Mapping the Goodness Genome
Can we chart the landmarks and sequence the DNA of goodness in order to understand its evolution? The “Sir Isaac Newton’s apple” that triggered this for me, was autumn.
The fall season, when you consider it’s a prelude to winter’s sleep, gives off a strangely invigorating energy. This is the season when everything does a lingering waltz toward dormancy or death. But even while prepping for the long nap, blazing displays of orange and red leaves set against skies of the deepest robin’s egg blue, thrill our souls to the rafters. Seasonally it’s bedtime, and yet we are jazzed, as though we had suddenly decided to drink coffee at 10 p.m. That’s the paradox of autumn.
Goodness behaves similarly, in that it also gives off an invigorating energy, and we feel stimulated in its presence. We can call these units of stimulation “vitality elephants” if we want to. Or we can call them Aunt Betty, it doesn’t matter. Whatever they are, goodness that we do to others, or that someone does toward us, gives us a buzz.
What is it about autumn that makes it feel like a bright yellow Corvette with the top down? Maybe the invigorating negative ions in the atmosphere are the season’s vitality units. I’m not going to twirl around like Julie Andrews in a Viennese mountain meadow, but I do feel pretty good when I walk outside. I feel the same way when I encounter goodness.
I find personal metaphors aplenty this time of year, what with being in the “autumn of life” myself. While I can insist that 63 years old is only 17 celsius, still there is no denying this is autumn for the temperate zone and for Larry Moffitt. I have the lower back, blood sugar and heart issues to prove it. But I don’t feel used up, and I have figured out that it is the presence around me of those who embody aspects of goodness that impart liveliness and happiness to me. Goodness is a viral infection.
I am also sensing that goodness, as a spiritual quality, is becoming easier to access than it used to be. I think it is easier for some people to be clear about what’s right and what’s wrong than it has been in years past. Some people, more than a few actually, have mentioned to me about being able to feel the supportive presence of ancestors that they could not feel before. Although they still don’t know who these people are.
One example. A teenage girl I know well had a vivid dream about being invited to a banquet in the spirit world, hosted by her deceased grandmother and a lot of nice grey-haired people she had never met. The spacious room, the long table, the dinner, the scenery outside and the conversations were vivid in the extreme. It was such an ultra-real skintouch experience she woke up gasping, ran downstairs flooded with tears to tell her parents every detail. She said it was wonderful.
“Now can you understand all this is real?” her father asked her..
She was profoundly moved for days. Like autumn’s paradox, her dream was about dying and being fully alive at the same time.
In the way that shadows can show us what the light is doing, what do the times when there is little or no goodness to be found, tell us about the adaptive powers of goodness? One of the darker parts of U.S. history was when the forefathers of some of us were committing genocide on the American Indians, and enslaving blacks. It’s impossible not to wonder what God was thinking. It had to have been sheer torture for God to endure, and if there is any kind of justice out there, we should have been destroyed for our crimes. It would be easy to conclude that we’re on our own, that there is no justice or freestanding goodness. Or that God has attention deficit disorder, is impotent or non-existent.
However, if God did have power and had chosen to rain down instant retribution, many reading this now, would not have been born. We would not be here to repent for the grievous sins of our Indian slaughtering and slave-raping ancestors. We would not be able to help them by repenting on their behalf, and those evil bastards would be stuck in the slime pits of hell forever. And their victims, the brutalized Indians and slaves, would be seething with unresolved resentment forever, and therefore stuck in their own kind of victims’ hell. (The idea of repenting on another’s behalf is a hard reach for many, and also some people are not interested in the destiny of souls. I get that. But one can’t get very far discussing goodness in the abstract.)
It may be that we were allowed to be born so we could develop consciousness and could act to interrupt the cycles of despair and loathing of our ancestors by interceding with our own sacrificial offerings of blood, sweat and tears. We might want to consider giving God credit for having a restoration strategy for us, and for not giving into to his… her… their… rage when the sins were being committed. This must be added to the genome’s hereditary information.
It sickens my heart to think that Declaration-first-drafting Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. It required a bloody, fratricidal war to atone for slavery, and some say there’s still payment due. We came close to being permanently divided into two countries – north and south. Had that happened, I doubt we would have been cohesive enough to defeat the Nazis 80 years later. I doubt we would have been able to engineer the collapse of global communism, a scourge that owns all the records for mass murder.
What about the victims? After they are killed, does God somehow comfort and heal the shattered spirit of the innocent child gassed in a concentration camp or the young woman gang-raped by soldiers from Sherman’s army? There had better be some mechanism and process for this level of restoration or I am going to have a very deep depression and be hell to live with when I get over there. M.L.King said the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I take that on faith and assume it applies to the spirit world as well.
For most of human history, goodness had to be a response to external evil, an army or an ideology. Today the enemy is cultural. We are frogs, who were put into a kettle of cold water in the 60s and placed over a low fire. Today we are immersed in a hypersexualized rolling boil. Community standards are in tatters. Christianity is on the ropes, utterly unable to control its collective, ecclesiastical penis. If only there were an enemy race we could dehumanize on a recruiting poster. But there isn’t. As Pogo said in the cartoons, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
At exactly the instant I am thinking this, I walk out of Barnes & Noble (where I saw the Pogo cartoon) and find myself directly in front of the large display window of Victoria’s Secret. Right on cue, the culture shows up and I realize this essay is now writing itself. The lingerie model in the high-resolution billboard photo, way bigger than life-size, is wearing a smile along with bright green panties and a pushup bra worthy of Mauna Loa. Her belly button is the size of Dead-Eye Dick’s eye patch, which will give you a sense of the size of her other parts. And that’s basically nothing compared to other things going on in public.
Goodness has to contain a chromosome for self-governance to offset the absence of external societal standards. No standards puts people in the position of having to define goodness for themselves, unless they have a faith community or tradition to look to for guidance. Goodness has to be up to the task. It has to mutate to protect a child surrounded 24/7 by an unrelenting internet, desensitizing graphic violence and classroom demos on how to put a condom on a banana. At least until the popular culture stops trying to outdo the fall of Rome.
The evolution of goodness may be manifesting in thinning the barriers between this world and the next, allowing for a person who exercises introspection, to get a clearer sense of right and wrong, and where they stand on what has been called the “Hitler-Gandhi scale of evil-to-good.”
The way it was in the old days, when you died you would meet Mr. Death.
“Hello, Death Nim.”
“Here you go, son,” and he would hand you a big fortune cookie. You would open it and inside it would tell you whether to pack your bags for heaven or hell. And that would be it.
Today, with some introspection, I believe it is possible to know in advance, what will be your fate in the so-called “afterlife.” I chalk it up to growing harmonization between the physical and the spiritual, and the evolution of goodness, caused partly by the continuing development of humanity’s spiritual consciousness. This is something people of all different faiths, politics and sexual orientations are sensing – at least those willing to speak to me – and so I feel emboldened to suggest it as a landmark in the genome.
If you want to add to the mix, an anthropomorphic, sentient being, God, in the driver’s seat, he… she… they… are always welcome. I think you already understand that I absolutely embrace an activist God, but I want to emphasize that I think that goodness, created by God, can function, grow and mutate based on input from men, women and children. We are given more power and responsibility than we think.
In summation, and this is a theory, but in order to protect people in a morally rudderless culture, goodness has to contain within the sequencing of its genome, the ability for some people to know in advance where they stand in relation to heaven and hell. I personally find this scary because much of the responsibility is on the individual to clean up his or her act. It always has been, of course, but now it feels more like working without a net. It’s like I arrive there and can’t say I wasn’t warned.
The imperative to be good, was born out of necessity and it simply exists. Goodness exists. It just is. It’s a force as dependable as toast dropping jellyside down, and we govern it ourselves. That doesn’t leave us a lot of wiggle room because its only rule is that I not look good, but in fact be good. I find that refreshing. So no fudge factor? Are we talking about the end of bullshit? Of course not. Not as long there is an Irishman or Texan still alive. The end of politics? Hard to imagine, although who is to say how far goodness can evolve. Wouldn’t it be interesting to elect a U.S. President by drawing straws among qualified candidates, in a process presided over by people above reproach, who are guided by God himself… herself…themselves.