Since the Enlightenment there has been this idea afloat that man is basically good and always moving toward the better. It is a warm and fuzzy idea, and one I like to live to by as often as I can. Give us enough time, and we’ll sort this earth out eventually! But when I read the news, I question this commonly held belief. This weekend ISIS killed more people–nearly a dozen of them children. And when the common proximity and culture objections come up, I look into local news and see stories of similarly heinous measure–like the guy who routinely locked a woman in a coffin-like box for months just miles away.
I tend to look at these daily occurrences and come to the conclusion, a bit contrary to the Enlightenment/Humanistic view, that we are not getting all that much better. My own heart, too, echoes this truth, as I repeatedly choose the route of selfishness in my day-to-day dealings. My ugliness is not the stuff of newspapers, but it has the same baseline ingredient–a prideful, selfish heart.
So why, knowing all this, do I continue to put my hope in mankind? Why do I believe that with enough thought on any issue, we can prevail–Michael Jackson’s voice belting “We Are the World” plays in my head . . . but then I remember some of Jackson’s own personal struggles, and it is like the cold water wake-up of truth.
I think I like to pretend that man is basically good for a couple reasons.
First, it sounds like the “nice” thing to do. Seriously, who doesn’t like the guy who puts his faith in others? The one who believes in his fellow man or woman to do what is right? It is a hopeful stance, right? But if we are honest, we must realize that thoughts which are patently untrue are never actually kind. They are self-serving. If I go about my life being nice, I won’t be the kind of dad who fetches his kids forcefully from their play in the busy street or the friend who snatches the keys away from one unfit to drive home. Truth is, a life lived to be “nice” is an inoculated thing geared toward self-service–brittle acceptance from others being crafted into an all-important idol.
Second, I have a deep-down need of hope and I have to put it in something. Mankind is tangible. I can see the good deeds of those around me: I can hear their laughter, read their research, and march alongside their initiatives. There is a tangibility, so I may as well foist my hope there because then at least I can A) admit to having a need for it and B) put it a place that will not garner me ridiculous or uneducated–when choosing between mankind and, say, dolphins, always go with mankind.
What I find in this second reason is that I don’t really trust God–or fully even want to. Since I don’t really trust God, it makes sense to change my views. You see, only in fully trusting God can I say that man is not basically good. If man is not basically good (or worse, if he is basically bad!) then there is nowhere else to put one’s hope–I can’t just cherry-pick some people (although cultures have started there in the past to devastating consequences to human dignity). So I have to change my worldview to match what I determine to be a suitable “Godview.” AW Tozer’s famous quote rings out: “The most important thing about a person is his or her view of God.” It is this view–whether thought through or defaulted upon–that determines how I view all the rest.
I think most of us are humanist because the alternative is frightening. It will make us radical in our beliefs and our devotion. We would actually have to mean this Jesus stuff and worship wholeheartedly for it would be our only recourse–yikes! Of course, if there is truth in all the God stuff then that would be the only logical location to place hope in the first place, and therefore render our most devout and hopeful humanistic approaches worthless. Our hope in God would be the only useful option to catalyze any sort of human flourishing here on earth–to quote Jesus, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And where hope fails here on earth, we would be forced into recognizing rather than rationalizing human evil, and yearning not solely for better education and government programs, but for a Hope yet to come, a hope not of but beyond this fallen world.
The old hymn comes to mind–one I admittedly seldom can actually say with any conviction–“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” My hope tends to be built, following the pied piper of the last few centuries, on science, human achievement, and education. These are not bad things, but they are not delivering things. They are the means in which hope and deliverance are packaged, but they do not originate in and of themselves nor in the hearts of men–they are offered forth by a sovereign God. “In Christ the solid rock I’m found, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” When I survey the sand all about me, melting into the unrelenting sea, would it be that I cling more each day to the immovable rock of this and every age.