“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’”
Mark 10:18 (ESV)
I was sitting with a group of students at a High School. Most, if not all, of them were athletes, class leaders and academic achievers. I asked them this question, “What are the things that qualify a ‘Good Kid’ as being so?”. A few seconds went by as they processed the question. Then the group erupted with answers.
“Well, Good grades.”
“Lots of activities, being involved.”
“Following the rules.”
“You have to be respectful.”
“Kindness and being polite.”
“Don’t do drugs, don’t drink alcohol.”
All these answers and more were among the behaviors that earned a student the title of “Good Kid” from the adults in charge of them. I asked if they were sure of their answers. Some looked puzzled, but most of them said yes. Then I asked them this question.
“What are the things that qualify a ‘Moral Kid’ as being so?” Even more puzzled looks. They glanced at each other an then back to me. Silence. And then one cautious hand went up amongst the group. A question.
“Do you mean like the moral of a story? The meaning?” the student finished the question and then lowered their hand as slowly as they’d raised it.
I was a bit staggered. The confused looks and empty silence told me they were unfamiliar with what I’d asked. As I look back, I don’t think any of them connected the word “moral” with a person’s conduct.
So then I asked, “You’ve said that according to your school, you can be considered a ‘Good Kid’, but the question is, according to your school, can you be considered a ‘Moral’ one?”. Still more perplexed looks. I could tell the frustration was building.
Another student, incredulous, said, “They why don’t you explain it to us?”.
I accepted the challenge and asked, “You said, following the rules makes you a ‘Good Kid’, right?” They gave me nods, affirmative mutters and looks of approval. “I’d say most of you are ‘Good Kids’, right?” I heard snickers and saw some kicks under the table along with knowing glances at each other. “So, you’re saying that you 100% agree with the rules, you all believe they are good and fully support them?”
A previously unheard voice from the back of the group came forward, “Nope. I think most of the rules are stupid.” A light roar of approval came from the group for the what the student just said.
I grabbed that statement before it left the air. “But wait, you’re all good kids right?”
The same voice came back at me, “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I think the rules make any sense; that they are right. I just follow them because that’s what we are expected to do.”
“That’s the definition of morality.” I said, “your beliefs about right and wrong. For example, according to the school rules you must leave your smartphone in your locker or keep it in your pocket, right? But how many of you believe that rule is stupid?” Hands went up in vigorous approval. The group was gelling.
“That’s morality. What you believe to be right and wrong based on your personal code. Rules are useful and help with things like safety, order and progress.” I grinned, “But rules can also be immoral. It could be a rule that we eat the Freshman class based on the authorities making the rules. But that doesn’t make rules automatically moral.”
The same incredulous student, skepticism on their face, challenged me again, “Yeah, but then even morality has to be based on something, right? We can’t just have our own morality.”
I pointed right at the student and said, “Yes! You’re exactly right. But tell me, why do you think that?”
Incredulous came back immediately, “Because we’d all be making our own morality and that’d be chaotic. I mean, what would be considered the correct morality? Who gets to decide what is moral and what isn’t?”
“That’s the thing about morality,” I said. “It doesn’t come from us. We live according to it, it doesn’t live according to us. You’re exactly right, when the morality we live by is left to the masses, the result is chaos. So, where should you get your morality? What code should you live by?”
Incredulous again with a rejecting chortle, “So now you’re talking about God, right?” As soon as Incredulous asked that, the bell rang, ending the conversation. The students gathered their things and turned their minds to the next item on their schedules; back to the rules, I supposed.
Incredulous’ final question succumbed to the bell, unanswered.