Friday, October 9, 2009

Because you deserve it!

Our German correspondent, The Editrix, turns us on to a study, the results of which seems to indicate that -- brace yourselves! -- that 'eco-friendliness' can and often does coincide with a greater tendency to lie and cheat and steal. Which brings this question to mind,

Several years ago (as one example among numbers of them I could cite) I stopped at the drive-thru window at the local bank to cash a pay check. As was and is my habit, I re-counted my cash back and discovered that the teller had in fact overpaid me in the amount of $300. At which point I promptly returned to the window, advised the teller of her mistake and returned the overage. My question is this, had I spent the previous week doing eco-friendly work and making eco-friendly purchases in exclusion to all others when possible, might I have considered myself worthy of the $300. bonus, the mistake an "act of Providence" or some sort of good karma finally catching up to my noble deeds/bad karma finally catching up to the teller, the bank, or whomever would eventually eat the loss? Well, I imagine that if I were an eco-nut I could probably just about excuse any sort of immoral behavior I ultimately involved myself in at the expense of others, others who might well be eco-friendly themselves, but certainly not as advanced and deserving as me. After all, the spirit of the universe was smiling on me that day. How insulting must it be to this great spirit for someone to reject its special favors? Speaking of which, I think I've just answered a question that's been puzzling me for the last several years. ;-)


Terry Morris said...

Y'know, I can't believe I didn't think of this earlier when I wrote the main entry, but it occurs to me that a similar experiment ought to be conducted, following a similar methodology to that employed here, to determine whether there's a demonstrable connection between non-racism (or race blindness) and a greater tendency to lie, cheat and steal.

Call Me Mom said...

I recall taking my mother to the bank to make a deposit a while ago. As I was driving her home she was entering the deposit into her checkbook when she noticed that the teller had mistakenly added several zeros to the amount deposited. We went back immediately and were assured that they would have caught the error eventually, but for a few minutes my mother was an exceedingly wealthy person on paper. She was never even tempted to claim it as her own, but it makes me wonder if someone else might've engaged in a spending spree before the error was found by the bank.

chiu_chunling said...

Ah, decimal points, how we love you. Particularly combined with microprinted marginal notes indicating the scale is in...something that ends in 'illion'.

Anyway, it isn't that remarkable. One of the things that really kick-started Protestantism was the issue of 'indulgences' (as well as ecclesiastical offices) being sold to the wealthy. 'Green' products are essentially indulgences, a tangible proof of moral status you can buy.

That's why Jesus said men should do their good deeds in secret, even though that seems to directly contradict the injunction to let others see your good works and glorify God. The trick is, others should see the results of your goodness without knowing it was you. That way, they can only give credit to God.

And of course you are supposed to think of it that way as well. It is God who blessed you with the ability and inspiration to do the good work. Yes, you deserve recognition for following God's will...but you must seek that recognition from God alone.

Psychologically this is all very complicated and interesting. I'm very glad sometimes that I'm evil, it makes many things much simpler. I'm proud enough to admit that I care more whether I approve of God than whether He approves of me. Um...and humble enough to admit that I'm that proud. Which makes more sense if you remember that technically I'm non-good rather than evil, it's just that morality is so black and white about good and evil.

The_Editrix said...

I think that a similar methodology may be helpful to determine whether there's a demonstrable connection between the protagonists of ANY "progressive" cause and a greater tendency to lie, cheat and steal.

Look at that sentence: "If we do one moral thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will be morally better in other things as well." What a nice piece of relativism! That is because those people do "moral things" (i.e. things they themselves consider moral) which are disconnected from a greater, objective good. Performing those self-defined "moral things" (for example fighting for ecology, peace, equality of the patently unequal, freedom from things and circumstances they don't like) exempts them from the toil of leading a TRULY moral life. Because according to their own definition they are doing "good", they feel an entitlement to lie, steal and cheat because it isn't for THEM but for a "good cause" or because they think that working for a "cause" renders everything else, like, say, truth, faith, faithfulness, scruples or a conscience unimportant.

Scratch a "progressive" and you'll either find a crook or a cold, cruel Robespierre. Sometimes both.

chiu_chunling said...

No argument with that.

And your point about the larger context of one's "good works" is important. It touches on one of the most profound misconceptions which most people have about morality.

Christ said, "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God." This is not to say that Christ was non-good (which would, as I mention, qualify Him as evil). It is to say that goodness is not a characteristic that anyone has except by God's virtue.

The desire to acquire tangible proof of one's own goodness is thus intrinsically at odds with the proper attitude of giving all glory to God that 'good' exists at all. It is not a behavior pattern unique to modern or pagan moralities, though of course such provide no mechanism for escaping it. Probably most theoretically committed religious individuals try to use religion to justify themselves, at least occasionally.

The pattern of religion (going into the original meaning of the term) is to seek to connect to God through emulation of His goodness. Implicit in this is the recognition that the goodness is only a reflection of God's own. Of course, my failing is in the emulation itself....

Ah, theology, how you tempt me. But good taste imposes limits on how much I, being evil, can elaborate on the nature of good.

The_Editrix said...

Of course there are religious people as well who act like that. They are the worst because they could know better because they -- in theory -- accept a higher order and an objective truth and then betray it. They sell out, as you so aptly put it, the search "to connect to God through emulation of His goodness."

Terry Morris said...

Yes, among them being the "worship is our gift to God" crowd.

The_Editrix said...

"Yes, among them being the "worship is our gift to God" crowd."

Exactly. Can we agree that this is one important definition for "lack of humility"? You know, when I saw the headline in our local paper (on the front page but as obscure and third rate as anything on a front page can possibly be) "Obama accepts Nobel Peace Price with Humility", my first thought, in spite of the initial shock, was that the ONE thing this man does definitely NOT possess is humility. I know quite well that I am loud-mouthed, opinionated and belligerent, however, I have come to realize that very often it are the ...errrr... polite, soft-spoken and "refined" ones who are lacking humility.

But maybe this is just another instance of American-European culture clash.

Terry Morris said...

Chiu wrote:

The pattern of religion (going into the original meaning of the term) is to seek to connect to God through emulation of His goodness. Implicit in this is the recognition that the goodness is only a reflection of God's own. Of course, my failing is in the emulation itself....

Ah, theology, how you tempt me. But good taste imposes limits on how much I, being evil, can elaborate on the nature of good.

Well, if you elaborate on the nature of good, then you elaborate on the nature of God, no?

Chiu (and Nora), I think that for purposes of clarification it might not hurt to offer my understanding of God and goodness, and how created dependent moral creatures like ourselves connect(?) to this.

First, God is, we have. Whether we're talking about the good, or of being itself, God being what he is -- a singularity -- and we being what we are -- complex beings with potentiality -- we merely have being while God is being.

My understanding of the godhead is that He, being a singularity (otherwise he couldn't be God), has, therefore, no potentiality. He cannot be better or worse, in other words. We (meaning human beings), complex beings that we are, do have potentiality, or, we can be better or worse. Furthermore, God being what he is, it's impossible for him to transfer to, or share with, created beings an attribute that is exclusively to himself. If it were possible for God to do this, then existence itself would be impossible, which is impossible. Whoa!

I wholly agree with Chiu that human beings can merely reflect God's goodness, in the same manner that we can merely reflect his being, he being good (and being) itself.

Terry Morris said...


To say that I can be as smart-mouthed, belligerant, overbearing (and whatever) as you can (which I was tempted to say initially in response) would, first of all, be a lie, and second, it would tend to detract from your individuality rather than adding anything to mine. So I decline the temptation to say it, and assert that you are a better smart-mouth than I am. Which I personally don't see as necessarily bad. :-)

Hussein and humility? A contradiction in terms.

The_Editrix said...

This is a great discussion! Thank you all!

Terry Morris said...

Well, you started it, Nora. So let's give credit where credit is due, eh?

My thanks go to you!

Terry Morris said...

...except, of course, where I recognized the potentiality of your post. Credit where credit is due, right?

The_Editrix said...

That is what I mean. Anything like this is a concerted effort. Bound to be. Also, we Europeans are pretty stuck-up when it comes to talking about our faith and that is not an entirely bad thing. This blog provides an environment where I can talk about it and don't need to fear to CHEAPEN it.

I hope that makes sense.

chiu_chunling said...

Well, I suppose that I can avoid the fine points about the fundamental nature of existence and individuality and still sum up everything I can understand about goodness.

But I already did that.

After all, I don't really understand that much about goodness, other than that it is a quality which emanates from God. I appreciate that much of the beauty that exists corresponds to reflections of divine traits and design in Creation, but I cannot deny that there are some things which are beautiful which directly contradict goodness.

I always knew that I was non-good. What took me a long time to understand was that many humans have difficulty understanding themselves to be non-good or even distinct from goodness. And that's because I didn't understand the desire to be good. I thought it meant to desire the rewards of goodness, or some such thing. I desire that as much as anyone, I imagine, probably more than most, even.

But I don't desire to be good, I can't even imagine what such a desire would feel like. I want good to exist so I can enjoy it, wanting to be good myself would seem as sensible as wanting to be made of chocolate. Except that I can at least imagine wanting to be made of chocolate, or various things I might do as a result.

Some of which, interestingly, seem analogous to some behaviors of those who desire to be good.