When is a person good or bad? Can good people be evil sometimes, and evil people be sometimes good?

Richard Wagner. He made me think.

Are we good bad people, or bad good people?

I was just listening to The Pilgrims Chorus from Tannhauser by Wagner yesterday, and it set me off on some trains of thought, principally about the nature of good and evil and whether some of the people we regard as irredemnably wicked, are really so, and also whether some of those we consider to be the good guys are really as good as we believe they are.

It is a fact of history that Richard Wagner was not one of the most attractive individuals ever. He was vain. He was a sponger. His incessant demands for money from Ludwig II of Bavaria, almost bankrupted the Bavarian state.
He was antisimetic. Hitler idolised him and his music. The playing of his music is barred in Israel.
Yet despite all this he still managed to compose some of the most noble and inspiring music ever written.
So was Wagner a bad man? It is a question very difficult to answer.

History is littered with people who were seemingly very bad, but if you saw them at certain points of their lives, only, you would have thought them to be rather attractive individuals.
A cat lover watching the videos of Lenin stroking a cat might think. "Oh what a lovely man". They might think differently about him if they saw him ordering the massacre of a city.

But the question is, was Lenin a bad man? Or was he a good man when he was being kind to cats, and a bad man only when he was ordering people to be killed?

We get the same problem with Hitler. Adolf Hitler inspired, and in some cases, directly ordered the murder of many millions of innocent people. The horrors of the concentration camps are known to us all. Yet Hitler could be very kind to children, and he loved his dog.
So the same question again. Was Hitler completely bad. Or was he good when he was offering sweets to children, and playing with his dog; and only completely bad when he was signing away the lives of millions?

The same question arises, but in reverse, with Winston Churchill. We can all agree that Winston Churchill was a good man. He lead the fight against the evils of nazism, and inspired a generation with his stirring speeches. Yet at the end of the war he could send thousands of Cossacks back to Russia, knowing that they faced almost certain death at the hands of Joseph Stalin.
But was Churchill really good or evil? Was he better or worse than Hitler? The answer to that depends very much on whether you are a Jew or a Cossack.

After World War Two, the State of Israel was founded, and a large proportion of the Jews that had survived murder by Hitler, went to live there. In order to get settled they had to throw the Palestinian arabs off their land, and out of their country.
Were these Jewish people evil? Were they good when they were being persecuted by Hitler, and bad when they were stealing the arab land? The world is a strange place.

A lot of people idolise John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He rightly gets praised for starting the process of civil rights legislation, that brought freedom to millions throughout The United States. Definitely a good man, one would think.
Yet he was notorious for being an unfaithful husband, and a virtual "Don Juan".
So what was he? Good or bad?

I could go on with loads more examples, both from history, and from real people I have known. I can even think of many examples from my own living, that make me ask whether I am good or bad?

I suppose the only thing I can say is that I am glad we have a God, and let him sort it all out when our individual moments come.

I will leave you with a recording of the glorious Pilgrims Chorus from Tannhauser by Richard Wagner, that set me off on this musing.

Wagner. Good or evil? You decide.

More by this Author


Comments 25 comments

tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

Good and bad as relates to humanity are, at least the way you portray it, relative terms. Some (misguided) people believe everything is relative, even truth and there are no absolutes. The (unrelative) Truth is there are absolutes, there is an absolute God and even God's only perfect son reveals in Mark 10:18 "And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'" So there you have the answer, no one is good except God. Everyone who ever lived, according to God's standard is "bad" (Isaiah 64:6(NIV) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away"). You can't get any clearer than that so when you invoke God in the conversation ("I suppose the only thing I can say is that I am glad we have a God...") you should heed what he says in HIS WORD.

And you mention President Kenedy - Kennedy's narrow election victory and small working margin in Congress left him cautious. He was reluctant to lose southern support for legislation on many fronts by pushing too hard on civil rights legislation but millions of African Americans would not wait. Eventually, the administration was compelled to act. Regardless of his promises, in 1961 Kennedy did nothing to help and push forward the civil rights issue and never signed any civil rights legislation which actually was pushed through congress later by republicans.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks for the comment,tsadjatko, and for the warning.

But I hope you wont be offended if I say that the only person who can judge whether I heed The Word of God or not is God Himself. No amount of capitalisation is going to change that.

The issue regarding President Kennedy is that he got praised for his social policies which, though uncompleteted, were the actions of what most people would call a good man; but he was also a notorious womaniser, which most people would say made him a bad man. Which was he?

I brought God into the article, because judgement belongs to him.

I dont feel that you really got the point I was trying to make.


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

No offense taken and none intended :) but I find it hard to understand how you can assert judgement belongs to God if you do not assert the rest of what his word says. If it is not true that all men are sinners and therefore bad why is it true that God judges. The Bible is not a smorgasboard of beliefs.

If I didn't get the point you were making, you haven't made it any more clear to me, but I'm not so sure you got the point I was making about bad and good.

I gave your hub an up.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Christopher, an important hub, this! Thank you!

I have my own views of "good and evil." Wouldn't you know!

I think, being human, we all have an array of dichotomies within us. And these form the blood and body of ego. This, I feel, is the root of all evil in the world, but can seem seductively good, too.

Ego can be selfish, but it can also be generous, especially if others know about it. Ego is a braggart, but it is also a suicide victim. Ego is all about "self!"

And, I think, this is what the Tree in the Garden of Heaven was all about -- the Forbidden Fruit. No physical fruit, this. No, I think the fruit was a matrix of dichotomies which formed ego. This is what keeps us asleep. This is the self that our beloved Nazarene teacher said we should let die so that we can gain everlasting life.

Even when some are being seemingly good, they may be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Remember the Pharisees? They followed the laws, but they were public about it. Their egos were sticking out for all to stroke. They couldn't comfort a prostitute or a thief who regretted their lifestyles. No, they were above that kind of thing. And that made their "goodness" a cloak of dirty rags unworthy of Heaven.

It all comes back to motivation. And like you said, only our Heavenly Father can see that.


Jonesy0311 profile image

Jonesy0311 5 years ago

I think that the line between good and evil is not impermeable. As the Roman comedy writer Terence said, "Nothing by humans is alien to me." Anything that a human being has ever done could be done by any of us. Strong arguments have been made for the "banality of evil." I like to believe that a human is more than the worst thing he or she has ever done. Evil is in all of us and it can be brought to the surface by situational variables if we are not careful.

"Always be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each year find you a better man (or woman)." -Benjamin Franklin.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

tsadjatko.

When God judges He acts like a judge in court. Sometimes He condemns. Other times He acquits.

I dont disagree with you about bad and good. There is such a thing as absolute evil. I only ask if certain "bad" people are actually evil all the time, or if actual "good" people can be evil sometimes?

lone77star.

I can see what you are saying there. It makes a lot of sense.

My mind is being drawn to that woman being stoned for adultery, and what Jesus said, because when He said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" He wasn't just speaking to the men standing around. He was speaking to the woman too, and to the rest of us. She didn't have the right to condemn the men that were about to stone her, anymore than they had the right to condemn her; or we them.

Jonesy0311.

You are absolutely right in what you say there. You even have me agreeing with Benjamin Franklin, and for a George III fan like me to be in agreement with that old rebel is saying something.

Thanks for commenting.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Thanks, ChristopherAnton, more beautiful points and well-stated.

And I think one of the chief vices to be found on HubPages is "judgment." Too bad the Trolls cannot see themselves in a mirror, for they would be truly agast at the ugly beast they've become. And I feel downright ugly for saying it. Funny how that works.

And as for God being a judge in court, it's interesting that the guilty have already convicted themselves just as mechanically as the suicide stepping off a 20-story building. In a sense, they are judging themselves by their action. For me, hell is an inevitable by-product of a poor decision, rather than one of vengeful punishment.

When God "hates," it's at the velocity of impact. Seen in this light, some of the seemingly contradictory passages in the Bible melt into insignificance. God is all about love, but only we can decide to wake up spiritually. God can't do it for us. In that sense, we really do judge ourselves. God merely gives us what we ask for.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

lone77star.

That is why he gave us free will. For us free will is always a "double edged sword", as we have to decide these matters of salvation for ourselves. We can't blame God if we end up in the wrong place.


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 5 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Good Hub Christopher, speaking personally I know I had a great propensity for evil in my early life, fortunately restrained by the unseen hand of God. I had much generational curses to avoid, my father was in Burma during WW2 and frankly had 'innocent blood' on his head, I carried the curse and very almost reinforced it with my unemotional aspects and contempt for my fellow man.

Fortunately, I avoided actually killing people, though I came very near to ordering terminations a few times!

God cares for us even when we are not yet in submission. Romans 8:28 ruled despite my lack of belief.

Once I came to faith, I knew that ALL of my prior attitudes and thought processes needed review and to mostly dismissed, to be replaced with Gods Kingdom rules.

So now I could no longer think of actually having someone killed, although I must admit that often there are folk who I would dismiss from this spiritual plane if I were not in belief and assured that it is forbidden!

So...... to answer, we are ALL capable of great evil, given the circumstance, but we are equally all able to be saved and stopped from doing evil, when we come to Christ.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

aguasilver.

I find myself in agreement with your wise words.

Thanks for reading.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I think it boils down to the fact that everybody has the capacity for evil, only most people don't have anything that makes them suddenly switch to that. in the case of hitler etc I believe that they were just psychopaths, an anomaly in the brain stopped them from 'feeling' like we do, interesting hub, cheers nell


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks for reading Nell. Psychopaths, and sociopaths are a difficult area, because scientists have looked at their brains, and seen significant differences between them and ordinary brains, and if they have this brain deficiency that, apparently, makes them incapable of feeling empathy, how far are they really guilty?

But then how far can we allow science to make excuses for people?

It's a problem.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, yes I know what you mean, when I used to study psychology, the tutor actually said the same thing! evidently even though there are labels that we call people, we still don't know where to draw the line between evil or mentally sick, scary stuff!


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 5 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Some people are hard-wired to be more predatory than others, think of it as God/natures way of keeping things 'edgy' so that all the normal folk don't get to think that just because they decide the world must be a nice place, it will be.

As I used to quote, in today's world, even serial killers have rights.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

I know this is going to put the discussion into a kind of circle, but I am beginning to think that when dealing with psychopaths, we have to draw the line, and do bad, for our own and society's protection.


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 5 years ago from Malaga, Spain

The problem Christopher is that as soon as we draw a line in the sand, i.e. decide psychopaths need stopping, which means either total incarceration or termination, we raise the spectre of WHO decides and by which ruling they make that decision.

If I had killed Herr Hitler in 1930, I would have been a murderer, in 1940, I would have been a hero, (unless I were German, in which case I would have been a murderous traitor)whichever way we look at things the whole concept of good and evil depends upon perspective, what we need to determine is what perspective should we be looking at it from.

I choose the perspective defined by the bible and Christ, but it's not too popular to try and recommend it to those who choose to hold tightly to their supposed 'free will'

Likewise (as an aside) had I killed Saddam Hussein in 1985, I would have had the Company after my hide, ten years later they would have paid me well to do the same deed..... tricky huh!

John


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

John you have said it perfectly. Thank you.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Chris, it's a simple analogy and would apply to virtually every person on the earth. We often make decisions that turn out to be bad in hindsight. We get grumpy when we are stressed and tired and generous when we can easily afford to be. It's our nature that dictates these things. Churchill's decision making could well have been formed by a majority of fellow cabinet ministers that he may have not agreed with. Nothing is black and white. Except Newcastle United of course, and they were arguing last week about changing their colours. Ok, i made the last bit up. Cheers mate.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

I agree Keith. I was only asking the questions about what good people and bad people are. I wasn't making a statement about them.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Oscar Schindler would be a good example, if the movie was true to life.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Very true.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

There are certainly good and bad in all of us. But some people are downright evil, and some, like my mother, are definitely angels. Lovely music you have in here!


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Martie. Thanks for reading. I feel sure your mother is not the only angel in your family.

I'm glad you enjoyed the music.


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

What an excellent and thought provoking hub.


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thankyou gmwilliams for your kind comment.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working