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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Are People Basically Good? (Introduction)

A few months ago I was visiting with a friend of my dad’s and we got into an interesting conversation regarding people. She commented to me that she believed people were basically good, and I disagreed with her. She was a little surprised by my response when I told her that I did not believe that people were basically good. She asked me why.

There are several reasons why I think that people are not basically good. But before I explain myself, it should first be asked what is meant by ‘good.’ If ‘good’ is relegated to merely human standards then, yes, people can be good. By saying people can be good, I mean that people can and do perform acts of kindness and the like that would be considered good according to societal standards. For instance, feeding the homeless, helping a little old lady across the street, doing something for someone who is not able to do what you did for them, etc. These are acts of kindness and are good according to human standards. But by doing these things, does that make that person good? Yes. But once again the standard is human (e.g. society based standards of goodness or individual goodness that is generally agreed upon by a majority of sane people).

However, if by good, the standard is perfection, then how could anyone say people are basically good? No one admits to being perfect. Therefore, if by good one means that one would have to be perfect then no one actually is good. But who is asking anyone to be perfect? Well, actually, God is (see Matthew 5:48).

Let’s actually set God’s standard aside (although I think it is the ultimate standard of judgment) for a minute and illustrate a general ‘goodness’ that most seem to think is inherit in people. If people are basically good, then why do some commit acts of evil? Now there’s a question that has been tried by some of the best thinkers in history (e.g. Immanuel Kant focused much of his ethical theory on this very question). I actually posed this question to the lady I was discussing these issues with and her response was that they were influenced by certain factors that caused then to commit those evil acts.

That being the case, then she believed that external factors caused the act through the person. Now this begs this question, are these people culpable for their acts? The responsibility, in her answer, seems to fall only on external factors. However, this certainly does not hold up in a court of law, even the ‘insane’ are found guilty and punished for their actions. So to respond to her comment, I presented her with this illustration.

Take an infant for example. A child that is about three or four years old at the most. When a child that age is caught doing something wrong, and the parent sees the child perform the wrong doing, for instance taking a cookie from the cookie jar when the child is not suppose to do that, what happens? The parent asks the child, “Did you just take that cookie from the cookie jar when you know you are not supposed to.” In response, the child lies and says, “No.” Did the parent teach that child to lie? No sane person would teach their child to lie. So how did the child know to lie? My response is that the child does not lie instinctively due to external factors influencing the child. Most children that age are not exposed to such things that would cause them to perform an act such as lying at the age of three. So where does this ‘wrongness’ come from? I believe that child is conceived in sin and therefore lying comes natural to the child. This response actually shocked the person I was conversing with. She could not believe that I could believe such a thing?

Why? It is an empirical fact that people perform evil/bad acts. I see it every day. What needs to be asked at this point is . . . is anything bad? Everyone would agree that these things are bad/evil: lying, cheating, theft, murder, rape, child molestation, child abuse, etc. We can list a whole host of evil/bad things that people do. If people are basically good, then why do they perform such things?

Since this conversation I have been contemplating these questions and others in my mind. So, I am hoping to get some my thoughts and answers down on paper and will post them here in the next few weeks in an attempt to get answers and spark conversation. If you are reading this I would really like to hear some of your responses to all these things so please feel free to post any comments.

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