21 Apr 2013

The Two Good Things About Christians…

Religious 74 Comments

…are that they publicly acknowledge that they are awful, but that there is a perfect role model to serve as a perpetual source of hope and encouragement.

The older I get, becoming wiser and seeing firsthand the nature of men and women, the more I think Christianity is the diagnosis and prescription. Other worldviews lack something essential.

For example, there are secular humanists who think humanity is basically good, with a few bad apples. Just tweak the social institutions a bit (and that “solution” is the same, for a Marxist or an atheist anarcho-capitalist), and the natural goodness of humanity will come shining through. Yet I don’t think that’s accurate. For just a quick rebuttal, I can point out: Even on its own terms, this worldview shows that humans will choose to engage in monstrous cruelty if the circumstances are right. And it’s weird to say our “natural state” is one of benevolence, when we have yet to find the “right society” to draw it out of us.

On the other hand, there are also atheists/agnostics walking around who are absolutely disgusted with humanity. Think of George Carlin in the parts of his routine where he becomes downright misanthropic. That also strikes me wrong. Every act of kindness, every work of art, shows the potential of humanity.

As in other areas, when it comes to the question of the fundamental nature of humans, I think the Christian view is more accurate and “pragmatic” than the other leading contenders. Left to their own devices, people are evil, self-destructive wretches, but they have a divine spark within them. There is hope for humanity, but their salvation won’t come merely from “trying harder.”

74 Responses to “The Two Good Things About Christians…”

  1. Christopher says:

    Thank you for this post. I have a question:
    You are saying the Christian view on the fundamental nature of humans makes more sense to you.
    Now, there are several different views on this among the Christian denominations. Which one are you referring to?

  2. RPLong says:

    Why do you think it’s either or. Surely out of the entire population of human beings, some are good, some are knaves, and some are neither. Therefore, anyone who says anything about human nature’s “goodness” or “evil” or “neither-ness” will always be partially true and partially wrong.

    The problem with polarized views of what constitutes human nature is that a lot of it is just wishful thinking, and that goes for all of us, believers or non-believers, Lockeans or Hobbesians.

    • Ken B says:

      Indeed. And Bob’s two points don’t really apply to all Christians do they? If you are a Calvinist for instance you think Jesus’s example is meaningless and not a source of hope at all: if you are not part of the elect no amount of learning or emulation can help you. Jesus is more of a taunt in that case than a source of hope.

      • Gamble says:

        Calvinism simplified, not that I agree.

        TULIP

        “Total depravity,” also called “total inability,” asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be).[29] This doctrine is derived from Augustine’s explanation of Original Sin.[citation needed] While the phrases “totally depraved” and “utterly perverse” were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like “total depravity” cannot be found the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.[30]
        “Unconditional election” asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God.[31]
        “Limited atonement,” also called “particular redemption” or “definite atonement”, asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all. Hence, Calvinists hold that the atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.[32] The doctrine is driven by the Calvinistic concept of the sovereignty of God in salvation and their understanding of the nature of the atonement.[citation needed] At the Synod of Dort, both sides agreed that the atonement Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all sin and that it was only efficacious for some (it only actually saved some). The controversy centered on whether this limited efficacy was based on God’s election (the view of the Synod and of later Reformed theologians) or on the choice of each person and God’s foreknowledge of that choice (the view of Arminius).[33]
        “Irresistible grace,” also called “efficacious grace”, asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, “graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ.”[34][unreliable source]
        “Perseverance of the saints” (or preservation) of the saints (the word “saints” is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return to the faith.[35]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism

  3. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I don’t know about this. I don’t think most atheists/agnostics would agree with you that either “perfect” or “disgusted” generally characterizes their view of humanity.

    I think you are taking something you legitimately like about Christianity and making it seem special by couching it in a lot of really odd claims about other people.

    I imagine you’re about as likely to come across the odd misanthropist or utopian in Christianity as in any other group.

    The terms here are also a little slippery. I think there’s a natural goodness to humanity, but that’s different from the claim that Christians are denying when they point out that everybody is a sinner. I’d agree everyone is “a sinner” in the sense Christians mean it, I just don’t attach quite the same significance to the issue and instead like to emphasize that people are basically good, albeit obviously imperfect.

    I’m not sure social tweaking (which is always a good thing to consider) is supposed to make people better. The point is to take the imperfections we all know are there and try to minimize the extent to which they threaten social harmony. That’s a fairly different vision from the one you’re proposing here.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      DK wrote:

      I think there’s a natural goodness to humanity…I just don’t attach quite the same significance to the issue and instead like to emphasize that people are basically good, albeit obviously imperfect.

      I’m not sure social tweaking (which is always a good thing to consider) is supposed to make people better. The point is to take the imperfections we all know are there and try to minimize the extent to which they threaten social harmony. That’s a fairly different vision from the one you’re proposing here.

      Daniel imagine a zookeeper saying:

      “I think that there is generally a peaceful relationship between wolves and sheep. As a zookeeper, I’m not naive; I know if I don’t set up the right boundaries and training, the wolves will attack. But I take those inclinations and set up walls to minimize the threat to social harmony among the animals.”

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Right.

        Humans are animals too and in many ways social institutions that we make up (including religion of course) function like zoos.

        But I don’t think you can load that point up with quite the “we’re better than you” implications that you do in this post.

        • Daniel Kuehn says:

          I hope I don’t have to belabor to anyone here that the short hand “institutions that we make up” does not imply conscious design. Some of the most robust institutions obviously aren’t designed – but they can still be described as man made. Unlike mountain ranges and rivers, social institutions that hem in humanity were not here before we got here.

  4. David R. Henderson says:

    Bob, Notice that you laid out the superiority of the Christian view over the atheist and agnostic, but didn’t compare it to other religions. I don’t know enough about other religions, but do you agree that to make your case you need to show Christianity to be superior to those?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      David R. Henderson yes, I agree with that. However, what would end up happening is that I would agree Christianity couldn’t be distinguished as superior *on this criterion* to the extent that other metaphysical systems came down the same way as Christianity on this criterion.

  5. knoxharrington says:

    “Just tweak the social institutions a bit (and that “solution” is the same, for a Marxist or an atheist anarcho-capitalist), and the natural goodness of humanity will come shining through.”

    As an atheist anarcho-capitalist I think that is an absolute mischaracterization of my position. It’s not that I think the natural goodness of humanity will prevail, rather, it’s that human beings cannot be trusted with state power and the outcomes will be LESS bad under anarchy than a state. I’m a Rothbardian on natural rights so I’m not taking a consequentialist view here – it just so happens that I think results improve under anarchy.

    We all aware of the joke about the wall in heaven. There is a group on one side and they can hear the group on the other. A new arrival asks “what is going on over on that side of the wall?” The response is “oh, that’s the Church of Christ people – they think their up here by themselves.” You can insert any denomination you want. The point of the joke is the very real world experience we have all had with “hubristic Christians.” Far from “publicly acknowledg[ing] that they are awful” they never cease to point out their righteousness. It’s false humility – “I know I’m a sinner and imperfect – but let me tell you how awesome I am by acknowledging it and then let me tell you how to run your life.” The degree of smugness and unwarranted superiority is breathtaking in both width and depth.

    • Gamble says:

      No you cannot insert any denomination because Church of Christ folks really do think they are the 1 true church, the only church, the church found in the book of Acts.

      The CoC are really a cult of water baptism, ritual and other works, the Church of Christ merely pays lip service to the saving Grace of Jesus Christ…

      Although I do admit, all protestant churches and mostly all denominations for that matter do tend to think they are superior…

      Word to the wise, do not replace/circumvent Jesus, with your church…

      • Gamble says:

        Allow me to clarify and or change an earlier observation. It is not Protestants that I perceive to keep an attitude of superiority as it is every church that subscribe to the Nicene Creed. Certainly the majority of Protestant churches follow the Creed however my grievances go backwards further than Martin Luther. I think the Church took a wrong turn 325A.D. when they created the Nicene Creed. Trinity, trinity like and similar concepts are in The Bible however the Creed is not. Yes the creed simply attempts to summarize The Bible teaching related to the nature and relationship of God, Jesus and the Spirit, but I think the Creed taints the Biblical message ever so slightly.

    • Gamble says:

      Knoxharrington,

      The Church of Christ is so convinced they are the 1 true church they forgo creating a corporation and 501 C 3. No, not in protest or based on Libertarian ideal. The church of Christ forgoes business formation and other legal obligations because they believe since they are the 1 true church they are not a religion therefore the government law does not apply. Church of Christ members also usually believe most all other religions, dominations, pastors, evangelicals, etc. are false teachers. If it does not say ChurchofChrist, it is not worthy. So your joke about the wall in Heaven really does fit ChurchofChrist more than all other denominations. Proud bunch needless to say.

      • knoxharrington says:

        I used the Church of Christ in the joke because I originally heard it in the form presented from a Southern Baptist in Lubbock, Texas around 15 years ago.

        The people I know in the Church of Christ – we are talking about the “no instruments in church” version – certainly typify the smugness which I referenced.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A third thing: Publicly “acknowledging” that others are awful.

    • Ken B says:

      And that they have no hope.

      • Christopher says:

        Again, this depends on the denomination. I usually do not tell other people that they have no hope.

        • Ken B says:

          “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
          John 14-6, KJV

          • Christopher says:

            This seems like a non sequitur to me. Jesus being the only way to salvation does not necessarily mean that he is only going to save believers. You should have cited Romans 3, 28.

            But you will find a citation for any thinkable position somewhere in the bible. So I don’t think this way of arguing makes much sense anyway.

            I didn’t even intend to argue about who’s right and wrong. My point was that not all denominations believe in sola fide. There are other views on the ways to salvation. There is no need to think atheists are without hope from my perspective.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              Christopher, strictly speaking I didn’t say in my blog post here, “If you don’t accept Christ as your savior, you’re going to hell.” I said that people need Christ to be saved. One could argue whether His work on the cross saves those who don’t believe it happened.

              (This is a thorny issue, and I’m not saying you mischaracterized me, I’m just pointing out that I think you read more into my post than I put there.)

              • Christopher says:

                Oh, I am sorry if there was a misunderstanding.
                I wasn’t referring to something you said but merely reacting to Ken B’s comment.

                I did not interpret your post as saying that only believers can be saved. Actually, I am honestly curious what kind of view on the nature of humans you hold. Hence my question to you above.

                Again, sorry if my English was odd. I am giving my best!
                :)

            • Ken B says:

              The standard claim, well backed by scripture, is that you need to accept Jesus to be saved. Not all christians accept this, but most have historically; it’s fair to call it the mainline position. This is not just nit picking. It’s useless to demand unanimity: some christians believe Jesus only pretended to suffer, some believed in hundreds of gods, but the mainline is montheism and suffering on the cross.

              • Christopher says:

                Actually, that is not the ‘mainline position’. The Roman Catholic Church, which is the biggest Christian denomination with almost half of all the Christians in the world, does not say that believing in or even knowing Jesus is required to be saved.

              • Ken B says:

                You are confusing justification by faith and accepting Jesus. Part of the official catechsim of the Roman Catholic church is this:

                “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus).

                Some want to spin it to not mean what it plainly says, but that’s just a recent attempt to seem less exclusive.

              • Christopher says:

                Ken B,

                I am aware that we are not discussing sola fide. I am not confusing sola fide and the question at hand.

                Our discussion is about whether Christians think that you have to be a Christian and accept Jesus to be saved.

                I am saying that this in not the case for a considerable portion of the Christianity. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church as confirmed in the Second Vatican Council and reaffirmed by many popes in their teachings is absolutely clear on this: “You do not have to be a Christian or accept Jesus to be saved.”
                (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_soteriology#Salvation_of_non-Catholics)

                This is the binding official positions for almost half the Christians in the world.

                I don’t think you can compare this to some sects who think Jesus didn’t really suffer and neither can you declare it an irrelevant “recent attempt” or something.

  7. Carrie says:

    This is a pretty awful view of humans and, more importantly, of oneself. Social institutions do dictate some tangible rewards or punishments for particular behaviors and thus indirectly encourage people to act one way or another. For example, consider a person without a strong sense of self, whose behavior could be swayed based on the expediency of the moment as determined by the societal structure. In a system where people who don’t work don’t get handouts, such a person would probably try to work. In a system where people who don’t work do get handouts, such a person would be less motivated to work.

    Still, the alternative to viewing humans as depraved need not rely on changing government or social institutions. I do not acknowledge that I am awful, because I know I am not inherently awful. It would be psychologically impossible to go forward with the day believing that one is fundamentally flawed. If I do something great, I properly feel pride and self-esteem. If I make an error that negatively affects someone else, I acknowledge my mistake and attempt to compensate and make amends. If I intentionally lie or cheat or steal while no-one is looking—well, that doesn’t happen, because I have cultivated good character to the point where I know I would never do any of those things. Thus I am not awful. Don’t you feel the same of yourself? And if it is possible for me to have developed goodness, then it should be possible for other humans to have done so, as well.

    So human nature is neither good nor bad. Each person builds his character by the pattern of choices he makes. People with strong convictions will be more likely to set the social standards, and people with less self-efficacy will be more likely to follow whatever those norms are.

    Also, we do not need a deity to serve as a role model. In fact, since we cannot be god-like (omniscient, etc.), a god would actually not serve as an effective role model. I am more inspired and motivated by realistic examples of that which I could aspire to be. Heroic characters from fiction books provide strength and inspiration. Real humans can, too, such as athletes or scientists who accomplish great feats. I think these human exemplars are more effective at inspiring other people to live good lives than a punishment or forgiveness from a god could be.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Carrie wrote:

      This is a pretty awful view of humans and, more importantly, of oneself.

      Carrie, you’re right, it is. But I think it’s true, unfortunately.

      • Carrie says:

        I’m at the stage where I see most people as awful and disappointing, but I don’t think it’s “human nature” to be that way. In fact, I call these people anti-humans!

        Reasons for depravity are numerous, but observe that most children are not this way. Young people take joy in learning, in exploring their environment, and in creating. In general they trust others and are helpful and benevolent. The shift toward evil happens for most people by middle school. We’d have to write a psychology book to figure it all out, but my working premise is that by this age most kids become aware of the authoritarianism and lies perpetuated by teachers and parents. If adults (real people, not gods) served as good role models, I think fewer people would lose their child-like benevolence and sincerity.

        • Z says:

          I think Bob and you also have different views on what makes one depraved, and thus the difference. For example, Bob believes that things like pornography or having orgies is immoral, whereas you do not. And a majority of people in the world, or atleast in our society do things like watch pornography, or tell dirty jokes or whatever, and think nothing of it. So I’m guessing that’s partly where the difference between You and Bob comes in.

          • Carrie says:

            What?! Where ever did you get the idea that I don’t think those things are immoral?

            • Z says:

              Sorry, I was assuming you thought they were okay. Most people I know who are secular humanists don’t believe those are wrong, so I just assumed. Of course what happens when you assume? lol

      • Egoist says:

        I could make myself feel awful too by setting up a standard I have no way of ever attaining. And this is not because the standard is too pure, too good, but rather it is because the standard is a degradation, an error, an illusion.

        The question is: Since I can choose my own standard, why would I ever choose one that guarantees my failure, unless I already considered myself a failure by virtue of existing? This goes back to the creatology that views the creation of the universe as an act of degradation away from pure goodness and pure being (God).

        IMO, the Christian notion of original sin is a manifestation of self-loathing from involuntary egoists wishing to cast off their own egoism because they can’t stand to be “cut off” from pure undifferentiated being (God).

        I don’t disdain my egoism.

        You can loathe yourself and you can “loathe” me and other humans all you want, but because I don’t loathe myself, I do not recognize your loathing as applicable to me. You are in error about me. Period.

  8. Carrie says:

    I like this story from Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

    “Suppose you were in prison, having been convicted of a horrible crime, when you are given the good news that you are being released. What reason for your salvation would make you feel better: learning that you were pardoned by the grace of the governor, or that you were found to be innocent of the crime in the first place?

    We atheists don’t view ourselves as sinful, corrupt, evil criminals. If believers want to know what TRUE salvation is, they would stop demeaning the human race. [...]“

    • Z says:

      Bob probably believes that his way is the way to “stop demeaning the human race.” For example, he would say that watching porn demeans a human being. Your opinion about that being immoral is different I’m guessing, and thus the different end result.

    • Tel says:

      What reason for your salvation would make you feel better: learning that you were pardoned by the grace of the governor, or that you were found to be innocent of the crime in the first place?

      Not that I can say I’ve been in that position, but I kind of think I would know from my own point of view whether I was innocent or not. If I felt I was innocent, of course I would like to convince other people of the fact, but if I knew I was guilty I would still like to be pardoned.

      If I knew I was guilty and then I was officially found innocent, hmmm, bit of a strange situation. Probably that would suggest that the legal system does not work, implying I should look carefully at why that happened.

  9. Matt M says:

    Carrie,

    But what if you actually committed the crime? Would you rather be released because the family of the victim went to the governor and said “Please pardon this man. We know he is guilty but we forgive him and wish him to be released.” Or would you rather be released because you managed to convince the governor that you were innocent, despite the fact that you were not?

    The main reason that I buy the doctrine of original sin is that we all do occasionally exhibit proclivities towards bad behavior. We’ve all done some rotten things in the course of our lives. Perhaps very infrequently and perhaps they weren’t the most terrible things in the world, but they’ve still been wrong and we’ve still done them. Bad behavior is a near universal characteristic of the human species. Whether we’ve also done good things, or whether we justify our bad behavior by blaming others or blaming our circumstances doesn’t change that.

    The atheist says “I’ve been bad but I’ve also done some good so my bad doesn’t really matter.” The Christian says “I’ve been bad and I acknowledge this and offer no excuse. I hope God will forgive me and I’ll work hard not to do it again.” Which of these people would you rather hang out with?

    • Anonymous says:

      “The atheist says ‘I’ve been bad but I’ve also done some good so my bad doesn’t really matter.’”

      What “atheist” says this? They fallacy of the immoral atheist again?

      “The Christian says ‘I’ve been bad and I acknowledge this and offer no excuse. I hope God will forgive me and I’ll work hard not to do it again.’”

      Some Christians may say that. Remember, depending on the denomination you either have to a. work hard to gain God(tm)’s favor b. not work but simply believe to gain God(tm)’s favor or c. do nothing to gain God(tm)’s favor because your salvation or doom has already been decided.

    • JFF says:

      “The atheist says ‘I’ve been bad but I’ve also done some good so my bad doesn’t really matter.’”

      What “atheist” says this? They fallacy of the immoral atheist again?

      “The Christian says ‘I’ve been bad and I acknowledge this and offer no excuse. I hope God will forgive me and I’ll work hard not to do it again.’”

      Some Christians may say that. Remember, depending on the denomination you either have to a. work hard to gain God(tm)’s favor b. not work but simply believe to gain God(tm)’s favor or c. do nothing to gain God(tm)’s favor because your salvation or doom has already been decided.

    • Carrie says:

      Matt M.,

      But that is the whole point– I did not commit the crime.
      If I had, then, no to both of your choices. I would not want mercy or unearned forgiveness, nor would I attempt to deceive someone into believing I hadn’t done something wrong.

      To your second point, couldn’t you make a list of all the good things people do, too? Would you say an average person does more good than bad? Isn’t some good (life-sustaining) behavior also a “universal characteristic” of humans? If so, why focus on the “proclivity” toward being evil?

      • Matt M. (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

        Interesting. On the one hand, I was accused of resorting to the fallacy of an immoral atheist, and on the other hand, you proposed the exact type of behavior I’m discussing – claiming that good can outweigh the bad done.

        Yes, you could make a list of all the good someone does as well. I would say the average person is about neutral, and that there are probably an equal number of good and bad on the whole.

        But that’s not how it works in mainstream Christianity. Your sins are not forgiven due to the fact that you may have done more good than bad overall. Your sins are forgiven due to Christ having died on the cross, and to having repented of them.

        • Carrie says:

          No, good does not excuse the bad. Planting flowers does not undo murder.

          I am pointing out that most people show a combination of good and bad behaviors. It’s interesting that a Christian takes this to mean Man has a proclivity toward evil and is inherently bad.

          • Matt M says:

            I would say that man has proclivity towards both good and bad, but you have to understand that Christianity defines good and bad differently.

            The Bible essentially commands us to do good, and not to do bad. Doing bad is considered to be unacceptable under any circumstance. And the absence of good is also considered bad. You don’t get a gold star for helping your neighbor, that’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do as a Christian.

            If being a very good and faithful person is the expectation, if that is the standard we are all held to, then yes, in that case, I would say that humans do have a proclivity towards bad and are more likely to fall short of this standard than to exceed it. But this is primarily because the bar is set very high. It’s very very easy to fall short, and quite difficult to exceed. Someone who never steals or murders, but makes a decent amount of money and never gives anything to the poor and occasionally engages in self-gratification technically falls short of the biblical good. To exceed it, you basically have to be Mother Teresa.

    • Tel says:

      Which of these people would you rather hang out with?

      I thought judgement was for God alone. Now you are handing the job to mere mortals. I’ll hang out with whoever entertains me.

  10. joeftansey says:

    I just asked a friend, in the context of the Boston marathon bombing, if he would rather press a button to kill 1 American, or 100 Pakistanis. He said the Pakistanis because Americans are closer to home and probably better people.

    He’s a Christian.

    inb4 no true scottsman

    • Bob Murphy says:

      JFT ask him how he reconciles that statement with the notion of fallen man. I’m genuinely curious what he will say.

      • joeftansey says:

        I’m not familiar with “fallen man”. Is that the fall of man, whereby we all have original sin, etc?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Yes.

          • joeftansey says:

            He doesn’t believe in the fall of man.

            “Quick question, do you believe in original sin/the fall of man?”

            “oh adam and eve? eating the fruit?
            uhh.. i believe man is by nature imperfect
            but i dont think we have to pay for the sins of our fathers
            im pretty sure that’s in the bible because they were too lazy to explain why exactly we are imperfect”

            • Bob Murphy says:

              All right well, he doesn’t adhere to the worldview I’m talking about in this post, so you can’t use him to refute me. Maybe I should refine it to “Bible-believing Christians.”

              • joeftansey says:

                I’m sure if I ask him *now*, after he’s admitted that he thinks 95% of the bible is man-trash, he won’t self ID as a “Bible-believing Christian”. But if I had just asked him that point blank without the preconditioning, there’s a good chance he would have said “yes”.

                Or maybe not. Asking: “Do you believe in the bible?” sounds like a giant trap to me.

          • joeftansey says:

            “yeah… alot of stuff in the bible i feel are just htere to keep masses in order
            like you probably shouldnt sleep around
            because you will hurt the other person’s feelings, and there is dangers of all sorts of stds
            not to mention basterds
            but its alot easier to say, its a sin”

    • Z says:

      Yes, but you’re on Murphy’s blog now. Here, the conservatives are the ones calling the liberals warmongers, LOL.

  11. Dan Lind says:

    How, by what criterion/a, do you identify “evil,” or “good,” for that matter?

    Do you just instinctively know, as in, “I can’t define pornography but I know it when I see it.”?

    This isn’t a trick question. I’m curious how you’d answer.

  12. Yosef says:

    Bob, why do Christians acknowledge that people are awful? Surely we are as good as can be, for if we could be made better, a loving God would have made us as good as could be?

    • Dan says:

      Why don’t authors make all their creations as good as they could be?

      • Yosef says:

        Because authors do not love all of their characters, and so create villains who are meant to do bad. Also, because authors are human, and so knowing only the limitations of humanity, model their characters after them. Surely God is not so limited? Or, being that we are made in the image of God, he is just as awful?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Yosef wrote:

          Because authors do not love all of their characters, and so create villains who are meant to do bad.

          I think you need to read better fiction then. I agree Charles Dickens doesn’t love some of his villains, and that’s precisely why I can’t stand reading Dickens. Try Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series.

          • Yosef says:

            Bob, Is life then just really good fiction?

            (I’d be interested in what it means for God to love the villains like he does the other characters. Sure, authors might like humanizing their villains or relish in writing them, but I still don’t think they love them in the sense that they love the other characters.)

    • Futurity says:

      We acknowledge that we are evil, because this is what it is written. It is God who is the standard of goodness. You clearly assert some standard of goodness. When does this standard comes from?

      God created the world very good and it was destroyed by Adam’s sin.

      But there is hope:
      1 Corinthians 15
      “20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

      • Futurity says:

        I meant: From where does this standard come from?

      • Yosef says:

        Futurity you wrote “God created the world very good and it was destroyed by Adam’s sin.”

        Adam, whom God created. Sin, which God created. Therefore God created the world to be destroyed. Given that it is a loving God, it must be that this destruction is the best possible thing. How then is it awful?

        • Futurity says:

          No, because God gave Adam free will. While you can argue that created concept of evil which I obviously agree with. He is not a doer of evil.
          Adam was giving dominion over all Earth and animals. When Adam sinned death entered the world as God’s judgment.

          Of course many people will deny that such thing as free will exist. In fact you are doing just that by asserting that just because God created concept of sin therefor the world was created to be destroyed.
          Which is obviously false. God created the world for man to be enjoyed by him and to multiply all over the Earth. Yet God created Adam in the image of God and gave Adam free will to disobey God(sin). In fact free will is the ability to choose between following God and disobeying Him.

          • Tel says:

            Regardless of who is to blame, evil must have a purpose in the scheme of things (presuming you believe that God knew what he/she/it was doing at the time of creation).

            One would have to presume that God also has the same “free will” that Adam was given, implying that God is not constrained to obey anyone, nor even obey any particular rules or principle. Thus, God has the ability to choose between perfection and imperfection (without this ability God would not be omnipotent). In order for this to be real, God must at times choose imperfection (if such a choice is never made then the ability to choose does not exist).

            Gets weird working with absolutes dunnit? Doubly so for self referencing absolutes.

            • Futurity says:

              Obviously the purpose of concept of evil (or to disobey God) is to have free will.

              Can you comprehend the notion that God limits himself? Clearly if God is omnipotent then he can limit himself. In fact the notion of goodness and perfection comes from God as he limits himself and defines what is right and what is wrong.

              “God must at times choose imperfection (if such a choice is never made then the ability to choose does not exist).”
              Flowed logic. If I always choose chocolate ice-cream then apparently there was no other flavors to choose from.

  13. Z says:

    Maybe humans are neither good nor evil but just neutral most of the time. Much of what we do is not for any commendable purpose, nor is it for some despicable purpose. It’s usually just neutral. I’m about to go to the gym. I’m not really doing it for some commendable purpose. Nor am I doing it for some immoral purpose, unless you count showing off to girls or something, and then some may say its questionable for various reasons (arrogance, lust, etc). Then scattered among the majority of neutral life are a few sprinkles of good and bad here and there.

    • Ken B says:

      Well I might agree, but when I suggested on this blog that opening your egg at the narrow end versus the wide end, or putting on your left sock first, is morally neutral I was loudly and mockingly told otherwise. Interesting place, FreeAdvice.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Ken B. wrote:

        Well I might agree, but when I suggested on this blog that opening your egg at the narrow end versus the wide end, or putting on your left sock first, is morally neutral I was loudly and mockingly told otherwise. Interesting place, FreeAdvice.

        You pull this move a lot, Ken B. You imply oh so faintly that I’m responsible for everything anyone posts here, who might disagree with you, as if my worldview is somehow causing these grossly unfair debating tactics to befall you. Interesting move, KenB.

        • Ken B says:

          Let me clarify. I mean Major_Freedom. I was trying to avoid a fight Bob, not imply you believed such nonsesne. But you must admit there are a lot of extreme positions on FA.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Christians could quite accurately write, “I tried to say my belief in Jesus was rational, but when I suggested that at Murphy’s blog, I was roundly denounced. Interesting place, that FreeAdvice.”

  14. Ivan Jankovic says:

    So, its seem that the only way not to be a naive optimist about human nature, with all the political pitfalls that this entails, is to be a Christian. No sober ‘Augustinian’ awareness that the world is not a perfect place, and people are not perfect creatures, outside Christianity?

  15. Tel says:

    … I think the Christian view is more accurate and “pragmatic” than the other leading contenders. Left to their own devices, people are evil, self-destructive wretches, but they have a divine spark within them.

    You are missing the fundamental point of Atheism. It isn’t a world view, it is an absence of God in the world view. There may indeed be many individual Atheists who are not pragmatic, but that says nothing about whether Atheism as a whole is pragmatic or not.

    There exists a perfectly self-consistent belief that most humans are typically interested in self preservation and personal gain (to the limited extent that they can determine the future outcomes of their actions). The reason is that those who were conspicuously bad at self preservation have already died out long ago. However, for the most part, on an individual basis, getting along with other people generally gives you a better chance at survival than starting a war with your neighbour.

    That does not mean that no one will ever start a war, it just means that typically the people who have something to gain out of a war are not the people who end up fighting in it.

    This of course happens at all levels… in families, in schools, in business, in neighbourhoods, and in government.

    Christianity has a number of useful concepts. One of these is forgiveness. People are efficient on average, but in any specific case generally most people will make at least a few mistakes at some times in their life. It takes a lot less effort to knock down a house of cards than to build one up, but if the smallest mistake is fatal then your overall chances are slim. Thus, I may make an agreement with my neighbour to get along, but then something happens, people take it the wrong way, and it escalates out of hand. Forgiveness tends to defuse that escalation and ultimately makes life better for all concerned (i.e. it is still ultimately self interested, even if in the short-term it requires abandoning the claim over some small grievance).

    Another useful concept is giving the benefit of the doubt. We can’t be governed by such precise laws that they determine every action we perform. Mostly there is an overall spirit of the law that needs interpretation based on circumstance, not based on the exact letter of the writ. Christians say: don’t bang on all day about getting every detail you might be entitled to… it wastes your time, and people think you are a turd if you behave that way. Take most of what you are entitled to, and leave the remainder for the other guy. Think of it as an investment in future good relations (also self interested, in the long run).

    Of course a simple model of self interested behaviour won’t explain everything a human does, but if you had to pick a single principle to work from, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Is there something inherently evil in that? Well, you would have to explain what evil was before giving an answer.

  16. J. Hansen says:

    It’s hard to figure out what world you are living in, Murphy. I drive down the road and find it remarkable that a “free market” system of mere painted stripes is enough to encourage almost everyone to drive like a decent person. Furthermore, how can you be an Austrian and also suppose that people that are free will be evil – “if left to their own devices” – whatever that might be.

    I’m an secular humanist atheist and subscribe to Evolution. What I see is that evolution endowed us with hormones that makes us feel concern and love for those close to us. Men want to “spread their seed” because of more hormones, but this doesn’t make them “evil”. Many people indulge jealousy and behave badly, but this reactiveness is fostered by Judeo-Christian teachings. Covetousness is not actually evil – it’s just self-interest, which is necessary for survival and preferable for optimizing the number of progeny one has. Generally speaking, humans only really behave badly when they assemble into in-group/out-group ideologies – but even this is an adaptive “virtue” as it is what encourages people to defend themselves, their family, and their tribe, in that order. Sure, it runs amck – but when the Nazi’s behaved badly, they did it out of a sense of duty to their tribe. The only real problem is ideologies that assert that we reside in different tribes when we do not. As a secular atheist humanist it is clear we’re all in this together.

    And don’t be a dork and say Hitler and Stalin were secular atheist humanists. Their ideologies were the pinnacle of rationalized self-interest run amok, akin to any monarch, but with technology to aid their destructive whims.

    • Cody S says:

      J,

      I could write for hours, but what I’ll do instead is say this:

      That post is full of crap. And as one of the people who is “in this together” with you, let me suggest you rethink pretty much every sentence.

      Some examples:

      Pointing to Judeo-Christian teachings as the source of jealousy and ‘bad behavior,’ whatever that is. (Because no one except them Jews and Christians get jealous, or ‘behave badly.’)

      Subscribing to an evolutionary model which directly contradicts your overarching ideology in the same paragraph. (Specifically, hormones make us care about those close to us. They literally enforce the “in-group/out-group ideologies” you are bitching about. It is arguable that they establish those ideologies.)

      Subscribing to an ideological model that directly contradicts your paragraph’s previous rationale on contemporary moral codes and behavior models. (If we are all in this together, why are you jumping down Judeo-Christian throats out of the gate? What’s with the in-group/out-group hate, J?)

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