Well, that was interesting.
Yesterday, apparently, I was more controversial than usual. I write on all manner of topics - you name it - I'm not afraid! But when I stated that churches do not make people good, my Facebook wall exploded.
The strangest part is that after all the argument (and everyone was very well-behaved, which was nice) I don't think anyone actually disagreed with me.
What didn't really get discussed was "What is good?". It was quite easy to find examples of "What is bad" but if we're going to talk about good behaviour, we probably ought to define it.
For me it's really quite simple, I know good behaviour when I see it. I've written on my thoughts on this before, the whole "Harm None" concept. That's not enough, however, when people with different concepts of morality are trying to find common ground.
Why do people have different concepts of morality?
Well, isn't that just the most interesting thing of all? If we all agreed on these things it would be a lot easier, but we don't.
Let's start with the most heinous. Killing.
This one also ought to be the easiest, but it isn't. There are circumstances such as self-defence (which can include certain acts of war) where killing is the only solution if we wish to survive ourselves. Then there is the question of species. Those who eat meat justify it on the grounds that it's a different species, while those who are the most hardcore vegans are still willing to kill microorganisms, so perhaps size matters.
I sometimes run into people who are anti abortion but pro death penalty. This messes with my head, frankly. They find it easy to justify, by saying that the fetus is innocent. Now, there's an interesting argument, which could go on forever. Not now, but I mention it because it's selective killing. So, killing is wrong, unless.........
OK, what about violence that doesn't lead to death. There are many levels there and many reasons. It could have been attempted murder, that is to say the intent was to kill. There is assault that leads to permanent disability and chronic pain, that's pretty bad. There is injury that's purely accidental, such as when a doctor messes up. And there's injury by neglect or not paying attention, such as when you run over a pedestrian on a crosswalk. (The last two could also lead to death, obviously).
How much of a role does intent play? If you inadvertently caused an injury or death, is that immoral?
OK, what about "minor" acts of violence. Playground punch-ups, no harm done. Is that moral? What about one small slap on the bottom of a child who is behaving badly? These are the things that we tend to disagree on most vehemently.
I remember the outcry when Cesar Milan suggested "biting" (with your hand) the neck of a dog in training. That is how the puppy's mother would teach it, he said, and humans take on the role of parent, so it's perfectly reasonable. The internet exploded with animal lovers and other dog trainers demanding he be taken off the air or even charged.
But horses are whipped just to go faster in races and it's rare to hear anything about it. Are dogs more important than horses?
Not only that, we tend to hear more outcry over cruelty to animals than we do cruelty to children. And if you want to get into the details, we hear more outcry over harm to western children than we do those in other parts of the world.
Our responses to what we see as immoral are very selective. When questioned, we may say it's all wrong, but our passions tend to lie with those closest to us, and situations we relate to. And when we're told that the very shoes we wear are made by children in slavery conditions, we shrug.
Every single one of us is complicit in some type of immorality or other, so the very first thing to do when asking who is good is to accept that nobody is perfect. Some immorality is de facto unavoidable.
So, yes, intent does matter, because morality is based largely on choice. Those things we do when we know the outcome.
Finally, how about those situations where two opposing views are held, and each person believes his is the more moral. This crops up in fiscal politics often enough, but also in parenting, and in the debate on gay rights.
Here, intent becomes a major issue. "He means well, but...."
Perhaps my knowing a good person when I see one isn't so far from efficient. I try to be a good person, and I'm sure you do too. I daresay we can all do better. Have a GOOD day :)