Dan James Rocks My World

I don’t know how I missed this one.

At lunch today, Dan revealed that one of the fundamental tenants of Christianity is, to paraphrase, “we are all evil.”

This ran head on into one of my own fundamental beliefs, which is that “we are all good.”

Obviously this has implications. It also explains a lot about why the world sometimes seems so weird to me.


Alan's picture
Alan on November 11, 2004 - 19:43 Permalink

Ask Dan to post on that one with some Biblical cites. Being subject to original sin is not the same as being evil. Further, redemption of one’s original sin is a tiny further shift away from that whole evil thang. Only the judged (dead) are potentially evil as humans, though evil acts certainly are identifiable.

Dan James's picture
Dan James on November 11, 2004 - 19:57 Permalink

As Peter said, he was paraphrasing :-)

Alan's picture
Alan on November 11, 2004 - 20:35 Permalink

Whew! I knew I wasn’t evil when I got up this morning but I was less sure by noon. That clears that up.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on November 11, 2004 - 20:40 Permalink

The doctrine of original sin just says that we are all flawed, mortal, human. What’s good about knowing that fact is that it makes it much less likely that we will go around pretending we are perfect, superhuman, immortal. And since the world is full of horrors created by people who have been too certain of themselves, to me it seems like a relatively good principle. It’s supposed to keep us humble. At least, that’s my interpretation.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 11, 2004 - 21:06 Permalink

Dan appeared to suggest that it was more than “flawed, mortal, human.” I got the sense he meant “malevolent, malicious, ill-intentioned.”

When I meet a new person, I generally assume that they are a well-intentioned, good person, to their core. Indeed even when people do “bad things,” I tend to try to look for reasons other than “they are simply inherently flawed” or “they are evil” or “they are under the sway of dark forces.”

What concerns me is that if everyone else (read “all the Christians”) are walking around thinking that they and everyone else is evil, and I’m walking around thinking that I and everyone else is inherently good, enlightened, and generally cool, then I’m operating on a different frequency than a lot of other people.

art's picture
art on November 11, 2004 - 21:08 Permalink

On the other hand, there still seems to be an implication that humans spring directly from the mind of a divine being, which can lead to a low level of forgiveness for all sorts of human behaviours. Sometimes I think there are advantages to the notion that we slowly emerged from a primordial soup and are not really that much different to the creatures who first gained an evolutionary edge because they were willing to walk further for food. Douglas Adams once wrote that the only real distinctions were our use of watches and that we rarely stop to pick fleas off each others’ backs any more.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on November 11, 2004 - 23:49 Permalink

I seldom enter into a conversation regarding religion, preferring to sit back and admire those who have strong beliefs. As I understand the basic concept of evil, it is the antithesis of good.

The philosophical problem of evil is most simply stated in the question, why does evil exist in the world? Death, disease, and sin are often included in the problem. Traditional Christian belief ascribes evil to the misdeeds of humans, to whom God has granted free will. The Christian systems that believe in predestination and justification by faith claim, like their Christian opponents, that God is still not the author of the evil men do. One explanation of evil is dualism, as in Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. In optimism evil is treated often as more apparent than real. The book of Job is a literary treatment of the problem.

Regardless of a particular theory, when someone tells me that I am evil, or that all who exist are evil, I just chalk it up to another wacko religious theory.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 00:33 Permalink

Since Nietzsche moved the topic to “Beyond Good & Evil” (English title of one his books), if not since some time before, there’s been a more fundamental question, which is “_Does_ evil exist?” which I think is more or less the same is are there any moral rules that are deeply and eternally real/true.

I take issue that emerging from soup argues that we’re less good or moral than the average fundamentalist on the street would view us. Robert Wright, author of “The Moral Animal” and “Nonzero” makes great reading in this vein.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 00:42 Permalink

I’m no expert on the Christian sects but my impression from the talking heads I’ve heard and who claim to be is that the sects differ a lot with regard to the kindliness of optimism with which they look on “human nature.” Think of those fire and brimstone preachers who spend hours telling the flock they’re going to Hell (or purgatory) and vividly detailing of the agonies they will be experiencing forever very shortly. Puritans, Calvinists, those are couple reputed to have taken a bleak view on human nature (I think the Cole’s Notes summary of Calvinism I heard in 9th grade is that we’re born evil). But a lot of christian evalangelical types I’ve heard seem incredibly (not to say insufferably) upbeat.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 00:46 Permalink

That said, I suspect it’s a rare religious doctrinal views or even broad cultural views dominate whether someone tends to assume bad or good of someone who addresses them on the street and looks like them. I’d say it has more to do with personality—which is to say genes and neuroses and whether you picked were first or last in 4th grade sports.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 00:55 Permalink

Lust is bad, right? Jimmy Carter famously confessed with shame to having had lust in his heart. So there’s a non-optional aspect of humanness that gets pegged as bad. But I suppose culturally in the West the most popular idea is we’re a mixture of bad and good and we need to ignore the devil over our left shoulder and listen to the angel over our right. If that truly describes most christians, then I think it’s unanswerable whether they see people as “basically” good or “basically” bad. The answer would be “neither.”

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 01:04 Permalink

Sorry, when I described lust as non-optionally human, that was a reflection of my religious bias toward natural selection and the idea that we’re down from the trees only recently.

Ken's picture
Ken on November 12, 2004 - 02:35 Permalink

What we know of God through the bible — an ancient text which remains after much human curruption, purging of heretic texts, even lost in translation; indeed requires faith.

The more man becomes involved in religion, the more corruption. For example the most organized of all — the Roman Catholic Church. Corruption deepest, corruption widest, corruption oldest. Yet somehow, in it all is God.

Is Christianity a Sunday social event?

oliver's picture
oliver on November 12, 2004 - 15:18 Permalink

Yet somehow, in it all is God” is not everyody’s opinion and to my mind has far less evidence in support of it than the opinion “Yet somehow, in it all ISN’T God.” The question “Is Christianity a Sunday social event?” creates a false dichotomy. “Sunday social event” is awfully dismissive sounding. I think “Christianity” an umbrella term for all kinds of personal beliefs, behaviors and social trends.

Dan James's picture
Dan James on November 12, 2004 - 16:24 Permalink

I’ve been intentionally staying out of the discussion. My name’s in the title so I got as much airtime as I deserve!
We can get into debates about the merit of Christianity vs. other beliefs and maybe even ask wildly open questions like Ken did (i.e. Is Christianity a Sunday social event?) but I’d like to back up my original talk with Peter, which inspired the post. I was not intending to mean that the Christian belief sees everyone as hardcore evil (especially you Craig! :-) but rather as a good person that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory what we ought to have been (modified C.S. Lewis quote). Not 100% poison, but impure when compared to the Christian God, which by definition would be pure. Purity, goodness, etc in the Christian belief are absolutes. If there is just a drop of something other than water in a 10 gallon jug of pure H20 then it is no longer pure. If there is a drop of evil in something that was pure good then it can no longer be pure good. So in essence, whether there is a drop of evil, or its 99% evil is irrelevant to the Christian view. They would see it as not pure. Again, just backing up the “rocking or world conversation” after a night of sleep thinking about it.

Rusty's picture
Rusty on November 12, 2004 - 17:34 Permalink

i’ll back dan’s original position. all you have to do is look at the sacrament of baptism. all christian sects call for baptism. the basic christian belief is that all people are “born of original sin” which is another way of saying “inherently bad”. when a baby is born, it is inherently a sinner (sin=bad) and therefore baptism is required to wash the sin (badness) away. babies that don’t get baptized don’t go to heaven. all those heathens and pagans of other religious faiths who don’t get baptized don’t go to heaven.

i’ll bet most modern christians have no idea what the implications of the concept of original sin and don’t consider themselves inherently bad, but it sure explains alot of the guilt-complexes we can observe in people.

i’ll further bet that most christians think of themselves as basically good and not because they were baptized or went to confession but probably because they were born that way.

Ann's picture
Ann on November 12, 2004 - 19:27 Permalink

I dunno. Seems to me it’s not enough to say you’re good or to say you’re Christian. You have to DO good and BE Christian..which is pretty hard.

Alan's picture
Alan on November 12, 2004 - 20:59 Permalink

I don’t know if good or evil can be ascribed to people, just acts and outcomes. I don’t mean this in a touchy feelie sense but in the Russian novel sense. In Dostoyevski or Gogol or the rest, Satan appears regularly as a character in guise to mislead people onto the wrong path — Stavrogan in “The Devils” is the classic. People can be wicked if they tend down that path to evil. But evil need not be fallen into if one is redeemed — however your mechanism for redemption functions (good works, predetermination of the elect, etc.). Evil, like Good, is an absolute toward which we tend or gravitate in elipses of the movement of will but which we are not ourselves, at least on this plane. I think I am not very much in disagreement with Dan except in the matter of linquistic usage of “evil” or even “good” but I wonder of there may also some be some post-Lutherian theological overtones of a scismastic Presbyterianistic nature that could be at play — just because my middle name is Campbell doesn’t make me a Campbellite — if you now what I’m sayin’.