Note: This is a response to Shaun Maher’s post, “Is Mankind Inherently Good or Evil?”
The question “Is mankind inherently good or evil?” is fundamentally flawed. It suggests a false dichotomy with two extremes–no middle ground is allowed into the equation. My immediate answer to the question would be that most of us are pretty okay. To suggest that we are only either good or evil implies that the vast majority of the lived human experience is invalid. Not every man or woman who lived did great or terrible things. After all, the spectrum of human emotions and actions is extreme, varied, and impossible to understand fully. Whether man chooses to help or harm his fellow man is entirely up to that man, and the only nature that influences his decision is the nature he has made for himself based on choices he has made.
I would hypothesize that man isn’t inherently evil; he is, at worst, inherently lazy. We are free to choose between easy and hard choices, and it just so happens that, generally speaking, the hard choice makes us better and the easy choice makes us worse. Life is a series of choices, each subsequent choice made easier or harder by the choice that preceded it.
Let’s talk about the “babies = innocent with evil natures” argument that Shaun mentioned in his post. If their nature is inherently evil like man’s supposedly is, then why are they so in awe all of the time? They’re too busy trying to learn things like how to eat and what their toes are for to be evil.
I definitely agree with Shaun on his point that babies are innocent when they get here, but it is not in the baby’s nature to choose evil, nor will it be in the future unless the baby’s and/or parents’ choices lead the child in that direction. I admit that it takes an extreme effort on the part of the parents to raise the child right, but that fact only means that the parents have chosen the hard road of teaching the child in the first place. Shouldn’t our “inherent evil” as per Shaun’s reading of the Book of Mormon lead us to either devour or ditch our young? Babies are a huge burden, but we (at least the majority of society) rise above our laziness to take care of them. Much later in its own life it is up to the child to decide which teachings are worth its effort and which are not.
That said, I think the most fundamental trait shared by mankind is that of pride. Pride does not make man evil, but can lead him to do evil things. It’s a balancing act, trying to keep enough pride to raise our own spirits and those of our friends while also trying to be humble, accept our failures and problems and rise above them without becoming prideful. Pride is the human failing. Not evil.
I honestly think that most of the readings Shaun selected from the Book of Mormon have much more to do with our prideful nature than an evil one. Perhaps a second reading keeping in mind that the authors wanted to convince themselves to be humble and cut away their pride will change the tone of a few of the scriptures listed in Shaun’s post:
Ether 3: 2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
1 Nephi 10: 6 Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.
Mosiah 4: 2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
Mosiah 16: 4 Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.
Mosiah 27: 25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.
Alma 34: 9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
The authors continually refer to mankind as being lost and fallen, and this makes some of them believe that we are, by nature, evil. I would argue that being lost does not preclude us from being found and that even before being saved through the Atonement we can be good people with a little effort. As I said above, making hard choices usually makes us better people.
I also believe that the evils of men mentioned by the Book of Mormon prophets were expressed as such in large part to keep themselves and their congregations humble. The pride cycle so often taught in Sunday School (at least during the BoM year, amirite?) is of serious concern to the authors because it is the prideful part of our nature that can make us “evil”.
As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” The inherent evils that Shaun reads in the Book of Mormon and in the world around him are not what I see. I see people struggling to rise above their situations, sometimes doing good and other times doing evil. Neither action determines his nature, but they do shape it.
I don’t believe that man is inherently evil; I believe that man is inherently man.