Am I A Bad Person?

(First published in October 2008)

Now this is a very tricky issue, mostly because of the meaning of the word “bad”. I remember this book titled “Straight and Crooked Thinking”, and one of the chapters talked about The Meaning of Words. It said that most arguments can easily be resolved simply by asking both parties to define the key word in the issue they are arguing about. For example, if someone says that I’m a bad person while another insists that I’m not, they will never stop arguing until each of them gives his or her own definition of the word “bad”. And then something magical happens: each of them will say, “Ah, if we use your definition of the word, then I agree with you that Jong is a bad/not bad person.”

I believe we are all “bad” in some way, based on a certain definition of the word. I also believe there are two kinds of “bad” people: those who are basically good but are just overcome by circumstances and their own human nature; and those who are inherently evil.

Early Christian teachings talked about The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Sloth, Envy, and Pride. Among these “vices”, I believe that the first four can be committed by a basically good person while the rest are the mark of something more sinister.

For me, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, and Anger are just human survival traits carried to an extreme: Lust comes from our instinct for procreation, but when uncontrolled, turns us into fornicators and adulterers; Gluttony is just our basic survival need to feed ourselves stripped of the brake pedal; with Greed, we start off with the noble intention of being able to provide for ourselves and our families but end up always wanting more; and Anger must come from our survival instinct to protect ourselves and our families from attack and aggression but brought to the point of revenge and spite.

But as for Envy and Pride, well that’s something else. While it is somewhat related to Greed, Envy is more of a resentment of what others have. Dante defined it as “love of one’s own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs.” For Pride, Dante’s definition was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor.” Now how could depriving others and feeling contempt for one’s neighbor be essential to one’s own survival and prosperity? This is not basic human survival nature; it is something alien and reeks of malice.

And now we are left with Sloth. Although Dante described it as the “middle sin”, characterized by an absence of love rather than the presence of hatred, I still believe that it is more sinister than Lust, Gluttony, Greed, or even Anger, because Sloth is ironically an “active” denial of the blessings of God that are just waiting to be harvested. Again, Sloth is against human nature, because in order to live and prosper one has to move.

Now being a Christian, I was taught that there are no small sins and no big sins. I was also taught that there is nothing impossible with God. But for the practical side, I guess it helps to know if we or our friends are about to cross the line from being basically-good-but-sometimes-overcome-by-human nature to becoming what can be called as evil.

And for all my sins, I still believe that I am not a bad person. Are you?

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Attempts at uncovering the underlying simplicity beneath apparently complex concepts as well as the core complexity within seemingly straightforward issues


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