Friday 5 November 2010

Babies bushwack Barth

At the risk of oversimplifying, Karl Barth and his disciples maintained that humankind is basically bad to the bone. Admittedly Barth was writing at a dark time in history, but his pessimistic assessment of humanity has hardly improved matters, then or now.

Neo-orthodoxy holds than [humanity] is self-centered and therefore tyrannical, bent on destroying others, even at the risk of self-destruction. [Humanity] is evil.
Mayer, The Religious Bodies of America, 1961.

This cold, Calvinist creed is convivial to those who view the human enterprise with a jaundiced eye, but how would you demonstrate that it is horribly flawed? Isn't it just a matter of perspective or opinion? The Barthians would say no, it's a matter of 'revelation.' Which is a convenient ruse, for it puts the whole question safely outside the realm of rational debate.

And naturally, 'revelation' - "supranatural truth" - takes on a distinctly Reformed flavour for Reformed writers. If the logic isn't circular, then it's certainly curved in on itself.

Enter Paul Bloom, a developmental psychologist who has been studying how small children judge right and wrong. His article, That warm fuzzy feeling, appeared in the October 15 edition of New Scientist.

When babies hear crying, they cry, and if they see someone suffer, even silently, they become distressed. As soon as they can move, babies will try to help. They'll stroke the person, or hand over a toy or bottle.

Bloom investigated further using a set of short plays with puppets.

In one, a character would struggle to get up a hill. One puppet would help him; another would push him down. We then presented each baby with the two puppets. Even those as young as 6 months old tended to reach for the "good guy", suggesting that this is who they prefer. We also created plays in which one puppet does neither good nor bad, and we found that babies reach for a good guy over a neutral guy, but would rather reach for a neutral than a bad guy.

The kindness of babies suggests that we as a species are not bad to the bone after all, whatever Augustine, Calvin or Barth might have thought. Most of us knew that anyway. Evil does exist, people can behave selfishly and maliciously, humans are indeed corruptable, but this is hardly our essential nature.


  1. ~~Christ Myth Theory~~6 November 2010 at 03:34

    [from link]
    "Lester L Grabbe - References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources"

    Can't wait to see former Herbie Hack's hackneyed defense of the Testimonium Flavianum

  2. Two points on nature vs. nurture:

    1. Cain killed Abel.

    2. Banned by HWA!

  3. I have met too many really good people to think that humanity is inherently bad.

    And, the "Banned by HWA" pictures does not demonstrate that 2 billion people are to blame for what a few politically motivated fundie Muslim zealots did.

    Otherwise, we could blame 2 billion Christians for what a bunch of pedophile Catholic priests have done.

    All that crime demonstrates is that there are some really bad people in the world - it doesn't demonstrate that everyone is just like that.

    Cain may have killed Abel but there ya go - it was all over a difference in religious practices.

    Truth is, though, men really don't inherently tend to kill their own brothers out here in the world of reality.

  4. This is an example illustrating that even spiritual generalities are not necessarily universal. I know, as an example, now that some of these characteristics have been overcome and there is better perspective, that I was born with a raging spirit, and that I often behaved in a mean-spirited way. However, I have a brother who was born with a more docile spirit, and has always behaved altruistically towards his fellow human beings.

    I believe that there are infinite permutations, but that not all humans are capable of, or possess all of the aspects of those permutations simultaneously.

    I also believe that all of us, no matter our natural proclivities, have room for improvement. As figurative physicians, we simply cannot heal ourselves 100% effectively. Basically, each day is an adventure, a series of lessons. Hopefully, we learn to walk with our maker, and over time, even to dance with Him.


  5. Interesting study. I had heard about this before. It suggests to me that humans are not innately selfish or cruel, and that external influences are at work.

  6. Banned by HWA! wasn't intended to show collective guilt on the part of anybody, but probably does show a thin veneer to an allegedly civilized society.

    Well, there were 16,204 murders in the U.S. alone just last year, more than one per day. These people must have been having a bad day. Aren't you glad you weren't one of them?

    Perhaps you would like to fire all the police in the world for a few months and see what happens. It's not Mayberry any longer.

    I am sure you would agree there are many ways of looking at the story of Cain murdering Abel.

    It doesn't take too much of a stretch to argue it was premeditated murder, caused by thoughts of anger, jealousy, and pride coming out of the hearts of men. There are degrees of evil. Obviously, the unjustified taking of a life, or premeditated murder,including these eighty who were beheaded and the infant in front of her parents is high up on the list.

    But people are people, and their hearts vary.

    I also want to believe the best of people and that humanity tends to be of an inherently good nature.

  7. Most Buddhists talk about all of us having an essentially pure nature. But I don't think many, except the theologically stubborn, actually believe that.

  8. "And, the "Banned by HWA" pictures does not demonstrate that 2 billion people are to blame for what a few politically motivated fundie Muslim zealots did."

    Thank you, you mind going over there and saying that? I got told off for my "anti-christian BS(he didn't abbreviate it)" for saying that....

  9. PH, I gave up on arguing with the wingnuts - just my own anti-Christian bias, I suppose.

    If you haven't noticed, my blog isn't mentioned on any of the ex-wcg sites except yours.

    By the way, the PT forum is back on after Kscribe closed it. Kscribe is not back - just the forum. Oh well, I haven't seen that announced either.

    I do have somewhat to say to the ex-wcg wingnuts but I'll save it for another time.

  10. Corky,

    What amazes me is the logical inconsistency which is often spawned by anti-Christian bias. I say if you hate religion, or consider it to be mere superstition, then treat it all as such, not just Christianity. That also means to quit taking it as a personal affront that some people are believers, and quit trying to link belief status with IQ. Why should these things even be an issue for the non-believer? You guys should probably agree with St. Paul when he states that we know idols are nothing, excepting that your own practical application is probably a bit wider than Paul's.

    This is one of the reasons why I've been saying for so many years that WCG atheists are a vastly different group from atheists whose study of science or philosophy has lead them to non-belief.

    I believe your pure atheist would laugh at the anti-Christians who will come to the defense of Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, Moonies, etc, to make their anti-Christian points. To the pure atheist, it is all the same....primitivism, and raw superstition. Leave it to the WCG atheist to reserve use of his or her new Randian skills exclusively for attacks against Christianity!

    Many of the WCG atheists whom I've encountered claim to being propelled by their superior intellect along some sort of evidentiary trail, yet in reality have simply not neutralized their extreme anger which has resulted from their own subjective experiences at the hands of some relatively insignificant false teachers.

    Having said all of that, I really do totally understand the state of mind. It's all part of the process, and we are all at different stages of development.


  11. Bob, you're babbling again. You do that when you pretend to know what motivates ex-Christo atheists to deride and debunk Christianity.

    If it is exclusively for Christianity it's because Christianity is the familiar religion in America.

    You shouldn't judge atheists as being atheists because of "extreme anger" at some "insignificant false teachers". While that may have been true in your case, it's not my reasons for being atheist at all. I base mine on geology, archeology, anthropology, evolution and common sense.

    However, Christianity is not the only superstition that I don't believe in. In fact, I don't believe in any supernatural stuff, not even witches or lucky charms.

  12. Corky,

    Hey, Dude. I never complain when you babble. One man's scattology is anothers eschatology. That's just the way things are.

    If those autobiographical details your provided are all accurate, you may be quite an exceptional person.

    I travelled in the same circle amongst the non-believers for many years, and there are probably as many reasons for non-belief as there are non-believers. Not all of it relates to anger, or the angst which results from being conned, although one can also certainly see where this could be quite the overriding factor in terms of post-WCG non-belief.

    This will probably never be a topic about which it is possible to maintain neutrality amongst those of us impacted by the Armstrong problem.