Sunday, July 31, 2005

Your View of Human Nature Matters, Part 1

Christians are known in the culture at large for being those who believe that people are essentially flawed, that by nature humankind does wrong, and that these wrongs are played out in ways both private and public. This view of human nature is not popular in a time when many believe that people are actually very good and that our chief struggle rages not against a hankering for objective wrong but against psychological problems, cultural pressures, and one's environment. Such a conception of human morality affects people in all kinds of ways. Do you believe that your children are basically good? You'll raise them that way, and teach them to medicate away the shame and to explain away the blame. Think that criminals are simply victims of oppressive social strictures? You'll slap them on the wrist with light penalties, or worse yet, free them based on the testimony of psychologists who take their cues from a worldview conceived in the womb of naturalism. Everyone understands human nature by some ideological framework, and that ideology must always take wings and be applied to others beyond ourselves.

It's interesting to examine this idea on a macro-societal level. One's view of human nature closely shapes the way one does politics, for example. The senator believing that people are basically good brings a different set of philosophical tools to the foreign policy workroom than does the colleague affirming the depravity of all people. When terror strikes, one will be surprised, flummoxed even, and perhaps preaching some sort of cautious containment policy. The other, unsurprised, will probably seek some sort of active justice for wrongs done and work to bring the terrorists to punishment. These policies will likely achieve results as different as the beliefs that spawned them. That of the first senator will resonate with much of the world, believing as so many do that any sort of retributive action signals a caving in to the base instincts of man. Killing under any circumstances is wrong, goes the thinking, and so must be averted at all costs. The second policy takes no delight in the possibility of punishment by way of death, yet considers justice not an option but a duty, military judgment not as a reasonless requiem but as a potent deterrent against future attacks. The first would seem to initially preserve more lives while sacrificing justice and deterrence. The second would likely involve some loss of life while preserving justice, enacting deterrence, and perhaps saving more lives in the end.

As many will recognize, the second policy reflects that of America throughout most of its history as a country. By its precepts, many have fallen, and continue to do so. But by its precepts, many more have been freed, saved, and brought to justice. One can only hope that future generations will perpetuate this policy. For though the idea seems farfetched, one can imagine many today giving a pass to military action against a Hitler, a Mussolini, or other architects of genocide. In such an instance, it would not take long for the proponents of a positive view of human nature to fall victim to their own ideology. Peaceniks may disdain warmongering, but warmongers do not. If we haven't learned this history lesson, then we've made poor students both of the human heart and the earth's events.


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