Monday, October 29, 2007

The Natural Man

For about the last six years I've had a hard time concentrating in Sunday School. I pretty sure most of this started right about the time I really began to delve into the history of the church and the obvious whitewashing of many facts and events. I think that up until that time I was very guilty of falling victim to the argument from authority. Basically, I went about things incorrectly. Rather than examine the facts and then make my own conclusions I accepted what I was told as facts and then looked for evidence that supported those facts. Once I started looking at theology and life in the correct order I began to question most if not all of the assumptions that I previously had held to.
Yesterday in Sunday School was no exception. We were studying Ephesians and somehow we got on the subject of putting off the natural man. Most of the other students just accepted this premise and moved on, but for some reason I got stuck on it and couldn't concentrate on the rest of the lesson. What bothered me was the premise that man is naturally evil. I don't recall that as a tenant of LDS doctrine. In fact we take it further than most and even reject the idea of original sin. Philosophers have debated the idea for millennia. Is man naturally good but easily tempted to do evil? Or is man naturally evil and needs the fear of punishment to turn him good? I don't know what the answer is. And it is likely different for each person. However, I think that since the instructor didn't elaborate any more on this scripture that she believes that we are naturally evil. Personally I don't take this pessimistic approach to humanity. I believe that if left to their own devices they will choose good over evil more often than the opposite. Ironically, after reading the Lucifer Effect I am even more convinced of the inherent goodness of humanity. It is only when we surrender our choices to a perceived authority and act as a mob that we become evil.
Years ago in a business setting a supervisor told me that you could separate all employees into two groups: those that are motivated towards a good result, and those that are motivated away from a bad result. Although it may sound the same, since they are both going the same direction, in practice they are very different. One is a pessimistic approach and the other is optimistic. The first group will respond to a statement like, "Good job, this is top quality work." But the second wouldn't but be just as motivated by "be careful. You don't what this think to blow up."
Although I can see elements of both in myself, in my heart I just cannot accept that humanity is naturally evil. If we are actually the offspring of deity I find it much harder to believe that we are naturally evil. It's much easier for me to accept that we are naturally good but just stuck in a tough situation to see how we will choose.
It saddens me to think that so many people have such a dim and pessimistic view of humanity in general and themselves in particular.
I avoid expressing these points in class simply because I have my own doubts about how relevant they are to the topic at hand and in many cases I admit that they are at best a tangent to the main lesson. But it does provide me with something to ponder about and post to my blog. :)

2 comments:

  1. I always find myself chuckling when a speaker announces from the pulpit that certain things are "unnatural".

    If the natural man is the enemy of god, then doesn't it follow that the unnatural man is the friend or ally to god? Wouldn't committing "unnatural" acts show that one is an unnatural man, thereby proving one is on god's side?

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  2. Teash5:12 PM

    I absolutely agree that people are inherently good, since we are all children of God.

    I've always related the "natural man" to our bodies and physical needs verse our spiritual selves. We should not be controlled by our "natural" urges like mating, dominating, or aggresively protecting ourselves, like animals, which are neither good nor evil.

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