Needful Things

A while back, I was having dinner with a woman and we were talking about the Biblical view of the world.  During this conversation, she expressed her belief that human beings were inherently good.  “The only time people do evil things”, she explained, “is when their needs aren’t being met.”  This is probably the most common error that I come across when I examine the beliefs of other people.  Bernie Sanders and the Democrats make this error when they suggest that climate change is responsible for global terrorism.  Marie Harf made this error when she famously suggested that the United States should focus on finding “jobs for jihadis” in the fight against ISIS.  Let us consider the idea that human beings are good and only do evil when their needs are not met.

The fundamental problem with the idea that unmet needs justify bad behaviour is that it is functionally equivalent to having no morality whatsoever.   The primary problem is one of definition.  What is a need and who decides how much of a need justifies certain behaviour?  Food is certainly a need.  Am I a good person if, because I haven’t eaten for a few hours, I slaughter and devour a toddler?  What about if I wait a whole day?  How many hours do I have to wait before I am justified in killing and eating a toddler?   Is 48 hours enough?  72?  96?  To me it is obvious that there is no time before which it is unacceptable to kill and eat a toddler and after which it is acceptable.  Faced with a situation where the choice is between killing and eating a toddler and dying of starvation, the only choice that a person who wishes to consider himself a good human being has is to die of starvation.

Now some people would argue that this is an extreme situation and that it is extremely rare for human beings to commit such a heinous act.  When I consider the issue of abortion, however, and the fact that more than 50 million children have been aborted in the United States since the Roe vs Wade decision, I am not so sure.  According to the research that I have seen, the vast number of these abortions were not performed to avoid some horrible health consequence or recover from a violent rape, but to avoid economic hardship much less severe than starvation.  Does the need for a prosperous American, middle-class lifestyle justify infanticide?  Liberals get away from this contradiction through the power of definition and define human life as beginning at birth.  The fact that they would balk if you justified slavery in the American South or the Holocaust by saying that blacks or Jews are not human, however, demonstrates that they know deep down that they are wrong.

To me it is clear that this is all a manifestation of what Christians call “Spiritual Warfare”.  “Human beings are good and only do evil when their needs are not met” is the rallying cry of created beings in their war against God.  “We don’t need your help to be good!  We are just fine on our own!  We would never do anything evil if you met our basic needs!”  In this way, human beings blame God for our own evil and reject our need of a Saviour.  It is similar to the very first excuse that was ever made for sin.  “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”  (Genesis 3:12)

As I consider these issues,it is clear that true love is vastly more than just behaving well in a situation where all of our needs are met.  True love requires self-sacrifice, patience, self-control and treating others well regardless of our external circumstances.  Jesus demonstrates this kind of love on the cross when he says, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)   I wish to have this kind of goodness, not the kind of goodness that would allow me to justify eating a toddler if I was hungry.  It may sound harsh, but I don’t really have any respect for someone who is satisfied with circumstantially dependent morality.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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