Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Goodness Gracious

What is good?

It's somewhat of an existential question, but one raises it here in light of today's news:

A man is shot and killed in an aborted armed robbery attempt.

The dead man was one of the hold up gang attempting to ambush guards delivering a cash roll to a bank in Sydney.

"He was good man. He was the best guy in the world," said one relative, who did not wish to be named.
Comments following this story are, not surprisingly, askance that the would-be robber could be described as 'good'.

It brings us back to the topic at hand.

It can be contended that most people would consider 'good' to be merely an adjective - satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree according to the dictionary.

But is that enough? I would suggest not. The fact that a person is not a murderer, not a bank robber, not a thief, is not nearly enough to suggest that they are good.

There is nothing outstanding in not being any of those things. It is reasonable to expect that the vast majority of us are none of those things.

But does that make us good? I would suggest not.

Good is not so much a state of being but instead a state of action.

That friends would remark that their dead compatriot 'was a good man; the best', but it doesn't make him so.

There is no opportunity for moral equivalence - a good man would not commit an armed robbery no matter what his circumstances, a good man would not (implicitly) threaten the life of another by brandishing a deadly weapon.

It's an extreme example and one might be heartened by reading the number of commenters who recognise the fact the one isn't 'good' because one labels him so.

So, back to the question, what is good and how is such goodness measured?

Like everything that can be measured there needs to be an objective standard by which goodness is benchmarked.

It's at the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Were the two people who passed the beaten and seriously injured bloke good?

By a subjective standard, yes. They didn't beat up the victim, they were just minding their own business, they didn't do anything wrong.

Did they do good?

No. Not by the objective standard that Christ uses in the above story.

The man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew - an ideological enemy of the Samaritans - no one would have blamed the Samaritan for walking on by - he had even less obligation than the two guys who went by earlier. But he didn't.

He did good by stopping, he did good by obligating himself to the care and welfare of this total stranger, a man who in another time and place might very well wielded a knife against our Samaritan.

No, our armed robber today was not a 'good man' not by any religious or secular definition.

But it does raise a question or two:

Are we good? By what standard? Is it enough? What can we do that is good? What good can we do? And when do we start?

-- Nora

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