Friday, July 25, 2008

Are we born cruel or kind?

Well, I see that the conversation has deteriorated into name-calling, as usual. You know how much I dislike that. Not that my preference has ever stopped the mud slinging for long.

Reading the latest brawl brings to mind the age-old debate over whether human beings are essentially good or essentially evil. Are we born savages who must be taught (and taught and taught) civil behavior?

Or is it our intrinsic nature to be loving? Is it the broken world we are born into that teaches us self-aggrandizement? Is it fear and a need for control that leads us to despise those who believe differently?

The basic question is this: Are we born cruel or kind? Weigh in with your opinion -- gently, I hope.

49 comments:

Bob said...

Everyone is naturally kind except Iztok and Danbo. They're a couple of, oh wait, never mind.

Iztok said...

It is my opinion that we are all born with a selfish in biological kind of sense. As species we've figured out that certain amount of altruism is beneficial for us and specimens with such traits fared slightly better then those with less altruism thus in millions of years evolved in what we are today.

That doesn't mean that certain individuals can't be different and even have offspring. But in the long run cooperation benefits our species and propelled us from underdog to top of the food chain. We manage to do a lot of damage to other species but we still depend on organisms that are much smaller then we are and those organisms can wreak havoc on us as well.

We are just small part of this universe and even smaller part of it on the time scale. We are a mere speck in time and space. Cruel at times, kind at others.

"Is it the broken world we are born into that teaches us self-aggrandizement?"

Sooner we realize that this wast universe and time is not built especially for us sooner we will be better off. It is very arrogant to think that everything around us was designed with us in mind.

Anonymous said...

We are born fine, but if you have crazy religious jesus freak parents your mostly likely going to become a cruel, intolerant, ignorant, and naive person.

faithplusnothing said...

We are all born sinners. Our nature is not to do good. Do you have to teach a toddler to lie? We are all in need of a Savior. If you are truly saved by believing that Jesus did all that was necessary to save us by the cross, He changes our nature and we are different. That is the difference between religion and being a believer. Religion tries to reach up to God while a believer waits on Him to reach down to us.

Gamecock said...

Jane

I think the following sentence in your blog contains within it, the key that leads to the obvious answer, whether one comes to this Space acknowledging the existence of anything sacred or not:

"Are we born savages who must be taught (and taught and taught) civil behavior?"

Unlike most other species, human beings are born helpless to survive unless they are taught and cared for, for many years.

So the question of intrinsic nature is essentially moot as per survival, and given that those that enable us to survive, inevitably teach in the process of rearing in many ways overwhelms the intrinsic in many ways.

Given the above, coupled with the vast swath of human history, I think it is self evident that we must continually be taught to love, i.e. at its base definition, to rise even above wild animal behavior and be civilized.

Beyond that, the level of teaching required increases exponentially. Then, as civilization "advances", the issue of what is "loving" behavior and the fact that the "raw material", i.e. the children that are born must continually be taught same remains.

Throughout this process, wisdom informs that we must always be cognizant of two seemingly contradictory rules of human nature:

1 - Man is not perfect-able, and hence neither is society (Utopia on Earth cannot be achieved no matter the social constructs. History shows that when this rule is ignored, slaughter follows.

and

2 - Human nature is constant and can be channelled with maximum positive results thru certain social constructs, the best of which in world history so far has proven to be the construct of a world of nation-states with a nation as that fashioned by the Founders of the United States within the construct of federalism as fashioned by the Framers with a populace constrained in their Liberty by Judeo-Christian principles.

more later

much more

And I vow not to let any commenters avert my gaze upon the questions presented by Jane.

Bob, engage.

Iztok said...

"We are all born sinners. Our nature is not to do good. Do you have to teach a toddler to lie?"

I strongly disagree with that. We are not born sinners. We are just born. Our nature is to survive and pass our genes to next generation. It is human trait that evolved through generations to do good as it is beneficial to our species. Yes one has to teach a toddler to lie.

As far as the nature of our society in US. Our founding fathers based the United States government on the Greek, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon ideas along with freethought ideas from the Enlightenment. Both Declaration and Constitution clearly include many pagan elements that writers could have avoided but chose to include on purpose to signal their pagan intent.

Gamecock said...

Evolved to do good?

The Greeks and Romans never evolved to end slavery. Millenia after them, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al, evolved to make mass slaughter of unwilling participants in the Utopia project, national policy.

Meanwhile, Jews and Christians civilized the West and produced the miracle we call Liberty writ America.

more later

Pete said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete said...

To say we are "evil" and "sinners" is name calling. If we need to call each other names, let's make them nice and encouraging. I like to think of us as children, as brothers and sisters, as little gods.

To see, accept and love ourselves as we are, yet want to change so that there is more happiness in the Universe is good thing. I agree with gamecock in that we need to be shown the wonderful possibilities before us. But we'd do better if we didn't begin by thinking of ourselves as sinners. Christianity has a lot to offer, but the teachings of sin, unworthiness and Hell don't help.

Lisa E said...

If you want to see some mud-slinging check the On Faith forum at Newsweek/WaPo. When they first started there were all kinds of people posting and a lot of thought-provoking conversation. Now, I think everyone but atheists and the "spiritual but not religious" crowd whose views are really "out there" have vacated the premises. Its just post after post of how religion has messed up the world and how religious believers are stupid rubes. I don't even bother checking it anymore. The "interesting dialog" is over. So Yay! for the atheists! They won!!!! That will probably happen here as well. But I digress....

I believe that we are all born with a fallen sin nature and that though we were made for fellowship with God, we are "dead in sin, unresponsive to and separated from our Maker. We are constantly twisting his truth, breaking his law, belittling his goals and standards, and offending his holiness by our unholiness..". However, in God's common grace and despite our falleness, people are rarely as bad as they could possibly be. Otherwise the world would be completely unlivable.

So given our falleness, I think we are born with the ability to be both cruel and kind - perhaps one more than the other - and then nurture weighs in. And people of all religions or no religion can of course, be cruel or kind according to their own character.
I think one of my kids was "born" more naturally kind than the other, but the other has learned kindness in growing and maturing.

Having said all that, I believe that God works in the hearts of believers to transform us more and more into his image and likeness in the area of kindness. I have much growing to do in this area. I'm still very capable of "taking the bait" of someone else's rudeness and responding in kind, but I hope I'm growing. I always taught my kids that a soft answer turns away wrath like the Bible says, but I myself don't always give the "soft answer".

Iztok said...

"The Greeks and Romans never evolved to end slavery."

Last time I've checked there is no slavery in Greece or Italy at this point. So your claim is obviously false.

Further more your concept of evolution is clearly false. When I said evolved I mean the process that took millions of years of our species to evolve to present stage. We are talking about small changes over long periods of time. Greek and Roman times you refer to are tiny time slice in human history. Just look at the progress made from that time just in religious sense. Most if not all people at that time believed in many many different gods, later concept of single god evolved in most of the human culture and now we are starting to see even further progress in that respect.

You are not denying evolution are you? (Mind you that there is a difference between evolution - observable fact - and evolution theory - theory that describes the fact.)

Bob said...

Being as how I am on my best behavior, I modestly suggest the following: Much of Lisa E's comment is similar to what the evolutionary psychologists say, minus the diety/sin part. There are two things children do not need to be taught. To be selfish and to desire favorable attention from others. The result of this conflicting programming -- evolutionary or divine in origin --is called history.

Gamecock said...

Yes, Greece and Rome ended slavery after Christianity took root. Yet, I was acknowledging that we also got a lot of good ideas from them in their classical eras when slavery existed (which are the secular times that liberals point to as Golden), that, when combined with judeo-christian values, produced the American miracle of personal liberty and standard of living that made us strong enough also to afford a military to keep it for ourselves and for others.

But for the USA, no human being on Earth would be free, esp at the level of prosperity enjoyed today worldwide (on average).

Pete said...

I like what Lisa said about us being born with different natures, that some of us are more naturally kind and we're able to learn to be kinder. Although Bob is correct saying two things children do not need to be taught are selfishness and the desire to be liked, we will naturally develop empathy and caring for others given even a little encouragement from society. Our history would be different without the love for others that some have nurtured; and not just within our families, nations and religions. (The choir starts singing, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love, not just for some, but for everyone.")

Gamecock said...

Good Iz', so then you agree with me that there is no general evolutionary progression of human nature to be good. (Only evolutionary physical changes within species) There is an increase in technical knowledge (we make bigger and/or more advanced toys).

Yes, pagans have gods and secularists make man God, and have since Adam, but not all Gods are equal.

It is since Christ and due to his influence that we have the Anglo-American fostered liberty miracle in the midst of a world history of mostly brutal tyranny.

That fact of world history would be reversed were we "naturally good"?

no?

Gamecock said...

Bob

Concerning desiring approval of others, I am of two minds.

In one sense, concerning one's spiritual commitment to let Christ be Lord, it is only God's approval that we should seek. In this regard, I do subscribe to CS Lewis's Law of Human Nature wherein all men generally are driven to describe life in terms of what is "fair", and the self knowledge that we ought to act a certain way, but don't.

Tangentially, in terms of desiring to please others, I do think it matters who's approval we desire.

Gamecock said...

Pete

I just engaged in name calling. Do you object? Didn't think so. So it matters whether the name, like shoes, fits.

Gamecock said...

Amen on this Pete:

"Our history would be different without the love for others that some have nurtured; and not just within our families, nations and religions."

You should read D'Souza's "What's so great about Christianity" to put meat on the bones of that amen.

Iztok said...

Gamecock, slavery was all but extinct mostly due to secular influence. You surely do know that even in US many Christians had slaves and justified them with the Bible. You are entitled to your opinion but you can't deny the facts.

"Good Iz', so then you agree with me that there is no general evolutionary progression of human nature to be good."

There is an evolutionary change in human nature. When it comes to evolution there is nothing determining what progression is. Some traits can become more prominent when beneficial or they go "backward" if not. I am not sure you can grasp that concept but just look an example of eyes. In most species they've evolved over time to see better however sometimes in certain species they evolve to be blind again. Evolution has no predetermined directionality when it comes to looking into the future. Same goes with human nature. It is in our selfish (from biology stand point) nature to be good. Too much killing of each other and cannibalism and other things are simply counter productive when it comes to survival of the species in general.

As far as US is concerned, our founding fathers (secularists foremost, most of them weren't even Christian) were the ones enabling us where where we stand. They've realized the danger of situation where church is entangled with the government and made sure that our freedoms were protected from those who tried to impose their world and religious view on others.

Gamecock said...

Britain and the US are the only places that slavery was abolished on moral, rather than economic grounds.

Why?

Because the Bible teaches that we are all made in God's image.

There is no great secularist movement to end slavery on moral grounds. Search in vain. You will find atheist communism enslaving and slaughtering multiplied millions that dwarf all religious killings in all of history combined.

You will find the abolitionist movement.

Gamecock said...

Iztok

It is not true that "most" of our Founders were not Christians. Nearly all were, and most all of those that were not, still advanced judeo-christian values.

Those are facts. Their words are on the monuments and documents.

Iztok said...

"You should read D'Souza's "What's so great about Christianity" to put meat on the bones of that amen."

D'Souza fails to address certain main issues or arguments for theism and existence of God who cares for humans. Whole book doesn't provide much if any of good arguments. There are few transitions that he writes but does not substantiate.

Pete said...

Calling people sinners and evil doesn't encourage love. Love for others isn't possible when there isn't love for oneself.

Imagine a first grade teacher greeting her class, "Good morning sinners and evil natured." Of course we'd rather have her greet them with, "Good morning wonderful children."

Iztok said...

"Their words are on the monuments and documents."

Tell me which ones were Christians?

Which documents are clearly Christian? Our Declaration and Constitution are definitely not.

Gamecock said...

Pete

Beyond greetings:

It is essential that children be taught right from wrong and that they suffer some level of shame when they do wrong. That to love others is right and that when they treat others wrongly, they sin.

agreed?

Gamecock said...

Been there and done that ad nauseum Iztok. But hey why not read Newt's recent book:
Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future

Michael Novak
On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (2001).

Richard Land's
Divided States of America

All have numerous quotes from all the founders.

Maybe they were all atheists, but given their words and deeds, I could get even an all secular jury to convict them of being Christians beyond a reasonable doubt.

Iztok said...

"Been there and done that ad nauseum Iztok."

Their work is clearly secular (Declaration and Constitution).

Their other works are as well.

Here is a nice link:

http://freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html

Pete said...

It isn't necessary for us to feel shame when learning to love. We can empathize and feel good about loving others without being motivated by shame and guilt.

Andy said...

This is essentially a question of virtues. Three basic questions actually.

1. Why are virtues important?

2. What virtues are important?

3. And then Jane's question which is how do we gain our virtues?

Thoughts here:

http://charlottecapitalist.blogspot.com/2008/07/how-do-we-gain-our-virtues-and-why.html

Gamecock said...

Pete

I couldn't disagree more strongly on the importance of shame in creating civilized creatures out of wild animals.

My way made the US the greatest country on Earth. Your way has wrecked much of our education system and created a culture of narcissism and valuelessness. See Europe. They can't even bring themselves to judge the islamists. Their kind asks why they hate us. Same crowd that blames society for crime. And yes, their view does create more of it.

more later

Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

Question: Should one that teaches shame be ashamed of teaching shame?

Would it be helpful to use shame to teach people to stop teaching shame?

Or does dumbing down schools for contentless self esteem navel gazing, no winners in PE t-ball etc all for the sake of some vacuous non-values of diversity and tolerance for all but normal male behavior (quick, sedate the boy before he defeats the British!), magically produce the utopia you seek?

Never has.

Good discussion though.

Gamecock said...

Andy

Love your website and am impressed with what you bring to the table on this issue.

More later on, especially, WHAT virtues are important.

faithplusnothing said...

Calling someone a sinner is not name calling. It is our born nature passed down from Adam. Some say they don't believe in God but they still have their religion. Science has replaced God as their idol. They worship nature and man made idols. We were born with a nature that does not want to answer to anyone but ourselves. We want to set our own rules and live by our own standards.

Pete said...

If we feel good about ourselves, we will more likely be kind than cruel. If we feel shame and unworthy, we will strike out at those causing us shame,if there is no one in particular, we will resent all of society. It has to with self survival, our feeling worthy to live.

Pete said...

Imagine a first grade class walking down the school hall jumping around and being very noisy. The teacher tells them, "You are all acting like the sinful and evil natured children you are. Be quiet. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

A better teacher would say something like, "Life is wonderful and I can understand why you're so excited, but when we walk down the hall being so noisy we bother the other children who are trying to learn."

Gamecock said...

Agreed on feeling worthy to live. being taught that one is worthy by virtue of being made in God's image and that God's son loved us so much to die for us suffices for many.

But as youngsters strike out with meanness and test their elders, i.e. doing bad, it is necessary to discourage bad behavior. To nip it in the bud before it matures, and being ashamed of doing bad is crucial. The whole destigmatization of having children outside marriage comes to mind.

Gamecock said...

Agreed on the hall scenario.

The Heretic said...

Going beyond Lisa's statement,
we’re obviously born to be both kind and cruel. Our intrinsic nature is to be dual-natured. Could it be because God – if one exists – expects that and wants it? Otherwise why would he go to the trouble of making both attributes an inherent part of our composition if he didn’t support both?

Surely my reasoning makes as much sense as a sexless God creating sexual humans – adult male and female at that, no gestation period or child-rearing required – and who wants us to be only kind, and if we aren’t, requires that he himself be sacrificed to make up for it. Oh what a tangled web we weave when complicated religions we want to believe.

The only way humans, or any other animals and most plants, can remain constantly kind to the exclusion of cruelty is to become self-sufficient, self-contained solo acts. That’s impossible. The minute one involves another human, the minute one feels the urge to feed and drink, one can expect eventual cruelty to another human, lower animal, plant or mineral. It’s expected.

The reason cruelty arises here in Sacred Space is because of the primitive competitive spirit instilled in all of us. Instead of competing for essentials or lebenstraum, we’re competing to get our belief across. God must love that, else he wouldn’t have made us so competitive.

Iztok said...

Gamecock: "My way made the US the greatest country on Earth. "

I didn't know you were secularist.

Or are you referring of plenty of Christian teen single moms here in Southeast? 'coz your way certainly did this.

pornstudent said...

Heretic,

Interesting thoughts. If there were a God who created us, then he wants us to be cruel as well as kind. It seems kind of obvious since life is cruel, not just human life, but all of animal life. Think of the parasites, bacteria and viruses, even.

When appreciating our humanness, let's also enjoy the cruelty.

pornstudent said...

Iztok,
Thanks for the reference, Our Founding Fathers Were NOT Christians. I've added it to my favorites. Rock on!

Anonymous said...

Children are born both self centered and helpless. Their concern is for their survival. Their reliance on others (parents) creates, over time, a sense of community with that family and an understanding that being 'good' with respect to that community is more beneficial to their 'survival' (which begins to mean much more that just physical well being) than being 'evil'.

Over time, that sense of community expands.

Unfortunately, that expansion is often limited so that there is a strong sense of 'us' versus 'them'. So, someone can call themself 'good' as pertains to their community, but be quite 'evil' against those they consider 'outsiders'. (for example, Gamecock, 300+ years of 'Christians' in the South perpetuating a most cruel form of chattel slavery against human beings from Africa...)

My hope is that people are able to see the similarities between people and not just the differences and that purely social constructs (such as the concept of race, which has no scientific basis) are seen for what they are, a way of keeping that separation between communities.

Andy said...

Love your website and am impressed with what you bring to the table on this issue.

Thanks Gamecock!

Gamecock said...

Slavery was perpetuated by Christians and non-Christians alike in Britain and in the North for 300 years and in most other parts of the world incl native Americans and all known cultures from Babel BC forward for 5000 years, some even today.

It is only Christians in the west that abolished it legally on moral grounds.

pornstudent said...

Abraham Lincoln, the liberator of American slaves, was not a Christian.

More about Lincoln's Non-religion

Bruin (formerly Anonymous) said...

I agree that slavery in the west was abolished on moral grounds. And I know that many behind that movement were Christians. But I also know that many others who supported that cause were not Christians but were still moral people who were able to see the error.

On the other hand, there were many 'Christians' who wanted to continue this system and who continued to do injustice well into the 20th century.

Having said that, if I think of the western community collectively, I'd have to agree that, even though it took soul searching and a war, the west did abolish slavery on moral grounds and has continued to evolve to it's better nature through the 20h century and beyond.

However, not all Christians have contributed to this evolution.

Gamecock said...

Bruin

agreed in toto

And I don't think it is an accident that the US fostered miracle of freedon here and thanks to us, is fostered by a nation founded in large part on judeo-christian pronciples.

Iztok said...

"nation founded in large part on judeo-christian pronciples."

Which particular principles?

Danbo59 said...

Bob wrote, "Everyone is naturally kind except Iztok and Danbo. They're a couple of, oh wait, never mind."

The pot calling the kettles black, no doubt.

Danbo59 said...

We are born above what is natural. Unfortunately, all too many choose to sink to the level of what is "natural" or below.