Web Published on The Media Desk
[Note: For the purposes of this paper (which is not a Christian Apologetic piece but a non-religious examination of the topic 'metaphysics') the words 'divine' and 'supernatural' and so on will stand in for any and all variations and perambulations possible for any extra-natural, non-human, spiritual, or otherwise intelligence or entity with regards to its role in the mundane world. The author’s own definition of God is best defined as ‘the uncaused first cause’ alluded to in Aristotle’s works. Thank you]
[Further Note: No disrespect or slight of any named Deity is intended. Superior Beings of many faiths are named in this discussion and all are treated as they are presented by their followers at face value. No judgments by the author are made or intended to be inferred from this work.]
As an Academic Work In Progress-
portions of this paper may be revised at any time.
Some sections of this work deal with decidedly adult themes although those sections are intended as academic discussion, they may offend some persons who wish and are looking to be offended. You have been warned.
Overview and Index
to part one
Of course we have spent the last several pages dancing around the issue, and now we shall hit it dead on.
Is there a Higher Moral Code than the Law of the Land? Be those laws the whim of an autocratic leader or a written code or traditional practice.
Is there an ultimate Right and Wrong?
Are there some things that are simply not to be done, and if so why?
If the gentile heathens of Corinth didn't do something there would have to be a reason besides the fact that the Jewish God said not to.
Some acts humans commit are almost universally condemned by anything that even loosely resembles what could be called a Culture or Civilization.
The first is incest. Which we shall regard as the sex act being committed between persons of the same immediate family- first cousins or closer. And most certainly between siblings, as well as parents and children, and the variations thereof.
If cultures as diverse as Sumeria and the Maya to the ancient Chinese and the Druids all have codified laws and practices categorizing whom can marry whom (some allowed first cousins, others prohibited anything closer than second or third cousins) and all regarded adult sexual contact between first degree relations (immediate family members) as taboo and some rewarded said contact with rather painful deaths. In the Americas before the major European invasion incest was universally prohibited, (even though the Mayan considered homosexuality among the unmarried youths of both sexes preferable to unmarried girls having babies) couldn't we regard incest between close family members of either sex as a practice which is naturally prohibited?
Another one that sweeps across the board is cold blooded murder.
All of the 'Civilized' cultures, and some not so civilized ones too, have rules against simply walking up to somebody and killing them. Some, like the Taliban of late of Afghanistan, had some peculiar ideas what a justified killing was, but even then, they had to at least come up with a good lie to explain it. Random unprovoked attacks, even under a reign of terror (by those not in power at least), brought the full power of the Law down on the killer. Even in Rome, Caligula and Claudius had those responsible for the former emperor's demise tried and sentenced, even if those very conspirators were working under their orders. Except in cases of extreme religious fervor, where at least in the Christian cases where they have read the King James Bible and taken to heart its mis-translation of the Aramaic word for 'murder' with 'to kill' in general, most societies recognize the difference between murder and killing during a time of war or in self defense. Or in the case of Capital Punishment- killing a killer, which is even Biblical.
Something else that comes through almost all of the civilized societies is laws against rape. Which for our purpose shall be defined as a man, or men, having heterosexual genital intercourse with a woman without benefit of her prior consent (or various forced homosexual acts). The vast majority of societal laws and religious canons consider that a serious crime, and even a mortal sin. If we are naught but animals having a long term really bad hair incident, then what's the problem? Somebody playing the Devil's Advocate could say something like the following: "OK, it violates her personal space, and even her body, but that's usually the end of it, right? Tell her to take a long bath and get over it, and if she gets pregnant or catches some disease, that's the breaks." Then when the booing stops we could all just shake our heads and wonder if somebody hadn't violated that precept against first cousins marrying. This one is about as cut and dry as anything can be. Besides being an inherently dehumanizing act, it violates something most of us hold as one of the most intimate acts there is, the act of procreation.
Even in most societies, still today in some countries, where slaves were and are held by those in power, you cannot abuse a slave by simply killing or raping them. With exceptions such as today's Sudan or Mauritania where even the feeling that a slave is getting 'uppity' can result in the most creative torture the master can think of, including placing live insects in the slave's bodily orifices or burning parts of the bound slave with live coals.
Yet slavery itself was not something that was as universally condemned as murder. It was the blatant and unjustified mistreatment of those slaves that was frowned upon even under Roman law. Laying on the whip to keep them working was OK, whipping just to hear them scream was not.
We hit another gray area with theft. Most laws barred theft for mere personal gain. Whereas theft to feed your starving kids was something not quite as serious.
Same with lying. Many cultures past and present seem to see a difference between a 'little white lie' and perjury or its equivalent. Even today in America, Plagiarism (claiming an intellectual work is yours when it is not, actually both lying and stealing) is OK in some academic environments, such as the public schools in Kansas City, and certain political campaigns. And the White Lie lives on, for an example we shall point to the husband who is asked by his wife if he thinks the current Miss America is prettier than she is. Of course the answer is 'Yes', but the only safe answer is: 'Oh no, you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen'. So some lies are forgiven, or ignored, others are condemned officially and socially.
And lastly, let's look at prostitution. Some religions absolutely forbade it on pain of death for both parties. Others sanctioned it as an official function of the temple priestess or had women, and sometimes men, working in the name of the temple if not actually inside it (Remember John the Twelfth?). In some places prostitution is legal and the workers themselves, of both sexes, are unionized with benefits. In other places it is banned and those who patronize a hooker can have their name and picture put in the newspaper even without being convicted.
And so on.
Just as interesting are some other prohibitions which aren't universal.
There are many cultures where adultery was frowned upon only if you were caught by the offended husband. Most usually the wife had no recourse if she caught her husband fooling around.
Another of these is modesty. Everybody knows about the Equatorial cultures where clothing is used only to protect the body from mosquitoes, when the bugs go away, the clothes come off. All the way off. Other cultures see nothing immodest about sharing bodily functions with their friends and neighbors including the movement of their bowels and the sex act between, well, whoever was doing it. Modesty isn't a natural human condition, and the rather Puritan attitude about it pervasive in America and other Western countries is at best unnatural, "If God had meant for people to go around naked, they would have been born that way" -bumper sticker. Which would also explain most American men's obsession with breasts (which makes this writer wonder if they were really ever weaned) and the Women of Middle America going gaga over some pretty boy with a shaved chest. The body and its sexuality are taboo, which of course, makes them irresistible.
Other taboos and mores seem to depend even more on the culture than those. The Muslim bans on such things as images of living things even including trees and insects seems absurd to us, as did the fear of certain tribesmen that a camera would capture their soul. Some cultures think it an affront if you look someone in the eye, others are almost obsessed with doing just that. The French still think human body odor is pleasant and seldom (if ever) bathe, other groups cover themselves with perfume until they make you eyes water because the natural human scent is offensive.
So let's cut this short and just admit it right here, some morals are as irrational as many popular superstitions. At least to those who don't share in those beliefs.
There seems to be something in the wiring of the human mind at the most basic common level that dictates certain things are just simply wrong. It would seem we don't need to be taught that some acts just are not to be committed. Everybody, including even nine year old boys, knows torturing small helpless animals, and other people, is wrong. Most of them will tell you face to face they realized it was wrong, and even sinful, even while they continue to do it.
Most politicians will tell you that taking money from shady figures or known felons is wrong, even while they are counting the money they got from them. In some cases right before pardoning them, President Clinton and Marc Rich most recently. Not to mention some other politicians (a recent mayor of Washington DC for instance) that got busted taking up front bribes and payoffs, or got caught doing drugs with some close personal friends.
Tele-evangelists are another prime example of those that know better (we hope they do anyway), but do it as well. How many got caught in extravagant lifestyles, in various sexual perversions (one was rather creative about it at least), or other assorted vices.
More recently Rush Limbaugh's battle with prescription drugs has been held up by both sides as a prime example. He had billed himself as the Arbitrator of Morality and America's Truth Detector. Which begs the question, if a twice divorced admitted drug addict is the color guard for all things that are Right, then what sort of sleaze ball is toting the banner for the more… what's a good word here… 'less restricted' side of life? Yet there are those that defend his coming clean and getting help. Truth be told, Rush was quite fond of marijuana earlier in his life, something trumpeted by the liberal leaning media and almost ignored by his followers. As with everybody else, Mr. Limbaugh is and was human. He had valid reasons for using some seriously heavy pain killers early on, but then they got the best of him. His drug of choice, OxyContin, acts and reacts in the body in chemically the same way as heroin, which is no slouch of an addictive drug in its own right.
The quote was used before, but it fits here, so we'll use it again.
It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
Of course, everybody, well, almost everybody, has their vices.
This writer remembers having a prolonged discussion with a local preacher who was quite proud of his piety about the definition of 'personal sin'. One of his indulgences was Country-Western music. He had waxed poetic from the pulpit about the superior morality of country music, and had repeatedly suggested that even listening to some other music being blasted from a passing car was almost a mortal sin.
Needless to say that kind of garbola does not sit well with this writer.
You never even call me by my name
It was all that I could do to keep from cryin'
Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
So I'll hang around as long as you will let me
David Allen Coe / Steve Goodman
(the Perfect Country Song)
Sometimes it seems so useless to remain
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me by my name.
spoken Well, a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song and he told me it was the perfect country and western song. I wrote him back a letter and told him it was NOT the perfect country and western song because he hadn't said anything about Momma, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or gettin' drunk. Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me and after reading it, I realized that my friend had written the perfect country and western song. And I felt obliged to include it on this album. The last verse goes like this here:
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got runned over by a damned old train.
And I never minded standin' in the rain. No,
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me, I wonder why you don't call me
Why don't you ever call me by my name?
Album: the Perfect Country Song 1996, King Records
It was all that I could do to keep from cryin'
Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
So I'll hang around as long as you will let me
David Allen Coe / Steve Goodman
The argument here is the same as it is with matches, guns, food, or anything else.
What is the INTENT of the user, or abuser? Are they intending to do harm, or putting in motion actions that can result in harm. Or, conversely, through inaction causing or allowing harm to come to themselves or others? It is like claiming that the existence of matches causes arson.
Music has been used for ages to praise and worship deities, to celebrate great occasions, and small ones as well. It can tell stories and as in the case of Mr. Coe's song, just for fun.
Once again, we come back to the issue of personal choice, and the intent that comes with that choice.
Of course not all evil comes from the choice to commit evil. Accidents do happen, there are unintended consequences of innocent actions, some things can be 'act of Nature or God' as the insurance companies put it.
Evil is in the eye of the beholder. And by our working definition, a Natural Disaster cannot be Evil, although the people in the path of Hurricane Hugo several years ago may differ with that conclusion.
Earthquakes are not evil in that there is no intent to commit personal injury and property damage. They are a natural product of our planet's processes. They have occurred since the beginning and will happen every now and again until the Earth ceases to be. The fact that humans live here makes them susceptible to getting caught up in such an event. The earthquake itself is not evil, however its results can be to the people in the area. Malice and forethought about doing harm isn't part of the process. Plate tectonics as a scientific discipline does not include textbook chapters on the ethics associated with fault slippage. However it perhaps should include one on the morality of fudging on building to code in seismically active areas to pad the builder's profit margin.
Except for a few wackos, nobody is seriously suggesting that the Planet Earth has a consciousness and is able to make malicious decisions about when is the absolute worst time for the people in the area for a volcano cook off or that it directs a cyclone at the villages least able to withstand it. 'Mother Earth' is not guilty, yet the village is still in ruins.
The same applies to trying to assign evil intent to a dog with rabies that bites several people. Is the dog, who may have been very well behaved and intelligent (Old Yeller for instance) in any way responsible for the attacks once the disease has taken hold? Yes the results of the attack are terrible. And the ultimate destruction of the dog may raise remorse in those involved even if they had been bitten, but the dog itself is innocent of any charge brought against it. However, the postman still has to take his shots and buy a new pair of pants.
Conversely the Universe does not smile on you with sunshine, blue skies and fields of wildflowers just to make you happy. A gentle spring rain has more to do with a weak cold front and the dew point than Mother Nature's wish to make your day.
That said, a gun is not evil in and of itself. It is a tool. Music is not evil. It is an artistic expression. An individual can choose to rob a gas station with their gun, and sing about raping and burning, or do both at the same time. Or, they can defend their home against a criminal or their country against a foreign threat and sing patriotic songs and praise the Creator while doing it.
Look at Salt, table salt, sodium chloride, NaCl. You cannot live without it. Your cells will cease to function if you are totally deprived of it. Too much of it will kill you slowly with high blood pressure and other ailments, way too much of it and you die somewhat more quickly as it leaches the water out of your body. Salt is simply a chemical. The salt you put on your eggs in the morning neither knows nor cares whether or not you have hypertension. Salt is as neutral as anything can be morally, it is a fact of life. And as with anything else, its use and abuse can and will have ramifications. Including life or death.
Now that we have gone through all that…
Is there a Universal GOOD and EVIL?
A working definition of what should be considered Good and what should be Bad, all other things being equal may be needed here.
If the Earth itself, rain clouds and rabid dogs are incapable of moral direction, literally 'Amoral' which can be taken to mean fundamentally indifferent to the distinction of Right and Wrong, is there be a universal Good? And the other side… Evil? The Yin and Yang as it were.
That one is easy.
The answer is exactly that simple. Yes, there is a Universal Definition of Good and Evil.
It is NOT related directly to the act itself, it is directly related however to the INTENT behind the act.
Of course well intended actions can result in an evil outcome and all manner of perambulations thereof. But driving into that roundabout is a pointless exercise in 'what if' and 'but then' arguing which we will not engage in here. (For example: Yes the Holocaust of WWII was evil, but if in the long run it prevents further reigns of terror and exposed for all time what doctrines like Fascism and 'Final Solutions' really are, couldn't the eventual outcome be considered as a force for good? 'The end justifies the means'. No, we are not going to play that ball game here.)
If something is done to be intentionally cruel, that would appear to be Universally Evil regardless of the motivation. Yes you may be torturing an al-Qaida mastermind to learn of future attacks against civilians, but there is just something morally wrong about torture, no matter how just the rationale. There has to be a better way to get the information. Then again, there are those people that would suggest if other terrorist learn that the British are employing those techniques they may turn themselves in and sing like Pavarotti to avoid the torture. Yet the bottom line still remains, torture is wrong.
"No good deed goes unpunished."
An old saying that seems to be very very true.
Often the motivation behind the good deed is questioned with suspicion. We look for ulterior motives, hidden agendas. And often- we find them.
Philanthropy for its own sake does seem to be rare. The good souls of Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale notwithstanding, those who do good just to do good are very rare. Yet they do turn up sometimes.
And their existence could be used to examine those who exist for what would seem to be the sole purpose of doing evil. Such as serial child molesters or dedicated terrorists.
Once again we are not talking about somebody with a serious pathological disturbance, but someone who has made a conscious decision to do evil.
Saint Francis of Assisi decided to make a life work of doing good for others when he was an adult. Coming from a privileged family and having a chance at a good education, Francis blew it. He loved pleasure and leisure but was invariably courteous to everybody. He went off to war probably in pursuit of glory and ended up a prisoner under lousy conditions. He was released back to his parties, but after a series of further illnesses the joys of his former life rang hollow. He saw a few visions and finally the call came upon him to abandon that life totally. After his conversion, he turned his life so completely around to the point of having to be forced by friends to accept a cloak to cover himself with. He refused to own anything himself, and for all practical purposes, he invented the "Vow of Poverty". He set about doing his work of preaching to everybody and everything that would hold still, and rebuilding neglected rural churches with his own hands. Later he established his Order of monks, whom after his death built a monastery with some of the most extravagant architecture in Europe. An odd legacy for the man that owned nothing.
Of course it should be noted here that the biography of the Saint is made up as much of wishful thinking and legend as it is fact. But that will do for this article.
It could be argued that Francis did have some sort of emotional illness. His total lack of regard for his own well being does seem to approach something of a neurosis. There are those that have mental problems that cause them to mortify their own flesh to the point of endangering their own life. Not counting that group that enjoy inflicting pain on themselves, of which Francis clearly was not a member, there are several occasions where the Saint stated his sorrow for the condition of 'Brother Donkey' as he referred to his body.
Could Francis's life be explained by some sort of hereditable guilt from his family's position at the top of the societal food chain as easily as religious conviction? Maybe he saw life just after the turn of the thirteenth century as morally reprehensible and endeavored to change it single handedly. Whatever the reasons behind it, it became his life, and his life became a legend.
Without a doubt, Saint Francis is one whom, later in life, did good for what might be called 'good's own sake'. In the language of Star Trek "Creeping Do-Gooder-ism", doing the right thing just because it is the right thing.
We don't have to go much further than our earlier examples for those who did evil just because they could. Or even worse, because it was more fun than doing good, such as Caligula betraying and then murdering his 'friends' evidently out of boredom as much as anything else.
Again. It appears that there is something innate in the species that knows good from evil.
For more evidence we turn to Hollywood.
The figure of evil from the original Star Wars movie, Darth Vader, cut across all cultures. Chinese audiences did not need subtitles that said 'this is a bad guy'. The film's Russian viewers knew that the guy in the shiny black helmet wouldn't be a nice dinner guest. It is fairly safe to say that in a hundred years Inuit tribesmen shown the movie will boo when Vader makes his appearance just as viewers did in the US in 1977.
Yes we are speaking of archetypes. And the actions we mentioned earlier, murder, rape, etc, are the sorts of actions which are archetypical under the general heading of 'evil actions'.
There is Something operating at the primal level here.
Yes. Humans KNOW, barring a brain malfunction, Good from Evil. Some of the gray areas are handed down from the person's society or culture or even personal choice, but at the basic operating system level, we just simply know.
And a function of that basic understanding is that we boo Darth Vader and feel good about Mother Teresa.
Looking back to those ancient records it becomes obvious that the Greeks and Romans would have booed Vader too. Then gone out and worshiped him as some sort of god so he didn't do the same thing to them. Same in the Indus Valley at the Mohenjodaro Multiplex along about 2000 BC.
Even those cultures with complex polytheistic religious rituals subscribed to a basic tenet of principles of behavior- Thus and so were BAD. This and that were GOOD. And some of the others, we can tolerate, as long as you're not too annoying about it.
Most societies had a gray area. Some things weren't encouraged, but as long as it didn't get out of hand, or was done behind closed doors, they put up with it.
For example, homosexuality in societies dominated by religious laws and authorities. Even today in Saudi Arabia where a public accusation of homosexuality will get you killed, it is practiced behind locked doors and barred windows with the participants all agreeing to keep mum. According to some internet rumors, some of those most involved with this practice are various members of the Royal House, some from the Mutaween, and a smattering of the Wahabi clerics. Their behavior in their secret meetings harkens back to the original Hellfire club back in its day where members of the Aristocracy and Clergy indulged in things that, while maybe not carrying a sentence of Death, it might ruin your career if it came out to public view.
But in Saudi society, even wanton heterosexual activity can bring down the hammer. To indulge in a drunken orgy with a random selection of members of both sexes, complete with loud non-Islamic (Western) music, tobacco, various recreational drugs, non-Islamic (Western) TV and movies, and so on, is simply asking to be beheaded in the public square. To testify against the other party attendees is to testify against yourself, but to show his appreciation for your coming forward the Wahabi executioner (who might have also been at the party) will give you a blindfold before he hacks your neck in two.
Which brings us back to one of the central questions of this chapter. Is it the Power that corrupts the morals, or were their moral fiber already tattered and the opportunity to act with virtual impunity was simply too much for them?
Were they unable to resist temptation?
Were they already acting like this and just with more money, more power, a high position, and so on, they had the full buffet of diversions and perversions to sample?
There are loads of very good examples of people who attained high position, wealth, prestige and authority and did NOT become one of our bad examples. Various kings of France earned the phrase 'the beloved' or a variation of it attached to their name because they were not cruel or corrupt. In the US today, President George W Bush is slighted because there aren't any really good juicy rumors floating around to feed the tabloid TV shows and newspaper scandal sheets. In the southeast an aging Televangelist carries on his weekly show having never done more than gloat a bit too much when a rival TV Preacher destroyed himself in a mess of money, adultery and attempted murder-for-hire. It isn't that they didn't have the opportunity to get involved in some unseemly practices, they have, they all have, but they didn't have that kinky streak in their personality that made it almost too much to resist.
If one of our examples had become apprenticed to a merchant dealing in, just for giggles, olive oil, instead of attaining an office of great power, would he have become such a good bad example as, say, Octavius (John the Twelfth)? He would have had some money, a few contacts in certain circles, but could he have become what amounts to the Second Biggest Pimp in Rome's History? Was it his own character that was weak in certain matters or was it the position that flipped some switch in his mind? Or was he just playing it to see what he could get away with? Like our other shining example was according to some historians and apologists for the Roman Emperors.
Caligula seems to have known that if he pushed the Senate and finally the Military too far, they'd take action and relieve him of the pain of both ruling and living at the same time. It finally worked in the end.
That would also seem to be the idea behind the Hellfire club as well. They wanted to see what the others would find too outrageous. Some were content with rather pedestrian traditional debauchery, others went further and further until finally the group ceased to function with any organization and authority as the more stayed members became uncomfortable with the group as a whole. Maybe they weren't as absolutely morally destitute as our old friends from Rome. Somewhere under the robes and wigs of the middle eighteenth century London there still existed some value system that did work, if, a little belatedly. But while it was in the swing of things, it was the swing of things. Even Ben Franklin had sampled the raucous side in the caves under the mansion used by the 'Friars' of the 'Order' during its height. Today's clubs of this stripe, including the infamous Studio 54, blanch when held up for comparison. At least at Studio 54 the members didn't wander the streets scooping up the unsuspecting or unwary to carry off to their dungeons for an evening as the main attraction.
Even as the Hellfire's legend has been under attack by those who seem to only wish to say 'well, they weren't all that bad' by calling the group more of a political ring than a pleasure troupe, there is certainly some fire under the smoke from the club. But even if only half of the myth and rumor and speculation is true, they had themselves a very good time. And it is true, they weren't all that bad. You can count the deaths under suspicious circumstances related to the club on one hand. In the Palaces of Rome, just a handful of deaths during and after a party would have been a slow night. As far as can be told from this far out, the Friars and Knights didn't employ actual slaves, while they hired a few 'working girls' and what not, they were sub-contractors who actually got paid and were not owned by the group or its members. At one time in Rome, there were more slaves in Rome than Romans and things didn't change until after the Empire came apart hundreds of years later.
So it would seem that if your personality has the Tendency toward certain types of behavior, regardless of the society you are in, if given the means and opportunity then you are much more likely to become Caligula than somebody the society writers complain about in their columns because you go to bed at nine in the evening instead of prowling around the cocktail circuit. After all, Nixon went to bed early too, but nobody complained he was dull did they?
What sort of intestinal fortitude does it take to turn down the bimbo intern that gets a little too friendly with the Head of State regardless of who initiates the flirting? And on the other side, what sort of power within the personality does it take to turn down the Head of State when you are the intern that has engaged in a little otherwise harmless flirting? Is there a fine black line between what is just for fun and maybe a little bit naughty but otherwise harmless between two consenting adults and the point where we argue about what does it mean to 'have sex' with someone?
"It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If 'is' means 'is and never has been' that's one thing - if it means 'there is none', that was a completely true statement."
President Bill Clinton, 17 August, 1998
It would appear we have another very good bad example of someone who couldn't say 'no'.
Washington DC, Hollywood and Wall Street were and are all rife with both kinds. Those whose entire career was above board and beyond reproach, and those… well, more interesting kinds.
Some of the carefully sanitized biographies of the big industrialists late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries leave as many questions unanswered about the recreational activities of some of the main movers and shakers of the Industrial Revolution as other biographies do of America's Founding Fathers. (All except Franklin who kind of relished in his playboy image while in his seventies and eighties.) Yes a few were actually squeaky clean, but others weren't. Thomas Jefferson's famous extended family is an example about how they were all actually human after all. American Civil War era Financier James Fisk ended up with lead poisoning over a dispute over a Broadway actress. A rival for both the woman's affections and certain business deals shot him.
For examples from Hollywood, we'll let the reader do their own legwork. There is no shortage of examples from Fatty Arbuckle (who may have just been unlucky) to the latest 'kiss and tell' book on the TV Talk show schedule.
How can We the People tell if a given leader, or candidate, or business person is going to turn out to be Abraham Lincoln (who's idea of a riotous time was telling off color jokes to old friends late into the night), or somebody who might try to live up to the reputation of one of our other examples?
In today's world of Multinational Corporations who have their fingers into almost every sort of business going, how can a good Southern Baptist know if the producers of the goods and services they need/ want/ use don't also own legal whore-houses in Amsterdam or own a percentage of a distillery in Puerto Rico? How can you know if the president of the board of directors of your bank's holding company is in fact starting his own version of the Hellfire and is using the money he makes off your auto loan to have the bar refinished? Is it OK if you find out that the same outfit that publishes your newspaper is related to another publishing house that issues magazines that would make Caligula Himself blush?
Well. There are those that in those positions stop doing business with the company if possible. And where its not, they do only what they have to and then make sure the company knows it is under protest, such as when the company with the stain is the electric company or the only grocery store in town. And there are a few companies that still care about their reputation, and they enforce a code of conduct or at least make sure their higher-ups attempt to operate with some measure of discretion when they're using poor judgment in their personal lives.
Conversely. How many otherwise honest and upstanding members of society are out there who have neither the means nor good opportunity to get in touch with their inner John the Thirteenth? If, to revisit our example, the Olive Oil sale apprentice were to suddenly win the lottery would he donate a tithe to the church and then spend the rest of his life putting new roofs on orphanages and setting up college trust funds for their residents? Or would he go on the Wine, Women and Song World Tour on a chartered jet to visit all the debauchery hot spots around the world?
It is most likely and entirely reasonable to predict that Most Average People would do something in between. And in fact, if you look at the stories of Big Lottery Winners, most do. They do have themselves a big party, they do give a nice chunk to a charity or two, they set up their friends and relatives, and then move on. Yes there are a few classic examples that end up bankrupt, or they buy their employers business and fire their former boss, then end up running the business into the ground. There's the one that ended up in jail for excessive public stupidity. And things like that. But a majority of them do fairly good by themselves and their communities.
Which brings us to the conclusion that, Most People are Good. Across the board. Most, not all, but Most of those born or placed into positions of wealth and power, and those that come by it via hard work or a ticket purchased at the Convenience store are basically good people. Only a few are bad. And there are even fewer at the exteremes of either category. Just as there are only a few Mother Theresa's, there are also only a few Joseph Stalin's as well.
Yes the occasional Serial Killer makes the news, and because of the way the 24 hour news media with instant reporting from everywhere in the world operates, it would seem like there is a John Wayne Gacy Jr. around every corner. Yet there isn't. Criminal Sociopaths like Gacy (who confessed to killing thirty three men after having sex with them in the middle seventies) are rare. Indeed, true evil on that scale is are very rare thing indeed in spite of what our somewhat hysterical news media and TV talk shows keep telling us. If there were as many serial killers in the country as some sources tell us there are (up to 2000 active serial killers by one estimate), you'd think they'd begin killing each other off in turf wars because of the competition for victims and good places to hide bodies.
This is as good a place as any to briefly deal with the subject of Mr. Gacy and those like him.
Gacy has been routinely referred to as a true sociopath. One whom never considers that he is indeed doing anything wrong when he kills his victims. Just as a cat never thinks about the 'animal rights' of a mouse. It just doesn't occur to them that just perhaps killing is wrong. With Gacy there was a long history of personal failure even though he had been a business success. He destroyed a couple of marriages, but the reports are that he wasn't cruel to his family. And while he was in the middle of his six year killing spree, he was a pillar of virtue in the community. But under it all was a vivid imagination that came out in his letters and paintings and endless lies of the 'whopper' variety right up until he met his end in the death chamber of an Illinois prison in May of 1994. To the end, Gacy never even let on that he might have suspected that killing his homosexual lovers was somehow wrong. The issues of right and wrong, good and evil, simply were not part of the equation.
That intellectual detachment from one's own heinous acts is as much a trademark of the sociopath as is a pile of bodies behind somebody who is universally described as 'not the type'. The sociopath is not insane, at least not in the classic literary definition of the giggling and drooling mad scientist even though they often possess the same driven intellect of the scientist. Which is why Gacy was able to become a prominent businessman and a minor player in the local Democratic political structure. He was even voted the man of the year in a civic club while in the crawlspace under his house a dozen or so corpses were already rotting. He was very intelligent and very evil all in one package.
Some of our other examples are not regarded as evil as Gacy, even though they killed hundreds or even thousands more. Or practiced what was here described before as 'blasphemy for fun and profit'. Or engaged in political intrigues that played all sides against the middle so they'd win no matter what happened, only to find out in the end that somebody else had been playing them.
In the end, our collection of infamy proves one point.
True. Universal. Evil. Is a rather rare commodity.
Most people are, on the whole, somewhere on the Not Evil side of the scale. They may have had a bad spot or two, or have done some things they are not proud of, but weighed in the balance, they are leaning toward the good side.
The WHY this is so may never be answered except for it is part of human nature to want to do good moreso than the want to do evil.
It isn't because of religious teachings or societal pressure. It would seem to be because the vast majority of us are simply hard wired to be good people.
The various teachings up to and including the Golden Rule and other scripts for a good life seem to have arisen in answer to the question rather than the other way around.
We are good, most of us don't need a reason for it. But just in case you do, as you grow up, we'll teach you to do good simply because it is right. We'll even indoctrinate you with traditions and sayings and icons and…
And after a few thousand years, the question and the answer become so blurred as to render the whole thing a chicken and the egg question on the cosmological scale.
Which came first- the urge to do right or the reasons for doing so? If you believe in a Higher Power, then you do good because IT is Good, if you don't believe, you do good because the act is good in and of itself. The Cause and the Effect are one in the same, and in the end, the WHY doesn't matter.
It is time to move on.
Oh, and at the very beginning of the movie about Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus as mentioned earlier there is a quote. It fits so perfectly this discussion simply felt incomplete without it.
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?"
Overview and Index
Mark 8 : 36
[NOTE: Full attributions of quoted material will be made when the thesis is completed. All quotes are available from sources on the Web or in the Public Domain. No infringement of copyrighted work is intended. If the owner or originator of something used herein so desires any material cited from them will be removed and replaced by material from another source. See The Media Desk Copyright Page for more information. Thank you ]
Back to the Desk Religion page at: TheMediaDesk.com.
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?"
Overview and Index
Overview and Index