Religion vs Virtue

Sorry, I need to clear my head about something, and my way of doing that is to go on a long-winded rant and share it with other people. Feel free to TLDR your way out of here; I won’t be offended.

I randomly came across this today. It’s from the Tao Te Ching:

A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
And is therefore not good.
A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing,
Yet much remains to be done.
When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.
When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order.
Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.

I’ve always had a problem trying to reconcile Catholicism1 and true selflessness. Jesus makes a big deal about how if you’re doing a good thing and making a big show of it, in order to be praised for your goodness, you’re not really all that good, and you won’t be rewarded in Heaven for it. But that, it occurred to me, was just pushing the problem back a layer. If you’re expecting to be rewarded in Heaven for your good deeds, are you really being selfless?

I struggled for years with this concept, even beyond when I lost faith. Rather than divine reward, the question shifted to “Is it really selfless if I think the good deeds are marginally improving society for the next generation, for my hypothetical kids to live in?”

I think the quote above puts an even finer point on the same idea.

A truly good person will see that what needs to be done is done. There are few enough of them around, but kindness is a sufficient substitute. If you try to act in a kind way at all times, you’ll probably get most of the same results that a good person will.

But some people use justice as a substitute for kindness, and that is a trap. Kindness is a rising tide that lifts all boats, where justice more often involves inflicting punishment. We’re all taught, as kids, that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but Western government, its culture, the very heart of its society is the idea of equitably and justly inflicting the second wrong.

… And then there are the people who can’t even muster a basic idea of fairness, of proportionality. They have failed to be virtuous; virtue is too hard. They have failed to be kind; kindness lacks a certain catharsis. They have failed to be just, as justice would require too much sacrifice… So they fall back on ritual, on finding justification rather than seeking justice, on rationalizing their actions rather than behaving rationally. They use carefully-selected quotes from their religion as a shield to tell themselves that what they’re doing is right, and as a sword to tell everyone else that what they’re doing is wrong.

There was a point, more recently than I care to admit, at which, having abandoned Catholicism, I was seeking another denomination that meshed with my own sense of morality, as the Church didn’t, but it seemed hollow and pointless to choose which is the true God by whether or not I agreed with Him. Having read the above, I now realize what I was doing: I was seeking justification through ritual.

There’s one other quote I came across today2, ironically (given the above realization) when driving by a United Church message board:

Be kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.

I’ll probably never actually achieve virtue. That would require doing the right thing without any consideration that what goes around will come around, and I just don’t think I can do that. But kindness? That’s an ideal I think I can strive for, and maybe that’s enough.

1I was going to write “Christianity” here, but I then remembered that most Protestants think that good deeds don’t get rewarded in heaven; only faith does. I don’t get how they end up with that result from sola scriptura, but they probably wouldn’t get Catholic beliefs either.
2See, this is why I can’t actually make the transition from “nonreligious” to atheism, or even fully to atheist agnosticism.
Stuff like this keeps happening, where it seems like someone or something is trying to send me a message. Yes, I know I’m falling victim to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but knowing that that’s a normal thing doesn’t make it any less spooky.


My only suggestion is to also read other translations of the Tao Te Ching (and the other Taoist books). They’re all aiming at communicating the same things, but they vary quite a bit in how they get there.

I identify as a Taoist when asked my religion, because it seems closest, but it’s weird because it’s not religious, it’s philosophical but there’s also a religious branch of Taoism, which is not at all where my head is. Luckily most people don’t know the difference or bother to ask further.

In any case, I’m not quite clear on what your question is. But from my standpoint, if you’re doing good, then you’re good as far as that matters. The deeper question becomes what is good (and how do we decide that)?

Taoism is special to me because it kind of emphasizes that you don’t need to go out of your way and hurt anyone else (or yourself) to do good. In fact, you can do a lot of good by just not doing anything.


Why wouldn’t it be? I’m not coming at this from the same base philosophy as you, so maybe I’m not in a place to understand the point. But as is, this seems like the Randian idea that everyone is inherently selfish – only taking that as a minus instead of plus – because if you want to help other people, that means you’re only fulfilling your own desires in doing it. A selfless choice is then impossible.

And that seems like a broken definition to me. If your reward for doing good deeds is improving society for another generation, a set of people that doesn’t include you, well, what makes that your reward? Wanting to do things simply because they help other people is what true selflessness is, if the term means anything.

You mention your hypothetical kids, but you’re not doing anything for them if they’re hypothetical, only helping other people the way you would want your children to be helped. And treating others the way you’d like your own to be treated is supposed to be the golden rule. If that isn’t virtue, if virtue instead depends on not noticing whether you are making the world better or not, I really don’t see the point of it.


Oh, I do so love discussions such as this! I wish we had them more often. There are a bunch of nifty minds in this group, and I love learning from you all and finding out how you prefer to tune your moral compasses.

I’m no student of scripture, just a lapsed Methodist who gave up the faith over thirty years ago, but I got the impression that there were many facets of Catholic liturgy and ritual that Protestants rejected in part because so much of it seemed needlessly ornate and baroque and esoteric and designed, it seemed, by the priests simply to wow the rubes with elaborate mystery and showmanship, as well as byzantine rules that tended to distract from the greater, simpler message of God’s love. I mean, John 3:16 is a very simple, direct, and straightforward hook upon which to hang one’s faith. It boils it all down to sincerity. Certainly, any faithless scam artist could follow all the commandments, give millions to charity, confess on the regular, perform any penance assigned, and go through all the motions without actually believing any of it… should such a person be admitted to heaven? On the other hand, someone who heartily believes in Christ’s sacrifice might yet miss a confession, or otherwise have a conversion quite late in life that doesn’t allow sufficient time to make proper amends… should that person be punished while the insincere moralist is not? To the Protestant way of thinking, maybe not. I dunno. I do oversimplify. I mean, how many Christians truly understand how the new covenant is supposed to square with Levitican law? I know precious few who’ve actually taken the trouble to read the entire Bible, and fewer still who’ve troubled to seek out other translations and really study them. My late brother was one; he became a born-again Christian in the 70s, and began preaching in the 80s. I never really had a chance to dig into the denominational nuts and bolts with him before he died.

I remember arguing about altruism in college. Some wag or other maintained that true altruism could not exist, because even if you didn’t expect an ecclesiastical or heavenly reward for Doing The Right Thing, your own self-satisfaction for doing it would be sufficient payment to prevent your act from being selfless. And I agree with @chenille in that there’s no benefit in splitting such hairs, because after all, those good feelings one gets for, let’s say, providing clean drinking water for entire villages at great effort and personal expense… those good feelings are nice and all, but they pale into utter insignificance when weighed against the actual, tangible, physical benefit to the villagers in question, or against the suffering they would endure if one did not act thus. And there are those (nonagenarian Jimmy Carter comes to mind) who do not rest upon their laurels and look back at their philanthropic efforts with a sense of “look at what a great guy I’ve been!” but rather keep their sleeves rolled up and ask what needs to be done next in the world’s long and never-ending list of the world’s needs. It takes a pedant with balls of purest brass to tell someone like Carter that his deeds are not selfless because he enjoys being Mister Good Guy.

At a certain point, the question becomes almost solipsistic if one dwells on it long enough. Is it selfless or isn’t it? Does it matter to anyone at all if I think I’m being selfless, or if I think I’m being a good person because I get off on labeling myself a good person? Too much time spent wrestling with that question is wasted time that could be better spent helping people. To my way of thinking, it’s a bit masturbatory and useless.

I think I’ve posted this hereabouts before, but lately I sum up my own morality with a couple pages from comic books:

From Preacher:


And from (of all characters) Beta Ray Bill:

Maybe it’s solipsistic, certainly it’s arrogant, but what the hell: I wanna live in a world that is run by rules I can either change or live with, and that requires rules that I can begin to understand. I don’t necessarily need to live in a world wherein evil is punished (see “justice” as described by @nimelennar above), but I certainly want to do everything in my power to ensure that evil is not rewarded. On the other hand, I do want to reward good. I don’t believe most criminals turn to crime because of evil intent, but rather because of dire straits and inhibited opportunity for advancement. I want to help others, not because I believe it’ll help me go to heaven (I don’t believe in it) nor because it’ll save me from damnation (don’t believe in that either), and not because of my children (I love them, but they’re gonna have to get by in the world as best they can, just like anyone else, and they don’t deserve any more advantages than anyone else has). I want to help make the world a better place, not so I can directly benefit from it, but because that’s the kind of world I want to exist. When I built my first Little Free Library, some people at the Old Place predicted someone might steal all the books, or burn it down, or leave fresh turds in it. I was betting none of those things would happen (and they didn’t) but not because I don’t know how shitty people can be. Rather, I don’t want the furniture of our lives to be dictated by the shittiest actions of the worst people. If we do what we can to improve the world in ways both large and small, I believe that the effect spreads, in the aggregate, and in the long term. I believe it’s always worth at least trying… not just because that’s the result my life experience has led me to expect, but rather because that’s the result I (somewhat bloodymindedly) want to expect.

It’s enough for me. I don’t believe that what goes around comes around. Plenty of chronic assholes die in luxurious comfort, never feeling a moment’s pang of regret for all the misery they’ve caused other people. So fucking what. My goal is to thwart them however I can while they live, not to become one of them myself, to ignore them thoroughly once they can’t do any more damage, and to undo whatever damage they’ve done as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Since I don’t consider myself answerable to any deity, I just have to please myself, my loved ones, and meet the minimum standards of the society in which I choose to live. I can accomplish a goodly amount within those strictures, since I am fortunate and privileged enough to have all the unearned benefits that being born a white cisgender male in 1969 America bequeathed me.

My life is more than half over, I’m sure. I’ve already outlived both my parents and three of my siblings, and for all I know I could be dead tomorrow. I have work to do, and I have no doubt that I will leave behind many more unfulfilled intentions than fulfilled ones, and that grieves me. But your ideal of kindness… yes, that’s enough for me. If I’ve lived a kind life, I will die in peace.


Sadly, I don’t think that will happen. The quote above is about my limit of patience for abstract philosophy. It’s something I can bite off and chew on for a bit, but I doubt I could make a meal of it.

I’m probably going to come back to this a few times in my post, so: I was raised to believe that what you expect in return for your deeds diminishes the virtue of the deed. If you do an honest hour’s work for an honest hour’s pay, that’s nothing particularly virtuous or noteworthy. If you give a discount, that’s better. If you volunteer your time to a cause that you get benefit from, that’s even better; if it’s a cause you don’t benefit from, that’s best of all. On the other hand, if you overcharge, or do a substandard job…

Anyway, by that scale, “perfect virtue” and/or “true selflessness” can only achieved if you see no benefit whatsoever yourself from the deed you do, and that’s a very difficult place to reach for anyone considering consequences honestly.

That’s a difficult question to answer, but I would say a good approximation would be moving towards a world with the following constraints:

  1. To the extent possible, people are allowed to live as long as they’d want to.
  2. As few people as possible are forced to live in a world they don’t want to live in, as long as this doesn’t conflict with the first constraint.
  3. As many people as possible are allowed to live in the world they’d want to live in, as long as this doesn’t conflict with the first two constraints.
  4. People are allowed to bring new people into the world, as long as this doesn’t conflict with the first three constraints.

Anything which brings us closer to the situation above is good, anything that moves us further away is bad.

It needs some tweaking, but that’s about my sense of things should be.

That’s definitely an idea I’m going to have to meditate more on.

Perhaps I have an overly strict definition of “selfless,” but “without self” seems to indicate that true selflessness cannot be achieved in expectation of a reward, not even a reward of the “goes around, comes around” flavour.

Oh, certainly. This quote:

… is as just as good a description of the Catholic Church in the lead-up to the Reformation as it is of Evangelical Churches today, and of the legalistic first-century Temple Judaism1 that Jesus himself railed against. The Late-Middle-Age Catholic Church, just like the first-century High Priests and the modern Christian Coalition, were more obsessed with exploiting their followers through the religion they led, of using scriptures for power and money and to justify their own righteousness.

I totally get why the Protestants would have rebelled against such ideas as indulgences and of a God who would damn an otherwise good person simply for dying without a priest at hand to take a final confession.

That said, some of the weird directions that the Protestants went in order to distance themselves from the abuse that Medieval indulgences constituted (don’t even get me started about Calvinism) were just as bad. I don’t think there should be any controversy in the opinion that, if some truly has faith in, and love for, Jesus, sufficient to earn them salvation, they’d be a kind person to everyone (“love your neighbour as you love yourself”) anyway, because that’s what He asked of them, but there are some (few) Protestants who see sola fide and sola gratia as a refutation even of that.

I’m going to skip most of your point about “true selflessness,” as I really only meant to bring it up as a contrast to kindness, its more achievable little brother. The only note I want to make is this.

I came across this, yesterday:

[If morals have a price,] they aren’t morals. They’re attitudes of convenience, to be modified or abandoned when no longer convenient.

I think the difference between a truly selfless person and one acting through self-satisfaction, or, like myself, from a “goes around, comes around” attitude, is what happens when that motivation stops. If you stop being a good person because being a good person no longer gives you that rush, or because you’re overtaken by a sense of the futility of the good deeds you were doing, were you ever really a good person?

Sad to say: I don’t think those two goals (a world with understandable rules, and a world in which those rules cannot be exploited in bad faith) are compatible.

Indeed. I’m not so much a determinist that I think that people’s actions are entirely foreordained by their circumstances, negating free will entirely, but I think it’s foolish to not, at least, recognize that circumstances can severely limit the palatable choices available.

One more quote comes to mind.

This is my quest:
To follow that star,
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far;
To fight for the right,
Without question or pause;
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause!
And I know,
If I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest,
That my heart
Will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest.

1For the sake of illustrating a point about the genesis of Christianity itself as a “do what is right, not what was written” movement, I’m accepting the Biblical depiction of first-century Jewish High Priests as truth. I have no idea to what extent, if any, this is the case. I’m basically just trying to illustrate how far Christianity has fallen from a “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them,” religion of overturning the moneychangers’ tables.


My understanding is that the Pharisees emphasized the law as an alternative to the sacrifice-centered temple Judaism.

And John the Baptist repurposed purification rituals, presumably for people who needed a fresh start.

Having done a brief spot of research, I think the Evangelicals/Late-Medieval Catholics of Jesus’ time (if, again, such a parallel is warranted) would have been the Sadducees, not the Pharisees. The elites, not the reformers.


Counterpoint: Fuck you. Pay me.

Seriously, I was raised with that kind of bullshit, too, and thus never leaned how to value and respect my time and myself. It’s that kind of toxic rhetoric that has always led to the few profiting from the many. Even things that don’t seem like it: like all those “feel-good” stories where some kids help build a walker for a classmate or a car for someone who walks four hours a day to work. All those things take our energy and focus off the real, systemic problems thst are the root cause of the situation. Which is why so many religions work so hard at promoting charitable works: so no one notices how much of the problem is caused or exacerbated by the institution itself.

Doing good things and expecting some kind of compensation is no more a sin of pride or greed than eating a healthy meal is a sin of gluttony. It can be monetary, in kind, or sometimes just the good feeling that you did the right thing. It doesn’t have to be your only reason for doing it… but how many preachers preaching that “walk the walk”? Or do they expect housing, food, and/or other compensation for representing the institution of “good works”?

In fact, I would argue that a professionally trained and compensated network of professionals could accomplish more actual good than a band of scrappy volunteers in their spare time. Nor would that make the professionals less good.


I don’t think I even slightly implied that.

Doing work for money isn’t immoral. It’s normal.

But if I help my buddy move into his place for a couple slices of pizza and a beer, are you really saying that that’s not any different, morally, from offering full-priced services to him as a mover?

I would argue the opposite. It’s the kind of rhetoric connecting hard work to monetary success that has always led to the few profiting from the many.

Having worked more than a few cases of uncompensated labour, I stand by my assessment. You said the “value” of a good deed goes up the less you charge for it. I say that’s a fallacy. Not all compensation is monetary, but saying any compensation lessens the goodness is a gaslighty way of ensuring people don’t respect their own worth.

You are helping your buddy for beer, pizza, and the implicit understanding that he’ll be there when you need him and possibly even the good feeling of having helped your buddy. You are getting a lot out of it in trade.

This is part of what women mean when they talk about things like “emotional labour”. You may not be getting money from him, but you are getting time. In fact, you’d probably be pretty pissed off if – immediately after the beer and pizza – he told you to fuck off and never returned your calls. Or maybe you are doing it because he’s always been their for you: paying back what’s already been given.


Speaking of action/reward:


Values can’t be fallacious. Contradictory, unfair, perverse, hypocritical, or counterproductive, sure. And mine are most of those, as they stem from being raised trying to make sense of some of the nonsense underlying Catholicism. But fallacy is a flaw in the logic underlying something, and values generally don’t have underlying logic.

With the caveat above that my own values are kind of weird… I still don’t see it (and I kind of resent the implication that I’m trying to make people question their own sanity).

Not everything in the world is transactional. Sometimes you have to be there for friends who might never have the capacity to be there for you. Sometimes you have to do the things even when you’re exhausted past the point of feeling better for having done it. Sometimes your entire day’s emotional labour is spent staying alive for another day, and all you get from it is more of the same the next day.

And no, the world isn’t a better place because you didn’t get paid to do it. But it’s a reflection on you as a person that when something needed to be done, your first thought was to do it, rather than to figure out a way that you could personally benefit from it. That’s what I mean by “virtue.”

With all due respect… Please don’t dictate my own experiences to me. I’ve helped out with a bunch of moves. Yes, there have been some nice feelings from it, and yes, my sister (who constitutes at least the plurality of the moves I’ve helped with) helped out with one of my own moves. But it was never transactional, and I certainly never thought that I got “a lot” out of it, and certainly not value anywhere near what a mover would have been paid for the same work.

Verbal contracts are worth the paper they’re printed on; “implicit understandings” aren’t even worth that. If you want to be compensated for something, compensation should be worked out in advance. I signed up to help with the expectation that the pizza would be all I’d get from it. Yes, I’d be hurt that I’ve been told to “fuck off,” and hurt by the idea that the only value he sees in me is my ability to help him move, but I wouldn’t feel anger for some illusory implied debt owing.

If my sister decided to cut off all contact with me, I wouldn’t be angry that I’d helped her move more than she’d helped me, that she’d roped me in to help with her theatre groups, that I’d given her expensive wedding gifts that, since I haven’t married yet, wouldn’t ever be repaid in kind… I’d be in mourning that I’d lost a sister.

If I were that kind of person, I wouldn’t be able to live: I’d be in a constant state of anxiety trying to repay every debt I thought I owed. I don’t like being in other people’s debt. It grates on me. Admittedly, if someone who’d done me a favour asked me for one in return, I’d probably jump right to it… but I flatter myself to think that I’d do it even if they hadn’t done one for me first.

Sometimes you need to do things, knowing that what you get from them won’t be worth what you give, because they need to be done and no one else will do them. And that’s a crappy situation, and I totally agree with you that no one should accept employment under those conditions.

But there are people who will step up in those circumstances, to do what needs to be done, and those who won’t. Sometimes I’ve stepped up; sometimes I haven’t. And “virtue” is as good a term as any for the difference between the two.

When you say “value” as in something that has greater or lesser value, you are not talking about principles but worth.


I don’t think you implied it is a sin per se, but I do think what Pixy is saying is at the heart of what you’re discussing. Because this is the thing with acting selfless – in the end, the honest truth is that you do have a self, one no less worthy of kindness and respect than anyone else. Plainly it’s wrong to help your self with no consideration of others, but is it then virtuous to help others with no consideration of that self, or is that just one more way of not being kind to someone who deserves it?

I would think the very best actions would be ones where there is not even any difference, that make things better for everyone, full stop. But the way you have it even knowing what goes around comes around, that there is a chance some of it may come back to you, takes away the virtue. If so, it really has to come from not just wanting to help different people, but from not caring about one of them. Again, I’m starting from a different philosophy, but I’m not really sure why that should be better.


There it is as “worth” again, which is exactly what I am talking about.

Nor am I saying everything you do is a coldblooded tit-for-tat transaction. Your original musing was

Which reads as “if you expect anything in return for anything, it’s worth less” followed by

which is the kind of abusive gaslighting bullshit that made me walk away from religion. It says you, just for being a normal human, will never be good enough. It encourages unhealthy behavior and thought patterns. It preys on people who do want to be good. It says that if you get anything from what you do, even a single spark of joy, your deeds are somehow negated. Shit like that is why I struggle with Depression and trouble with self-worth. I reject it.

As for:

The more I think about it, no I don’t see a moral difference, or at least not on the level that you do. Especially if you’re a professional mover or the guy with the truck. I have absolutely had friends charge me full price for professional services, and I would feel pretty damn guilty it they didn’t. Again, if someone does emotional labour for me, I do try to find a way to pay them back, because otherwise I would just be the kind of person who doesn’t see the value of people doing things for me. Who simply takes and doesn’t give. My balance sheet isn’t always tit-for-tat. If I buy someone a gift I don’t expect one in return. But I refuse to believe that I am a lesser person or that the gift is somehow diminished because I got joy out of the giving and satisfaction with seeing someone’s day brightened. I am not “less good” for feeling that joy – rather, I have improved two people’s day. And maybe more because maybe they’ll nicer to someone else, and that thought makes me feel good, too.

It’s called being human.


We’re clearly talking past each other at this point, because I don’t see how “You are a better person” possibly equates to “You have less worth.”

I like the formulation in the Gospel. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. So, I wouldn’t say that selflessness would go so far as to treat yourself worse than you treat others.

Knowledge isn’t the point. It’s how it factors into the decision making. A good deed doesn’t retroactively become less good because something else good comes around from it, but if you’re only, say, holding the door for someone because you expect to be compensated, even if only with them reciprocating at the next door, or thanking you for it… Sometimes you do things because they’re the right things to do, not because you expect anything in return, and, call me crazy, but I think that’s a sign of a good person.

There’s the “talking past each other” bit again, because I have no idea what you’re trying to say here.

I once again would ask that you stop accusing me of making you trying to think you’re going crazy.

No. It says you, just for being a normal human, will never be perfect. Your formulation would only be true if “perfect” is your only “good enough.”

How did this become binary? How did it become a dichotomy between “deeds you get something from” and “good deeds?” I’ve been talking of a sliding scale this whole time.

Yes, I think that you accrue something — call it worth, value, virtue, goodness, or whatever — when you do something without considering what’s in it for you. And I think a society without that would be seriously fucked up.

I’m not trying to impose my value system upon you. As I said, contradictory, hypocritical, and all that. I’m trying to make sense of it myself by trying to explain it to others.

And I refuse to believe that I am a lesser person, that my worth is somehow diminished, if I don’t.

ETA: Turns out, I have more to say.

You know what makes me struggle with depression and self-worth?

I don’t value other people’s opinion of me. I’m something of a misanthrope, so most people I just think of, as a default, being kind-of awful and lacking an opinion worth valuing. Those few people whose opinion I do value, I pretty much assume what they think of me is already in the crapper.

I don’t value money very much. Why should I? When people can make millions of dollars on a daily basis just from the assets they’ve inherited, and others get paid literal pennies a day for hard labour, what value can I really attach to my work through money? Should I value it a day’s work as equivalent to a ten-thousandth of a billionaire’s vacation day, or to a lifetime of backbreaking toil? Money’s a useful tool to keep me alive, but I don’t really value it.

I don’t value time spent with other people. Some of that is the misanthrope thing, but more is that I just don’t get social situations. The best a gathering of more than myself and maybe two other people is going to feel is “uncomfortable.”

Sometimes I get pleasure from doing things, but that’s rather inconsistent, as the depression just often eats that.

And anyone who’s heard me referring to it would know that I don’t find fulfillment in my job. It’s maybe a week’s worth of actual problem-solving and creativity per year, and the rest of it is bureaucratic makework and sitting around waiting for things to break.

So, what gets me out of bed in the morning? The fact that shit needs to get done. Because those days I don’t go into work are the ones where everything always seems to break, and they’re left without anyone to fix it.

And some days, more often than I care to admit, I know all that and just don’t get out of bed anyway. And then I come back and find out that other people have to deal with the shit-show that was mine to deal with. Because problems don’t go away while you try to figure out whether it’s worth it to you go fix them: either someone else has to pick up your slack, or you’ll have to pull twice as hard once you get your hands on the rope.

So the idea that the only value in work is what you get in return for it is as anathema to me as the idea that working for nothing in return has its own value is to you.

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Dude. That’s the New Testament. That’s the Beatitudes.

Think about it. Why does “virtue” in languages coming from countries where Christianity has been majority for centuries map virtue onto traditionally disenfranchised people so, so much?

Compare “virtuous woman” and how often that phrase still comes up to “virtuous man”. Compare how often women and children get called “angels” to men. Compare all the phrases from the Bible and elsewhere pushing “money can’t buy happiness”, when it absolutely does when you’re at a certain level of poverty and/or precarious living. When Charles Dickens invented the starving, ill Cratchett family in A Christmas Carol, he was arguing for Scrooge to pay Bob fair wages at least as much for Scrooge to be less miserly.

This selfless version of good you’re pondering is very, very tied up in value. It is very common for women who have left Christianity to be especially hostile to the “selfless” aspect of it, not just @MalevolentPixy. I’m another one. It’s something women who have left Evangelical churches talk about all the time – check out some of their web sites. “Selflessness” is absolutely used for gaslighting, and leads directly to self-neglect for many women who are in Christian-dominated cultures.

Thanksgiving is coming. Think how much work it is to cook a feast, clean and decorate the house for it. Across the continent in the next couple of months, thousands of women are going to do that, by themselves or maybe with help from daughters, on top of whatever else they need to do, and they’ll tell themselves their exhaustion is worth less than Cousin Ted getting to chow down on stuffing. He won’t get dinged for greed because it’s a traditional feast, but heaven help her if she says, “fuck it, I’m catering the mains and you can all pot luck a side dish”. Yeah people do Thanksgiving like that all the time, but it’s not very traditional, is it?

The real question, which seems to be being avoided here, is “what is good”? I’ve been thinking about that while reading this thread, but this post is going long so I’ll stop here for now.

ETA: autocorrect corrections

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Maybe the disconnect here is that people are saying “worth” meaning “wealth” or “power” or something I’m not understanding, and that is not what I think of the word “worth” meaning at all.

Because when I say:

I mean that I find those two statements to completely contradict each other. Like in an “A=¬A” sense.

A better person is worthier; the two are synonyms.

A person can only have less worth by being a worse person.

So, someone arguing that, when society is telling someone is a better person, it’s attributing less worth to them… That’s like saying that when something alkaline is added to a solution, it makes it more acidic. It’s Star-Trek-robot-head-asplode levels of “does not compute.”

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Huzzah! You got it!

Now you just need to understand it.

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You want me to flunk chemistry?