One of the most common questions in religion, philosophy and psychology is, “Are people born good or evil?” This used to be a really interesting question to me. I’m not really sure why. Back in my cool guy TULIP days, I needed people to be super evil so that my Big God could be more awesomer. When I was looking into new agey type stuff, I wanted people to be good. But, what if neither of these answers actually work?
What if it’s actually a bad question? Not bad as in evil, but bad as in unanswerable…
For me, the most helpful way to think around this question is to say that each of us has the potential for good, and the potential for evil. I’m not sure if that means we’re a “blank slate” at birth. I’m not prepared to say that babies have no real emotions or desires until they hit a certain age or stage of development.
What if certain streams of Christian thought are actually onto something, though… What if there is something essentially good, something beautiful, about simply existing. From our first breath to our last. Being. The way I used to explain this was that God breathed his Spirit into each of us, or that he/she/it stamped his “image” onto/into each of us. That every single person “reflects” something of the divine. That when we look at another person, any person, we are, to some degree, seeing God.
Of course, I don’t think this kind of language is necessary, and it may be completely unhelpful to some people. But, for me, I’m starting to see the value of choosing to see the world in this way. Seeing life as a gift, grace even. I still have little knowledge about where or whom this gift might have come from.
There are other ways to see life. We can choose to see it as merely an accident. Or even as a curse. We can hope and pray for another life, another world, because this life just isn’t good enough. I understand this. I’ve been there. And it sucks. But, maybe, just maybe, the people who have sought to define things for us, some people with some really loud voices and really popular pulpits, have just not been able to love life. So, they’ve projected their own inability to see life as a gift onto everyone. And, we’ve uncritically accepted their potentially (hopefully) false interpretation.
I could be totally wrong. I have been many times before. I could be completely naive. There is a voice within me – a voice that comes to the surface when I’m just not able to see – that tells me that life isn’t worth the risk. That people are evil. I used to feel like one of the characters in a Nathaniel Hawthorne story – I could only see “depravity” around me. But, what if that voice, that Debbie Downer, is what some religious folks call “the devil”? What if that voice is a collective sigh – or cry – of everything we’ve ever experienced that didn’t feel like a gift? And, what if we can choose not to listen to that voice?
I don’t expect everyone to share my optimism. I don’t even think some people can. Maybe that’s our chance, those of us who can, to be the gift that someone needs.
This is a repost from my personal blog from August, 2012.