Are People Fundamentally Good or Evil?

I admit, sometimes I write about things that deserve much more explanation than a blog post.  These are things that have been discussed, studied, and debated for many centuries by individuals far more qualified than myself.  I acknowledge this.  How could I not?  Nevertheless, I believe it is still valuable to think and write about these deeper topics.  Just like you, I am the only one of me that ever was.  Who I am and what I have experienced have provided me with a unique perspective; even on unchanging truths.  With that being said, today I will explain my thoughts on the heart of mankind.


Good: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious; right; proper; fit; genuine; not counterfeit; moral righteousness

Evil:  morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked; harmful; injurious


I had an English professor that taught basically one thing, ambivalence.  Ambivalence is defined as having contradictory attitudes or feelings about something.  It is also a term that my professor used to describe people, who have the capacity to be good or evil at all times.  Imagine a murderer who volunteers in a soup kitchen.  He is not all bad and not all good.  We have all done good things and bad things, and we all know that everyone else has done both as well.  Certainly, ambivalence makes sense when attempting to identify the true nature of the human heart. And, it’s also a pretty safe position to hold.  You’re not really judging people for better or worse.  It’s really nothing to lose any sleep over.  Sometimes people are good, and sometimes people are bad.

I have also encountered people who believe in the ultimate good in humanity.  They believe that people genuinely desire to do good, but often times circumstance or any number of factors get in the way.  Perhaps someone has a mental or physical ailment that forces them to act out in apparently evil ways, but it is separated from their deeper self, which is good.  Or, poverty and hardships of various kinds compel people to commit seemingly evil acts in order to survive in the world.  When people’s needs are met, though, they tend to favor good and healthy behavior. This position needs some defending.  There is a mountain of evidence in the present and throughout history that people of all types perform evil acts even when they are not compelled by harsh conditions.  Consider how intentional the Nazis were in their plans.  Consider all of the powerful dictators and abusive relationships.  If people are mostly good, shouldn’t the world reflect that?  And finally, this position has the potential to diminish each individual’s personal accountability for their actions.  There will always be something outside of the individual’s will to blame for their actions.

What I believe is largely due to my own experience with myself and with the world, and, Jesus Christ.  To put it bluntly, I believe that all people are evil.  This may come as a shock.  It may not.  Either way, all I ask is for a brief moment to explain.

What we are talking about is the core of our selves.  The core of our identity, or heart, is the driving force behind our thoughts and our wills.  Jesus said, “No one is good–except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)   Paul the apostle wrote, “As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous–not even one.’ ” (Romans 3:10)   King David in the Old Testament wrote, “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt;  there is no one who does good,  not even one.” (Psalm 53: 2-3)  My point is that the Bible makes it clear that people are not good to the core, but evil to the core.

This may seem harsh, but it is important to check your standards for good.  Is evidence of your good nature doing something kind for someone else once in a while?  Or, is the evidence found in the majority of your thoughts and impulses and desires?  These internal things that lead to the majority of your actions.  Are you driven by a need to satisfy yourself?  Even an act that is good can have a selfish motive.  It might make you look good to other people.  It might make you feel better about something else you’re not proud of.  The truth is, most people are desperate to save face, and everyone has a price.  What evil would you do to save someone you love?  What is the thing that you treasure most?  What would you forsake to have it?

An honest Christian believes and understands that all of us are in the same state of evil outside of God.  I have seen what the world has to offer, and I bet you have too.  It’s not good enough to satisfy the deepest longings in me.  The only one who is good enough is the one who died for the sake of the world.

I’m willing to bet some of you have some thoughts on all of this.  I’d love to hear them.


One thought on “Are People Fundamentally Good or Evil?

  1. jeff

    Liked this entry. It’s an important idea, that really influences the way we think about everything else. I think perhaps that people can’t deal with the idea that they are evil the way they could in the time of a shared narrative of”christendom.” Perhaps a more interesting explanation is our inherent, biologically and evolutionarily valuable selfishness. then every religion contains the hope that we can rise above this basic biological imperative; christianity acknowledges the failure of these efforts.
    the practical side of what I’m saying is that there’s no point in putting humans down because we are like this; it’s normal and advantageous in a purely animal world. the question is do we desire to rise above this, and how do we go about it.

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