There was a short piece on the radio this morning about white collar crime. They interviewed a woman who had been defrauded, and (particularly after just learning that the latest ponzi scheme perpetrator was someone from my hometown) I really felt bad for her. She obviously felt betrayed and wounded by a person who she’d trusted. But then she said something that made me pause – she said “I always told my kids that if you are a good person, good things will happen to you, and if you’re a bad person, bad things will happen to you, but that’s not the case here.”
And I thought . . . wait a minute, why would you ever tell your children that? Because that was never the deal. Whatever justice may mean on a human or more divine scale, history has not given us any indication that good things happen to good people, and vice versa. Jesus got crucified, Martin Luther King Jr. got shot, and Nelson Mandela spent an awfully long time in prison. Kanye West is a superstar with legions of fans.
It seems to me that having a worldview based on good and bad being doled out on a quid pro quo basis is dangerous. Because what happens when something bad happens to you? There are two possibilities: either a) something bad has happened to you because you are actually a bad person; or b) your worldview was wrong, and even though you are a good person, this will not protect you from bad things happening. Either way, why bother continuing to do good?
So, I don’t know what you should tell your children (maybe I should add moral philosophy to my fun fall reading list, along with feminist theology and development theory ... ), but it seems that if you build your moral framework around the idea that good things happen to good people, you’re going to be ill-equipped to deal with the tragedies and betrayals that are part of life.