On my run this morning I was listening to a variety of Broadway show songs. The fourth song that popped up was “No One Mourns the Wicked” from Wicked. In the song Glinda, the good witch, after everyone sees and rejoices that the wicked witch is dead, asks this question: “Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?” The resulting musical production provides answers to those questions in a fun and lovely way.
Philosopher John Locke gave us “tabula rasa” – blank slate – to frame up his theory that “nurture” and environment is the key influencing factor over a human being, who they are, what they learn, and their moral compass. John B. Watson said the following in furtherance of the nurture point of view, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” Plato and Descartes were philosophers that argued that nature determined who a person would be – that genetic factors were the key. Studies of twins have shown evidence that genetics do play a huge role in many characteristics of individuals.
Most thinkers and scientists today see a role for both nature and nurture. Emilie Buchwald, children’s stories author, says this: “A child is born with the potential ability to learn Chinese or Swahili, play a kazoo, climb a tree, make a strudel or a birdhouse, take pleasure in finding the coordinates of a star. Genetic inheritance determines a child’s abilities and weaknesses. But those who raise a child call forth from that matrix the traits and talents they consider important.”
When we talk about religion, morality, and faith, there also tends to be a nature versus nurture debate. There is the concept of original sin in most traditional forms of Christianity. In contrast, others would say a child is not born evil but learns evil from the world in which they live. In modern society, for many, the concept of sin, let alone original sin, is seen as antiquated and unhelpful. Because it would seem the argument over how human morality goes awry can distract us from what really matters, I began to question whether the ultimate conclusion to the problem or nature versus nature really impacts our search for love and truth.
Here is what I mean. Let’s say the modern cynic who says original sin is outdated and improbable is correct. As a result, if a bent nature is not simply a part of human nature with which we are born, then one must look at any unloving action, word, or decision as being made as a result of being taught by others who made similar unloving actions, words, or decisions. In other words, all of the “evil” in the world is taught and caught, not an inherent part of anyone.
If that is the case, then the opposite would also be true. To make good, loving, kind decisions, and to speak encouraging words, one must be taught how to do it. The problem with this in the big picture then is who is the ideal teacher? To whom should we look to learn how to love perfectly, consistently and eternally? It would seem that no matter where we look, there is no one who can be the perfect example of Love in every area of life and character…. except Jesus.
As to the other side of the debate, if original sin is a true concept, then regardless of what we are taught or do throughout our lives, we are inherently bent and broken and need someone to fix us so that we can love perfectly. The only One who has ever demonstrated any ability to heal completely anyone of their human nature is the One who lived a human life perfectly, again Jesus.
So, regardless of where you come out in this debate, the only appropriate plumbline and Savior for all of humanity is Jesus Christ. If you have ever fallen short of perfect Love, and all have, whether one says it is from conception or something done along the journey of life, then you need to look to the one who lived Love perfectly as your example, as your teacher, and as your Savior. You cannot fix yourself; he alone can. Most importantly, if you are letting the debate distract you from being able to see Jesus more clearly, love others more dearly, and to experience His grace gift of salvation, faith, love, and life more nearly, then it’s time to lay down the theology and to take up Jesus. He really is all you need.