Tuesday, December 15, 2009

David Brooks & my Cabbie on Human Nature

I had an interesting conversation with a taxicab driver some while back. He was a comically bad taxi driver, going ten miles below the speed limit, stopping at yellow lights, and unaware of the traffic direction of the main avenues in Manhattan.

We got to talking and he really is a boxer (turned out I was his first fare as a cabbie, and he hoped to make it boxing -- I encouraged him to try to do so). He is also a Muslim, as are many of the cab drivers in NYC. He was glad I knew a couple of famous boxers who are Muslims. I also told him that I was a Christian and a clergyman, and asked if I could pose some questions about his religion. He was glad to hear my questions and responded patiently (we had time, because he was driving slowly). He indicated that he needed to do more good than bad to face a final judgement with any confidence. We segued into a discussion of his lack of respect for the father of a girl he was dating, whose father opposed his marrying his (non-Muslim) daughter. Interestingly, he was sympathetic to the father's opposition to the marriage on religious grounds, but noted that he should have voiced his objections earlier. We then spoke about his responsibilities, hopes for marriage, boxing, etc. The point of all of this: at the end, I stated that Christianity takes an essentially dim view of human nature -- that while we are the crowning glory of creation, we are corrupted through and through. He could not accept this, and viewed people as essentially good but with flaws. If people knew better, they would act better, and so on.

This debate is alive and well in the culture, as well as the Christian Church (even though the matter was firmly settled in the early church, and also at the Reformation). Many think people are essentially good and just need to be taught to do the right thing. This is secular humanism, or sometimes Christian humanism, but it is not normal Christian belief.

I appreciate the NY Times columnist David Brooks, who has a good sense of the culture as well as an astute view of politics. In a recent column, he noted that the President believes people do need to stand against moral evil, while being aware of our own tendency to be corrupt with power we wield.
Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.
My own read on the speech Brooks describes is that Obama is on the way to thinking as Brooks describes, but is not there yet. The core struggle of human nature that the President described when accepting the Nobel Prize is between different people, while wisdom sees this within the individual human heart. The view that if we only knew better, our problems would be solved is best shown, I think, in this video from Scrubs.

My cab ride ended with the driver and me glad for our conversation, but with no meeting of minds on theology.

People can do great things, but are shot through with corruption. That includes me. This makes the announcement of the angels at Christmas so helpful, because it is true -- we need a savior, that is, a rescuer, and one has come. He is Christ the Lord.


TD-2243 said...

So true, so true. Why is it only Christians believe we are totally corrupt? I don't even have to be convinced that I'm corrupt. I see it every day.

seapea said...

what a great entry, cliff! so encouraging. outreach is very difficult for us christians, esp here in NYC. should be easier, no? we meet so many different people, yet we shirk. thanks for sharing!

Ran Barton said...

Woe be unto us, the fallible and corrupt creatures of Creation. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

I predict that even if your boxer friend has a long career driving cabs, he will never have a fare as thoughtful as you, E.C.

I wish you and your family every blessing over Christmas and into the new year. Let's see if 2010 is the year we can finagle a visit of some sort.

Clifford Swartz said...

I think I made it sound as if I always engage cabbies this way. Mostly I try to be polite, and only on occasion will engage in conversation. I'm afraid I usually check email, etc.!

Nathan said...

This is a great post! I have one follow up question: What about the "Christ in you" factor? When Christ indwells the sinner's heart, doesn't it change and become pure? In other words, even a depraved human can be obedient to God's perfect will, if it is Christ motivating him. Are these just fleeting moments of obedience, or can there be a truly sanctified person in this world.

Clifford Swartz said...

Thanks, Nathan! The briefest way to reply is to note my previous post on the topic. I agree with JC Ryle on the point (http://titusonetwo.blogspot.com/2009/12/jc-ryle-on-justification-sanctificaiton.html)

It was helpful for me to grasp a point made by Packer in his book, "Keep in Step with the Spirit", which is that there are two ways that sanctify appear in the New Testament. The first is the infrequent use of the term to describe Christians as holy because of the work of God (similar to justification). The more frequent way is the lifelong battle against sin we engage in, imperfect in this life, perfected in glory.