People are Born Bad and Have to Be Taught to be Good
A lesson America has forgotten
This meme that has been floating around on Facebook has more than 200,000 likes. When you read through the comments, it’s pretty clearly being looked at as a shot at Christianity.
The majority of comments seemed to be, unsurprisingly, from atheists. Here are some fairly representative comments from those people:
"I met a man like that once, the only thing keeping him from hurting others was that his religion told him not to, those folks are truly terrifying that they even exist."
"As an atheist I hear this often. "Well how do you live without morals and values?" As if living in fear of burning for eternity is the only thing that could make a person have values."
"You can still have morals and not have faith. If you need a book to tell you how to be kind to people, you are the problem!"
There are problems with this way of thinking that are worth addressing because they’re part of an important lesson that our ancestors understood very well, but that many modern Americans seem to have forgotten.
To begin with, we’re a fallen species. All of us are born bad. All of us have a natural tendency to be, in the words of the meme, a “piece of sh*t.” You don’t think so? You think babies are innocent little bundles of light and joy? Well, when a baby is hungry or poops his pants, what does he do? He screams until you take care of him. Is he thinking about whether that’s convenient for you or not? Is he worrying about your life or how mama feels right now? Is he going, “Mama sure did look tired. Maybe I shouldn’t wake her up at 3 AM just because it would be better to let her sleep?” No. He’s only thinking about himself and what’s good for him. There’s a reason you have to teach babies to share. There’s a reason my next-door neighbor had to teach their very small child that it was wrong to hit their dogs. It’s because babies are born as raging narcissists and like dogs, they have to be given rules, boundaries, and limitations to thrive.
Speaking of dogs, my last two have been some of the sweetest-natured animals you will ever run across. I like to say that “They love everybody and everything.” Of course, there are a number of squirrels, cats, frogs, and birds that would probably take exception to that statement because both of those dogs absolutely LOVE to chase smaller animals. I think that’s largely because they take pleasure in terrifying smaller, weaker creatures. What do you think dogs are doing when they play with a squeaky toy if not simulating smaller animals crying out in pain as they bite into them? A friend of mine who lives on a farm had some dogs that started doing the real thing with goats. They would get loose and chase the goats so they could clamp onto their ears and enjoy their terrified screams of pain. Do you really think human beings have better and kinder natures than dogs? Most people certainly don’t and I’m with the majority on that one.
Across the board, across cultures, human beings tend to do whatever they can get away with and come up with the justification afterward. For example, do you really think there’s anyone in history who didn’t understand the moral implications of slavery? Do you think there were really people anywhere that didn’t look at a slave and think, “Wow, it would suck to have someone capture me, force me to work for them without pay, and hurt me if I don’t do what they tell me?” Yet, where did it happen? Almost EVERYWHERE from the dawn of time until Christians in Britain and the United States decided that they needed to try to put a stop to it. By some estimates, there are still 40 million slaves in the world TODAY. You don’t think people know that’s wrong? Getting beyond slavery, even when people know what they’re doing is bad AND they face severe punishment, they still often do bad things. They’re cruel, they lie, they steal, they cheat, and they even sometimes kill innocent people.
This is the nature of human beings. In fact, the real mystery is not human beings behaving badly, it’s human beings that don’t behave badly. Why are there good people at all if it’s not their nature? It all comes down to a single word.
Parents, families, friends, teachers, popular culture, law, and religion all shape and mold people’s beliefs about right and wrong. All of them have their role to play in teaching morals, but over the long haul, religion ultimately may be the most important one because it’s the only source that isn’t giving us arbitrary rules. For example, Christians can debate the meaning of certain passages of the Bible or whether some Old Testament rule is still in place or not, but “Thou shalt not steal” gives us a hard, fast, unambiguous rule that comes straight from God. A Christian may still steal anyway, but he definitively knows that he’s doing something immoral when he does.
Once you take God off the table, you end up with something akin to a game of telephone played with moral values. You end up with a mishmash of values, full of whatever the most convenient exceptions happen to be, passed on over and over and everyone just picks and chooses whatever sounds good and calls it, “moral.” Eventually, you end up with people buying into a watered-down, nearly meaningless moral code that basically equates to, “Don’t be mean to people unless they deserve it and try to appear kind, sensitive, and compassionate.” If you ask people who think that way, they’ll say they’re good and moral humans, but based on what standard? One that they created for themselves that forgives all their faults? Are there Christians who sleep with other people’s wives? Yes, but they know it’s wrong when they’re doing it. It’s one of the 10 Commandments and so if you’re a Christian who does that, you’re going against the word of God which is, if you are a believer, a very UNCOMFORTABLE feeling. If you’re an atheist, is adultery morally wrong? Ten different atheists may have ten different standards because every person is making up their own rules as they go along. There absolutely are good and moral atheists with strong values, but not very many because atheists have a much longer and more difficult road to travel to get there than any religious person.
All of this is increasingly a problem in our country because Christianity is declining, the rule of law means much less than it did, our culture is increasingly decadent, and we don’t do much moral instruction. Of the moral instruction our kids do get these days, far too much of it comes from “influencers” on the Internet, weirdos, communists and godless socialists in classrooms, deviants in chat forums, and the sort of famously awful human beings who rule the roost in Hollywood.
Why is politics such a sewer? Why are people at each other’s throats? Why are the worst people being elevated? Why is social media so vile? Why are people losing trust in our institutions? Why is there so little moral courage and intellectual honesty? Why are people becoming so tribal?
Because that is what human beings are naturally like.
You want the world to be a judgment-free zone? Then deviants, degenerates, and wackos are going to spill out of every corner. You don’t like the strict, “judgy” cultural mores that strait jacket behavior and sometimes feel unfair? Then all the horrible behaviors those mores are designed to prevent are going to come to the forefront. Are you sick of the church having so much influence? Then get ready for atheists with no more moral code other than “doing whatever you can get away with” to be setting the standards. You think having strict law and order feels authoritarian? Then get ready for lawlessness, anarchy, and politicized prosecutions.
Morality is a swinging pendulum that can feel (and be) stifling and overly restrictive on one end. This makes it tempting for people to want to move on from it towards what they view as more “freedom.” The problem is that if the pendulum swings too far in the other direction, you don’t have freedom, you have chaos, degeneracy, degradation, and disintegration of societal bonds.
A society that ignores the reality of the human condition and gives up on instructing its young in values that have been proven to produce good and moral people is a society that’s going to rot away. If you want to see what that looks like, all you have to do is look around. Sadly, unless something changes, it’s going to get much, much worse.