September 2005: When the category-four winds and resulting floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina struck America’s Gulf Coast region, homes, towns and cities were devastated—in many cases, blotted out!—affecting the lives of millions.
Horrific stories of widespread panic, chaos and despair in the streets of New Orleans were broadcast day and night by the national press. Accounts of citywide murder, shootings, rape, carjackings, looting, police corruption and scores of the elderly being left behind to die were published around the world.
How could a city descend into mass anarchy—and so quickly? And how could this happen in the United States of America—the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of mankind?
Once the federal and state governments finally brought aid relief and security to New Orleans, the validity of these stories came under fire. The New Orleans Police Department and much of the news media now believe that these accounts were vastly overblown and largely based on unsubstantiated rumors. However, many witnesses still stand by their claims. Perhaps the full truth will never be known.
In any case, some from foreign lands maintain that such violent acts of human nature and lawlessness could never take place in their countries. Yet, a brief look at the “civilized” nations around the world paints a different picture:
In Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city, ongoing contentions between blacks and Asians have exploded into murder and rioting. Mass rioting has also struck France, where Muslim youths are protesting police presence, randomly destroying vehicles and local businesses. European soccer fans (called “hooligans”) are notorious for rioting when they are dissatisfied with the outcome of a match. Denmark and other European nations struggle to subdue child pornographers, who selfishly strive to fulfill their lusts at the expense of destroying the lives of young children. China is notorious for violating human rights and sanctioning mass abortions of infant girls. Japan drowns in sexual crimes and perversion. According to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, 350 gang rapes were reported during the first nine months of 2004. Australia has also been plagued by this sickening crime. Islamic regimes almost routinely torture and abuse women in the name of religion, and violently murder their own countrymen and foreigners alike in their lust for power.
Civilization today pictures a humanity that takes to itself whatever it wants—and is willing to hurt others in unimaginable ways just to satisfy lusts. Clearly, human nature—with its selfishness, violence and brutality—plagues mankind. And it particularly rears its ugly head when people are under extreme duress.
Sprinkled among the barrage of daily news stories exposing the excesses of humanity are accounts of people performing incredible acts of kindness. Every year during Thanksgiving and Christmas, many volunteer their time to serve in soup kitchens that feed the poor and homeless. Numerous Hollywood and music celebrities use their fame to hold benefits that draw a flood of donations. The wealthy donate huge amounts of money to charities, relief funds and other projects created with good intentions.
For example, computer entrepreneur and multibillionaire Bill Gates recently announced that his charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will allot another $258.3 million in grants toward funding malaria vaccine research.
Most Americans view themselves as being kind and generous. When disasters strike, such as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean or the earthquake that hit Pakistan, many are quick to open their wallets and give. This is why charitable donations in the U.S. ranked fourth in spending categories.
Canada is also generous in giving to those in need. In 2004, Canadians gave a record $6.9 billion to charity, up 6.3% from 2003 (Statistics Canada).
HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, is making donation-giving easier. The financial institution is enabling its nearly nine million customers to make charitable contributions through its 2,900 cash machines throughout the United Kingdom. This follows the launch of a similar service involving HSBC cash machines in Mexico, which has generated more than 710,000 customer donations per month.
Many around the world support (through money and volunteering) non-profit organizations that aim to clean up the environment, protect animals, remove landmines, educate the illiterate, among other noble efforts.
Yet, despite all his sincere motives, notice how the God of the Bible views man’s efforts: “…every man at his best state is altogether vanity…Surely every man walks in a vain show” (Psa. 39:5-6). Despite all the sizeable monetary contributions and services that are given to the needy, God views human beings “all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6).
In the original Hebrew, the word “filthy” is actually “menstrual.” In other words, the righteousness of men is as “menstrual rags” in God’s sight!
Like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, man’s nature—carnal nature—is a mixture of good and evil. In every person, there are varying degrees. Some people are more selfish, while others are more generous. Some are naturally more gentle and outgoing; others are harsher and colder in their relations with people. But, in spite of all their “good” works, all have human nature—all have their weaknesses of the flesh—which is why God says, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
This presents a very stark picture.
When it comes to how they live and interact with others, people tend to think they are “doing just fine.” But is this how God sees it? Notice: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes…Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov. 16:2; 20:6).
Basic selfishness, which permeates every society and nation, is largely caused by “the ego” (vanity), for virtually everyone sees himself as important. And to even appear to cause an insult is likely to incur the wrath of someone who has grown up in a society accustomed to violence and bloodshed.
This is why “Road rage” is so common in the streets and highways across the U.S., and is gaining momentum in other countries. A road rage incident often occurs when a driver feels that another has not shown him the courtesy and politeness he should be afforded. Because they feel “disrespected,” many think it is their right to “teach the other driver a lesson.” This “lesson” usually involves tailgating, forcing the other driver off the road, beatings—or even murder!
A disgruntled employee suddenly “going postal,” assaulting and killing fellow workers, was once a rare incident; today it is almost common. Employers must now carefully consider the temperament of every person they seek to hire (or fire). These murderous rampages are often triggered when an employee’s pride is “hurt.” When his skills and talents are not “properly revered,” he decides it is his duty to show how effective he really is—through violence.
There was a time when school shootings were unheard of. Schools were once a place of relative safety—but not any more! Now, children who feel they are not included enough, or who are not respected for all their qualities, go berserk—most often killing whoever did not give them the respect and friendship they “deserved.”
Human nature also comes in nonviolent forms. How many will always tell the truth, even if it means facing serious consequences? How many will obey traffic laws, stop signs or red lights when they know that a police officer is not around to catch them? How many would return tens of thousands of dollars they found? How many would do so if they knew there would be no reward?
Now consider sexual promiscuity. Jane magazine published an Internet sex poll involving 3,740 participants, the vast majority of whom were single women, ages 20 to 29. This U.S. survey revealed that…
• Roughly one in five answered “yes” when asked if they would have sex for money.
• Of the 70% who said they were in a monogamous relationship, 36% admitted to cheating on their partner.
• A famous British actor—who had recently been caught cheating on his fiancée with his children’s baby-sitter—was considered the most-fantasized-about celebrity, with 24% of the women wanting to seduce him.
No matter the situation, people tend to think of themselves first, without regard to the needs and concerns of others. This is man’s nature.
Writers, philosophers and scientists cannot agree as to what constitutes human nature. Nevertheless, there is a definitive source that defines and identifies man’s carnality—the Holy Bible.
But here is an irony: Millions of people around the world profess to be Christian, yet cannot agree on what God’s Word actually teaches. Religionists, theologians and other church leaders view and teach their personal interpretation of Scripture. The God of the Bible states that He desires unity between Christian believers (Psalm 133). However, because people cannot fully agree as to what the Bible actually teaches, they cannot walk together in unity (Amos 3:3). This is why there are so many differing—and competing—beliefs, organizations, denominations and churches within professing Christianity.
In an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 69% of 1,001 Americans questioned nationwide said that people are ruder today than 20 or 30 years ago.
Nearly 70% of those surveyed faulted celebrities, athletes and public figures for behaving rudely and being poor role models; 73% blamed television and movies for showing rude behavior; 93% blamed parents for not teaching their children well, with 44% saying that they frequently see children behaving unruly in public; and 75% believed that because people today lead busier lives, they do not take time to be polite.
The polls further revealed how often those surveyed frequently encountered the following situations:
• People who use their cell phones in a loud or annoying manner in public – 55%
• People who use rude or offensive language in public – 48%
• People who talk loudly or use cell phones at movie theaters – 22%
• Drivers who are aggressive and reckless on the road – 55%
• Store sales people who ignore customers or treat them rudely – 28%
To understand the biblical definition of human nature (also called carnal nature), we must allow the Word of God to interpret itself.
In it, God declares, “The heart [the seat of every man’s thoughts, motives and feelings] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The latter phrase is equivalent to “who could believe this?” Of course, most cannot. Nor can they believe this inspired statement: “…the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
The carnal mind naturally hates God, the Supreme Lawgiver, and therefore abhors His laws, as well as the laws of men. No wonder riots and rampant lawlessness abound when law and order collapse! No wonder so many professing Christians conveniently believe that Jesus Christ “did away” with the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s laws!
Throughout history, philosophers have argued that people are generally good. They assert that man’s natural tendencies are toward kindness and “the good of his fellow man,” but that he somehow is stuck in a body with desires that inadvertently force him to do evil against his will.
Many others, a little more realistic, think that human nature is simply selfish. Seeing the evil prevalent in the world, they conclude that man’s basic tendency is to take the “easy path” and do whatever is best for him. Surprisingly, most look at themselves and think they somehow do not fit this mold—that they are good!
Because everyone harbors in his mind a personal set of values defining right and wrong. Conveniently, most define right and wrong in terms of themselves. Simply put: Whatever someone is, he believes that is what others should be like. And because no one else is precisely like him, everyone else looks worse. As a result, most people are able to rationalize that they are basically a wonderful person!
This may sound absurd, but ask anyone what a person should be and what are the most important qualities someone should possess. Nearly all will describe themselves! People are quite effective at making convincing arguments of why their own qualities are so important.
Even the worst criminals often see themselves as the greatest people. The classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People tells the account of a killer named “Two Gun” Crowley, who brutally murdered a police officer. But how did Crowley regard himself? While under fire by police, he wrote a letter addressed, “To whom it may concern,” stating, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.”
American philosopher John Dewey said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” Since very few, if any, achieve the importance they desire, every man will lie to himself, convinced that he is far better and far more worthwhile than he truly is.
Liberal idealists and thinkers philosophize that if everyone had all their basic needs fulfilled—if every person was employed and earned comfortable wages, had their own homes and had enough food, clothes, etc.—the problems and ills that plague mankind would vanish.
Lyrics to the highly popular song “Imagine,” originally released in 1971, offered an idealistic—and profoundly naïve—solution to the world’s problems. Essentially (according to the song), if people removed God and the Bible from their lives (“Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky…”), did away with national governments and borders (“Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, No religion too…”), and gave up all personal possessions (“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man…”), a utopia would somehow emerge, with “all the people living life in peace…Sharing all the world…”
Today, several decades later, people still sing and hum along with this melodic tune whenever it is played. And many sincerely believe its message.
Humanity’s escalating problems cannot be solved by these or any other humanly-devised solution, for man’s carnal nature stands in the way. Read the daily newspaper. Watch the nightly news on television. A thorough examination will reveal that the “works of the flesh”—byproducts of man’s nature—described in Galatians 5:19-21, and other verses, are embedded in man’s thinking and are evident in every area of life.
And these are all triggered by one basic drive. Notice: “From where come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (Jms. 4:1-3).
All conflicts, battles and wars ever fought sprang from man’s carnal desire to take what did not belong to him!
Does this mean that civilization is doomed to drown in the excesses of human behavior?
No! The same God who describes man’s nature as “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” and his best state as “vanity” and “filthy rags” offers hope. His Plan is to build His godly character within the minds of men, enabling them to deny the “works of the flesh” and bear the fruits of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Our book The Awesome Potential of Man reveals how God plans to do this with every human being.
Additionally, our booklet Did God Create Human Nature? explains the true origin of human nature.