Why I Strongly Disagree with Micah Bales' article that all humans are "depraved"

To Micah in response to his claim in his new blog article that all humans are "depraved."

I often am renewed, uplifted, encouraged by your blog posts, Micah.

BUT not this time! No way.

I can't believe you actually said that--all humans are basically "depraved."

True, there is no way getting around the very real potential for evil in every human 'heart.' As the famous Russian writer stated, "...the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. ... And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained."
And
the noted atheist psychologist, and founder of Transactional Analysis, emphasized that within every human along side the good, exists a "little fascist" that we need to resist.

Granted. Just a quick look at history, even Quaker history shows this. Why did so many transformed Quakers slaughter in war? Why did the vast majority of Quakers, despite their witness to equality, actually own, transport, and defend slavery for hundreds of years?!
Etc.

BUT those facts are entirely different from Calvinism, from its (and Roman Catholicism's, etc.) that infants at conception are "depraved."

It isn't true what you wrote, "You and I are ourselves depraved. We are liars, self-seeking, potential murderers. We are dishonest with ourselves and others."

I spent 55 years battling against this Calvinistic horrific distortion, and am now devastated to find it making inroads into Quakerism:-(
Heck, at least one Friends meeting now is promoting Matt Chandler, the famous Calvinist who claims infants are on the way to hell, etc.

One of the central reasons I became a Quaker was my understanding that Friends completely rejected Calvinism.

On the other hand, I do agree with you that we need to realize that we are all capable of very bad behavior. And that we need to extend the "truth in love" to political and religious opponents.

All humans are "basically" good. HOWEVER, we do have conflicting temptations which seek to destroy, to take us down wrong paths.

That is why it is so important to seek God.

Notice, that many of the central Christian leaders supporting Trump are Calvinists, do think that all humans are "depraved," do think that God's loves saves us.

YET their being convinced that everyone is "depraved" didn't help them realize that Trump was totally contrary to all that is true.

Instead, famous Calvinist leaders such as Wayne Gruden, strongly supported Trump, wrote long articles explaining why Trump ought to be president.

Such Calvinist leaders are the very ones who emphasize that all humans are "basically" "depraved."

So on this, Micah, we very strongly disagree.

It is because "basically" humans are made in the image of the Light, that there is hope.

We are given free will to seek God, or not.

That has nothing to do with original "depravity" that makes everyone incapable of seeking God.

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Yes, according to historians, the early Wesleyans were strongly influenced by Quakers and by Friends theology and ethics.

You can be thankful that your relationships don't include the millions of Christian leaders dominating denominations now with Augustinian-Calvinistic theology.

As I mentioned, even a few Friends meetings are promoting, accepting Calvinistic beliefs! Recently, one meeting promoted on its website the infamous Calvinist minister Matt Chandler, (leader of a Southern Baptist megachurch in Texas) who in his book , Explicit Gospel, claims that infants are "in essence, evil," and declared that before an infant can toddle, he is on his way to Hell! And, of course, he also claims T.U.L.I.P. and that God didn't create humans beings in inclusive love for communion, but for his own self-focused "glory." That's why according to Chandler, John Piper, and many others that God has two contrary wills--in the one, he has predestined every evil action, every natural disaster, and that billions of humans be eternally damned for his own "glory." 

Whew...

Even anti-Calvinistic churches are going Calvinist such as some in the Wesleyan denomination! Even Pentecostal churches, such as the Assemblies of God, etc.

I started going to a men's Bible study group here on the central coast of California. But then they did 3 Calvinistic authors' book in a row. I talked privately with the leader explaining about this because I though the lay leader (a police officer) maybe just wasn't aware.

Then he chose another Calvinistic book, so I moved on to the swimming pool, swimming laps, wondering why there is this huge surge in religions toward determinism and belief in depravity.

Thanks for the dialog.


David McKay said:

And Wesley stole his doctrine from Barclay.
I guess I just haven't been fortunate enough to run into any real hard-core Calvinists — well a few — and at least one of them was quite ecumenical and quite charitable and a pacifist to boot. Most the Calvinists I've run into a been Presbyterians and they're fairly soft on all this double-predestination born in iniquity kinds of stuff.

Daniel Wilcox said:

Later the Calvinists would attack John Wesley and the Methodists for the same offense.

But I strongly disagree with your statement, "We are talking about theological hairsplitting over issues that are mostly dead dogs in our modern era."

Sorry to hear that you must deal with a "disability." Life is tough enough without even more challenges.

(I'm running late on these responses because we were up north at our 3 month-old grandson's, me playing hit the dangling objects with him, and singing to him songs:-)

David McKay said:

As a person living with a disability the word "perfect" is a trigger word for me. But I allowed George Fox and Berkeley to own their own language here. I am not ready to say George Fox was "mistaken" — only that I am not yet able to witness a fulfilment of that particular promise he makes. I do think some the bite of the word "perfect" is taken away when we see it as process and not end-state. But I do not think that solves all the problems with the particular notion.

Daniel Wilcox said:

The very fact that George Fox (mistakenly) thought humans could become perfect quickly shows how drastically different early Friends were from Puritans-Calvinists, who emphasized that humans must by nature sin, even after they are saved.

Churches exist, not because of their doctrines but to suit the emotional needs (or sometimes their need to avoid certain emotions?) of the members.

Doctrines are secondary and subject to total neglect when they don't suit that first requirement.

No doubt God plays a part in the process, enlightening when possible but merely helping to serve those needs otherwise, until at least some of the members are ready to wake up a little more.

When churches revert to a less humane doctrine, this would because their members wish it; at least for the moment this is the best they can accept.

There is actually very little need for you to be sorry that I "must deal with a disability". I acquired the disability in utero — so really have very little experience of not being disabled. And in fact people have a better than 50-50 chance of becoming disabled at some point in their lives — so the proper terminology ought to be that disabled people are "normal" and the rest of you are temporarily able-bodied.

My experience concurs with Sartre's: Hell is other people. And so most of the headaches that have come to me by way of my disability have come from those temporarily able-bodied with poor coping mechanisms!

The word "perfect" is a trigger for me not because I am disabled but because we live in a world where perfect has become the standard in a very unhealthy kind of way. We are each of us human beings living out our lives on this planet. We bring with us into this life all sorts of gifts and also flaws (inherited or acquired) and far too many people spend far too much time exaggerating one and hiding the other. And when that doesn't work finding scapegoats to divert attention. Which is the lesson I take from the story of original sin in scripture. A lesson that is oddly obvious but still difficult to learn as evidenced by the theatrics being played out at the White House in recent weeks.



Daniel Wilcox said:

Sorry to hear that you must deal with a "disability." Life is tough enough without even more challenges.

An interesting observation Forrest. You are likely right — though I might qualify it a bit as I don't think it's the whole story.

Of course, in the spirit of Jesus direction regarding dust motes and log beams, the next obvious question is whether or not you've applied it to your own belief systems or not!

I have actually not been worshiping with a Quaker meeting for some time now. And I am reacquainting myself with early Quaker literature. And so to ask myself what emotional payoff this might have does tend to grate (as inconvenient truths often do!).



Forrest Curo said:

Churches exist, not because of their doctrines but to suit the emotional needs (or sometimes their need to avoid certain emotions?) of the members.

Interesting discussion.  My take on this:  I agree with Micah that all human beings are 'depraved' and I don't have a problem using that word.  I think that there are modern ways of looking at this that help fill out the meaning of this point of view.  You can look at it from an evolutionary perspective. Human beings have deep habits and inclinations that are embedded in the fact that they are mammals and primates.  These include things like territoriality, own group preference, hierarchical dominance, flight and fight responses, etc.  These are very powerful forces that are difficult to overcome.  They pull us away from boundless love, compassion, and forgiveness.  That is why there is an internal struggle when attempting to cultivate these virtues.

You can also take a cultural/historical perspective.  Cultural patterns are imprinted on us at a very early age and therefore difficult to see.  This inheritance inclines us to selfishness, acquisitiveness, and displays of conspicuous consumption.

Hence: depraved.

I also tend to agree with Paul that human beings are inherently incapable of doing anything that is good.  Whatever good that human beings accomplish is due entirely to the grace that flows from God.  That is why Barclay advocates for passivity to the light in his 'Apology'.  In order to accomplish good we must abandon any sense of self or self will; then the light will appear to guide us.  While it is easy for human beings to engage in destructive and malevolent behavior, it is extremely difficult and rare for human beings to do that which is good.  

Does that make me a Calvinist?  I don't think so.  I may agree with Calvin on this point, but one point of agreement doesn't make a Calvinist.  I know that a lot of contemporary Quakers find this view troubling.  We are at a cultural moment where we tend to think of everyone as wonderful, and this is re-enforced by some Eastern teachings (or at least the way these Eastern teachings, such as Buddhism and forms of Non-Dualism are taught in the West).  It is also very popular among New Age teachers.  Yet when I look at human history, when I look at the tendencies of my own mind and heart, when I observe the tendencies of those around me, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Paul, St. Augustine, Calvin, etc. were right about this.  And I tend to think that the early Quakers also saw it that way as well because the inner light that they speak of is not an individual essence; it is the Presence of Grace, and the Presence of Eternity, in the ephemeral individual that flows from the source of limitless love.

This discussion is of much curiosity to me because it is coming home to me that the insuring Light upon my conscious and conscience is discovering to me an ever growing disconnect between outward intellectual constructs like depravity. That is the by the inward Christ's visitation I am come out of the mind set that reflects upon outward construct like depravity. I am come out of being informed or guided by the process of seeing or understanding through outward mental reflections, projections, or mirrors that manifest thoughts like depravity to inform and guide me.

Whether people are innately depraved is of no matter to me in the inshining Light. In the Light (in the same way as in Christ there is no Paul, no Cepahs, no institution etc.) I don't see things through the lens of outward constructs like depravity or virtue; the movement and impulse of the relative light or awareness of the spirit of Christ in my conscious and conscience informs and guides. I am come out of a dependency upon outward ideological constructs to guide and support me in matter of conscience and human relationships.

You just described, Keith, the senselessness of embracing judgement. In the state of "constant living Light" there is no need for Grace.  Grace is a constructed mechanism for the human mind to be able to let go of judgement of self, of others, and of "God".  Only in this judge-less state can we approach union with the divine and full inner peace - because we are 'home'.  Once reached, Grace no longer serves any purpose.

I'm always surprised how categorical we can get and we start talking about matters that are — quite frankly — beyond our ken. Of course grace is a constructed mechanism. But then so is "letting go of judgment of self" and also "union with the divine" and "full inner peace". I always took Quaker talk about "constant living Light" is simply the way Friends talked about Grace. And so I never saw the opposition. To be clear I'm not saying you're wrong about Grace. I'm saying there isn't actually a mechanism to decide whether you are right about grace or I am on this particular issue.

This is perhaps why when I think about beliefs — minor others — I see them as the DNA for practical action rather than as truths (in the Truth, with a capital T sense). Our beliefs can have multiple roles in our lives and the lives of our communities. Forrest is already pointed out that are beliefs are simply placeholders for our emotions — and that is often true. They are also about boundary markers for self and community. "See, I'm a Quaker because I say Light instead of Grace". The boundary marker role is particularly dangerous in times of conflict because it can lead to unpleasant escalation. Finally these beliefs play a role in our choices. In particular they tend to lead to us either taking action for change or accepting the situation and persevering.



Howard Brod said:

Grace is a constructed mechanism for the human mind to be able to let go of judgement of self, of others, and of "God".  Only in this judge-less state can we approach union with the divine and full inner peace - because we are 'home'.  Once reached, Grace no longer serves any purpose.

Just found this on Twitter and thought it spoke to your concerns:

If your concern for holiness is not concern for your neighbour, If your concern for perfection is not love for your enemy, You missed it.

The fellow who tweeted this is a young evangelical from Australia named Jarrod McKenna, who is active in peace and social justice concerns (including death penalty abolition).


James C Schultz said:

I think becoming "perfect" spiritually is at least a two step process. 

David,

"This is perhaps why when I think about beliefs — minor others — I see them as the DNA for practical action rather than as truths (in the Truth, with a capital T sense). Our beliefs can have multiple roles in our lives and the lives of our communities. Forrest is already pointed out that are beliefs are simply placeholders for our emotions — and that is often true. They are also about boundary markers for self and community. "See, I'm a Quaker because I say Light instead of Grace". The boundary marker role is particularly dangerous in times of conflict because it can lead to unpleasant escalation. Finally these beliefs play a role in our choices. In particular they tend to lead to us either taking action for change or accepting the situation and persevering."


You are correct in your assessment quoted above. Your discription is the common way of things; that people idenitify with and are guided and informed by outward beliefs. I like your analogue that beliefs are the "DNA for practical action." It is certainly the case that human being, conscious, and conscience, is normally programmed or coded to relate to one another through idenitifcation with and being informed by outward beliefs. It is in the DNA of human being to be dependent upon the seeing themselves through the reflections of their sensations, perceptions, feelings, desires, and thoughts (including beliefs) all of which are connected by and to their functioning bodies, i.e. sight, smell, taste, hearing, sensation, brain, heart, etc.


There are some of us who, through the direct and unmediated experience (not belief in) of immanent Presence (inshining Light), our self-conscious ego is come out of a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward beliefs as the basis for our action. By the power of the appearance and visitation of the inshining Light taking the place of outward beliefs to guide and inform us in matter of conscience and human relationships, the DNA string is broken or shattered. Immanent Presence itself takes the place of beliefs as "placeholders" of the self-conscious ego and becomes the placeholder itself in itself. We are re-born or placed into a new way that is not of the nature of the way things normally are (as you correctly describe). We are come into a new habitation that is not of the nature of the normal way of things.


Personally, it is mine to share this different way of being or conscious that exists in immanent Presence itself in itself and is come out of a life that identifies with and is informed by outward beliefs or placeholders. I testify to a particular Witness or Experience. Many of the early and founding Quakers testified, relatively speaking, to this different way also. They testified specifically to coming out of being guided by outward forms and taking up habitation in the inshining Light itself in itself without reference to and regard for outward forms. Other Quakers like, George Fox, William Penn, Margret Fell, and Robert Barclay, successfully suppressed those who would not be brought back into that which they had been led out of ... specifically, identification with and conformity to the outward forms George Fox and others led the gathering back into.





David McKay said:

I'm always surprised how categorical we can get and we start talking about matters that are — quite frankly — beyond our ken. Of course grace is a constructed mechanism. But then so is "letting go of judgment of self" and also "union with the divine" and "full inner peace". I always took Quaker talk about "constant living Light" is simply the way Friends talked about Grace. And so I never saw the opposition. To be clear I'm not saying you're wrong about Grace. I'm saying there isn't actually a mechanism to decide whether you are right about grace or I am on this particular issue.

This is perhaps why when I think about beliefs — minor others — I see them as the DNA for practical action rather than as truths (in the Truth, with a capital T sense). Our beliefs can have multiple roles in our lives and the lives of our communities. Forrest is already pointed out that are beliefs are simply placeholders for our emotions — and that is often true. They are also about boundary markers for self and community. "See, I'm a Quaker because I say Light instead of Grace". The boundary marker role is particularly dangerous in times of conflict because it can lead to unpleasant escalation. Finally these beliefs play a role in our choices. In particular they tend to lead to us either taking action for change or accepting the situation and persevering.



Howard Brod said:

Grace is a constructed mechanism for the human mind to be able to let go of judgement of self, of others, and of "God".  Only in this judge-less state can we approach union with the divine and full inner peace - because we are 'home'.  Once reached, Grace no longer serves any purpose.

Thank you Howard. As always, I wish I were able to express myself as well as you express your witness.

Howard Brod said:

You just described, Keith, the senselessness of embracing judgement. In the state of "constant living Light" there is no need for Grace.  Grace is a constructed mechanism for the human mind to be able to let go of judgement of self, of others, and of "God".  Only in this judge-less state can we approach union with the divine and full inner peace - because we are 'home'.  Once reached, Grace no longer serves any purpose.

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