I like your writing and I think I have grown from reading your blogs but I was raised a Christian so I have trouble when you say there is no good or bad. I don’t think most people have much trouble telling them apart so how can you say there is no such thing? What would the world be like if we didn’t teach kids the difference between right and wrong?
Thanks for your question. But in a way it’s actually three questions, so I’ll answer them in reverse order. First: what would happen if we didn’t teach kids the difference between right and wrong?
Well… you can go ahead and have your own set of preferences, but you don’t need a set of rules to be taught to you for you to be decent. The idea of original sin is a learned religious idea. We don’t actually need saving. We need to realize we never needed saving—that we were born out of and into love. We just need to pay attention and act accordingly. Our instincts will guide us just fine. For about a million years no one taught us right from wrong, we just understood we needed each other to survive and we enjoyed each others company. So we looked after each other the way a cheetah looks after its four paws. Lose any one of them and that cat can’t eat, play, nor reproduce.
The same for the small groups of people that permitted our survival up until the very recent past. If members of your group get hurt or die you might find it harder to survive yourself. It’s only recently that we’ve created the illusion that we can live independently, and that’s created a world where we need fences inside people’s heads. Things like rules and guidelines and laws. But even then, we don’t want kids believing in that too much otherwise you can get things like The Hitler Youth. Sometimes it’s a good thing when people go against the rules. Rules are created by egos so they’re always suspect. So right and wrong must be felt not taught, and it is an individual judgment not an objective truth.
To paraphrase the second question: most people don’t have too much trouble telling good from bad so how can I say there’s no such thing? Well, I guess you could say there is such a thing—to each individual. (See example above.) So everyone would have their own ideas of the difference between good and bad. And those ideas are flexible. That’s what the play and movie Twelve Angry Men is about. The value of your judgment depends on how empathetic you are to the perpetrator’s perspective. That will dictate where you place the line between good and bad. But Jesus was pretty clear about not judging anyone. So we can take some control over behaviour, but we don’t need to judge people. There are too many factors at play when it comes to the shape of a person’s identity. That’s too complex for us. We should leave that to God, which is not-so-coincidentally what Christianity suggests.
The reason we can’t think our way to good and bad is that our thinking can easily be flawed and we have no way to know that other than by judging it with our own thinking—which is a bit like having the fox watch the henhouse. Our thoughts, our aims or our objectives might be way off course. That’s why they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hitler’s horrible actions were brought about by him believing he was making the world a better place. Yes he was grossly misinformed and confused about many important things, but within his own personal framework of right and wrong and good and bad, he believed he was doing right things for good reasons. That’s what’s so dangerous about us making judgments. That’s why I prefer when people feel their way through life rather than thinking their way through it. Because being taught an ugly thought is easy and innocent. People don’t even know they’ve been programmed. But actually hurting someone feels counter-intuitive, so we should focus less on the labels placed on and around others by others and we should go more by our own personal sense of things. This is essentially the fundamental point proven by things like the Milgram Experiment. People should pay less attention to labels and more attention to their direct experiences. Then no one could teach you to hate anyone.
Finally there is the question as to good and bad as it relates to Christianity in the really big spiritual sense. As a Christian you should be comfortable with the idea of God being infinite, right? There is no where and no thing that exists without God being an aspect of it. God is All. That’s pretty huge and awesome and Godlike. But if God contains All, then God contains everything—including the natural disasters brought about by the laws of nature, and the human disasters brought on by the laws of misguided men. God does not judge. God is infinite. And so that is why Christians must have faith. They must have faith that in a way that is much beyond their understanding—a way that is comprehended only by the All-ness that is God—that there is a sense and an order to all things. On some profound spiritual level it all makes sense.
Having surrendered those queries to God you are now free to have a quiet mind. There is no need for questioning when you have faith that it all makes sense. Whether it’s called Christianity or Quantum Mechanics, you just want to know that it all adds up somehow. If you believe that—if you earnestly to-your-bones believe it—then your mind surrenders and you go quiet. And from that place you won’t need me to convince you that you have no ability to truly differentiate right from wrong, you’ll know from your own direct experience that God doesn’t need any help running the universe. God just needs you to steer your little corner of it, and he’s given you your feelings as a way of doing that. So trust those. Don’t think your way through life. Have a quiet mind, listen carefully and do what comes naturally. Forget judgments of you or others and simply leave the rest to the universe. It’s easy. 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.