I was talking with a professional counselor recently and he confirmed something I had heard. Modern psychology believes in the inherent goodness of man. From Freud to Jung to Rogers, from B.F. Skinner to Abraham Maslow to Eric Fromm to Scott Peck, virtually every one of these famous men of the social sciences takes the position that there are no bad natural inclinations. They believe that human intelligence together with enlightened social engineering is capable of creating a good peaceful society.
What I find interesting is the number of prominent people who at one time believed this, but eventually changed their minds.
Leonardo da Vinci lived most of his life optimistically believing in the nobility of every man. He was convinced that man on his own terms, given his native ability, could solve every problem he faced and ultimately was capable of bringing forth an ideal community. He had complete faith in the ability of man to achieve harmony. However, as time went by, Leonardo finally recognized that there was a division between his theory and the way people actually lived their lives. When Francis I, King of France, brought him to the French court, Leonardo was despondent. He lived out the last years of his life completely dejected over the condition of man and the hopelessness of the future of mankind.
The English historian Arnold Toynbee, in his book Experiences, relates the story of his family’s beliefs and expectations at the turn of the twentieth century. He had a brilliant uncle, who as a scientist and a recognized genius in his field was wildly optimistic about the future. This uncle was convinced that a golden utopian age would soon be ushered in by the advances of science. On the other hand, Toynbee’s father, a social worker, was quietly and soberly restrained in his optimism of the future of mankind. At the time, the young, impressionable Toynbee became engaged in his uncle’s optimistic outlook, and found his father to be too somber and pessimistic. However, after many years of study and experience, Toynbee concluded that his uncle had in fact been naïve and that his father’s assessment was absolutely correct.
H.G. Wells was another twentieth century thinker who as a young intellectual believed in the perfectibility of man and society. In 1920, he published an extraordinarily ambitious work, Outline of History, which also served as his unabashed declaration of idealism. Each page conveyed an unshakeable faith in progress and a conviction of complete optimism for the future. However, a mere thirteen years later, in his book The Shape of Things to Come, Wells had clearly shifted perspectives; now, his writing, rather than being optimistic, related the stubbornness and selfishness of people and governments. So radically altered was his consciousness that he even went so far as to maintain that the only solution for mankind was for the intellectual elite (which included himself, of course) to take control of the entire world, forcibly changing people’s lives through compulsory education. Twelve years later, in 1945, just shortly before his death, he completed his final work, The Mind at the End of Its Tether. In it, he concluded that “there is no way out, or around, or through the impasse . . . ,” there is no hope for mankind.
Even Freud found his belief in the goodness of man to be false. After a lifetime of seeking to improve men, he acknowledged “I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash . . .”
The Judeo-Christian concept of history holds that society, reflected in human nature, was, is, and shall remain imperfect and flawed. There was never a Golden Age of morality in western culture or indeed in any culture at any time in history. There never has been and never will be a time when all elements of society and culture can be engineered by human knowledge or human effort to work in complete, utopian harmony.
I believe the great intellectual Malcolm Muggeridge has articulated this truth better than anyone when he said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
This is why many modern people look at the future as being hopeless.
But God does not leave us without hope. He sent us His son, not just to teach us to live good lives, but to transform us. To give us new hearts. The prophet Ezekiel describes what God desires to do in our lives:
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36: 26-27)
You can see that Ezekiel is not talking about religion. The religious attempt to do good in order to win God’s love and approval; for them, is all about the externals. True Christianity focuses on the internal. It is all about the life of God, working in the hearts of men.
This is the world’s only true hope. As the Apostle Paul put it, “It is Christ working in you, and this is the hope of Glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.