Episode 3: Are People Inherently Good or Bad?
March 7, 2011

Living the Questions Podcast, Episode 3 (Are People Inherently Good or Bad?)

At their core, are people basically good or bad?

Play.  Or download nowSubscribe in iTunes.


The Devil and Miss Prym: A Novel of Temptation by Paolo Coelho.

YouTube video of Blue-Eyed/Brown-Eyed classroom experiment.  Jane Elliott teaches diversity in her third-grade classroom by saying blue eyes are superior to brown eyes.  She places restrictions on the brown-eyed children, and things deteriorate.  In this video, it’s 1984, and Ms. Elliot has gathered some of her former third-graders to watch the original video of the activity, from ABC News’ “Eye of the Storm.”

Jane Elliott’s site.

PBS “A Class Divided” website.

Episode Cover Art:

Chelsea by trublueboy at stock.xchng.

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  1. […] every Monday morning, I publish the Living the Questions podcast.  This morning the topic is: “Are People Inherently Good or Bad?” Always a topic that generates lots of discussion!  On the docket for next week?  ”Are You a […]

  2. f451
    Mar 08, 2011

    for all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

    …and I only have to compare the 10 commandments with my own life to figure out, yeeeah….I’m not such a good person.
    I CAN do good. But human nature is selfish.
    We always hear stories of some guy who committed a crime, killed someone ect, and his neighbors say, “he was such a nice guy”.
    We are ALL capable of committing heinous acts. We are all liars, thieves, and murderers. Anyone reading this go through the following ten commandments and ask yourself, “Have I ever broken any of these”?

    1. You shall have no other gods before Me. (what have you placed first in your life before God? Husband? Wife? Kids? Job? Material wealth?
    2. You shall not make yourself a carved image
    3. You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain. (Oh my God!) (Jesus Christ!)…it’s a name of power and people instinctively know it.
    4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
    5. Honor your father and mother
    6. You shall not murder (Jesus said -I John 3:15 – “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer)
    7. You shall not commit adultery (Jesus said – Matthew 5:28 Whoever looks on another person with lust in their heart has committed adultery in their heart)
    8. You shall not steal. (Have you ever stolen anything big or small?)
    9. You shall not bear false witness
    10. You shall not covet (I think we all have committed this one at one time or another)

    I read a story of a professor back in the day trying to make a point. When a man steals a horse, at what point does he become a horse thief?
    Some students said when he commits the act. The real answer is he was a horse thief to begin with. So are we.

    God did create us in his own image however when sin entered the world we now need his grace and forgivness to reestablish a relationship with Him.
    I see everyone creating God in their own image. Making Him whatever they want him to be. How did this get so twisted?
    People say God is only love. God would never condemn a person. God doesn’t have any rules for life. God accepts all lifestyles.
    We need to go back and study to see who God really is. By doing so it will expose our own depravity and our absolute need for a Saviour.

    The solution?
    John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him, should not persh but have everlasting life.”

    But theres other religions too right? I mean Oprah said there was many paths to God. You be the judge.
    John 14:6 – I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by me.
    Matthew 7:13-14 – Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter it.
    But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

    This is something I will never understand. God said the majority of people will perish.
    If all this is a lie, then Jesus gave his life for nothing and it was only a self righteous suicide. Also makes him a liar or a lunatic.

    I think Jesus made it clear we are all inherently evil, and as a result, he was born to take on that sin. All of it. For our atonement.

    Then again if you don’t believe in God, the former makes more sense than a monkey chattering in a zoo.

  3. Elissa
    Mar 08, 2011

    Yes, this is one version, and I say that in the nicest possible way. You say, “I see everyone creating God in their own image. Making Him whatever they want him to be. How did this get so twisted?” Might I offer up another way to look at it?

    Just as you and I may know the SAME person, we both might react in different ways to that person, depending on how we’ve been treated by that person, what circumstances we’ve been in with that person. You might like that person; I might dislike that person. God is the same, in that we both have different experiences of him. How can we not? So, you’re an avid fan of God; there are others who are struggling. And I don’t think they’re “sinning” by struggling. They’re doing what comes naturally, in trying to make sense of things. We must give others the space to do so. I think that’s important.

    We both know what is said in scripture, but you have to remember those texts were written by men with personal political and religious motives (despite the fact we also both know that the scriptures claim divine inspiration). If you read the Bible or Torah as historical text, then you’ll have mistakes and such within. So, I’ll ask you a question back. How do you know God or Jesus actually said those words? Simply because the texts say so? Because it rings true to you? Because it’s been your experience? There’s no proof either way, so your word is as good as mine in that regard, if you know what I mean. And again, there’s no antagonism here…I hope you know that.

    You have to remember there are many people who don’t see the “sense” of what you’re saying. Why would Jesus come to save 5% of the population (if that’s how many “fit” into your category, which is most Protestants, maybe a few Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians)? And I understand the free will argument…

    Another way of putting it is: would you throw your own son or daughter into an eternal fiery furnace if they disobeyed? In essence, that’s what we’re saying. Imagine: “Johnny, if you choose a life of evil, if you don’t love me, you will forever suffer in a fiery furnace. Nothing I can do about it, because it was your choice.” So, Johnny goes off to his black sheep ways, and one day you have to make that decision. So, you do. You throw your own son into the furnace BECAUSE HE MADE THE CHOICE, not you. You wipe your hands of the responsibility, because it wasn’t YOUR fault. To a lot of people, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Where is the forgiveness DESPITE the wrongdoing? Why would God do that?

    You see where I’m going, or maybe you don’t. I have no problem conceding that Jesus probably lived. But did he actually say those words? Did he actually say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father is through me?” Or were those words of a scribe who wanted a new way, a revolutionary way?

    Just questions to think about. Note: we’re not going for a change of opinion here in these discussions, simply asking new questions, so we can think of the other person’s side…

    Thanks so much for contributing…I love these discussions…

  4. f451
    Mar 08, 2011

    Why would Jesus come to save 5% of the population?
    I believe he would have come if I was the only person living on the planet.

    I mean we can question God all we want. We can shake our fists at Him, yell at Him, disagree with Him. Won’t change who He is.
    And a lot of people will refuse to follow a God that is not molded into their expectations.

    • Elissa
      Mar 08, 2011

      But how do you know who God is? You know by what others tell you (scriptures, sermons, books). You know by how you experience him. You know by how your brain processes things. It doesn’t make him true. In fact, many would say we’ve made him up to fill in the spaces we don’t understand.

      You know him a certain way. You expect to see him a certain way. Others don’t see him that way at all. That’s the only point I’m making…

  5. f451
    Mar 08, 2011

    so you’re saying you’re going to cross your fingers, die, and hope for the best…
    that’s what it sounds like.
    if so it seems like a pretty hopeless and fearful way to go, in my opinion.

  6. Elissa
    Mar 09, 2011

    No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m not afraid to die, if that’s what you’re asking, and I’m not afraid if there’s nothing more to this life (meaning that I could simply rot in the ground, and I’d be okay with that). None of that scares me. I’m not hoping for anything, except to be able to understand this life (the life I’ve been given) better. I don’t feel hopeless or sad or any of those things. I simply don’t know, for sure, that my faith should be the way it was laid out for me as a child. I think the world is much broader than that.

  7. f451
    Mar 09, 2011

    “Another way of putting it is: would you throw your own son or daughter into an eternal fiery furnace if they disobeyed? In essence, that’s what we’re saying. Imagine: “Johnny, if you choose a life of evil, if you don’t love me, you will forever suffer in a fiery furnace. Nothing I can do about it, because it was your choice.” So, Johnny goes off to his black sheep ways, and one day you have to make that decision. So, you do. You throw your own son into the furnace BECAUSE HE MADE THE CHOICE, not you. You wipe your hands of the responsibility, because it wasn’t YOUR fault. To a lot of people, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Where is the forgiveness DESPITE the wrongdoing? Why would God do that?”

    Because God is good and God is just. In fact he did make his only Son Jesus, die on the cross. Jesus prayed fervently that he wouldn’t have to go through with it. But it was God’s will that he did.
    Who says we have to understand God? God said, “you are all unrighteousness. But look what I did, I sacrificed my own son for you.”
    Because you are mad at God or don’t understand God you won’t follow him?

    Only by the Holy Spirit will you see and understand God. Without it, such things are nonsense. Yes this is one view. It is by faith I believe.
    There is but ONE truth out there. There cannot be multiple truths.

    Only one of us is right or all of us are wrong. Now you can believe that without a doubt.

    • Elissa
      Mar 09, 2011

      Hmmm, I don’t know how to discuss this when you already are convinced of ONE way. Let’s just say there can be no open discussion when you’re convinced you’re right, and you’re trying to convince me. Shall we say that and call it quits? When you’re able to at least see that there are millions of people who feel differently and think differently and are willing to be open to hearing what they have to say, then you’ll be able to lovingly discuss these issues. Until then, I’m afraid we’re not doing anything here…

      I never said I’m mad at God, nor did I say I don’t follow him. I’m just not sure right now. And that’s a valid place to be for me, because life is a journey. I can’t be as certain and dogmatic as you. I’m not built that way. My life is a PROCESS…this is where I’m at right now. Hopefully, you can give me that space in which to explore…

  8. f451
    Mar 10, 2011

    I think you might be right. Your blog is for people who are questioning and searching. I’m not 🙂
    I think I am lovingly discussing the issues from the side of my opinion and belief. Please don’t mistake it for a barrage of hate.

    As you journey, appeal to your conscience. Think critically, not emotionally. And I wish you nothing but the best.

  9. […] 1: Seeing Things Differently Episode 2: Changing Your Mind Episode 3: Are People Inherently Good or Bad? Episode 4: Are You Trustworthy? Episode 5: When Do You Feel Most Alive? Episode 6: Are You Average […]

  10. […] you have it.  The whole shebang raises the same question I raised in my podcast “Are People Inherently Good or Bad?” What you believe is worthy of discussion, because it colors how you see (and live in) the […]

  11. Heidi Saufferer
    Jun 06, 2011

    Elissa, You pose a question here I’ve been grappling with in one specific situation. We had made a new friend, I think… He was one of the sub contractors on our new home construction. Things were going well, such a nice guy. He connected us with other subcontractors who helped us out of a tough spot. Then ironically, our friend very nearly got us into our latest tough spot. It wasn’t until Chad threatened to cancel our contract that he did fulfill his obligations. Despite his earlier promises to do so.

    So it’s left me with the question – is this guy friend or not? Good or not? What do we do with this relationship? I find it’s difficult to answer that – as he had put us off to fulfill a larger job, therefore providing for his family. I’m not sure I can blame him there. I can’t expect him to put our interests above those of his family. But I can’t help but wish for better behavior from him. So is he good or not? It seems a bit to black and white to me. I see this new ‘friend’ as someone that I can’t completely trust. Time will tell.

    Perhaps that’s part of all of this. We want to define people as good or evil, friend or foe. So we know if we can trust them. But, I think the reality is more complex than that. Good decisions vs bad decisions, self preservation and priorities we place on people in our lives. (i.e. putting your child’s interests above a stranger’s) all plays a role. It’s all very grey isn’t it?

    If God’s judging our judgement, I don’t envy his work. I don’t have a fraction of the wisdom to figure it out. I do fear that if he wanted to judge us harshly, he’d have ample evidence to back that up – for any one of us. After all, anyone who denied a starving child food when he had plenty would be evil right? Yet here we are, with plenty – and people die every day. By that logic we’re all evil, if we have more than another. It’s not that simple is it?

    As for me, are people inherently good or bad? I think they’re good – but there are factors, so many factors that can make them look bad. If only it were really possible to walk a mile in another’s moccasins.

    For me, it’s more about the kind of world I want to live in. A friendly one or a hostile one. I prefer friendly, so I look for the good. I try to remember, I’m not so great as to judge much of anything in anyone else’s life.

  12. Elissa
    Jun 06, 2011

    Oh yes, Heidi, it’s a complicated question, hence the reason I asked it. I think there’s good and bad in all of us, as you mentioned. That’s the whole point of Coelho’s novel I mentioned in the podcast.

    Perhaps your friend is mostly good, but he’s not trustworthy or honorable, in that he didn’t follow through with what he said he would do. Therefore, that would cause you to trust his word less, and eventually affect your relationship with him, and rightly so. That’s how relationships either survive or die.

    And you’re absolutely right on our tendency to judge others. It’s not our place. We don’t know the full story. That said, though, we can learn who’s trustworthy or not (so we don’t fall prey to his or her dishonesty again…if that’s what it is).

    Such wonderful thoughts, Heidi. Thanks for sharing…

  13. Heidi Saufferer
    Jun 06, 2011

    Thanks Elissa, It is way so complicated! I think you touched on an important point. No one wants to feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. That’s the thing with our new friend, sometimes especially if when someone seems so nice. In a situation like that, someone so nice then fails us, it makes me wonder, have I been scammed? Was this guy playing me? Which of course, makes me feel a bit hurt and defensive.

    On the other side – fear can make you do dishonest things. If you feared a famine, you’d stock pile food. If you had no money for the food, it’s pretty likely that you might take some… At least I would – if I thought my kids would go hungry without it and thought it could be spared by my victim. If we lived in a world with no scarcity – then it would be pretty silly to take an apple from a cart. Of course, if there were no scarcity, I’m not sure anyone would mind anyway. So I kind of think my friend is reacting to suddenly having many jobs. When we first meet, he had none. He’s trying to stock pile work, and maybe not making kind, honest decisions for it.

    Makes me think – why if God controls everything. And fear can drive good honest people to sin. Why did he create a world with scarcity and fear? There’s lots of answers to that question I guess 🙂

    • Elissa
      Jun 07, 2011

      So, I’ll ask this question, because it’s worth thinking about…

      What if God DOESN’T control everything, meaning, if he exists, what if he expects US to “fix” problems? I’ll give an example. We used to play an “I Spy” sort of game when we were kids. If we found a good parking spot, God was looking out for us, and we’d say, “I Spy.” Now think of the Holocaust, in which God didn’t intervene (that we know of), except through lovely people who helped the downtrodden. Ask yourself the next question: What kind of God provides a parking space but not protection from the Nazis? That’s not a just or kind God. So what if we’ve placed all these erroneous beliefs on him? Maybe that’s our responsibility not his. Does that make sense?

      I remember hearing once that whenever disaster strikes, the first thing we ask is, “Why did this happen? Where is God? What will he do about it?” when we should be asking, “What will WE do about it?”

      If we all shared properly, and if there were no hoarding—you’re absolutely right on this!—I think we all might have just enough, but since we’re selfish, and looking out for Numero Uno, we create poverty, we create discrepancies.

      I long for a kind world, too, but I realize, as you mentioned in your first comment, that I have to practice kindness first.

  14. […] 1: Seeing Things Differently Episode 2: Changing Your Mind Episode 3: Are People Inherently Good or Bad? Episode 4: Are You Trustworthy? Episode 5: When Do You Feel Most Alive? Episode 6: Are You […]

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