You can rest easy, dear reader — this post should be comparatively brief, as I am just killing time for a few minutes before I head out to softball practice. While I was in bed this morning half-asleep, I was thinking about what it means to be a “good” person. Actually, first I was wondering why religions seek to enforce morality through a combination of fear (Hell) and bribery (Heaven). Sure, I can see where this may be an effective way to get people to behave in a specific way. But is someone really a good person if the only reason they exhibit moral behavior is to either earn a reward or to avoid a punishment? I mean, I think most people do not consider someone to be a good person if they only refrain from breaking laws out of fear of being caught, and most do not praise someone for only behaving properly if they are rewarded for it. From this point of view, if you were a god whose goal was to determine who the good, loyal people are, then wouldn’t an alternate strategy be better? For example, why not tell everyone what behavior is “good” and what behavior is “bad”, and maybe even tell them that you want everyone to be good, and will be disappointed if they are bad. And sure, you can go ahead and reward/punish as needed — just don’t tell folks about that ahead of time. I guess maybe that is kind of deceptive, but it seems like it would be a better way to figure out the folks who are being good for its own sake, or to make god happy, versus those folks who are good only due to self-interest.
ON THE OTHER HAND, let’s say you have three different people. One of them just naturally likes to do the right thing. It makes them feel good to be good. Nobody is a saint, of course, but in general this person doesn’t even consider doing bad things, and they lead a life with plenty of good and minimal bad. So that’s person A. Person B, on the other hand, knows the difference between good and bad, but is strongly tempted to do bad things. But in their mind they want to do good, even if they are strongly tempted to do bad. So they try their best to use their desire to do good to override their temptation to do wrong, and they lead a largely good life. That’s person B. Finally, we have person C. They understand what is considered right and wrong, but personally they don’t feel like what is considered good behavior is actually all that good. They’d far prefer to do things which are considered bad. Not just at a temptation level, but there isn’t even a voice in their mind urging them to resist the temptation. BUT, this person is aware that God wants people to do good, and is aware of the whole punishment/reward system. So this person perhaps has to struggle even more than person B, but ultimately the lead a largely good life, even though no part of them really wants to.
Is one of these people more “good” than the others? Is person A better simply because they are “naturally” good? Or maybe person B or C are better, because it requires a lot of effort and willpower in order for them to do good — it doesn’t just come effortlessly.
This kind of reminds me of some families where one child enjoys school but one of their siblings doesn’t. The first child will do well in school without any prompting, because they do it for its own sake. The other child has to be cajoled and punished when they do poorly and rewarded when they do well. The first child may resent the fact that the second child is given rewards for doing something that they, the first child, consider to be effortless. But if the first child is also rewarded, then the second child could resent this — why reward them for something which requires no effort? Kind of a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation.
Ok, time to go to softball practice, so I will cut my ramblings mercifully short.