Again, let’s start with a couple of true-false questions. Please consider whether the following statements are True (T) or False (F), based on your personal beliefs and actions:
11. ____ “All people are basically good, and consistently try to do what is right.”
12. ____ “I always do what is morally right; I never do anything that is morally wrong.”
In the previous chapter we saw that some things are morally right, and some things are morally wrong. We may disagree over what is right and what is wrong (regarding particular subjects), but it seems painfully obvious that at least some things are morally right and some things are morally wrong. Almost equally as obvious is that some people intentionally do things that are morally wrong, while others appear to intentionally do things that are morally right.
So, for me, the first True-False statement is clearly “False.” The world seems to be filled with people who don’t consistently try to do what is right. It’s not hard to find examples; look in almost any newspaper and you’ll likely find some good ones.
The second statement is more difficult. I may presently try to always do what is morally right, but, if I am honest with myself, I don’t always do the morally-right thing. I like to think that my more recent failures have been unintentional, but I’m not so sure that a closer look would always come to that conclusion. Either way, I don’t always do what is morally right. Again, my answer is “False.”
If you are being honest with yourself, I suspect that you also answered “False” to that second statement. If so, this brings into question whether or not anyone is completely righteous. Is there anyone who always does what is morally right and never does anything that is morally wrong? That question, however, is beyond our present scope of dealing with “self-evident” truths. For, now, let’s just deal with the more obvious issue of whether some people aim to do what is morally right more than some other people. For our present purposes, let’s use a definition of “righteous” that is more relative than absolute:
Righteous: Generally making an effort to do what is morally right, and avoiding things that are morally wrong.
Consider that a great many movies are built around a good-versus-evil theme. Some characters in these movies are generally portrayed as righteous (generally doing morally right things), while others are portrayed as unrighteous (generally doing morally wrong things). The distinction is usually obvious, and appears to be universal to all cultures.
All this brings us to another self-evident truth:
Some people are righteous,
and some people are unrighteous.
Now let’s be clear. This truth is not a black-and-white kind of truth; it involves shades-of-gray. It is not claiming that everyone fits neatly into a category of being righteous or being unrighteous. Nor is it claiming that anyone is completely righteous or completely unrighteous. It is merely affirming that some people genuinely try to do what is morally right and some people do not. Many people are perhaps in the middle somewhere, with varying degrees of effort to do what they consider to be morally right.
For Further Reflection:
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