**Disclaimer: Philosophizing takes place below this warning**
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor political parties either- but right through every human heart- and through all humans hearts.”- Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Humanity has long told itself that its nature is good and the philosophies that periodically proliferate are a testament to this. John Locke based his philosophy upon this notion, and by extension, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence drew from this idea. The Enlightenment thinkers based their views on human nature through the lenses of progress and the societal evolution of humanity. Humans can work their way into a better society, through logic and reason. While some of their principles do apply in certain instances, it does not pertain to the character of human beings. Although the Constitution provides a phenomenal structure for our nation, it grants extreme limitation of power. The Founders might have had positive views pertaining to man’s character but the dynamic nature of the Constitution was created in such a fashion that it limited the chances for corruption and abuses.
Wickedness within societal structure will always remain within the body. Since man is a political animal, as Aristotle noted, every person comes to the table with ambition, for better or for worse. It is by the restrictive nature of “separation of powers” that the nature of man is limited. Power, of which politics is primarily concerned, is a dangerous item. Lord Acton speaks to this powerfully when he said, “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Military dictators and persuasive orators might be beneficial in certain aspects of societal growth, but power concentrated in a few hands tends to pervert the reformer, no matter how principled. People of great character like George Washington comes around rarely. Washington’s ambition and dreams of being an American Cincinnatus were rooted within his character. The rare exception to the rule does not and should not counter the general rule and axiom of Lord Acton.
Is mankind’s situation as dire as Hobbes’ philosophy of life being “nasty, broodish and short”? In short, no. Men also have a disposition to perform incredible good. Admittedly, it is a paradox. Humanity is neither good nor are we 100% rotten to the core. Rays of hope glisten throughout the mired soul of man. Out of the Holocaust arises tales of heroism. Out of the the Rwandan genocide stories of courage dot the landscape of despair. Human beings can be wicked beyond compare or just and kind to their fellow man. It is a paradox that is shown throughout history. The propensity of evil is great within men and women, but goodness can occur. Glimpses of what could have been can appear. Solzhenitsyn was correct when he stated that the dividing wall of good and evil runs its course through the hearts of men and women. Hopefully that dividing line allows more room for the good side to flourish.
Last week on Dennis Prager Show’s Ultimate Issues Hour, Prager was speaking about the necessity of starting with the formation of character issues within an individual instead of starting with the reformation of societal issues. He cited the differences between religious schools and secular schools, with both institutions focusing on different goals. While some schools try to change the world in a top-down manner, through the pushing of scientific change and shaping the world through institutions, other colleges try to form the character of a person. Battling one’s flawed nature, in Prager’s mind, is where we can actually produce positive citizenry. Cultivating a disciplined life is where people can make a beneficial impact on society, effecting their immediate world.
I would agree with Prager for the most part, the formation of character is very important to our society. Citizens should practice integrity, wisdom, and servant-leadership in order to make the community a better place. Unfortunately, the emphasis in our culture is often placed on developing institutions to solve problems instead of developing the people who participate in the same institutions. Culture is made by humans, and flawed humans with twisted characters will produce flawed culture. The more flawed the individuals are, the more flawed the society.
Moving away from a political philosophy perspective, I believe that this can be applied to those within Christianity. Being a Christ-follower should mean that your character is changed. Indeed, it should be conformed to the image of Christ. Our lives ought to be transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit, producing a renovation of character, as our twisted will has been slowly restored towards God’s. While civic virtue is important, the restoration of our lives is also very important. To truly love our neighbor as ourselves, that is where we need help. Ultimately it is only in Christ that we can be made whole- thriving in authentic community.
I stumbled upon this question on a website and was stunned by the findings:
Q. What is the ultimate origin of moral value?
200 user(s) polled.
1. God 17.5%
2. Nature 23%
3. Culture 38%
4. Other 21.5%
The reason that I found this astounding is because the implications of this are so profound. The ultimate origin of moral value was seen by 38% of those polled to be culture. All cultures, regardless of their values, are equal. The cultures promoting peace are the same as those promoting imperialism. Slavery and abolition are theoretically of the same basic essence, since after all, moral value (albeit separate moral values and separate ends) were derived from their culture. Who am I to say that one is right and one is wrong? Who am I to say that a totalitarian form of government is inferior to a republican form of government? Both derived their own moral value from their respective cultures.
Secondly, all moral value could come from nature. That means the natural order of things (read, Darwinian evolutionary theory) comes from “progress” and domination. I look around and nature says that the strongest survive. Social Darwinism and Eugenics surely follow closely behind on the heels of this theory.
Thirdly, other is the origin of all moral value. What could ‘other’ mean? Perhaps it means from extraterrestrials? It could mean it is derived from the automobile? Seriously though, what other possibilities could there be? Other is just an out for people who are too timid to say what’s on their mind.
Finally, the ultimate origin of moral value could come from God. One of the reasons from my Top 10 list “Why I believe in God” would have to be that if there is no God, then there are no rights. Where would our rights to liberty come from? If they came from culture, then culture can change those original assumptions. As a theist, I firmly fall in this camp. There are absolutes in this world (besides, to say that there is no absolute laws in the world is itself absolute…). There is Truth in this world. There is a reason for living in this world. This came in the form of the Word becoming incarnate. Quite honestly, I don’t know how else moral values can come into this world except through that pathway.
I am still in complete shock by the winner of the poll. We are talking about the ultimate origin of all moral value coming from cultures, regardless of their stance. Even though it is humanity that creates culture, so in all reality moral value is of our own creation.
Yet, why should this outcome surprise me? I would rather make up my own rules than play by someone else’s rules.