Throughout my life, there’s always been a recurring pattern I can’t help but notice. Things are very rarely – if ever – extreme. No one is perfect, yet no one is an utter mess. No ones opinion can ever be simply right or wrong. Even in science, no object is ever completely black. There’s always some light – as unnoticeable as it may be – that manages to be reflected. By the same logic, you’d think humans would succumb to the same pattern. You’d think no person could be intrinsically good or bad, and for the first time in probably all the articles I’ve written, this won’t be counter-intuitive. We’re always somewhere in that awkward middle, tipping to either side, but never truly there. We’re always neither.
Now, I could go on and on about how we’ve all lied before, and give examples which prove why no one is either a saint or a sinner, but honestly, that would be pretty damn boring (to write), and we all know that stuff already. Instead, let’s make things a bit more interesting – it’s moral ambiguity time!
I want you to imagine a little scene with me. It’s spring of 1889 in the small town of Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary. An eager husband stands beside his loving wife as she enters labor, awaiting their fourth child to be brought into their life. The weather was a calm but stinging European cold, with an odd resonating silence, suddenly broken by the scream of a woman, followed by the sound of a crying baby, making its first sounds in this Godforsaken earth. You might or might not have guessed in on who this is, but in case you haven’t, the wife’s name was Klara, the husband’s name was Alois, and their beautiful little baby was called Adolphus. Adolf, for short. Adolf Hitler.
That baby was not born evil. It was not born, knowing it would grow to commit genocide. It was not born knowing it would do “bad”. If you looked into its eyes, you’d see a human too young to think. You’d see an innocent smile or maybe some simple tears. You would not see the eyes of a murderer – the eyes of a sinner, nor would you see those of a saint. You’d see only a blank slate, unprepared for the potential catastrophe it would grow to become. So by now, we’re at least sure that no one is born with a tendency to either side of the moral spectrum; it’s simply the life you live actively that forges where you stand. It’s not you who’s inherently good or bad, it’s the you you end up with after you actually live.
And then again, how bad are you if you believe you’re doing the right thing? I do of course acknowledge how objectively terrible many of Hitler’s actions were, but what is a measure of good and bad? How many factors must we take into consideration to truly be fair? I’ll actually try answering this one. A lot. To try to confine the entirety of a human being, perhaps the most multi-factorial entity we know to exist, to simply one word – one alignment – “good” or “bad” is insulting not only to the human, but to the concepts of morality themselves. We always want to classify and it’s often the source of our greatest problems.
We say Hitler was a bad person because from our perspective, he committed mass murder, but I don’t think he would’ve done that if he’d thought of it as terribly as we do. Was he truly “bad” for having lived a life that brought him up to become the way he turned out? So that’s sinners for you – an absolute enigma. Morality was never exactly the easiest topic to discuss but, oh boy, this was tiring. Let’s do it again.
If we don’t know a thing about sinners, what about saints, then? (I’ll keep this shorter, don’t worry.) Let’s say we’ve just witnessed a good deed being done. For a simple example, it was a man risking his life to save a cat from the top of a tree. There are a couple of ways to interpret this. For starters, maybe he knew the cat’s owners would pay him or buy him a gift for saving their beloved pet. Maybe it was his job as a fireman, and he was simply obliged to in order to get paid as he normally would be. Or perhaps, it was a passerby who saw the cat stuck up there, and felt sorry for it so decided to save it. Now, the first two are obviously not as inherently “good” as the third, but once you think about it, it’s not that good either. You’ve got a person going out of their way to ultimately result in them feeling better. They don’t like how it feels to be sorry for something, so they try to change it. They didn’t act on a selfless drive to be good – they acted on the instinct to want to feel good.
These aren’t even the only reasons. To name a few more, there’s the attention you’d get for saving the cat in public, or the self-satisfaction you’d gain, convincing yourself you just did this out of the goodness in your heart, when it was in fact to gain that self-satisfaction. The list goes on and on, and quite frankly, you’d almost never see a good deed who’s true intention is just good. We just don’t work that way. We just don’t favor others over ourselves for no reason. Even in religion, we do it for the reward- for the benefit that you will gain, be it now or long after the deed’s been done. We’re never saints, but we’re never sinners either.
Whether we like it or not, we will always be neither.
We will always be both.