From my life in the evangelical world, I have always been taught about the inherent evil of mankind. The illustration I have both heard and stated often is “You don’t have to teach a child to do wrong, he/she knows how to do wrong, you have to teach a child to do good.” The illustration sounds simple and straightforward, but a part of me has always wondered if it is really true. Is mankind inherently evil?
I am intrigued and fascinated by my readings on the Eastern Orthodox belief in the image and likeness of mankind. According to the Orthodox tradition, we are created in the image of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, but we may not necessarily be like the Triune God in our behavior.
The more I study church tradition, the less I agree with the statement about teaching a child good. I have watched children and people and have found inclinations in most every person of the capability of good, perhaps even without even had been taught good.
Perhaps the statement on a child must be taken into context. I believe it comes from Revivalism in the 1700-1800s that in turn came from the Reformed Calvinist concepts of the depravity of mankind. To clarify the statement, it would only apply to good as it pertains to mankind’s ability to achieve salvation.
To clearly teach the statement in context, then, we would need to clarify that since we are created in the image of the Triune God, we are still capable of good, but not capable of good that leads to salvation.
But, back to the Orthodox beliefs, they do not make the separation between salvation and works that flows from the Protestant traditions. This seems to me a mystery. In my own view of the world, I see both good and evil, even in those who make no claim to a belief in God. Perhaps even those who do not profess a belief in God are still capable of good, as they are still created in the image of God. But, they are not capable of good leading to salvation.