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.