Posted by: theboyfromsmallville | August 22, 2006

Goodness, ungracious

Define good.

What are the moral consequences of goodness?

I think it was one afternoon during study group for an exam in Philo 101 that we came up with a premise that the only things you can define are those whose existence you can prove. Is that why religions try to come up with their own definition of a Divine Being? To prove that one actually exists?

But I digress.

How does one, then, prove the existence of good?

In that same study group, we came up with a rather circuitous solution. To prove the existence of good is to prove the existence of its opposite and then deprive it of that opposite.

Again, the premise is hinged on an established piece of information from a different field: That all actions in the universe have an equal and opposite reaction.

Similarly, since everything is a product of the laws of force and action in the universe (and this is whether you are creation, big bang or time snap theorists), then everything that exists has an equal and opposite reaction or force or being.

Every forward has its backward.

Every lift has a fall.

Every cola has an uncola.

Every good has an evil.

Vice versa.

That, of course, leads to a very interesting sidebar. If that premise held true, then the population in this world would always be in an even number. Otherwise, we would have produced that rare and unique being, one who has no equal and opposite counterpart.

But again, that’s straying.

Good is the absence of evil.

Evil is easily definable.

Therefore, good is easily definable. Which is why dictionaries have a field day listing the many definitions of good.

But my concern is good to mean moral excellence. Because whether morals are flawed or excellent, they have consequences. That is exactly why I want to know the definition of good in terms of morality so I can find out if all moral consequences of performing a good act or being good are likewise positive.

When you visit the ill, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, bury the dead and what have you, do these result in positive moral consequences?

St. Thomas Aquinas, a favorite by default (as opposed to St. Francis, a favorite by personal choice), urged the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy in the hopes of spawning a pay-it-forward type of society. If everybody performed them then the world, tah-dah, will be a batter place to live in.

But if you are the sick, are you excused from one corporal act?

And in the end, we are faced with the final question, one that has become, sadly, an SMS punchline nowadays.

If we do good to others, who does the good to us?

Why isn’t there a default set of consequences for every good act performed?

Do we have a flawed concept of what good is so that what we deem an act of goodness isn’t thought to be so by the Divine Being that supposedly hands out the credits for every benevolent act?

Have we gotten the definition of goodness wrong?

For instance, is charity an act of goodness? Feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked?
If we presuppose the existence of a Divine Being, shouldn’t these acts of charity border on blasphemy?

Think of it.

Your seatmate needs an 80 over a hundred in the final examination to validate his university scholarship. You know he needs it badly, being one from the lower stratum of the economic class.

By his estimate, he is one correct answer short of the count.

By your estimate, feeding him the correct answer to item No. 97 seals his scholarship and qualifies as an act of mercy.

Does it?

Doesn’t every educational institution brand such an act as cheating? Whatever the motives are?

Does a Machiavellian form of charity affect the goodness of that act and the moral consequences that follow?

If yes, then why should we feed the hungry? Why perform acts of mercy? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to cheating?

After all, the Divine Being we presuppose is of possession of unimaginable powers. If he wanted to, he would have caused bread to rain from the skies so no one will be left hungry. Or he would direct streams to flow into the heart of parched homes, so no one would be thirsty.

Who are we to interfere with the freedom that the Divine Being has given each and every individual? Everybody takes the test. Why take pity on he who is on the verge of failing it? However badly he needs it?

And yet the major religions of the world endorse charity. Some make it a point to require it. Would they, then, endorse cheating for charity’s sake?

The Catholic Church will probably not. While it preaches charity, it draws a line on how charity is dispensed. The end does not justify the means, reason why Machiavelli’s defining work, stripped of its redeeming values by secular critics, has been labeled under Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or banned books.

Could it be that the reason why our acts of goodness have not been rewarded properly is because we have a misguided concept of goodness?

Or is there simply no earthly moral consequence for moral uprightness?

Is this why we have found a convenient excuse to believe in heaven? So that we may credit all our acts of benevolence on earth to the existence of a place where all these would be rewarded?

In our life, we are confronted with several circumstances that erode our faith in the need for moral uprightness. While those that seek nothing but personal gain are apt to get it, those that strive to help others also get it—flush on the chin. Worse, those who have spent their lives confining themselves to the constricting fences of moral uprightness are those who are usually struck with unimaginable tragedy.

“Why me?”

“Why them?”

“He/she was such a good person. How could this have happened to him/her?”

Maybe, just maybe, it is because we misjudged him/her.

Maybe it’s time for us to re-evaluate the grounds by which people are judged to be good or bad. Heaven, whether you believe it to be a fact or simply a philosophical concept, is too flimsy a prize considering that religion allows for the absolution of all sins if the sinner, at his death bed, seeks it.

And usually, it is those who perform the evil tasks in this world that live long enough to have a shot at earning absolution.

Do we thus shoot for nothing more than an afterlife that gives both saints and ex-sinners front row seats to that great basketball game in the sky?

Why not get a few rewards here? A few good breaks while we live?

Maybe it’s time to redefine good.

Then we can get our answers to the questions above.



  1. This is very nice and informative post. I have bookmarked your site in order to find out your post in the future.

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