Something has gone missing from our collective psyche. It used to form an essential part of our understanding of life. It helped us navigate a world where bad things happened and prompted us to take precautionary measures. It guarded us against naiveté.
Its disappearance leaves us grasping for solutions to symptoms rather than solutions to the problem. What has gone missing?
I was listening to a discussion recently on the radio about consent. The host and his guest were talking about the way men mistreat women, and discussing what needed to be done.
“What lies at the heart of the issue?” they wondered. “We need to give our young people a better understanding of the facts of life—we weren’t taught about them in school.” “I think we need more education on what consent means.” “They just don’t seem to understand what consent is, so we need to take more time to teach them it.”
I’m not denying that hammering a message home is useful—but there is a basic presumption that is faulty. The presumption is that people are basically good, and lack only information—if they had better information they would behave better.
Surely after all the troubles of the 20thCentury, and 21stCentury thus far, we can ditch this idea.
Was the problem in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that he simply didn’t know enough about the Kurdish people to understand that they were human? Is the problem with rapists really that they need a better understanding of consent?
What is missing is the Bible’s basic teaching that mankind is flawed—or to use that unfashionable word ‘sinful’. The whole notion of ‘sin’ has gone from our diagnostic toolkit.
Maybe in Ireland we think that we have grown up and moved on from such superstitious notions, but I would suggest that unless we recover the idea we will never be able to make sense of what is wrong with our world.
The British philosopher C.E.M. Joad said, as he journeyed away from agnosticism, “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disillusioned by the behaviour of the peoples, nations, and politicians and by the recurring fact of war. Because I didn’t believe in original sin I couldn’t understand why nothing was working.”
“Always disillusioned by behaviour”—that seems to sum up the attitude of the discussion I was listening to. Intelligent people groping around in the dark, seemingly unaware of the reality that people do bad things despite education and information. Yet, rather than groping around in the dark, it would be more accurate to say that there is a determined keeping closed of the eyes, desperately ignoring the obvious, for fear it might challenge their worldview.
Sure, there are numerous videos and stories in life and on Facebook of people displaying wonderful kindness, heroic bravery and general human decency. But rather than disproving the doctrine of original sin, it is proof of the doctrine of common grace—God doesn’t let us be as bad as we could be.
Until we wrestle with the concept that there is something in the heart of mankind that no amount of education can eradicate, then we will only be pulling the heads off dandelions, and never getting to the roots. We will always be disillusioned and perplexed.
Some might say that the doctrine that we are all sinful from birth is incredibly depressing, even imprisoning. Actually, admitting we are sinners is the most hope-filled alternative, for then we can understand what is happening in the world. We have the diagnostic tools we need. Only then can we appreciate that there is a Saviour who changes our hearts.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15