It strikes me as odd when people say that humanity is inherently and independently good. This is said in a variety of ways. Aside from the literal statement, another one that I often hear is “If you need God/laws to tell you to be good, then you’re not a good person.” This implies that we’re all good on our own somehow, and our beliefs are simply decorations. Or “Why do you insist on objective moral values? Do you really think society would crumble if we all believed in subjective moral values?” This implies that we as a collective are the source of good and can thus alter values around us to match our changing beliefs without side effects.
Oddly enough, the people who espouse this mentality almost always also insist that many true evils take place in the world. But I have to wonder what they’re basing that notion of “evil” on. I have to wonder what they think the cause is. It seems you would have to assume that the perpetrators of evil are just inherently evil. But since they’re also humans, you would have to assume that they’re inherently defective, otherwise how would inherent evil spring up from inherent goodness? Thus, this sort of logic can only lead to thinking that some people are simply broken and irreparable by nature. Of course, even a cursory study of history teaches us that this sort of thinking has been at the root of the worst atrocities mankind has ever committed.
Just look at the internet, the breeding ground for both the idea that humanity is inherently and independently good, as well as for many activist causes against evils in the world. The internet is not a place of roses and butterflies. It’s a conglomeration of social media worlds that spew hatred left and right. And the subjective values crowd is often the most vehement, saying that people are horrible because they’ve done something that this crowd disagrees with.
The problem is that the internet (and especially social media) is humanity unfiltered. Because there are few identifiable or tangible effects of one’s actions there, people often let loose. It’s life without consequences, where people can spout hate and never see the pain that results. On the internet, people are more often placed in direct contact with opposing ideas, and it’s when you face opposition–when you take a stand–that your true self comes out. That’s when you see the kind of person you really are. Unfortunately, the internet has shown that our true selves aren’t so good after all.
As such, how can we hold to an inherent and independent goodness? What makes us think that a lack of God or laws or objective morals will change that raw nature? What makes us believe we don’t need a filter?
Of course, I believe there’s a glimmer of truth in the idea of inherent goodness in humanity, though not independent. As a Christian, I affirm the notion that we were created in the image of God and chose not to live up to that image. But this failure to live up is a direct result of our free will and is just as much a part of our core. Thus, we have to recognize that both the good and the freedom to choose other than the good are inherent.
So how then do we choose the good over the bad on a continual basis? For that, we need something objective that we can point to and say, “This is good, regardless of my desire otherwise.” For that, we need a filter outside of ourselves.