in them (but still act on them), we can see those inherent morals. What are they? As a Christian, I believe God gave me and you a conscience, to remind us of what is right and what is wrong. But we can argue about that later.

The point is, religions have sprouted throughout the world, teaching of right thought, of right living as they go. And with religion comes the distinctions.

Us and Them
Enlightened and Pagan
Right and Wrong
Good and Bad

Anyone who thinks differently than me is automatically branded with those labels: Different, Pagan, Wrong, Bad - specific words don't matter but the sentiment that remains is the same. He's not One Of Us. Because someone who is One Of Us is good. They think like us, they believe like us.

But that doesn't make us More Good. We're all such awful, stinking, disgusting, slimy, gross, disturbing examples of humanity that a little religion isn't going to do anything about it.

Even Christians. Our "religion" won't save us. Just because we don't drink alcohol or date or chew tobacco or follow any of the legalistic trappings the church has put on us as a prerequisite for knowing God doesn't make us more holy, more justified, More Good than anyone else. We're all in for it, and being a Lutheran or a Seventh-Day Adventist won't save you.

So how does this fit in with the paradox?

***PARADOX: Bad people do good things***

Let's take an example. Say, one of the terrorists who helped fly a plane into the World Trade Centers on 11 September, 2001. (Yes, yes, terribly American-centric, but tough. I live in America.)

Now, what he did was wrong, evil. Taking the lives of almost 3,000 people is completely evil. And the man himself, he was evil.

Just like me. Just like you.

But that doesn't mean every action he took was evil. His family - he may have loved them dearly. He gave alms to the poor. He did good things, but his final act was an act of evil. This is an extreme example, I know. But it applies to many, many more people than we feel comfortable admitting.

And this is where things get sticky. These labels that we arbitrarily stick on others, they don't like shades of grey. Either you're one of Us, or you're one of Them. With us or Against us.

But as beings with great capacity for evil, we also have capacity for good. We have shades of grey.

***PARADOX: Bad people do good things.***

You will not live a perfect life. You'll never even come close. One good action may not make you a good person, but it is good, it is right, it is noble, honorable, self-sacrificial, nonetheless.

Think on that one for a while.


  1. Theologically speaking, every time you express the truth that people are miserable stinking gross little worms, it is good to also remember that all people are made in the image of God -- we're not originally evil, we're originally good but twisted ourselves into sinners. And all Christians are redeemed, set free from the power of sin and enslaved to righteousness, chosen by God and loved by him more passionately than the best human father you can imagine loves his children.
    Rhetorically speaking, I suppose that might have distracted from the point of the post.
    And finally it is so true that one should never ever label oneself a "good person", whether as an excuse for an evil deed or denial of ever committing one.
    Ok, not quite finally, because I had another interesting thought -- We always wind up labelling ourselves wrong; when we set up us/them dichotomies they're nearly always flawed. But Jesus sets up an us/them dichotomy -- if you're not for Him, you're against Him. And he labels us -- we are his people and he is our God. So maybe the problem is not the us/them but the temerity of humans to make different rules about who is an "us" than God does.

  2. Very true on all points, tatterjil - or do you prefer Autumn?

    I agree with your first point, but the nature of human nature and God's redemptive power wasn't really the focus of this post. ;) It's definitely something to keep in mind at all times, though. Because otherwise, you get sucked into the miserable event horizon of nihilism.

    I could say more on all of the points you've raised, but since I agree with them, it'd be as useful as preaching to the choir.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful comment!

  3. Great post. I disagree. I cannot handle all these shades of grey.

    I believe:

    We as humans are evil. We may have been originally good, but that does not make us inherently good, not even twisted good.

    God is good. He is inherently good. There is no evil in Him.

    Evil is the absence of good.

    When God is with us, we are in the presence of good. With God, we can do good.

    Ahh, back to sweet black and white.

  4. Well, my name isn't Autumn, so... Unless you were trying to christen me. ;) I changed my blogger name recently; used to be 'debater at heart'.