“Ugh. People are the worst!”
“Humans ruin everything.”
“It would be much better if humans didn’t exist.”
The very first quote comes from a random Facebook comment. The commenter felt prompted to make her exclamation after reading an article about an adult bully verbally abusing and then punching a disabled man. Instead of calling the act reprehensible, this person projected her disgust onto the entire human race.
Now, if confronted, that commenter would probably amend the statement to say, “Not all people” or “Oh, I didn’t mean you!” However, the sentiment behind the comment is one becoming more prevalent in our society.
People are inherently evil.
The idea that people are evil can manifest from the benign “the earth doesn’t need us; we need the earth” to the extreme of antinatalism. The philosophy of antinatalism states that it’s morally wrong to have children and adherents advocate for the extinction of the human race.
Behind both ends of the spectrum and everywhere between is the same idea: humanity is inherently evil. The only way toward improvement is for us to reduce our impact as much as possible until we cease to exist as a species. How we cease as a species depends on the person, with most preferring a passive “we’ll kill each other off eventually or a meteor will come along” attitude. Antinatalists, however, actively call for population control measures that ultimately lead to the end of humanity.
The idea of humanity being inherently evil comes from the doctrine of total depravity.
We can thank the Protestant leader John Calvin for this idea. According to Calvin, man is totally evil. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he writes, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Book 2, Chapter 2, Para. 26).
People today have a growing perception that something is terribly wrong with humanity. Our activities can kill off entire species of animals and destroy pristine environments. We make war on one another and cause each other no end of suffering. Mainstream media constantly broadcasting the evils of society only feeds an image of humanity as the Destroyer of the World and all Goodness.
Instead of pointing the blame at sin and the fact that humanity is fallen, a growing number take their cue from Calvinism and accept the idea that people are inherently evil. Interestingly, many wouldn’t say individual people are evil or call themselves inherently evil. They project that outward. Humanity in a collective sense is evil.
What this doctrine (and it is a doctrine, whether applied in a religious sense or not) does is strip people of hope. If humanity is evil and cannot produce a good thing, then humanity cannot improve. Humanity cannot be saved. Humanity should just end.
Catholics believe people are inherently good.
In Genesis, after every act of creation, God pronounces it “good”. At the end of the sixth day, after He creates man, God gives His world a final once over. The world that now includes humanity. How does the chapter end?
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, Revised Standard Version)
According to Sacred Scripture, after God created man, then everything He made was very good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphatically confirms that in paragraph 385: “God is infinitely good and all his works are good.” Humanity is one of His works. Therefore, man has an inherent goodness predicated on the fact that God created us.
Another way to look at is through the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God. If God cannot abide sin or anything evil, then why would He allow Himself to take on the flesh of man? God came down into the womb of Mary. He grew up in a small, impoverished town in the middle of nowhere. And that was only the beginning of His adventures while on Earth. If humanity is inherently evil, then God would not have become one.
But if humanity is inherently good, then where does evil come from?
Humanity fell. Adam and Eve, who represented the entire human race because from them the whole race springs, chose to disobey God. Sin entered the world. Ever after, man is born with original sin. According to F.J. Sheed’s Theology for Beginners, original sin:
…is not to be thought of as a stain on the soul, but as the absence of that grace without which we cannot, as we have seen, reach the goal for which God destined man [which is heaven]. We may be given grace later but we enter life without it, with nature only (pp. 79-80).
Sheed goes on to explain that even after birth, our natures aren’t like Adam’s. Our passions and imagination are warped. We now suffer concupiscence, which is a weakness of soul that makes it harder to avoid sin.
But just because humanity is fallen does not make humanity inherently evil. Original sin isn’t a stain. It doesn’t indicate a changed nature. It is an absence of God’s grace. We act like we’re evil, sometimes, because we don’t have the grace to be anything different.
There is hope.
If humanity has no hope of improvement, of reaching a goal larger and better than ourselves, then Christ would not have died on the cross for us. There would be nothing to salvage.
The main reason why so many people think humanity is evil or wrong is that they do not know the true meaning of the Cross. Not only did Jesus pour out His blood and give up His life (when He could have defeated His enemies with a word), but He also gave us the Eucharist so that He could remain with us.
He gave us the Church to explain the Scriptures and guide us when life gets messy and confusing, as life does. Christ gave us the Sacraments to break the chains of original sin and convey to us the grace we need to reach Heaven. He gifted us with the Bible so that we can continually turn to His words for comfort and knowledge. Finally, God speaks to us through the wonders of creation so that we might know Him.
In the Baltimore Catechism, a question is posed: “Why did God make you?” The answer: “God made me know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.”
We are pilgrims. This is not our final destination. And we can be better. Many people become better. There is cause for hope.