Thursday, August 08, 2002

Thought of the day: the ambiguity of human nature:
Are people basically bad or basically good? Ever since the Enlightenment the consensus has seemed to be "good" after centuries of "bad," but since the genocide-laced 20th Century we haven't been so sure. My own strand of Christianity--Calvinist Protestantism, has always said "bad," and not to be a pessimist, but I agree. Every human being is vulnerable to his or her own pride, lusts, envy, and every human being hurts others because of them. We all need mending, the type of self-transformation which Oprah-variety cheerleading suggests you do yourself (more here) but which reason holds can only come from a higher power (i.e. the Cross).

I'm a little torn by the "bad" verdict, though, because human goodness, programmed into our DNA before evil entered the world, still shines through in striking moments. Here on the streets of Chicago I can see strangers being kind to each other, patiently giving directions to tourists, giving up their seats on the bus to older riders; more profoundly, the altruism poured out at Ground Zero on September 11 almost seems to support America's view of its own righteousness, if not the simple-minded moralism of President Bush's good-vs-evil worldview (although the silly relativism of liberals hardly holds much water, either--unless you think Osama bin Laden was just expressing his equally valid point of view). But the "bad" seeps through in subtle, countless ways. Americans have long believed most people are good, evil is the result of a few evil people, and evil can be reduced by eliminating evil people--this view, the Hollywood Catechism, is the basis for 99 percent of American movies. By contrast, I believe all people have latent evil in them and evil can be reduced only by divine transformation (cue the Cross again). If President Bush still doubts this, he should ask his friend Ken Lay, a seemingly righteous man who succumbed to his own lust for power and devastated the lives of many he had been called to serve. There's nothing morally clear about your outer projection--no such thin as national or geographical righteousness--only every human being's struggle to balance the good and evil within them, a hopeless struggle without the Cross.
Yesterday's Thought

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