I was reading recently about how the idea of Satan came about.
In the early middle ages St. Augustine determined that, as a result of Adam’s original sin and seeing as how we’re all descendants of Adam, evil exists in everyone. This meant that when bad things happened everyone had only themselves to blame since they all had a bit of badness in them. People bought into this pretty well because finding a scapegoat when badness happened wasn’t difficult.
Then, after a while, people began to take exception to St. Augustine’s concept thinking they really weren’t all that bad; actually they felt pretty good about themselves. So they got to thinking it wasn’t them but something or someone outside themselves that made them be bad. They anthropomorphized badness into a somewhat ambiguous horned satyr that they saw as perpetrating evil just because he wasn’t a very nice creature. He was an idea most everyone could fear and dislike.
Later, in modern times, now that people don’t so much believe in supernatural entities anymore, Satan has begun to fade away. So now, when bad things happen some people have gone back to finding a scapegoat, others have looked to St. Augustine and blame our inherent sinfulness and still others have dismissed the concept of evil altogether and rationalize badness as being relative to peoples and times.
When I think about how I stand on this I guess I lean towards relativism, but it takes some pretty hefty rationalization to accommodate some of the atrocities one hears about these days.
I was visiting with Granny Applehead the other day. She was waxing nostalgic about her days in secondary school. She remembers each day began with students rising from their seats, putting hands to hearts and pledging allegiance to the flag. No one really questioned the validity of the activity back then but, she said, as she thinks about it in retrospect it was pretty clear there was strong intention to instill in young minds a religious sense of nationalistic propriety: America, land of the free and brave has God on her side.
She surmised it was easier back then when everyone was pretty well on the same page regarding God and country. There were a lot fewer people asking the big questions.
I guess explanation can be found in the post-WWII politics of the times and dealing with godless Communism. You know, prep these young minds for Holy Wars to come.
Social critique has tempered the blatant flag waving. The mind manipulation of the young is subtler now but it’s pretty clear we still think of ourselves as being in God’s favor; ready and willing to impose our beliefs and life-style on the rest of the world.
Granny just shakes her head at what she sees as the hypocrisy of our self-perceived sense of fairness and equality for all: as long as everyone conforms to our values and beliefs.
On my way home I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone was like me: skeptical seekers, always questioning, investigating the new, comparing the old, reaching toward the limits of one’s capabilities to find what may lay beyond. As egotistical as it may sound, I can’t see that as being a bad thing in the least.
In the novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy has the character Levin say: ‘If goodness has a cause it is no longer goodness; if it has consequences, or rewards it is not goodness either.’ Since Leo based the character Levin on himself he must have thought there was truth to such an idea.
If I accept Levin’s statement as true then following the Golden Rule is not an example of practicing goodness because then I’m being good in the hopes other people will be good to me.
I guess Adam and Eve were inherently good, always obeying God until the serpent introduced them to the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, the one thing forbidden by God who evidently wanted to keep Adam and Eve from knowing too much.
So, I suppose the moral of the story must be that the only way to be truly good is to be oblivious.
I’ve always thought morality to be pretty simple: follow the Golden Rule or as Kant said, “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should be universal law.”
Or, I guess, do no harm.
Well, I was enjoying a Happy Meal the other day and I began thinking about all the packaging that would end up in the landfill, the plastic toy that was produced by pumping poisons into the atmosphere and the meat that represented destruction of the Brazilian rain forests. I started feeling pretty guilty.
So, I gathered up the remaining fries and supersized soda and gave them to the obese little boy in the next booth who thanked me profusely.
It feels so good to undo a wrong with a right.