One of the tenets of Evangelicalism is handing people things. At least, that’s what I’ve been able to determine based on the number of things I’ve been handed over the years, many of them by Evangelicals. I don’t really mind this, except for a brief feeling of regret for the trees that died and whose deaths served no purpose. If you’re wondering, yes, I also think of the trees as I recycle the truly horrendous amount of junk mail I seem to get.
This particular Evangelical tract is a bit of folded cardstock made to look like a wallet. The inside flap has several juicy pretend offerings: a few $50 bills poke out of the top and we’ve also got some pretend guy’s three credit cards, driver’s license, social security and a few other cards I don’t recognize. If this was a real wallet and I was a bad person, I could go on quite the shopping spree, I imagine.
Insider the pretend wallet is a series of questions under the heading of “Personality Analysis.” I imagine the point is to make you consider your own personal level of avarice as you contemplate what you would do if this was a real wallet. Interestingly, there is no provided answer key or assessment for what your choices mean; it’s up to you to interpret them. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Here are the questions, along with my own personal interpretation of the answers:
1. If this was a real wallet, packed with real money, would you:
a. Keep it?
b. Take it to the police?
c. Give some of the money to the poor?
This question is interesting as it’s not quite obvious which answer the author of the tract considers to be the “right” one that a “good” person would choose. My answer is B, of course; the wallet is not my property and “finders-keepers” is not a moral justification. Nor is helping myself to a “finder’s fee.” If the owner is grateful enough to give me some money for my trouble, that is his or her choice. My moral obligation is to do my best to return this to the owner.
But what about poor people? The Bible is full of stories about giving money to poor people and how that’s a good thing to do. Perhaps by giving this person’s money to the poor, I’m doing the wallet’s owner a favor; he or she would likely spend this money on sinful things like alcohol and prostitutes. Clearly, if I was a good Evangelical, I should strongly consider C. But I’m not, so I won’t. The wallet goes to the police.
2. You have been underpaid for years. There’s a BIG mistake in your paycheck to your advantage, would you:
a. Tell the boss?
b. Keep quiet?
c. Give some to a church?
Again with the money questions! Unfortunately, this question is so far removed from real context that it is entirely meaningless. Have I literally been underpaid, as in my employer has been shorting me for years? If so, why haven’t I contacted Human Resources or Accounting if I work in some big organization, or quit and found another job if it’s my boss who is shorting me? Or reported him for criminal behavior, since it’s illegal to pay your employees less than they lawfully earn? How do I know the increase in pay is a mistake and not compensation for previous underpayment? In my case, I’d go with B, having come to the reasonable conclusion based on the premises that this is money I earned through my work.
I think if I was in good with God, or wanted to get in good with God, I would be obligated to go with C. I’m not sure what that actually does, though. It is an action that has no actual bearing on my moral choice to keep or return the money. How I choose to spend the money that comes into my possession doesn’t represent a mitigating factor i. e. it’s not as though keeping the extra money is immoral if I use it to buy food, but totally okay if I use give it to a church.
3. If telling a white lie would save a friend’s job, would you:
a. Tell the truth?
b. Act dumb?
I’m going to assume by the reference to a “white lie” means that my friend hasn’t done something criminally negligent, such as caused a catastrophic meltdown and endangered the lives of other people. I’ll assume it’s something small, like maybe took an extra ten minutes on his lunch break or something even though the department has strict rules against this sort of behavior. Maybe he did something small, but it will earn him a third strike on his record.
My morality is such that loyalty to my friends and family is more important to me than simplistic admonishments such as “lying is always wrong!” The fact is, I’m going to do what I can to look out for the people around me. This, to me, is part of being a good person and a good friend. The only kind of person who would “tattle” is this case is a sanctimonious dick and not somebody I would want to be friends with.
Everybody needs a job. Everybody has bills to pay and many people have others depending on them to make a living. If my idiotically blind dedication to Truth caused my friend to lose his job which led to him being unable to provide for his family, how can that result possibly justify my actions? Hooray, I get to feel good about myself while another person now has to suffer and struggle.
But God would know! That’s the Evangelical response. God will know that I lied. By lying, I’m risking my own soul. I could go to Hell! All I can say to this is that if Heaven is filled with the people who chose Option A, Heaven is not the afterlife for me. It is not going to be filled with the sort of people I want to associate with: the sort of people who will sell out their friends for promise of a reward.
That’s what Heaven is. It’s not an indication of a true understanding of moral behavior. All that Heaven and Hell represent are extensions of the reward/punishment consideration. This is how children understand morality. You’re throwing your friend under the bus for a cosmic pat on the head and a cookie.
4. Do you consider yourself to be a “good” person?
Pretty straightforward. Yes, yes I do consider myself to be a good person. I use rationality to attempt to arrive at a moral understanding, which I then try to live my life by. I don’t always succeed, but I never stop trying to live up to my ideals.
I think that it is narrow-minded and insulting to suggest that I cannot understand morality without resorting to a higher power. Either moral actions are correct through their innate essence, which means it doesn’t matter how God feels about morality, or moral actions are only such because God said so, and thus morality is nothing more than a cosmic game of “might makes right” and is thus meaningless. Plato articulated this in 399 B.C.E. It’s amazing we’re still arguing about it.
5. Have you ever told a lie for any reason (including fibs and white lies — be honest)?
I love the little admonishment here to be honest on a question about lying. It’s just so mind-boggling silly that you have to reflect on it for a while. Why is it even here? Is there a person out there that is so self-deluded he was able to lie to himself about his lying until he was reminded to not lie? Seriously?
This is another one of those questions that’s silly, both because it implies that a person who lies ever for any reason is an evil person and because lying is part of human nature. Obviously, we should do our best not to lie . . . unless you have a really damn good reason. What are some good times to lie? Here is a brief field guide to appropriate lying:
- When a Nazi storm trooper is asking you if you are hiding any Jewish refugees in your cellar (and you are), it is okay to lie.
- If your friend is going to suffer unless you tell a white lie, it is okay to lie.
Basically, if telling the truth produces a worse result for another person, it is permissible to lie to help that person. Lying for your own personal gain is excluded from this permission.
6. Have you ever stolen something — irrespective of its value (listen to your conscience)?
Again, we have a warning against lying on this analysis, which is really cute. This question is interesting, because clearly, stealing is wrong . . . but what if you stole food for a starving child? What if you were starving? Would theft be wrong in that case? As I’ve never been reduced to such extreme measures, I’ve never felt the need to steal. This one is simple enough.
But wait! What about music? Have I stolen music? Well, that depends, too; what if there was a piece of music that I wanted to have and tried to pay for, only to find that it was not available through any legal means? What if I tried to pay for this music and found no way to get money to the creator, who had elected to not make this music commercially available? Am I justified in downloading it then without paying for it? Is that stealing?
7. Would you consider a person who admits that they are a liar and a thief, to be a “good” person?
Well, I’d expect an actual liar and thief to be dishonest about her lying and thieving, which seems to me a reason to never trust anybody who doesn’t admit to being a thief and a liar. Think about that for a moment.
8. Who do you think will enter Heaven?
a. Those who say they are good when they are not?
b. Liars and thieves?
c. Those who God has forgiven and cleansed of sin?
Oh, come on, now you’re not even trying to introduce some ambiguity. Unless these are the honest liars and thieves from the previous question we’re talking about here? The analysis does some heavily weight against lying in particular; perhaps a person who is honest about their lies will find that their honesty cancels out the lying? Maybe? No?
What if our liar lied to safeguard a family of runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad? Does she get to go to Heaven?
What if our thief stole critical information from a terrorist cell and used that information to prevent the deaths of hundreds? Does that outweigh the fact that he stole it?
There really are no other jokes to make about this question. It’s painfully obvious that I’m supposed to get here and think, oh, shits, I might be the kind of person that says that I’m a good person when I’m not. Uh oh.
Regardless of the obvious answer I’m supposed to pick, I think I’ve made a good case that B could be chosen in good conscience, with the caveat that these liars and thieves had good reasons for what they did.
But aren’t you just equivocating? Aren’t you just trying to muddy the waters with your words? The difference between good and evil is simple!
Except . . . it’s really not. If there’s one thing that is universal about morality, it is that it is not simple. Everything requires context. There are shades of grey. The real world is not so basic that it can be distilled down to a handful of quotes written in a book. Life is more complicated than that.
9. Do you realize that the Bible warns that thieves, liars, fornicators (those who have had sex out of marriage, idolaters (those who create a god to suit themselves), adulterers, and the covetous (the greedy) will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
No multiple choice for this one; either you realized the Bible said this or you did not. I think it’s funny that so many of these horrible descriptors have to do with sex; because it is, after all, humanity’s fault for having been created in such a state that sex feels really, really good and we feel a biological compunction to seek out sex. It certainly isn’t the fault of the creator who made us this way, even though a reasonable designer who didn’t want us having sex would have just written the sex drive out of the blueprint.
After all, you don’t blame the engineer who designs an engine that explodes every time you activate it, right? It’s not his fault. It’s your fault for turning the engine on. Clearly.
10. Did you also realize that the Bible says “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery for her in his heart?” On Judgement Day, God will bring to light, every secret thing, whether good or evil. When you stand before . . . wait, a minute, you’re not asking a question any more, now you’re just using this as a chance to preach! (Seriously, it goes on for the final fourth of the card in this sermon mode and then just ends without giving us any kind of interpretation of our results).
Again, no multiple choice for this one: you either realized this is what the Bible says or you didn’t. Interestingly, only he can commit adultery in his heart. The Bible makes no reference to what happens to her if she looks at him with lust for him. I guess that means God is okay with ladies getting lusty, if you know what I’m saying. Guys, sucks to be us, I guess.
Seriously, it’s illegal to even think lusty thoughts? Do you know how fucking hard it is to not think about something, especially after somebody tells you, hey, don’t think about that?
DON’T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS
DON’T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS
DON’T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS
Hey, what are you thinking about? Is it elephants?
How about now?
Sucks to be you, I guess. You failed and thought about elephants. Off to Hell with you!
Seriously, it seems to me that if you want people to not think about something, you shouldn’t arrange things so that trying not to think about something is literally impossible.
That concludes our Evangelical Personality Analysis. My interpretation of the results is that I would make a very bad Evangelical.
Also, I’m probably going to Hell. Alas.