Sunday’s MTV’s 2015 Video Music Awards were, naturally, again all about Miley Cyrus. She hosted it and managed to dominate it as only a savvy, shock-centric self-promoter can. The online press spent yesterday talking about her outfits (their huge number and tiny size), her dizzying references to marijuana, her “accidental,” somehow-not-so-shocking-anymore wardrobe malfunction.
But perhaps the biggest buzz surrounding the Cyrus VMA train was not what she said, but what Nicki Minaj said to her—generating speculation that the pop starlet and the rap diva might be embarking on a high-wattage beef.
“Miley, what’s good?” Minaj asked of her hostess.
For background, Minaj was calling Cyrus out for some comments Cyrus made to The New York Times. Earlier, Minaj suggested that MTV liked to dole out its awards to only skinny, white women. When the Times asked Cyrus about it, she said that she didn’t respect Minaj’s comments because “of the anger that came with it.” Minaj, Cyrus said, was not “very polite.”
But I don’t care about that. What drew my attention were those three words: Miley, what’s good? Because they reminded me of another Cyrus interview—this one with Jimmy Kimmel when she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! wearing only pasties underneath her open coat. When Kimmel asked Cyrus what her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, thought about her skin-laden antics, she said, “My dad’s cool because I’m sure he’d maybe rather not have me have my t-ts out all the time, but he’d rather me have my tits out and be a good person than have a shirt on and be a b—h.”
So, Cyrus says she’s a “good person.” But what—given what we know of Miley—would be her definition of good?
For Christians, saying “what’s good” is easier, I think. Good has been defined for us. “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:17. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
Jesus is saying that when we’re looking for a real definition of good, we have to look somewhere else besides ourselves. Miley might not remember this from Sunday school, but we’re not good people. If we want to see what good looks like, we have to look to God and to the rules He inculcated ever so many millennia ago.
But if you’re not a Christian, what does good even look like these days? If we do not accept the biblical definition of good, how would we define it for ourselves?
It gets tricky, because when we leave out the all-or-nothing of God’s scales of righteousness—one in which grace can be the only leveler—we inevitably begin to weigh our deeds. We measure ourselves against others. And because we are all the protagonists in our own stories, we inevitably tilt the scales in our favor. Let’s face it: Most of us, in our heart of hearts, think of ourselves as good people, too, no matter Jesus’ warning to us. Christians may be more prone to this high self-regard than most, quite frankly. We can get pretty judgmental about how others act. Hey, I’m at risk of doing it right now, aren’t I? It’d be really easy for me to slip into a rant of all the ways Cyrus isn’t being a particularly good person. Honestly, she makes it easy.
But I’d still be interested in Cyrus’ answer to Minaj’s bald-faced question: What’s good? What makes you good? Are we all allowed to choose our own definition of goodness? And if so, what good is that?