The Nature of Man(kind) and a Helpful Distinction

People have been writing and speaking about worldviews for some time. Everyone has a worldview, and it can change over time. Part of that worldview is what the person believes about human beings.

People can have dramatic disagreements about the nature of man. This results in practical differences concerning what ought to be done. For example, one person considers all human life to be sacred under God. Another considers a person’s desire to engage in wanton sexual activity without responsibility to be more sacred than human life. As a result, they disagree about what to do with the human beings that are conceived by such activity. How valuable is human life? For some people it depends on whether you can hear their screams when they are murdered. Or whether you can hear them call out for their mothers and ask for help breathing. Or whether they have “intersectionality.”

That may have seemed harsh, but it’s not meant to come across that way. It illustrates how a person’s view of mankind makes a profound difference in the person’s actions and words. It also makes a difference in the way a person responds when his deficiencies are noted by another.

We quickly jump to motives when we see or hear something we don’t like in another person. I do it too. The accusation usually thrown around in these times is “hate.” It’s convenient, because it ends discussion, which can be difficult. Hurling the label makes it unnecessary to continue interacting with the “hater.” So what was once simply “being wrong” has now become a justification for ad hominem dismissal. Judge for yourself: is it more loving to patiently correct someone who has made a mistake, or to slap on a label like “hater,” possibly try to injure the person’s reputation and livelihood, and then congratulate oneself on removing one more oppressor from the ranks of society? Shouldn’t be a hard question.

This is the crux of what I want to explore here: making mistakes. This is also part of human nature. Our problem is that we forget this. Sometimes we fail to allow others the grace to grow after a mistake through correction, or even repentance. We unreasonably act as though the person should have been perfect, as though we don’t really believe that human nature is sinful. Or as the common excuse says it, “nobody’s perfect.” Maybe we’re willing to apply this to ourselves, but forget it when dealing with this “offender.”

The other part of our problem is when we make mistakes ourselves. How would you like to be treated by others? In the heat of the moment, we all would probably want our mistakes to be overlooked or ignored. But I think most of us can see that it’s better when we are given an opportunity to correct our mistakes. If the mistake is some wrongdoing, we would really want a chance to repent and receive forgiveness for it. But when we first learn about the wrongdoing, that’s not how we feel about it.

Some people believe that humanity is basically good at the core. The Bible says that mankind was created good through-and-through, but now the situation is completely reversed. The reversal happened in the events told in Genesis 3, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This really bothers some people. Why should we be held accountable for someone else’s mistake? It sounds unjust. But then we commit wrongs of our own and show the kind of nature we have inherited. Some people still reject that man is basically evil. That makes the distinction I’m about to describe very hard to accept.

There is an important difference between three kinds of wrongness. They are all wrong in relation to the same thing: God’s moral code. (Without that, there can be no objective morality.) But they are still different from one another in important ways. The three kinds of wrongness are perversion, corruption, and defect.

Perversion is defined by Websters as “the act of perverting; the condition of being perverted.” Definition 1-a of pervert as a verb says “to cause to turn aside or away from what is good or true or morally right.” There are related definitions, but they are derived from this meaning, where we see that there is an agency involved in perversion. That is, someone or something with the ability to will decided to take action and pervert something else.

Webster mentioned “what is good or true or morally right” in the second definition above. That can be easily understood as the original design of God in creation, before the Fall into sin. So things or people in a perverted condition have been intentionally twisted from their original good. Because of this, perversion is one kind of evil.

Corruption is a similar word, and in fact Websters refers to it in connection with perversion. But there is not necessarily any agency when something is corrupted. If you drive your car on the salted roads of New England or the upper Midwest, you will see in a few years how the car’s body becomes corrupted by rust. Bury a standard two-by-four in the wet ground, then check on it after a while, and it will have been corrupted with rot. Unlike perversion, not all forms of corruption necessarily have a moral implication. Websters’ first definition says, “to cause to turn aside or away from what is good or true or morally right.” This certainly has a moral implication, but in this case, definition 1-a given by Webster is really a derived from the more general definition 1-c: “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” It seems likely that they are placed in this order due to prevalence of usage.

Corruption can therefore be another kind of evil itself, as when a person in authority is corrupted by bribes or prejudice (much like perversion in this case), or when a child’s character is spoiled by immoral, evil influences. But corruption of human beings can also be simply a result of evil. One example is illness, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Without the corruption that entered Creation with the Fall into sin, our hearts could keep beating forever. Our minds would remain clear. The way we feel would always make sense in full agreement with our physiology, and would support our daily interactions and activities instead of making it hard to live in our vocations.

A defect is defined by Websters as “an imperfection or abnormality that impairs quality, function, or utility.” It seems insulting to say that a person has a defect, but it’s really no worse than saying the person has been perverted or corrupted. Here we commonly understand congenital birth defects, such as missing or duplicate appendages, conjoined twins, and ambiguous sexual organs. On a smaller scale, there are genetic defects, and there are also mental or emotional defects. Often a defect is imposed after birth, making it similar to corruption: a baby is tragically dropped or abused, a child is neglected, leading to mental or emotional problems that manifest in destructive choices or behaviors, etc.

Where the words perversion and corruption imply certain origins of the problem, the word defect focuses on the problem more than its cause. Any of these words can be used in an insulting, hurtful way, but they also all have beneficial uses when talking about the effects of sin on human beings. These words relate to the worldview that human beings are fallen creatures of God.

Secularists espouse an atheistic worldview that rejects the Fall and its resulting anthropology, or view of mankind. It’s difficult to convince anyone that humans are perfect in our actions, decisions, and words because these are plain for others to see and hear. But secularists have managed to convince many people that our emotions are just fine, and should always be trusted. Consider in The Return of the Jedi Luke’s certainty that there was still something good in his father, Anakin. Throughout the Star Wars saga, the story reflects the way our culture invests great trust in the purity and truth of our emotions. The same can be said for many recent stories.

The Biblical worldview has a different understanding of our emotions. Naturally-conceived humans are entirely subject to the effects of sin, whether corruption, perversion, or defect. Not only our bodies, minds, and emotions, but even the part that secularists completely deny: our souls and spirits. Every part of a human being has been affected. The corruption is thorough.

When another person points out our defects, corruptions, or perversions, we don’t like to hear it. This is a good thing. It shows that we still realize there’s a difference between right and wrong, and we’d rather be right. Yet the fact of sin remains. Any affect of sin is certainly possible for us, and it’s better to have a truthful self-perception or even to repent of any and all guilt than to continue deceiving ourselves about our own nature.

Hearing about our faults makes us feel bad about ourselves. It leads to a negative and more accurate self-image. But we don’t like to feel bad. We don’t like a negative self-image, especially when it’s accurate. We’ll like it much less to be eternally deprived of God’s presence and good gifts, to suffer where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The answer to all of this is found in the one human who has no sin, but suffered anyway to atone for our guilt before God. In Christ Jesus and nowhere else do we find healing for all of the pathologies we suffer: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He doesn’t cause limbs to regenerate each Sunday. He doesn’t deliver us from our inclination to disordered affections all at once. St. Paul prayed that He would take away the thorn in his flesh, but the Lord answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Our weaknesses then becomes strengths and blessings through Jesus Christ. We can repent of our guilt, resist sin, and live with a good conscience, while also having an accurate understanding of who and what we are as beloved creatures of God. Jesus calls it “bearing a cross.” The day is coming when we will lay these crosses down. All the effects of sin will be gone. We will be fully comfortable in our own skins, because they will be perfect and untainted. The same goes for our minds, emotions, souls, and spirits. We will be and remain in the glorious presence of God, and Jesus will wipe away every tear.

Communication Conundrums

Full disclosure: I have no answers. I sometimes have guesses. Guesses are not the same as assumptions or even opinions, as far as I know. If you disagree, please correct me by sending a copy of the dictionary entry of a reputable dictionary. Okay, that’s out of the way.

There are two people, A and B. Here are some examples of how they can try communicating about something. Each example refers to the same situation. At the risk of seeming to set up straw men, these examples must be simple. This is not meant to imply that anyone is right or wrong, smart or not. Rather, this is meant to model what can happen when people try to interact with different ideas about what’s happening.

Example 1 (simple, harmonious)

A: The light in the bathroom was left on.

B: No, it wasn’t.

A: Let’s go check.

B: Looks like I was wrong. Good thing you noticed.

Example 2 (simple, extreme dissonance)

A: I feel the light in the bathroom was left on.

B: No, it wasn’t.

A: How dare you attack my feelings?

B: Let’s go check.

A: You have no respect for me, you B-‘splainer. Now leave me alone. I can’t talk to you if you won’t listen.

Example 3 (subtle, extreme dissonance)

A: The light in the bathroom was left on.

B: No, it wasn’t.

A: Can’t you hear what I’m saying without correcting me? The bathroom light is useful when you’re in there, but it has no use whatever when you leave! If we don’t do something about that, I just won’t be able to handle the rest of the day, or possibly even rest at night…

B: Is this still about the light? It’s off. I could…

A: I’m telling you, it will be on my mind! And I think the manager at the hardware store also doesn’t like me. That’s where we always go for light bulbs, but now we’ve run out, and it’s just all wrong. We’re wasting what’s left, and…

B: Should I check? I’ll go check.

A: Oh, now I’m so stupid you won’t believe me. That’s right. Just assume I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Example 4 (subtle, mild dissonance)

A: The light in the bathroom was left on.

B: Do you want to talk about it? Or should I go check?

A: Don’t you believe me? I keep finding it on when I walk down the hall, and it seems that someone is always forgetting to shut it off. I worry about things like that all day. …

B: Then I’ll go check. Be right back. … You were right, it was on. I shut it off. Okay?

A: No, it’s not okay. This is becoming a real problem for me. You need to hear me out! I guess I do want to talk about it.

B: Okay, then. Go ahead.

A: …

Example 5 (simple, mild dissonance)

A: I feel the bathroom light was left on.

B: Okay, so…

A: Well, don’t you think that’s important?

B: I don’t think it’s on, but let me check…

A: That’s not the point. It’s been left on a number of times, and I’m fed up with it. It’s just not right that I have to keep shutting it off every time I walk by. How can we live like this? I think we’re even out of bulbs in the closet!

B: Go on.

A: …

What to do?

Hopefully it’s clear that in most of these examples, one person wanted or needed a certain kind of encounter, and the other person didn’t immediately catch on to that. That’s the dissonance. In Examples 4 and 5, person B realized eventually that person A wasn’t bringing up a factual data point for discussion.

When one or both people have some amount of emotional heat built up, how can each person help to ensure that the dissonance is minimized?

Now for my guess. If somehow each person can perceive exactly what sort of encounter is needed or intended by the other, then it will avoid extreme dissonance. It might be as simple as saying, “I need to tell you about something,” rather than saying something that could be taken as an invitation to dialogue. Lacking that, how can the other person detect it? Because if it is not detected, the dissonance will be extreme.

The light bulb example here is a little outdated if we are using LED bulbs, and it may seem decidedly domestic. However, this issue isn’t limited to domestic interactions. It can occur between any friends or colleagues. As I mentioned in the introduction of this post, I don’t have answers. Only guesses. I’d be happy to hear the guesses of others.