Good Christian, good Muslim, good person?

What makes a good Christian or Muslim or Jew?
What makes a good Xtian/Muslim/Jew?

In day-to-day conversations, both virtual and face-to-face, I frequently hear people refer to the concept of the “good Christian” or “good Jew” or “good Muslim” or whathaveyou. They are usually referring to themselves and the person with whom they are speaking. Sometimes they use terms like “christlike” or “godly” or some variant of those. And it always bothers me when people talk like this.

It bothers me because these terms mean so many different things to different people. They are amorphous. They can mean anything and, throughout history, often have. When one makes reference to the “good Christian”, what they are really referring to is a shared idea peculiar to a certain group of people in a certain place at a certain point in time with similar experiences, similar religious beliefs, similar political leanings, etc.

When, in conversation, you refer to the good Muslim or Jew or Wiccan or Christian or Satanist or whatever, you assume that the person with whom you are speaking shares your idiosyncratic definition of the term. They likely do not but probably won’t correct you. And the reason they won’t correct you is because they are making the same assumptions about you that you’ve made about them.

For most things, this isn’t a big deal. When you’re talking about a good movie or good football team or, I dunno, good lay, the potential ramifications of your conversation aren’t significant and therefore neither are your definitions. But, when you’re talking about the good Odinist, the devil really is in the details. What makes a good Christian to you? Do you have to safeguard your virginity until you marry a person of the opposite sex to whom you will stay bound for the rest of your life come hell or high-water? To be a good Jew, must you let an old man give your son a blowjob when he is eight days old? Is the good Muslim the one who practices khafḍ and hacks away her daughter’s clitoris and labia?

What I’m getting at is that when people use these terms in casual conversation without defining them they unwittingly bolster their fellow discussant’s underlying assumptions about the term which may differ significantly from their own assumptions. Sure, you both walk away from the conversation feeling better about yourselves and each other; but, when Coworker Bob goes home and rapes his daughter because love is best learned in the family and xvaetvadatha is just what a good Zoroastrian does, well, that might not be what you meant when you referred to the two of you as good Zoroastrians.

The central tenet of my personal ideology is to strive to be a good person. Not a good Xtian. Not a good Scientologist. Not a good American. A good human being. And I rarely use the term without defining it. I tell people it means not doing things that make me feel bad about myself, not doing things that hurt other people, being mindful of my motivations and trying to live a life that contributes to progress rather than regression, a life of balance with other members of my species and other species, a life well-suited to a dumb animal that is merely a speck of sand living on a planet that is but a speck of sand inside a galaxy that is just a speck of sand to a larger universe that very well could be nothing more than a speck of sand to what may or may not lie beyond.