An Acknowledgement of Man’s Great (and Permanent) Moral Imperfection

This is what the Lord says:

 Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes.  He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its root by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.          It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?

 I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,  to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

-          Jeremiah 17:5-10 (underlining added)

 “…the righteous will live by his faith...”

 -          Habakkuk 2:4

 “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [declared righteous] freely by his grace [unmerited favor] through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

 -          Romans 3:21-24 (material in brackets, and underlining added)

 ‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

 -          James Madison

 “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 -          Lord Acton

Both the Jewish and Christian scriptures teach that humanity has deep moral imperfections[1], which will last throughout our lives on earth, and that therefore, when we attempt to live apart from God, we will inevitably fall into severe evil.  In addition to the passages quoted above, the passages from Genesis chapters 2-6, discussed earlier in the part of this First Principles section on “A Commitment to Individual Freedom,” also teach this same view of human nature.  There is not much space at all between Creation and the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapters 1-2, man’s choice to know both good and evil (rather than only good) in chapter 3, the first murders in chapter 4, and widespread evil in chapter 6.

According to both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, to avoid falling prey to the weaknesses of human nature, we must place our “trust,” “confidence,” and “faith” in God, doing our best to live according to His moral and spiritual precepts, but ultimately trusting that we will be saved by His mercy, through a Messiah[2] who is either yet to come (according to Jewish theology) or already come (according to Christian theology.)

 This is in stark contrast to the secular humanist view of human nature, which states (according to the first paragraph of the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Manifesto III) that: “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

An unbiased review of human history would seem to suggest rather strongly that the Judeo-Christian view of human nature is the more realistic one.  Man’s inhumanity to man is one of the most consistent themes of history, and throughout the course of recorded history, man’s inhumanity to man has cost hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives.[3]   In the 20th century alone, man’s inhumanity to man (from the trenches of World War I in 1914-1918, through the Nazi and Communist wars, revolutions, and concentration camps, and Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990’s) cost well over 100 million lives, and possibly as many as 200 million.

The key implications of this for politics are:

a)      That the best economic and political systems are those which accept human nature as it is, rather than assuming human nature can be reshaped, either voluntarily or through governmental coercion.  (The latter assumption was one of the key flaws of Communism, and if all of the powers of coercion at the disposal of Stalin’s government failed to reshape human nature, then it is a safe bet that the ideals of secular humanism will not do it either.)

b)      Given that human nature is in fact deeply flawed, some government is needed, but the powers of government must be strictly limited in order to avoid tyranny.  These limits should be both external (through limits on the powers granted to the government in its charter or Constitution),  and internal (through the separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government, and other checks and balances -- such as federalism -- within the structure of the government.)

c)      That the free exercise of religion, which advocates voluntary moral restraint or the governance of ourselves from within, is vital to the maintenance of a free society.  The more people are willing to govern themselves from within, by voluntarily making good moral choices, the less external coercion from the government is required.  

Fortunately for America, our founding fathers understood these principles very well.

[1] To “sin” literally means “to fall short of the mark.”  It originally referred to the marks on an archery target (with each successive “sin mark” being a little further from the bulls-eye.)  Thus, to say that we are “sinners” merely means to acknowledge that we are imperfect by nature (which we all are.)

[2] “Messiah” from the Hebrew, or “Christ” from the Greek, mean the Lord’s Anointed One, who will restore and rule His kingdom (Daniel 9:25).  “Yeshua” from the Hebrew, or “Jesus” from the Greek, mean “the Lord saves.”  This is the origin of the Christian concepts of “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord” or undergoing a “personal conversion experience.”   In such a conversion, the believer essentially says to Christ “I believe that You are who You say You are.  I need You, and accept You, as my personal Savior and Lord.”  More information on this subject is presented in the final section of this site, on evidence for the authority of the Bible.

[3] Although some of man’s inhumanity to man has allegedly been committed “in the name of God,” that does not change the fact that, in reality, all of these acts are products of our deeply flawed human nature.  If we are unsympathetic when someone says, “the devil made me do it,” then we should be even more unsympathetic when anyone attempts to use the name of God to justify acts which we all know to be immoral.  As Jesus said (and as Abraham Lincoln once famously quoted Him):  “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24) 

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