So where exactly does morality come from? When I write “good” and “evil”, read “righteousness” and “Sin”. Outside of the context of religion, these words, literally, have no meaning. Only religion can provide the definition for sin. It is the transgression of god’s law. It is every action in opposition to god’s divine and perfect nature. Righteousness is anything in keeping with gods will and nature. It is pre-defined for us. It is not up to us to decide what is right and wrong; it is only ours to learn it.
Though accurate, the above definitions are incomplete. Righteousness and sin are only the fruits of external forces acting upon us. We are incapable of doing anything good without the force of goodness that comes from god. We are also not the authors of sin. Rather, we are its victims when we give in to the external force of evil, personified by the devil. These moral forces are greater than all of the forces of nature. We do not perform acts of righteousness or sin; we surrender to either of the external forces of good or evil. Once surrendered, righteousness or sin is the product.
The important thing to remember is that the only choice we make is our choice of external force to which we surrender. If we surrender ourselves to god: the personification of good, then we do righteousness, and are righteous. Surrendering to sin means that we do, and by extension, are, evil. We take on the nature of the personification to which we surrender.
This is why it is said that a Christian literally takes onboard, the spirit of god. The indwelling of the spirit is another way of saying we are possessed by the spirit. He takes over our lives, a little at a time. Eventually, we are completely dead to ourselves and alive in the spirit. We do not do good; it is the spirit that is within us. It is through his righteousness that we are made righteous. It is his goodness, never ours, that is displayed through us. Left to our own devices, we are but wretched sinners, incapable of anything good. We are righteous, only to the degree that we allow the spirit to possess us.
The same is true for evil, almost. There is the wrinkle that we are already evil. We are born sinners, sinners yet while in the womb. Notice the non-too-subtile difference. To become righteous, we must do the right things or invite god into us in the right way. Only when god takes bodily possession of us do we become righteous. To become evil, we don’t have to do anything at all. Being born is quite sufficient for that.
This is why Christians believe that demon possession was always the fault of the one possessed. Either by passively leaving god uninvited, or actively inviting demons into ourselves, we open, or leave ourselves open to demon possession. Once we are possessed by one of the personifications of evil, we cannot help but do evil. Still we cannot complain that the devil made us do it. According to scripture, we are only tempted when we are drawn away by our own lusts, and enticed.
Understanding the orthodox Christian view of righteousness and sin leaves us to accept one of two options: Either we have to accept good and evil as tangible forces, replete with accompanying personifications, or we have to conclude that there is no such thing as either righteousness or evil. There is only humanity, and the complexity of our brains, language, and social structure. Once we stop viewing the world through the lens of an artificial, external morality, the world becomes a very different place.
I believe we already see through the lie of morality for what it truly is, though we do not always acknowledge it. Let me provide a couple of examples of what I mean. There is a mental disorder known as psychopath. We say that such a person has no conscience, no moral compass. Such a person does not know the difference between good and evil. That condition is really a repudiation of the classical concept of morality. What they are missing is not a conscience, but the ability to feel empathy toward anyone else. It is an extreme form of narcissism. They only recognize themselves as fully human. They are able to invest nothing in the humanity of others. It is a medical, not a spiritual malaise. One day, we will be able to cure it, not with exorcism, but with medicine. We are enlightened enough to recognize that people who are mentally ill are not evil; they are just sick.
We are quick to call a seemingly promiscuous woman a sinner. We would say that she is choosing to do evil. But, when we look into her case more closely, we might find a girl child born to a drug-addicted prostitute, sexually abused from the moment it was possible. She quickly learns how to use sex as a survival tool, the only one she was ever taught, and that, inadvertently. Perhaps she has to raise her younger sister in that environment from the time she was a child. She becomes pregnant, and is married at age fourteen. Some years later, you see her on the street. Knowing her story, is she evil, or an innocent victim of circumstance? The enlightened human has no trouble making the call.
I was faced with this woman in the parking lot of a Walmart this weekend. She approached me and my wife, distraught, disoriented, and desperate. She was obviously medicated and mentally challenged. Without going into detail about what she wanted, (it was really something anyone could have provided), I immediately agreed, and took responsibility for her until she was safe. After that unexpected mission, I was livid, not at her, but at all those she had approached before she got to me. It is a wonder that she was still alive. How many of the people she approached for help were good Christians who immediately saw her for a sinner, and left her to die. The story of the good Samaritan is really more about the no good religious people who used morality and religion as excuses not to act.
In every instance where a person might be tempted to apply moral judgement, good or evil, I will show you a person who is merely living out their humanity in all its fullness. Like the child, the senile octogenarian, the sociopath, or the abused girl, we are all just a part of this natural world, living out, to the best of our ability, what it means to be human. We are not the victims of external, personified moral forces. A pet dog is mistakenly considered good when he obeys a verbal command or does something entertaining. He is not good. He has simply learned a useful, survival technique. A dog is not evil when it snaps at a child, even though we say, “bad dog!” That, of course, is silly! The dog is not bad, just unadapted to that situation. We are no different, except in our advanced complexity, not in our nature.
In what I expect to be my concluding thoughts on the subject, I will share how this insight has changed my interactions with people, and has permanently altered my understanding of what it means to be fully human.