I was listening to a podcast the other day in which the host posed the following question to several interviewees: do you believe humanity is inherently good or evil? The answers given ran the whole gamut of cogency and hopefulness for humanity, but I found very few of them to be satisfying. However, I couldn’t figure out why, so I set out on a quest to determine how I would answer such a question.
The first issue I encountered when trying to answer this question is that I found myself struggling to coalesce my theology with my experience. Romans 3 states that “There is no one righteous, not even one;…there is no one who does good, not even one.” I took issue with this initially because I wanted to believe that humanity is inherently good, but this passage seemed to suggest otherwise. However, the more I wrestled with this idea, the more I came to a semblance of clarity. Without making a determination about the inherent goodness or wickedness of humanity, I was able to identify that—whatever else we may be—we all begin on a level playing field as far as our inborn morality.
But what is this level playing field on which we all begin? Reformed readers (were I to have any) might suggest that this level playing field is the congenital state of total depravity that afflicts all of humanity. And while I can’t really argue with such a proposition, I prefer to interpret such a dismal state a bit differently. A few chapters later in the book of Romans we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, while it may be true that we are naturally given to depravity, we are also worth dying for. That’s one heck of a level playing field.
Here’s where things become a little muddled. When it comes to deciding whether humanity is innately good or evil, I choose a third option: I think the only thing inherent about humanity is the state of being human. Forgive me for being savagely obvious, but perhaps you’ll humor me a moment. Being human, as it were, evokes a great deal: failure, hope, fear, joy, weakness, love, foolishness, peace, despair. Being human involves all these things and more—and it also mean being worth dying for. I don’t really believe in “good people” or “evil people”. Instead, I believe in people who do good things and people who do evil things, but the things they do are not what define them. What defines them is their intrinsic humanness. No matter who they are or what they’ve done, they are human—and being human means being worth dying for.
So: Is humanity inherently good or evil? Frankly, I don’t know. All I know is that humanity is worth dying for. There isn’t anyone I’ll ever meet or even catch in my periphery who is anything less. Ascetic saints, politicians, civil rights activists, school shooters, philanthropists, dictators, schoolteachers, con artists, law enforcement officials, evolutionary biologists—we’re all the same. We’re all human, and we’re all worth dying for.