So I was wondering recently if people decide how to behave based more on good examples they see or bad examples they see. Imagining for a second that people are either good or bad (which I don’t believe)- are good people that way because they’ve seen and admired goodness, or because they’ve seen and been repulsed by evil? Do we only know what good is because evil exists? I suppose this is the premise of the garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve didn’t know good or evil. Once they found out good was a thing and evil was a thing, they could compare one with the other and see good is much nicer than evil. If we somehow created a paradise here on earth could we keep it? Or, lacking evil to remind us how things could be, would we screw it all up? What are we dismissing as unimportant today because we don’t see it? I’ve never seen war or even a single person dying. If I saw these things often or even once, would I leave my job and spend my whole day trying to stop war and death? I know for a fact that my attempts to be accepting of those deemed different or weird by society are directly related to my own negative experiences as a child feeling ‘weird’. Maybe the best way to learn is by a bad example.
I wanted to talk about good and evil. In trying to start I realized there are several problems which I am going to mention, then gloss over.
First: I think English is flawed. Good is a broad term but evil is not. Evil means intentional and enthusiastic badness and anti-Godness. Evil is extremely awful. Good can range from extreme to moderate and is usually secular. I use good to describe socks that fit, web pages I like; I’d never call ill fitted socks evil. A true antonym for evil should mean extreme loving kindness or helpfulness and how God would like us to act. I am just going to use the word ‘good’ and hope you can figure out whether it means just ok or the opposite of evil.
Second: I think maybe theologically I’m coming at this from a quasi-Catholic standpoint which may or may not line up with beliefs in other types of Christianity. Catholics have the whole confession to forgive/erase sin. So one of the things I sort of believed growing up was that people were in flux between good and evil based on sins making you evil and confessions making you good. This leads me to what I was actually wanting write about.
I don’t think that way anymore. I don’t believe a person is good or evil, or flipping between the two. That’s way too simplistic. People aren’t either sugary or lemon rinds. Everyone is ziti. Ziti can taste better or worse but it never tastes like sugar or lemon rinds. If you say my ziti is sweet like sugar it can only mean you are using a metaphor. Same with calling someone good or evil. It’s a decent metaphor as long as you remember it is just a metaphor. I don’t think people should actually be lumped into ‘good’ or ‘evil’ because the categories are problematic.
For one thing, no one is static. Lives change, choices are made, people change. A person who you’d class as good can do a bad thing. And vice versa. Calling someone good or evil locks up your opinion of them forever. It lets you not think about the actions they take. It gives you a pass to be mentally lazy.
Another problem with having boxes labeled “good” and “evil” is that it encourages a sort of mathematical look a person’s nature/personality. How many good things does it take for a person to be called good? How many new good things must you do to be “good” if you’ve been “evil” most of your life? Is this really how God is seeing us and how we should see each other?
I think we retweak our ziti recipes every day by our thoughts and the actions that reflect those thoughts to the world. Any day’s ziti could be awesome or awful reminding someone either of sweet, delicious sugar or ucky yucky lemon rinds. And yeah if you fix terrible ziti enough days in a row I might be inclined to call you evil. But rarely would I actually go ahead and do it. And I still would consider it something of a metaphor. No person is fully evil or fully good. Even if you literally buried your ziti in sugar or lemon rinds it would still be ziti under there.