Some time ago, in 2004, when I was still an angry atheist and not merely a snotty agnostic, I argued that doing good made sense. Today, I am convinced good is a dire necessity and that without good, a radical good that beautifies everything in its path, we will not long survive.
Good is an imperative. Say it: "I will not long survive unless I embrace a moral order that begins with my survival and demands behavior that enhances the survival of all humanity."
A moral order is not a series of orders that pretends to be moral: wave the flag, work for a living, keep you genitals zipped up except in certain circumstances. That's just a set of manners to keep us all in line for whomever the powers that be happen to be; it's a vision made squalid by rulemakers, churches, schools, mothers without a sense of humor, fathers with belts that are too tight.
A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I had a dream about this.
I found myself in the atrium of a very modern school. A priest was sitting at a desk with some books in front of him. A nun sat beside him.
She explained that everyone in the school would be going door to door throughout the neighborhood to make sure that every family had a copy of the catechism, the Bible and another book I can't recall.
"What if the families can't afford the books?" I asked.
"Why, this is the key to eternal life," said the priest.
"So Jesus didn't really say 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.' ?" I said.
Then I asked: "What he really said was 'Come, for you have sold catechisms and Bibles and good books' ?"
I woke up just then. Just in time to avoid the scene I had set in motion.
This did not strike me as a dream about Jesus or Christianity, only a criticism of the way visionaries have been defanged and declawed so that their challenges might be more palatable and profitable to the shamans and the kings they serve.
The real imperative is much wilder, impractical, almost impossible. It breaks through laws, regulations, tame social manners. It doesn't justify war or profiteering or sexualizing; nor does it provide the convenient hypocritical tut-tutting. The great visionaries saw something far, far beyond a well-ordered society and the churches and armies and brothels and cotillions.
Don't just do something, as Buddhists like to say, stand there!
Turn the other cheek. Begin the ending. Love the hate. Paint colors over what is gray or black or white. Do nothing.