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Book Review – Why Good People Do Bad Things

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[Please excuse the back-to-back book reviews—I’m trying to clear out a bit of a backlog!]

Though it was weeks ago that I completed reading Why Good People Do Bad Things, it is not until today that I’ve been able to write a review. A book like this presents a challenge to me as a reviewer. After all, my worldview, my entire way of thinking, seems fundamentally opposed to that of the author. Because her assumptions vary so vastly from mine, I hardly know where to begin in thinking fairly about it and in critiquing it in a way that might be helpful. So rather than providing an exhaustive review of this title, allow me to point to just two areas that leaped out at me as I read this book.

First, the book is built upon an assumption and one that, at least to me, seems unfair. We see this assumption already in the book’s title: Why Good People Do Bad Things. The author premises the book on her view that people are innately good but that they occasionally do bad things. But why? Would it not be as fair to ask, “Why Bad People Do Good Things?” Why should we accept one option but not the other? If we look at the millennia of evidence left behind by the human race, I’d suggest we could accrue at least as much evidence that we are a group of bad people who occasionally manage to do something that seems good. To suggest that we are inherently good is presumptuous and, I’m convinced, prideful. There is no small difference between these two options. After all, if we are good people we can believe that we are able to fix ourselves (as, indeed, Ford teaches in this book). But if we take the step of faith necessary to believe that we are bad people, we are prepared to look outside of ourselves for a solution to our badness. If goodness is extrinsic rather than intrinsic, it must change the entire focus of our lives. We will seek one who can save us from our badness.

So this is the first area that stood out to me. The second was a question of authority. Conspicuously absent from this book are any footnotes. Footnotes point us towards authority—it is an author’s means of admitting that he or she must look elsewhere for answers. Yet beyond the occasional mention of a “spiritual guru” Ford offers us no authority other than herself. What she teaches, she backs up only with her own life and her own example. Nowhere does she defer to a greater authority. Can we be satisfied with this, as if she has all the answers and we have none? Or should we seek teachers who can point us towards other and greater sources of authority? Where can one look if he has answers that Debbie Ford cannot answer? Where are the answers to life’s deepest questions to be found?

Whether good people do bad things or bad people do good things is not clear from this book. It is a valuable guide to the life and beliefs of Debbie Ford, but beyond that it offers little guidance, little hope. I’d suggest you seek out a source of greater authority, a source of deeper answers to meaningful questions. And here I’d suggest you try the Bible. There you will find a realistic assessment of the human state and an authority that will change your life.

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