Theology, philosophy, math, science, and random other things

On becoming a good person

I don't care much about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

I mean, it's hard to care, given some perspective. It happened half a world away. The death count at the moment stands at 136, according to Wikipedia. That's nothing. The world's mortality rate is about 0.8% per year - or about 100 persons per minute. That's six thousand people in the last hour. About a hundred of those are due to malaria - a cheaply preventable disease.

If I started to care about the Paris attacks, I'd have to start caring about all these other deaths too. And who can actually care about a hundred people every minute? Who can handle a death toll of a 9/11 happening every half-hour? And if I actually cared about all those people, I might have to start donating money to prevent malaria, where it's estimated that it only costs $3,300 per life saved. You say you value human life? Well, there's your value, right there.

So I think that I value human lives at less than $3,300 a pop. Otherwise, I would actually spend that $3,300 and actually save a life. My value may be higher for a Frenchmen than for a sub-Saharan malaria victim, because of my shared Western culture with the French. It would be higher still for an American, and even higher for the people I actually know. But at the end of the day, the death of these 136 people in Paris upsets me less than the loss of a couple of thousand dollars.

And that's not even the end of it. If I started to care about all these things - if I got worked up about this Paris attacks - I'd not only have to care about all the other deaths in the world, but also smaller things that are closer to me. I'd have to deeply care about my co-workers kids' Halloween costumes and the break-up an acquaintance is going through and the health of my server at a restaurant. And I can't do that. I don't have the emotional bandwidth. Some people seem to care about all these things and genuinely empathize with everyone. I am not one of these people. I'm bad enough at caring for the people that I'm actually close to. It's not possible for me to care about everyone. For someone to actually care about literally everything, they'd have to be God-like.

But I want to care.

I don't like the fact that I don't care. I want to change, to be different. I want to be more like those people who somehow manage to always genuinely care. In becoming more like these people, I would become more like God.

And that is the ultimate meaning of what it means to become a good person. You see, we, in our society, have many measures of worth we assign to individuals: wealth, fame, status, intellect, political power, physical strength or beauty, etc. These are all somewhat useful metrics, but we're all somehow agreed that these are not the ultimate measure of a person. We've all heard aphorisms like "beauty is only skin deep" or "money can't buy happiness". But if these are not the ultimate measure, then what is?

The answer is Love. Our worth is precisely that degree to which we channel the God who is love though our lives. All other measures of worth are merely substitutes or enablers for this ultimate measure. You want to become rich and famous? You think that'll make you a better person? Well, it might: what will you do with that money and fame?

In caring for one another, we channel God's love for us through our lives. We improve the other person's lives and draw them closer to God, while improving ourselves by becoming more loving, more worthy, and more godly. I want all these things. That is why I want to care. I want to care more than I do now.

How do I go about this? How do I care more in the future, when I actually don't care now? As with everything, through practice. I start by pretending, by imitating those who are better than me. As I have already confessed, I haven't gotten very far on this path of Love. So I look at the others on the path, and imitate those who are further along. Like a baby learning to walk and talk, or like a student learning to solve problems, that is how we start. We watch and imitate those who do it better - these may be our parents, our pastors, saints from long ago like apostle Paul, and ultimately, Christ himself.

Meanwhile, as I'm getting better, God can even use cold, calculating, heartless people. He can even change and improve someone like me. My peculiarities may even serve a purpose in his kingdom.

I talked with a French co-worker about the attacks on the day that it happened. It's something that I had to fight with myself to do. I offered my condolences, but being relatively unpracticed in the way of Love, I'm not sure how much good I did. But I think I care a little bit more now, than before I had that conversation.

You may next want to read:
I am a sinner.
The lifetime of evil (part 2)
Another post, from the table of contents

Show/hide comments(No Comments)

Leave a Reply