But deliver us from the evil one
This morning, Pastor told me that the world is fundamentally evil. That is not difficult to believe following news reports of atrocities in several places throughout the world.
I'm humbly writing this not to judge anyone nor to provide the truth everyone should follow. I'm the last you should look to for answers. I write this trembling with fear that I might miss the plank in my own eye as I try to make sense of these manifestations of darkness. I will affirm my intention not to throw any stones at anyone. I will blame or judge no one and ask that you will be gentle in yours.
Who is this vicious one and how do we recognize him in our lives?
Are Humans Good or Bad by Nature?
What is Human Nature Anyway?
Since human nature is easily a subject for several separate articles, we're just going to highlight a few main points here and only from a western philosophy perspective.
Answering the question at hand, involves figuring out exactly what it is that sets us apart from everything else. What is distinct and significant about us? What constitutes a human being? What is it that makes us human?
This author sides with the camp that thinks humans are fundamentally good and know right from wrong.
Examines whether aggression and violence are inescapable elements of human nature.
What is Human Nature?
Human nature is innate, God given and static
Humans were created in the image of God but with the ability to choose, make decisions.
Human nature is dual, reason vs. spirit
Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato, introduced reason as the nature of humanity, what sets us apart from anything else. Plato expands on that with the idea that we may be rational by nature, but we also have certain basic appetites and aggressions.
In addition to reason, Augustine introduces the idea of free will. We can choose to override our desires regardless of whether it is rational or not to do so. While reason makes us choose good, free will lets us choose evil as well. This is the view that humans are capable of rising above their self-interest and choosing God.
Thomas Aquinas says we are constantly attracted to evil, turning away from God. At the same time, our purpose is to know God, know His will, be like Him.
Darwin rejects the idea that humans' ability to reason sets us apart from other animals. The ability may be more developed, but is not fundamentally different
Human nature is constantly changing
Existensilists like Sartre and Kirkegaard came to the conclusion that humans can create their own nature. They reject the idea that it is innate or static.
Human nature just is
Humans are a collection of molecules no different from any other living organism. How we behave can be explained by the chemical processes taking place in our bodies. That would seem to indicate that human nature is static, governed by these chemical processes. However, now that we have that knowledge, it is possible to influence or change them. Human nature may not be as static as we thought.
Resources to Learn about Human Nature
Covers a large number of points of view. Written in understandable language.
Where does Nature end and Culture begin?
Let's say that somehow we manage to get this right, the question of what it means to be human, how do we distinguish it from culture? How much of what we do and say in our daily lives is directed by nature, coming from within? How much of it is directed by culture, the influences coming from outside of us we've received throughout our lives?
It's the age old question of Nature vs. Nurture.
A great view from both sides of the debate.
What is Culture?
and how is it different from nature?
Culture is that about us that cannot be explained genetically. The word culture means to improve on something or to refine something. Just like the farmer cultivates his crops, education improves the human. Culture is the set of rules a certain group of people follow more or less subconsciously. Clearly, they can be and constantly are changed. Individuals have the ability to choose not to follow the conventions of their community. Moreover, dramatically different sets of rules have been developed by different groups in different parts of the world.
So are Humans Essentially Good or Bad?
Some claim that even unselfish acts are a form of selfishness when we're really doing them for the selfish reason of experiencing the good feeling it gives us. This is the view that everything we do is to satisfy a self-interest or fill a need we may have.
Others claim that we are at least sometimes unselfish or can choose to be.
Evil - Where is it?
I will attempt to show that evil in some form or another is part of human nature. I will also attempt to show how we can control this, the inner evil as well as the external evil.
- Evil within
- Evil without
Is it possible that good and evil could be not only competing in the world but indeed within every one of us? If so, does the good/evil balance change over time? If so, what causes it to change?
The following is an attempt at identifying this evil lurking within.
- Subconscious or Spontaneous Reaction
- Learned or Conditioned Response
- Conscious or Calculated Response
Some psychologists will tell you that every action a human does is towards filling a need. Violent actions can happen when a person feels threatened or attacked and fighting back seems the better choice towards the goal of safety than running away. Violent acts resulting from threats are subconscious and happen automatically without reflection.
It is easy to equate this violence as a defense mechanism with evil. The defense mechanism is triggered automatically without reflection. If that is the definition of evil, then, yes, it is part of our nature. Does that exclude the possibility that the same person can, by a similar automatic reaction, instinctively jump in front of a speeding train to rescue a child? If so, then, humans are also good by nature.
I have to reject the notion that this is what defines us or sets us apart as humans. The reason for this is that many, if not all, creatures, not just humans, have this built-in self-preservation mechanism.
When, within hours of losing their child to a gunman, Amish parents went to console the widow of the gunman and to assure her of their forgiveness, it may have appeared to be an automatic reaction, but it wasn't. It was a learned reaction. From infancy, Amish children are being conditioned to a life totally yielded to the will of God. The Amish version of forgiveness is not by the grace of God, but a conditon for God's forgiveness. They take the words in Matthew 6:15, "But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins," very literally.
Similarly, child soldiers in some African nations are conditioned through various means to have no regard for human life. Killing is as mundane as eating breakfast.
I should think that under these circumstances, good and evil is not part of their nature, but something learned or acquired. If evil can be learned, then good can as well.
Choosing Good over Evil
I take the same route to and from work every day. One day I had promised to drop something off at a friend's house on my way home. Of course I missed my exit on the Expressway as I was driving on autopilot the way I normally would. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of our actions during the day are on autopilot. I know breathing is, along with pumping blood through our veins and arteries. A lot of the routine tasks we all perform every day are also on autopilot. We fix breakfast the same way every morning. We take the same bus, buy the same newspaper, etc., etc.
The autopilot also guides us in our interactions with other people. For most of us, violence is physical. Punches are thrown, noses are bloodied. Reality is that most violence is verbal and that, unlike physical violence, the damage is cumulative. Noses will heal, minds will not. Tell someone he's an idiot enough times and he will begin to believe it. For every verbal injury, we will need dozens of love expressions to heal.
As we have just seen, humans can be conditioned to react or respond in a certain way by outside forces. What about inside forces? It appears that, like a martial arts fighter, we can train ourselves to override our natural instincts. In other words, bring the subconscious into consciousness and make calculated decisions.
Our instincts, our automatic self-preservation mechanism, will tell us to push back as hard as we can when we're attacked. A martial arts fighter is trained to do the opposite, step back and let the attacker fall with as much force as he put into the attack, using his own momentum against him.
God created us in his image. He also gave us the power of choice, the most God like gift of all He could possibly give us. With that ability, we can choose between good and evil. Some will say that, by nature, we know right from wrong and have the ability to make the right choice, but often don't, not out of ignorance but out of convenience or some other reason like greed.