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Are humans fundamentally evil?

The short answer is no.

This is the difference between Catholicism's traditional understanding of the person, and many Protestant denominations. Catholics believe man is deprived, whereas many Protestants believe we are depraved/evil.

However, to believe the human person is evil, you must claim evil has substance, i.e., our humanity. But all substance is created and sourced by God, from which no evil can be found. Catholics thus believe evil is a privation of perfect goodness. Evil is similar to darkness in that darkness is the absence of light. Evil then is only found in the created order in it’s departure from God’s good purpose.

Catholics believe everything is inherently good, but may become evil if misused. The misconception about the nature of things leads to wrong attitudes about man. We have the one extreme that man is evil and can do no good. On the other extreme, we have that man is good and can do no evil. Both have implications on how we view the person and how we are to find true fulfillment and happiness.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church :

405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

There are many passages that, when quoted, may seem to speak to man’s “total depravity,” but the passages actually confirm the Catholic understanding of the person in that we are inclined towards evil, as pointed out above. It is an inclination, though, not complete depravity.

The implication that man is totally depraved leads to the notion that all our aspirations and desires should be suspect to evil underpinnings or evil motives in one’s subconscience. It is not that we aspire to a good that we can have in a better way, if not in a better world when properly ordered. “Catholic anthropology insists that sin did not trump our “very good” creation. Hence John Paul maintains that the heritage of the human heart “is deeper than the sinfulness inherited” (West, p. 200). Catholic therapists can see this good and appeal to the heritage and longings of the heart by fostering the virtues. On the other extreme, you have people who insist that there is no such thing as evil; we are not only, not depraved, we are not deprived. The Existential-Humanistic theories are guilty of this. The Existential-Humanist did good in paving the way out of the behaviorist perspective where everything is determined by neurons and chemical reaction to stimuli and towards viewing the person with dignity and respect capable of real change. But they put far too much emphasis on the person as the center of all that is good. This has lead to a culture of narcissism where all that matters is you and your own created values. Therapist of this persuasion listen to their clients “without prejudice” and contribute to their client’s unhappiness because they fail to understand or acknowledge that happiness is only to be had in accord with the virtues. It is not simply a matter that they fail to do what is right for the client in denying the virtues and the universal good (we cannot force anyone to do anything as we must respect their complete autonomy), they fail to help the client understand it is the good that they actually desire, so they can begin to move themselves towards fulfillment. When you start from a false anthropology of the person, you cannot help a person move beyond the particular goods in which the appetites are concerned to the universal good in which the whole person is concerned. Very often, they deny this universal good even exist and know not that this is what the person is in pursuit of or how to even begin to order the appetites and particular goods to these universal goods.

How then can they help the client find the happiness they desire?

I'll end with a quote by G.K. Chesterton:

“If we talk of a certain thing being an aspect of truth, it is evident that we claim to know what is truth; just as, if we talk of the hind leg of a dog, we claim to know what is a dog. Unfortunately, the philosopher who talks about aspects of truth generally also asks, “What is truth?” Frequently even he denies the existence of truth, or says it is inconceivable by the human intelligence. How, then, can he recognize its aspects? I should not like to be an artist who brought an architectural sketch to a builder, saying, “This is the south aspect of Sea-View Cottage. Sea-View Cottage, of course, does not exist.”...Of course, it is perfectly obvious that there are truths in Kipling, that there are truths in Shaw or Wells. But the degree to which we can perceive them depends strictly upon how far we have a definite conception inside us of what is truth. It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.”

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