The Modern world spurns this word. All sorts of evil connotations arise at its very mention: guilt, psychological assessment, right-wing fundamentalism, hypocrisy, etc.
So, let us start once again at the beginning:
All things are good. Everything made is good, according to their natures: the atom, the stars, the planets, all living things, even earthquakes and tidal waves – all being true to the nature, the pull of things to be as they are. Everything which exists is good for the fact of existing is good – the very wonder of being here, now, it is. All is good.
But things decay, die, cease to be. And things change and become other things which themselves are good. Nothing in the physical world of nature is forever: galaxies may form and expand to gaseous nothingness, suns die and become black holes, plants and animals die and create other forms of living matter. It is good that things fulfil their natures. All things move towards their ends, pulled to join with other things. There is a universal gravity of all things to become. Yet, none becomes perfect. That is the nature of things.
Man is a living thing. Man has a nature, a nature to fulfil as a living being but also as a knowing, willing thing. A man thirsts to know the natures of things. A man hungers to be fulfilled as a person. But as a person he cannot be fulfilled without his heart and mind completely in unity with a reality beyond the limit of his own imagination. He seeks happiness, but which cannot be found unless his mind and heart are at one with truth greater than the present, and with and in a loving personal relationship which never dies.
So, on the one hand, man is good, and to fulfil his nature he must not only fulfil the demands of physical existence, but also the seemingly unreachable happiness of his mind dwelling in and attaining truth, and his heart’s true desire to be in love forever.
Anything which leads him to the fulfilling of his nature is good. All things are good. All things can lead him to fulfilling his nature.
But Man is a willing thing. Man has the ability to choose among an endless array of objects, things, events, etc., in order to attain his end: being a living thing and gaining possession of the truth and fulfilment of his person – unity with personal goodness.
Choices are to be made: what will this choice lead to? One thing may lead to death. I die if I take this poison; I live and continue living if I don’t, yet the poison may not kill me, but cure me of a sickness. The poison is good but bad in some circumstances. In one circumstance to choose poison is to choose a lower good – nice-tasting drink, satisfying, but deadly in one amount; or life-giving in another amount. The best choice is one that leads to the higher good.
All choices are between a higher good and a lower good. We make mistakes in choosing between goods. We do not always know the full nature of a thing or act, and so we act against our natures in ignorance. We lack the full truth of nature. Or, we deliberately choose the lower good for purely selfish reasons: we choose to continue watching TV rather than help wash the dishes: both of which are goods, but one good is higher than the other.
To choose the lower good is to go against our own nature, which is to reject the end for which our mind and heart yearns for. To choose to continue watching TV instead of helping wash the dishes is to prefer one small satisfaction of our desire to making wholesome the order of the household, social harmony, family peace, these latter being helpful in our living on earth and ordering our habits towards the goal of being in unity with total goodness.
This little choice of the lower good strikes against our end. It strikes at the heart of what we are to be. Animals do not do that! Every person on earth does do that: choose lower goods and not goodness! That is what is called “sinfulness”. These choices deny our natures. We raise our fist at our own nature. Actually, we have raised our fist against the whole universe: the universe of things do not do what we do – all other things obey their own natures. We don’t.
Yes, I know, one will say, we are not perfect. We are not perfect as living things because we cannot always choose to stay alive or to grow physically. But we all have used our very freedom, the very noble, dignified ability to choose, as a means to undermine nature: our nature. This habit of Man is bad!
There are even worse choices – to choose things which attack another’s nature and at the same time our own: to give in to anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, and do murder, theft, and adultery to appease our prideful desires. Not only are we, of all things in the universe, oriented to weakness in choosing goodness, but also we do great harm to others as well as ourselves.
We choose also to ignore this state of being Man, and deny that things are good, that reality is a wonderful thing, full of things, of being, of goodness, of truth. We choose to deny that we have a nature pointed to goodness. We deny that there is any real goodness, that it is all a man-made subjective reality. Yet, we are really cowards at heart, because we do not act on these denials: we want goodness of ourselves, we see the goodness of others, we hope for goodness, we thirst to be loved, to love others, and we thirst for the truth about nature. And all to avoid guilt: the guilt which comes from actually seeing the nature of ourselves, our true end, and our failure to reach for it. We shake our fist but only the truly insane act on that total denial.
And guilt is bad. Yep. Guilt implies punishment. There is a deep-seated understanding in us all that some kind of justice exists. We certainly are not slow to demand justice when it does not concern the faults of ourselves: we can easily become social justice warriors, or religious fundamentalists accusing the unfaithful. Our sense of justice is of course true. The demands of Justice means punishment: good shall be rewarded and evil punished – the heart of all morality, the basis of order in society.
How to escape this quandary? The quandary? Avoiding the implications of being a human being and guilt, yet not wanting justice to fall on ourselves?
Our hearts need healing. We need to be loved out of ourselves. We need to touch true love, to really feel and to really know that we are loved despite of ourselves. We need to be shown mercy. We need to see and to know goodness physically – no airy-fairy intangible goodness. We need our minds, and our thoughts to be enlightened in the darkness of our hearts – for our hearts will cover up truth so quickly to prevent the light! And only something acting outside of ourselves yet inside ourselves in our hiddenness can heal us. Our poor, poor, frightened, wounded hearts!!
Now, let us cut to the chase!
All the above is not new. Every man since time began has faced this problem. Every wise man has commented on it – the problem of sin, guilt and justice. From the beginning of time cultures, societies, have all tried to solve the problem. The solution is obvious: religious belief. That there is goodness itself, that man has to face up to that goodness, that there is ultimately goodness and justice. That goodness will be rewarded and evil ultimately be punished. That sin, guilt and punishment are with us, unavoidable.
You cannot avoid the problem by skirting around it by claiming it is all a social or political issue, pure evolutionary constructs of society. Why? because one has to make choices between what kind of society or political system will suit your own concepts of goodness. You will be forced back to one of two choices: either it is all subjective – any goodness system I choose is purely for here and now; or governed by an objective observation of nature and man.
The Nazi, the Pol Pot, Hannibal Lector, or the saintly: nothing to choose between them. Evolution depends on the word “fittest for survival” – note the word “fittest”, and “survival”. Why should one accept either word, unless one had already made a judgement about nature having laws, about survival being a good! If nature has laws written into itself then so has man.
Either there a reality in the words “goodness” or there is nothing good nor evil, but my thinking makes it so. No-one really acts on the latter option. It is unsustainable. And so we are left to religious solutions.
Note please, that this whole essay does not mention God. Well … it does. The word, goodness derives from the word, God. I know it hurts, but once one realises one cannot escape the reality of goodness one cannot escape the reality of Godness. And why does it hurt? Because we are guilty! We cannot escape guilt, because we cannot escape sin.
Could goodness itself be so real and physical to touch us and reach into us and heal our wounded hearts? Could goodness be true, straight up front, clear, absolute “mano e mano”, man to man? Could goodness speak and say “I love you, I who made you, forgive you for offending against the very nature I gave you.” Could goodness instead of punishing us reward us for sinning by saying “I will give you your very heart’s desire: pure love physically forever and ever.