The son of a friend of mine has recently come to Jesus. “I’ve racked my brains,” my friend says, “and I can’t figure out what I did wrong.”
Meanwhile, his son has made a discovery. “We are born in sin,” he writes to his old man (or texts to him, that is, his generation having forsaken pen and paper). “That’s why we have evil thoughts. We can overcome them, though, by coming to know God through Jesus.”
I think I know how this notion arose, that we are born sinful. All of us realize, from an early age, that we ought to cooperate. But the urge to gratify ourselves is greater—sometimes by far—than the desire to get along. Most of us learn to compromise—to suppress our ravenous ids—for the sake of peaceful coexistence, as far as it can be realized. Our good behavior is good for society, and, in the long run, good for ourselves.
Where, then, do our “bad” impulses come from? Why do we have to learn good behavior, while the bad comes naturally?
Because we were born with it, it seems, but why? We inherited it, the Christian says—it’s our legacy from our first parents, Adam and Eve.
The idea of our inborn badness is a powerful reinforcement of our need for God. The first priests fanned its flame, insisting that man was a vile thing and could only come clean through the love of God. It’s that legacy—that burden—that we groan under even today.
The truth is, more than likely, that while some of us are incorrigibly bad, most of us are, from birth, part egoist and part altruist, and remain that way our whole lives. Evil or good may get the upper hand from time to time and flourish for a while, both in men and in civilizations, but in the long run life—the will to live, which is impartial and amoral and blind—rules.