Thursday, May 27, 2010
Ethics and Justice. Part 2: Is Human Nature Good or Bad?
Do you believe that human beings are born basically good, or basically bad? This is one of the most important questions you will ever ask in order to understand humanity.
I believe that we are born neither good nor bad - we are born innocent. “What about babies?” you might ask. Babies are not “good” in a moral sense. They're beautiful, adorable, cute, wonderful, and INNOCENT. “I want mommy; I want milk; I want to be held; and if you don’t do these things immediately, I will ruin your life!” We are born narcissists, preoccupied with ourselves. I know some of you are cringing, but be honest. Have you ever worked with young kids? Have you seen the cruelty kids inflict on one another? Consider the school playground in your neighbourhood. Consider a group of ten or eleven year olds where one kid is fat or clumsy or short, and you will witness cruelty that would shock most adults. People do not start out “good.” How many people have yelled at their kid, “Now listen - you share way too much! You have to learn to be more selfish.” The idea is absurd. How many times have you told your kids to say “thank you”? Gratitude doesn't come naturally. To insist that human nature is essentially good is to ignore the witness of scripture, and a mountain of evidence to the contrary – Auschwitz, the Soviet Gulags, Rwanda, Kosovo. But the good news is that we can do good, we can teach our children to do good, we can hold each other accountable, we can make the world a better place – starting in our own homes. We have to be made into good people.
So, to clarify – we are born neither good nor bad, we are born innocent. We are born with a blank slate. And if, as we grow older, we do not think about, and learn, and obsess about doing good, it is inevitable, as surely as the sun rises in the east, that we will do wrong. Goodness is a discipline that must be taught. The struggle to make the world a better place is not a battle between individuals and society, or between Christians and non-Christians, or between us and the government, or between free nations and totalitarian regimes – the struggle to make the world a better place happens every morning when you and I look in the mirror, when we walk out the front door, when we get into traffic, when we go to Wal Mart, when we interact with other people. The whole point of living a life of discipline and holiness is to fight against our nature.