The anonymity of the good, and the good of anonymity.

There’s a current trend in culture and politics. Or perhaps it’s not current, I merely haven’t noticed it before. Who knows?

Anyway, for reference, consider Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I’m not here to talk about what kind of social or political activity is good or evil. I have my thoughts on charities, civil rights, civil liberties, separation of church and state and all of those things, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about most of the people talking about them.

In the parable above, you can see the core idea is that, no matter how righteous you are, no matter how good you are, you shouldn’t be constantly rubbing it in others’ faces. You know how we all hate those “holier than thou” people? That extends beyond simple religious code, but to general public behavior.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that activity X is a good, moral thing. And let’s say you engage in activity X. Great! Good on you! And feel free to tell your friends, if it’s relevant. But don’t tell your friends if the reason you’re telling them is because you to feel good about yourself; what you’re doing is saying “I’m good for doing X, and if you don’t do X, well, you’re not so good.”

Worse, if someone doesn’t say they’re doing X, even though a bunch of people around them claim to be, that person starts to stand out. It’s not that they’re not doing X, it’s that they’re not telling anyone they’re doing X, regardless of whether or not they are.

What you wind up with are a bunch of people pressured to claim (and possibly lie) that they’re doing X, even when they’re not. And you wind up with people who are good, moral people doing X who, since they’re not saying they’re doing X, are assumed to not be doing X, and so are treated as though they’re less moral.

Frankly, that’s a tragedy; it forces the revelation of activity one might wish to be quiet about, for social or political reasons. Just because something is Good doesn’t make it socially or politically acceptable, and just because something is socially or politically acceptable doesn’t make it Good.