In order to start diving into the question of what lies at the bottom of the system of thinking of modern man, we first have to discuss what man is. There are essentially two views on what man is, that is to say that at base, man is either thought to be good or thought to be bad. This is essential in understanding the thinking of modern man, because it is a fundamental belief that man is, at base, good.
This is an important thing to establish because if man is good, that means that if they do something wrong/bad, then it cannot be said that they are bad person, but rather there must be some reason or cause for them to act in such a way. This is where much research into psychology and sociology come into play. They will trace behavior back to the way an individual was raised and then say, “see, he was raised in an abusive household, that is why he is abusive” and while there is some truth to this, this does not serve as an excuse.
In Steve Turner’s “Modern Thinker’s Creed” we read the following line “We believe that man is essentially good. It’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” It is obvious to notice the circular reasoning here but this is essentially what modern man attempts to do. When you look closely, one thing is missing from that equation, and that is the man himself.
Why is man absent? Because (and this gets to the heart of the issue) man must not be responsible if being responsible leads to bad consequences. At first I thought the main issue must, at bottom, be the elevation of the autonomous choice but this suggestion does not explain all the relevant data. For example, if autonomous choice were the bedrock foundation upon which secular thought was based, then there would not be an argument about whether or not homosexuality is a choice or if it isn’t. The idea in that particular situation is that if it were a choice, it would then become arbitrary, or, there is the possibility that they could have made the wrong choice. In saying that they are born one way or the other, that removes the possibility that they could be held responsible for any bad consequences that might result from certain actions. After all, who could be held responsible for something for which they are born with, and therefore have no control over?
This also explains the trend in sociology and psychology which attempts to define current behavior based on past experiences, usually life experiences for which the individual has no control over, or based on societal and cultural rules or mores. On the philosophical side, this also explains much of modern man’s tendency to relativize everything, particularly when it comes to morals or absolutes. If there is some sort of standard by which can be judged absolute right and wrong, that would mean that some people are doing things which are wrong, which means bad, but since man cannot be blamed for things, the only solution to which would be to relativize morality. If right and wrong are relative, then the blame can be shifted away from man, and on to simply someone else’s standards. For example, if someone is confronted by saying they have a false belief or they have done something wrong, it is easy enough to say “well, that may be wrong for you, but it is not wrong for me” and therefore gets rid of the responsibility.
This idea also manifests itself in our movies, with the age of the anti-hero. Before, there was a clear villain and a clear hero, in other words a clear distinction between good and bad. There were actions that could be definitively defined as evil. What is more common is the idea of vengeance or “killing for good.” Here we see ordinary people minding their own business, and then something happens to them that is beyond their control. A robber murders their parents or the one they love is killed. This turns them into either villains, disgusted with the way society has treated them “look at how crazy batman has made Gotham!” or into a hero that has to be “darker” in order to deal with the villains he is fighting. We have come to the conclusion that old heroes like superman are simply too unrealistic. Paradoxically, we reject the idea of someone who is genuinely good as being unrealistic, while at the same time holding to the idea that man is, at base, good. The saying of “well, no one’s perfect” comes to mind as being a major factor in us rejecting heroes that are “too good to be true.”
There has to be something, then, that takes man as being good and yet at the same time they are not perfect. Basically, we have to have something as the basis for our anti-heroes. Certain movies make it difficult to distinguish between the good guy and the bad guy, at least in terms of their actions. How do we accomplish this change? We make things happen to the good guys that are beyond their control that “force” them into becoming what they ultimately are, whether that is hero or villain. After all, who could blame Bruce Wayne for becoming the object of fear and then using violence to put bad guys behind bars? Who could blame Daredevil for becoming a vigilante and seeking after justice, when the courts are corrupt?
We notice this rationality whenever you hear the idea of an “unwanted pregnancy.” The idea is that people want the pleasure of sex (good consequence) but not the end result of pregnancy or STD’s (bad consequence). Since man cannot be blamed for any bad consequences of their actions, abortion is presented as a viable alternative to get rid of the unwanted consequences of their action. After all, who could blame them for abortion the child, since they didn’t want it in the first place?
This even manifests itself in our general view of politics. There is a general distrust of most politicians, yet at the same time it is widely accepted that the government needs to fix all our problems. Interestingly, many will admit that politicians have created our problems, and that we simply need different politicians to fix the problem. This can further be projected onto government as a whole, so as to avoid personal blame, however this is usually unnecessary as government officials are looked at as much by their office as they are as people.
The most obvious question in all of this is why, because it’s fairly obvious that this is a weak position to take, at best. I think the answer has something to do with a couple things. First, men love their sin and are naturally opposed to God and anything godly. Secondly, the law of God is written on all our hearts. They are connected in such a way that we have come to the idea that since we have the sense of right and wrong (God’s law on our hearts) then we already know that our sin is wrong. Since we do know that, we have to formulate some way to get rid of that feeling, or to numb our conscience or justify our actions. A very common way to do this, as we have been discussing, is to simply shift responsibility off ourselves. This strategy has been around forever, for example using Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We read Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent. The idea is that if we can somehow place the responsibility on someone or something else, then we will be able to be blameless before God since, deep down, man is good.
The problem is that it is not true and it does not work. Virtually all evidence points to man being bad, at bottom. Now this does not mean that man is as bad as he could possibly be, or that man is incapable of doing good things. Christianity explains why this is in the fall. This highlights our need for a savior while also explaining our behavior. Outside that worldview, there’s really no reason to have this view, at least not a logical one. Ironically, one of the criticisms against Christianity ends up being the very reason this seems to be at the root of so much thought. In short, it is an attempt to evade hell. All other religions hold to some form of scales, with Islam being the most blatant example that comes to mind, wherein everything done in your lifetime will be placed on the scales and where you end up depends on which side was heavier. The idea being that if blame can be shifted away from man, then the neutral (remember, man is good in this system) will outweigh the bad.
While there is a longing to get out from under the wrath of God, they are going about it the entirely wrong way. Jesus said that He was the only way. He paid for the sins of all those whom the Father gave Him. It’s the only way that works, and is the only way to satisfy the wrath of God.