In the landscape of conflicting ideologies and differing theologies, there is one area that almost everyone can agree on: the importance of being a “good person.” But what does that really mean? WikiHow offers:
Philosophers have been debating what is good and what is not for centuries. Many people find that it’s more complicated than just being kind, and several complex religions have arisen with the attempt to understand the difference between good and evil. While every person’s journey is different, being good has a lot to do with discovering yourself and your role in the world. (reference)
As we explore this idea of being “good,” we deal with very tough fundamental issues; we find ourselves needing to reconcile the harsh blade of the good/bad dichotomy with the realities of individual circumstances and personal relativism.
Some secular commentators accuse religious adherents of lacking a moral core as evidenced by their insistence on cataloging commandments in order to know what is right and what is wrong.
Some religious proponents, on the other hand, accuse the non-religious of likewise being immoral (or amoral) by virtue of the fact that they live in ethical anarchy, where right and wrong is dictated by that moment’s whim, or a conveniently self-selected school of thought.
Here are three lists that build on each other, each of which can be used in one context or another to define what a “good person” is.
A secular person who values virtue might define a “good person” as someone who:
- Loves their family
- Looks out for their neighbors
- Donates to charity
- Volunteers their time
- Puts in an honest day’s work
A religious person (let’s say a Mormon) might understand being a “good person” as someone who:
- Goes to church
- Reads the scriptures
- Prays daily
- Uses clean language
- Serves others
- Keeps the commandments, especially:
- The word of wisdom
- The law of chastity
A more dogmatic Mormon might reserve the “good person” title for someone who:
- Has received the ordinances of the gospel
- Keeps gospel covenants
- Served an honorable full-time mission
- Was sealed in the Temple
- Is actively replenishing the earth in the covenant
- Magnifies church callings
- Endures to the end
There are also many non-religious or ex-religious people who espouse “being a good person” as an alternative to following any given structured religious system or set of commandments.
There is ample doctrinal support to suggest that we are all “bad people” (or “enemies to God“) and are fully reliant upon God’s goodness to be saved. Several Christian ministries have gone about convincing passers-by that they are bad people (largely based on the one-strike-and-you’re-out principle) and must accept God into their life to have any hope of heaven.
The more I think about it, it seems that defining a “good person” is more complicated that most would like to admit. From “doing whatever you feel is right” to “obeying commandments with exactness,” to neither or both, at the end of the day, each person must evaluate his or her convictions, values, and circumstances, and decide for themselves how they will be good. Despite all our best efforts, we all have some “bad person” in us. Is there really such a thing as a “good person?” Is there such a thing as a “bad person?” Is there room for lukewarm? Considering polar opposite ideals in the face of dynamic reality is often unsettling. Does the term “good person” mean anything at all?
- What does being a “good person” mean to you?
- Can you do everything on lists B and C and still be a “bad person”?
- If list A is sufficient for being a “good person,” is there any value in lists B and C?
- Can saying you’re a “good person” just be a rationalization for being disobedient?
- Which implications of morality or ethics are of greatest importance in a secular setting?
- When eternal consequences are not considered, does the importance of “being good” increase, decrease, or stay the same?
- When day-to-day consequences are not considered, does the importance of “being good” increase, decrease, or stay the same?