Sunday, July 22, 2007

A reflection on good, evil and "chronic sin.'

In my early morning time of quiet reflection I am reading, at the moment, D. Elton Trueblood’s. ‘The People Called Quakers.’ Trueblood was, for many years, Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College and before that at two other Quaker colleges, Guilford and Haverford. I am finding his description of the Quaker faith as profoundly Christian and evangelical, but experientially as well as biblically based, to be illuminating and useful. When one is surrounded by the realities of a civil war, as here in Sri Lanka, reflecting on the capacity for good and evil in human nature is, I suppose, inevitable. The following passage in Trueblood’s book helped my thinking. In particular, equating the term “chronic sin” with the biblical term “original sin” and dangers of a belief in inherent human goodness degrading to shallow sentimentality were personally useful. The passage, from pp. 71-72 in Trueblood’s book, follows.

"One major danger inherent in the idea of the [inner] Light was that of a sterile humanism. It was always possible to suppose that Quakers were talking merely about human reason or about the natural goodness of men, after the fashion later popularized in the French Enlightenment. If this interpretation had been permitted to stand, or had become general, the whole idea would have lost its power since every emphasis on natural human goodness seems to lead inevitably to sentimentality.

The truth about man is intrinsically complex and, though good human acts are possible and sometimes are demonstrated, there is a seed of evil in all men. If we did not know this before, we surely know it in the latter half of the twentieth century, after the wanton cruelty which has been experienced in two World Wars, in concentration camps, and in countless other ways. Man, alone, doesn’t do very well and assuredly needs all of the help that he can get. It is truly said today that the doctrine of original or chronic sin is the most certain of all Christian doctrines, because it is known empirically. One cure for addiction to a belief in natural human goodness is the simple one of becoming a parent."


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