Am I a good person?

by Stephen McAndrew

“Am I a good person?”  This is the great question facing all of us. We want to be good.  We feel that if we do good deeds our lives will have meaning.  We want to add up all of our good deeds and measure these against the sum of our bad deeds and hope that the scale comes out in favor of finding our lives good or justified. 

This is not solely a religious phenomenon.  Secularists and atheists consider themselves to be doing “God’s work” to convince the world that religion is nonsense and that has caused great evil and suffering.  Why do they do this?  Because they believe they are doing the right thing – doing a good thing.  They want to do good and make the world a better place.  They contend that if religion is eliminated war and suffering will disappear.  I don’t share their viewpoint, but I think it is interesting that their goal is directed towards doing good.

Even those who have unquestionably done great evil in their lives do not want the eulogy at their funeral to present them as bad people.  They want others to focus on the good or show how bad acts are really good.  Why when faced with death are we so keen to be told that we are good?  Is it because we want to remember only the good things or is because we believe that whether you have lived a good life has an important bearing on what happens after death? 

Blame

Often it is difficult for us to determine whether we are good.  Fortunately, we have no difficulty in determining whether others are good.  We never want to blame ourselves. We live in a culture of blame with an absence of self-evaluation. There is always a villain.  We judge the other rather than ourselves.   Governments and large corporations are vilified in our society.  Nearly any theory of government or corporate malfeasance, no matter how outlandish, is given credence by some group if it resonates with their particular prejudices.

On the other hand, we like to think that our personal indiscretions are minor and don’t affect anyone else.  If I cheat on my taxes I rationalize that there will still be enough money in the kitty or that most tax dollars are wasted or there are others who should pay more than me.  If I slander a colleague to further the progress of my career, I can plead that she would have done it to me if I didn’t act first, or that my ascent at her expense would benefit my organization because I’m more talented.  Moreover, I can argue that these actions greatly help me and if they hurt someone else the scope of the damage is limited…

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