If you've seen an internet meme with 9 pop-culture icons categorized on a grid as Lawful-Good to Chaotic-Evil, then you're at least somewhat familiar with the character alignment system. It comes from the classic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game as a way for players to consistently portray their characters' motivations and actions.
Why am I talking about a silly game mechanic here, and why should you care?
Well, first of all, it can be fun and lightly enlightening to try mapping famous people or literary characters onto the alignment system grid. or even daily items like foods or tools. You could even end up creating a viral meme of your own this way...
To help you with that, I'll give you a quick rundown of the categories. It's a grid with two scales that cross-index. The first scale is Lawful / Neutral / Chaotic. Lawful characters live by rules or codes and value social hierarchies. Chaotic characters value individualism and personal freedom and live by their passions. Neutral folks see some value in both and don't get overly committed to either. The second scale is Good / Neutral / Evil. Good characters respect life and other beings, often above their own individual selves. Evil characters are totally selfish with little to no respect for life or others. Neutral folks respect the rights and needs of others but tend to prioritize their own. The intersection of these two scales can give you a Robin Hood (Chaotic-Good) or a Star Wars Imperial Officer (Lawful-Evil).
In games, stories, and movies, the heroes are Good, the villains are Evil, and the regular folks are often Neutral. And most of us would say that's really the most important scale to judge people by. But I think it's also important to consider the other scale too, because it says a lot about the type of person you are in society.
And that's where I will pivot to the deeper point of my little talk...
One of the fundamental mistakes of modern Christianity (and, well actually, many ethical philosophies) is mistakenly ranking the ideals of lawful-good above neutral-good. The "Good News" of Jesus was clearly articulated as freedom from living, sinning, and dying under the impossibly strict legal system of the Old Testament. And he regularly criticized and interfered with the strict consequences of that law, offering instead the ideal of living life by a compassionate conscience.
I'm pretty sure the glorification of lawful-good ideals by the church comes from when Christianity was taken up as the official religion of ancient Rome. It suddenly had to back up the whole government and social order of an empire. Which is specifically not what Jesus had in mind for his spiritual reformation, and completely reverses the stated purpose of his self-sacrifice.
For Jesus, being compassionately neutral-good was the pinnacle of goodness rather than the authoritarian lawful-good or the anarchical chaotic-good. And in this I completely agree--
It's a message that I think modern Christians should really remind themselves of (I was raised Christian so I'm talking to my past self here too) and even non-Christians (my current self included) should consider as an excellent piece of social wisdom.
Of course the world needs lawful-good individuals to help us build stable communities, and we need a few roguish chaotic-good rebels to keep us from growing fossilized in our good intentions. But as a whole, a society based on the values of neutral-good would make for such a kinder, gentler world,
the kind of world I certainly want to live in,
and I hope you will join me in that direction--