Color me shocked. Today marks the six-month anniversary of this quest. One hundred and eighty-three days of talking to people, blogging, wandering around in circles in confusion, and reading reading reading everything I could find on goodness and morality.
I embarked on June 1 with the goal of answering the question: What is goodness? I didn’t think about it at the time, but that’s a cop-out. It’s an intellectual objective. Neatly bloodless. A safe little goal that requires me to risk nothing more than a few hours of my time each day.
But then I chatted with Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and she slapped me awake with her words. Caryn reminded me that looking at goodness requires us to look at how we live.
I stumbled on Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker’s 2008 New York Times article, and he clarified the issue even more:
Morality is not just any old topic in psychology but close to our conception of the meaning of life. Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings. We seek it in our friends and mates, nurture it in our children, advance it in our politics and justify it with our religions.
Meanwhile, I’ve battered my way through an atheist’s take on morality, slogged through academic papers produced by moral psychologists, dipped a tentative toe into the work of philosophers, begun to look at religion’s take on the topic and started to peer into my own swirling mess of feelings about Christianity.
I’m meditating and praying at least five days a week, and I’m happy to report that I’ve recovered from a bad patch of monkey mind. My meditation gets longer almost every day. After weeks of concentrating on others in my prayers, I’ve begun to pray more for myself than for anyone else. Perhaps I’m a selfish SOB, but right now I’m putting prayer in the same category as an oxygen mask in an airplane cabin. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. I still don’t believe in God. However, I’m coming to believe more in prayer.
But if goodness is akin to the meaning of life, and moral goodness is all about whether or not each of us is worthy, where does that leave me?
It leads me here: Am I a worthy human being? Am I good?
I’m not at all certain I know the answers. 182 days to go.