Saturday 20 January 2018

God and Goodness

Do people subscribe to the madness and topsy-turvy values of today because they are bad people, inwardly corrupted, or because they follow the crowd or simply because, given the view of the world with which they are presented, they have no other option? That is, they are basically good people but in the light of the false image of the world which is shown to them from birth, this seems the right way, or the best way, to be. 

No doubt it's all of these but, if we are being charitable, we have to assume that most fall into the third category. 

And yet, if that is the case, we have to ask what is the nature of their goodness? You see, I think that real goodness cannot be separated from truth so any apparent goodness that is divorced from truth, as this would have to be since it works against it, would not really be goodness at all but, at best, an idea about it. 

This raises the question, can we be good without God? Jesus famously said when praised that none was good save God alone, and clearly if you think you are good, you're not. The greatest saints have the greatest sense of their own unworthiness. Unrepentant sinners often think they are good people. 

So what I am saying is that you cannot support evil and be good. This world is clearly evil in its current mode of being. I do not say that if you go along with it you are evil, but I do say that you cannot truly be good either, not in the real sense.

In fact, you can only start being good when you see that you are very far from that, and, even then, any goodness is totally dependent on the degree to which you align yourself with the source of goodness which is God. 

If a sense of true goodness starts to arise within you it can only be because God is working within you, and you are allowing yourself to respond to that. True goodness points inexorably towards the reality of God.  If you deny this reality you are not good, whatever the appearances. 

Nor are you necessarily good just because you believe in God - I have already mentioned the saints - but if your belief is truly felt you have at least turned towards the good and are not facing away from it.

Conclusion: Real goodness is in loving the true good and trying to conform one’s inner being to it. The only true good is God.


Bruce Charlton said...

In a strange way (and the opposite to the past); the typical modern Man is evil in his deepest convictions, but he will sometimes/ often behave with a goodness that contradicts this.

Representative Modern Man is theoretically-evil, but in practice sometimes, or even usually, good.

This is very unsatisfactory, because - lacking solid, inner goodness and faith; lacking any ultimate reason to be good - most people tend to become corrupted and worse throughout their lives - even, I have observed, in old age.

Such people almost never seem to reverse their incremental corruption, because they never reprent - because they are theoretically even more evil...

At any rate, this was my personal experience. For much of my pre-Christian life I was *trying* to behave as evilly as my fundamental convictions suggested that I rationally ought-to. Certainly, for much of my post-adolescent life, I became a worse and worse person, as behaviour progressively became aligned with an evil (materialist, hedonistic, short-termist) metaphysics.

William Wildblood said...

No doubt most of us are a mixture of good and bad because we have both potentials within us. What I am saying here is that real goodness, as opposed to being nice or even charitable, must be aligned with truth and therefore the awareness, to some degree, of the reality of God who is the source of all goodness. If you reject the source of goodness and truth how can you be good or true?

I'm not claiming to be good myself. I know I'm not! But I also know that I would like to be and I can only be so by allowing God to work through me which means handing myself over to him, handing my self over to him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Very true. As Solzhenitsyn wisely said, the line between good and evil goes through the heart of every Man. As is, at least, evident in nightmarish dreaming - where we may depict, or enact, extreme evil - coming from our own minds.

What distingusihes this era from (so far as I know) all others; is that a great deal of what most people are encouraged (by the 'authorities') to regard as good, is an inversion of good. Modern people therefore deal with the problem of hypocrisy Not by trying to live-up to eternally valid ideas; by by inverting the ideals, and then trying to live-down to them.

Which is actually quite difficult - at least initially. People often (nowadays) feel they Ought to behave more badly than they actually do, especially in the dominating sexual arena. The very high levels of deliberate, strategic drunkenness is partly about people overcoming their inner resistance to behaviour they inwardly know to be wrong - such as promiscuous sex.

It is also clear that many people need a lot of social support and encouragement for their bad behaviour; because unless they get it their natural sense of shame and guilt would tend to deter or correct it. This, I believe, is a major motivation for the high degree of coercive political correctness and the current mania about 'micro-aggressions', 'safe spaces' and the like.

Anonymous said...

"What distingusihes this era from (so far as I know) all others; is that a great deal of what most people are encouraged (by the 'authorities') to regard as good, is an inversion of good."

The Roman Arena is an example from the past where death as entertainment was celebrated by men, women, rich and poor alike. Surely, that was an inversion of the good, where the really good would have been to cease at once, and look upon one's fellow human beings and animals as individually precious, and act towards them accordingly. To 'inwardly know' what they were doing was wicked and thoroughly wrong applied to the Romans as much as it applies to modern human beings. Every human being contains the divine within, no matter when he is born.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, we do all have the stamp of the divine within us but we also have a fallen nature to which we will tend if we are not careful. A good culture encourages the former and discourages the latter, and that would be a traditional Christian culture which may have had its faults but, by and large, was right. The modern culture does encourage its own idea of goodness but that is spirit-denying and therefore evil. As Bruce says, it probably takes quite a lot of coercion to enforce this since, on some level, we must know better because, as you say, Anon, we do contain the divine.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about the idea of different 'dispensations' that some Christians believe in, except that it seems to be God setting a standard for an age, and the people failing, and then God giving another chance, or dispensation to humanity, which they are to try and live up to. But it seems to apply in the Roman example I gave. An advanced civilisation, rotten to the core spiritually, in effect worshiping Satan in their 'games', and in the midst of it God sent His son as the one and only necessary sacrifice - the biggest dispensation of them all.

I wonder if there will be another dispensation, another chance to believe and know God for the 'Romans' of our age? And if there is, what form it will take. I wonder if God in his love for us, will give the chance after death, when it will be evident to all who thought that the materialists had it right, that they were wrong after all. This would be in keeping with a loving elder brother sacrificing himself for his little brother by interceding in the younger brother's behalf with their Father. That feels really right.

Or am I being fanciful? I hope not.

David Balfour said...

"This raises the question, can we be good without God? Jesus famously said when praised that none was good save God alone, and clearly if you think you are good, you're not. The greatest saints have the greatest sense of their own unworthiness. Unrepentant sinners often think they are good people."

Jesus said that none was good save God alone. So it follows logically, therefore, does it not, he was saying that he himself is not Good or at least not entirely? (Since he is not God, rather the son of God). But then, as Christians, we traditionally regard Jesus as perfect and wholely how can what he said be true? Or does this imply his claim to perfect divinity? To be able to claim to be as good as God himself.

Forgive me, I am giving you a bit of a poser here, perhaps it illustrates the limits of logic when applied partially to a very narrow sample of what Jesus said, an easy thing to do no doubt, but still I would be interested to hear what you think of the observation. Naturally, this is the tendency of the analytical mind, perhaps the pharisees trap, but the way my rational mind has been trained, none-the-less. As I write this, it reminds me how without intuition and an ability to look at the bigger picture, over a range of situations, the tendency of the modern mind is to not see the woods for the trees! And yet the servant has become the master for us moderns. Many of us treat logic as God and so no wonder we end up getting irretrievably stuck with spiritual questions - or cannot see any sense in them at all.

Again, also on this theme, it occurred to me with your most recent post about 'arguements' that your sensible suggestion of keeping emotions out of them and simply stating the truth, seems intuitively sound, but lord grant me patience, how hard is that to do? Especially when one cares deeply about something good being defiled or denied, it almost makes me want to roar like a lion to protect the truth as I see it! But that same strong emotion of righteousness can very quickly change to anger, smuggness, arrogance, etc. and usually does not help at all. So strong emotions are volatile and potentially dangerous and a level-headed, almost Buddhist calm self-control, appears to be the way forward. But then I am a Christian and not a Buddhist and Jesus was the man who upturned tables and shouted angrily at the money-lenders in the temple! Bit of an enigmatic character, wouldn't you say? How do we make sense of this? And how easily misunderstood by plodding linear minds (almoat all of us modern people really) that tend to dissect and examine the minutiae rather than the gestalt. Again, I am just interested to hear your take on these examples. I usually find I am in agreement with your answers but I enjoy the different perspective you will have.

William Wildblood said...

Those are very good questions, David.

I think Jesus was making the point that all goodness comes from God and cannot be centred in the human being, even one such as himself who, as you say, is not the Father but the Son. But Jesus is wholly good because he is the only one who completely and without any equivocation or resistance or even thought does the will of the Father. So goodness is coming through him but it has its source in the Father. However I also think he was teaching more than talking about himself, and making the point that we should never think of ourselves as good independently of God. Don't forget that Christianity says that Jesus was both God and man so sometimes he talks from the former position and sometimes from the latter as, for example, when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Regarding keeping emotion out of argument, you're right. It is very hard, especially when you think you are up against lies and deceit as, in the modern world, you often are. But is important to try to do so or else you lose the argument unless you do, as Jesus did and some of the prophets did, make your anger righteous which means to say forceful but controlled so it is not emotional in the sense of losing balance but one-pointed and determined to brook no nonsense. I think that's fine and even good but the difficulty is we can call our anger righteous when it is not.

Personally I find Buddhist calm too passionless and detached. If you're not passionate about truth then what’s the point, especially in this benighted day and age? Detachment can mean not caring and if you don't care then you don't love.

David Balfour said...

"Personally I find Buddhist calm too passionless and detached. If you're not passionate about truth then what’s the point, especially in this benighted day and age? Detachment can mean not caring and if you don't care then you don't love."

I agree, but this makes sense to Buddhist's within the greater context of the Buddhist philosophy and aim of trying to escape samsara by exstinguishing and neutralising extremes of emotion rooted in desire.
What I do find interesting is how western culture can borrow some of the Buddhist ideals, whilst leaving aside the other spiritual bits that do not suite the lifestyle choices of westerners, and the resultant dilution is neither here or there, or more often than not likely to be destructive to the individual. The adoptation of mindfulness without any purpose except therapeutic distraction, springs to mind. Another would seem to be this notion of 'acceptance.' I recently noticed this when I have (through my line of work) encountered people reacting to death (and its unspoken but firmly held assumption of complete annihilation) with the response (spoken in soft, compassionate tones) that we must accept death as part of life. Which is true on the one hand, but I would argue that the metaphysical assumptions about the annihilation of the person that will inevitably follow, should we just smother this almost uniquely human impulse under the rhetoric of 'acceptance'? It feels like using a pillow to softly smother the hope of eternal life or an afterlife (an almost universal belief throughout most of human history) with borrowed spiritual words, that somehow sound noble and wise, but without the context of the embedding culture, are tools to stun others in paralysis and euthanise any spontaneous and natural attempts to view death within anything other than a terminal and nihilistic context. After all, who would argue that acceptance isn't a good thing? We know this because psychotherapists are always telling us it is good and results in 'closure.' The idea of acceptance within a buddhist context is of course conditional on things such as a belief in reincarnation and an elaborate spiritual cosmology. But to us, death is death and that is it and that is all. Whether you need it having lived a good life or that of a villian makes no bones at all. Both equally valid. Both lost to the sands of time and the abyss. Just some observations.

William Wildblood said...

Sometimes acceptance is just weakness. I do think God prefers active engagement to passive acceptance even if there are times when acceptance is necessary. Wisdom lies in knowing when the one is required and when the other. Perhaps this is where the West can take the insights of the East to a higher level as i believe the teachings of Christ do when compared to those of the Buddha.