Why do people do good things?

A simple question, why do people do good things?

Not why does good stuff happen to bad people? or why does bad stuff happen to good people? But why do people do good things?

A sign on a street, it reads:

Welcome to Manchester. "Manchester is the place where people do things. it is good tp talk about doing things, but even better to do them."
Edward Abbott Parry, Judge and Dramatist.
Shared under a creative Commons 2.0 Generic licence

Can a bad person do good things? The Church of England says no, they cannot. They say that only those with faith in Jesus Christ can do good things It is there in the 39 articles of religion of 1563[1]:

XIII. OF WORKS BEFORE JUSTIFICATION

WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

But is that true? There are plenty of examples of people who have another religion to Christianity doing good, and there is plenty of psychologists who say that true altruism is impossible, altruism is just disguised self-interest. We do it for self esteem or to make ourselves seem better in other people’s eyes.

Psychologist Dr Steve Taylor of Leeds Beckett University[2] disagrees. While he sees people doing good as being a thing he thinks that most altruism is based on empathy, not greed. Science does not paint a consistent theory here, like most things scientific the latest theory is easily overruled when something new that fits the data comes along, and like most things scientific there are always some scientists who resist the change.

Life is not a Hollywood movie where the bad guys are thoroughly bad and the good guys are always good. That is not even true of hollywood movies, in Rio Bravo, John Wayne playing the small town sherrif shoots one of the bad guys trying to get away in the back. This film is one of the classics of the Western genre, I was worried about that, yet most people don’t have a problem with it. Good guys have to do bad things for good to triumph is not how I tend to see things.

Morality and marginal existence do not go well together. A morality which panders to the status quo is not moral, if we improved things we still need to continue to fight until we reach the best. If we want to learn about racism we need to listen to what minority races are saying. The same goes for LGBT+ issues, listen to what gay, lesbian and trans people are saying. God says he is on the side of the poor, orphans, widows and foreigners, which were marginalised people in Old Testament times. Jesus reaffirmed this in his ministry. We are supposed to carry out that ministry and approve of those who are doing the will of God, even if they do not believe in God.


[1]https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/articles-religion#XII

[2]https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/out-the-darkness/201310/why-do-human-beings-do-good-things-the-puzzle-altruism

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