Keith Parsons and the Inherent Rottenness of Human Beings

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Several years ago, a blogger for The Secular Outpost name Keith Parsons wrote an article titled The Strongest Argument for Christianity. If you are unfamiliar with Keith Parsons, he is a very outspoken atheist who taught philosophy of religion for a number of years, and published several books on the subject. So unfriendly to Christianity is Parsons, that he reportedly had this to say about why he decided to stop teaching Philosophy of Religion (I say reportedly because the original post has been taken down and I can only find others quoting it):
I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there is a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it. I’ve turned the philosophy of religion courses over to a colleague.

He still writes extensively on the subject at the Secular Outpost blog and other mediums, even if he does not teach. He has written much against the arguments for Christianity, focusing especially on the historicity of the resurrection and the Gospels. I give such a lengthy introduction to this man, because with such an obvious disdain for the Christian faith, we should all be very interested to hear what he considers to be the strongest argument in defense of that faith. In the post linked above, he tells us very frankly that he considers the "inherent rottenness of human beings" to be the key:

The train of thought leading to this present essay was set in motion a couple of weeks ago when I was reading in the morning paper the debate before the Supreme Court concerning whether videos showing animals being killed or tortured could be suppressed or whether such restriction violates the first amendment free speech guarantees (I shall not take any position here on that question). The article said that one kind of “entertainment” they were trying to control was something called “crush videos.” Now, crush videos constitute one form of human depravity that I had never heard of, and I wish I still had not. According to the article, such videos feature women in high heels crushing tiny animals to death. I was nearly made violently ill by the idea that any creature biologically classifiable as Homo sapiens would derive pleasure, prurient pleasure, I assume, from watching whores stomp small, helpless animals to death. I really thought that by age 57 I had pretty much heard it all, but I had not.

Now maybe you regard cruelty to animals as deplorable, but just do not have the sort of visceral reaction I get to things like this. Maybe it is man’s inhumanity to man that really appalls you. Well, you don’t have to look far at all to find plenty of that. A friend and fellow WWII buff gave me a copy of Richard J. Evans’ outstanding The Third Reich at War. This is an excellent book that achieves the very rare combination of impeccable scholarship with page-turning readability. I could not read it however. I found it simply too disturbing. We hear so much about the Nazi’s big crimes, like Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, Babi Yar, etc., that we forget about their ordinary everyday atrocities. For instance, after the invasion of Poland (70 years ago last month), the Nazis began to enforce their policy of brutal racial oppression of the untermenschen, i.e., Jews and Slavs. Evans tells about an incident where a Polish peasant picked a fight with a German soldier and wounded him with a knife. In retaliation, the Germans killed everybody in the peasant’s village. However, it was only a small village, and so did not contain enough inhabitants to fill the quota of retaliatory murders that had been set. So, with Teutonic thoroughness, they stopped a passing train, pulled off enough passengers to meet the quota, and shot them on the spot. Such incidents were far from extraordinary. Indeed, they were quite mundane occurrences in Nazi-occupied territories, especially in the East.

A central, indispensable doctrine of Christianity has always been the inherent rottenness of human beings. More formally, this is the doctrine of original sin. Of course, the doctrine of original sin was originally construed by Augustine as a taint passed on biologically from parent to child, starting with Adam and Eve. As a theory of the genetics of sinfulness, the doctrine has always, understandably, elicited derisive howls from unbelievers. When removed from its pseudo-biological garb, however, the idea is quite profound. Augustine held that before the Fall, humans could choose either to sin or not sin. Since the Fall, we have lost the power to refrain from sin, and wallow in bondage to concupiscence, by which Augustine meant all evil desire, not merely the sexual sort. The Reformed tradition called the post-Fall human state one of “total depravity,” by which they did not mean that humans are incapable of any good, but that every aspect of human nature and human life has been infected by sin (see Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms, Macmillan, 1964). In other words, nothing human is pristine. No human relationship, institution, or activity is free of corruption, and quite a few are rife with it (e.g., politics, business, religion, and—Dare I say it?—academe). Further, the fallen state is not only a psychological or sociological phenomenon, but a metaphysical one, said Augustine. Put plainly, that means that there is nothing human effort or striving can do to correct the situation; there is no going back to Eden.

I have to give Parsons some credit at this point, despite disagreeing with most of what he has ever had to say on the subject of religion. That he can explain the doctrine of original sin so cogently shows that he has put more than a few hours into trying to actually understand what Christians believe. That being said, I am not sure that his examples are sufficient by themselves. Weird fetish videos and Nazi violence? Surely those are wrong, even despicable, but those are just isolated examples, the reader might say. I've never done anything like that, and I don't plan on it. But let's consider a few things. While Nazi Germany is only one society out of millions that have called this earth their home, the Third Reich constitutes an entire nation either taking part in, or standing by and watching, the systematic dehumanization and annihilation of a whole people group. If we were to think, even for just a second, that early 20th century Germans were somehow more susceptible to this kind of evil than the rest of us, we are committing the same error they committed against the Jewish people. It often takes a desperate situation to allow human depravity to manifest itself in such a visible way, but that doesn't mean the same sin isn't lurking below the surface in each and every one of us. Consider the less severe atrocity of internet pornography. It is estimated that 17% of all women, and 70% of men between the ages of 18 and 24 regularly visit pornographic websites. The average age at which a child first sees pornography is 11. When one understands that not only is this form of lust wrong in and of itself, but that many of the participants in such videos are children forced to do such things, it becomes even worse. And it isn't always an act of ignorance: 116,000 searches for "child pornography" are entered every single day.

Lest the reader still think he is an exception to these sins, consider the words of Jesus in the famous Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV) And on lust: You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28, ESV) For myself, it is obvious that even many of my good deeds are tainted with selfish motives, especially pride. I suspect that many others are this way too. But if any of this has failed to convince the reader that Scripture got it right, that human beings are depraved, I ask one last question: do you even stand up to your own moral standards?

I'll let Parson's words end this post, because once again, he puts it well:
So, the Christian depiction of the human condition seems to be spot-on. This is one thing Christianity gets exactly right. There is something deeply and seemingly irremediably wrong with us. We stain everything we touch. [...] So, chalk one big one up for Christianity.
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