The Good, The Bad, & Our Motives

It is an interesting and instructive question to ask oneself: am I doing or saying the right thing but for the wrong reason; or am I doing or saying the wrong thing but for the right reason; or am I doing or saying the right thing for the right reason? (We’ll ignore the fourth option: doing or saying the wrong thing for the wrong reason, because that’s just wrong.)

With respect to the prevailing measures our leaders, and those who trust them have taken, in attempts to curtail this pandemic, we have seen all of these conditions at play. We’ve seen Dr. Fauci, and others in positions of authority, employ the ‘noble lie’ telling us untruths because they are for our own good; this is a version of the ‘ends justify the means’ approach to ethics, which is simply a variation on saying the wrong thing (a lie) for the right reason (our own good). But I think if you are willing to lie, even with good intentions, you are already on a slippery slope; and the end of that downhill slide is inevitably a bad outcome, with nothing good to justify it.

Perhaps even worse than that though, is doing or saying the right thing but for the wrong reason. This one can be very confusing to recognize, and can confound everyone who experiences it. We hear the good words spoken, or see the good deed done, but we sense the bad motives underlying it, but we can’t quite pinpoint what exactly is wrong with it. And because the wrongness of it is cloaked inside a garment of supposed good, it often is effective, goes unchecked, and the perpetrator will get away with it. This technique is often used to target Christians such as myself; perhaps you have also been the recipient of this kind of subterfuge?

For instance, I have been told that I should wear the mask, or get the vaccine, because as a Christian that would be ‘following the golden rule’ to love ones neighbor as oneself. The particularly interesting thing about this is that it is often leveled by folks who aren’t Christians themselves; so that raises a red flag at the outset. Why would a non-Christian suddenly have interest in the teachings of Christ, who they don’t believe in? Is their motive sacrificial love (charity)? And the use of their quotation, does it honestly fit contextually, and in the spirit, with the entirety of Christ’s teachings found in the rest of scripture? My guess is it typically doesn’t; but it is rather motivated by their fears, and their desire to persuade you to act according to their wishes. They use the right thing (scriptural references) for the wrong reason (manipulation/coercion/shaming rather than genuine love). The letter of the law is there (a good), but the spirit behind it is deceptive and sneaky.

It is true that the Christian tradition, including scripture, is a testament of love for God and love for neighbor, but the key and primary aspect of this is ‘love’. The underlying motivation for all action and speech is and should be genuine charity. If you can honestly attest before your conscience and God that your motive is love for others, than I suspect that you are doing or saying the right thing for the right reason. The unfortunate thing for us today is that we have seared our consciences to such a degree through bad thoughts and bad behavior that we can’t even discern our true motives, and we’ve grown so accustomed to telling and hearing lies that we can’t even discern the truth within our own hearts. This needs to be step one; make your own heart good, then all that flows out from it will be good; and the means you employ in doing or saying anything towards another person may have a good ending.


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