There are many people living on the face of this planet, some are good, some bad; Some are simple, and some sad. (Oh, it rhymes!)
My mom had a man coming to work for her every month, because she could not do all the things on her own, and I was not able to help her much. He was (and still is) a good man, he was 40 years old at the time, had a wife and two kids, and he could read and write, though he hadn’t finished 5th grade. He was not religious, at least not what we call a fundamentalist. I considered him a moderate Muslim. He was (and is) a good man with a big heart, which I admired a lot, and I still do.
This particular story happened in a warm afternoon at the end of Spring, maybe one of the last times that I saw him. He was talking about what had happened to him some years ago, as he worked on, and I was sitting on one of our uncomfortable small sofas.
I do not remember his full story, but he talked about a time that he thought God was punishing him because of some debt that he had not paid, and something that happened to the rest of his money because of that. He finished by saying: “At that time I promised myself to be always honest, and to never take what does not belong to me.”
How can we discuss these things with simple people? I knew he was a good person, at least he had a strong conscience. How could I try to break the illusion of “heavenly punishment” without making it an argument that he would not have easily understood?
I decided to use his strong conscience, so I asked him: “You say you are not doing bad things because God would punish you if you do, right?” and as he nodded for yes, I continued “Does that mean that you would steal things, IF you knew there was no punishment?”
He looked confused for a moment, since the obvious answer was no. I went on: “You do not do bad things, because “You” are a good person, not because someone tells you that you should be. Goodness is from you and your conscience.”
I still remember the way he looked at me, but I cannot figure out what it meant. Was he disappointed, or relieved? I cannot say. I think he is still a good man though…