Evil / Good

Evil              -             Good
Puritan         -             Orthodox
Total            -             Plural
Mono           -             Poly

The traditional Christian attitude toward human personality was that human nature was essentially good and that it was formed and modified by social pressures and training. The “goodness” of human nature was based on the belief that it was a kind of weaker copy of God’s nature, lacking many of God’s qualities (in degree rather than in kind), but none the less perfectible, and perfectible largely by its own efforts with God’s guidance.

In this Western point of view, evil and sin were negative qualities; they arose from the absence of good, not from the presence of evil. Thus sin was the failure to do the right thing, not doing the wrong thing (except indirectly and secondarily).

Opposed to this Western view of the world and the nature of man, there was, from the beginning, another opposed view of both which received its most explicit formulation by the Persian Zoroaster in the seventh century B.C. and came into the Western tradition as a minor, heretical, theme […] The chief avenue by which these ideas, which were constantly rejected by the endless discussions formulating the doctrine of the West, continued to survive was through the influence of St. Augustine.

From this dissident minority point of view came seventeenth-century Puritanism. The general distinction of this point of view from Zoroaster to William Golding (in Lord of the Flies) is that the world and the flesh are positive evils and that man, in at least this physical part of his nature, is essentially evil. As a consequence he must be disciplined totally to prevent him from destroying himself and the world.

In this view the devil is a force, or being, of positive malevolence, and man, by himself, is incapable of any good and is, accordingly, not free. He can be saved in eternity by God’s grace alone, and he can get through this temporal world only by being subjected to a regime of total despotism. The direction and nature of the despotism is not regarded as important, since the really important thing is that man’s innate destructiveness be controlled.

The Puritan point of view tended to support political despotism and to seek a one-class uniform society, while the older view put much greater emphasis on traditional pluralism and saw society as a unity of diversities.

The newer idea led directly to mercantilism, which regarded political-economic life as a struggle to the death in a world where there was not sufficient wealth or space for different groups. To them wealth was limited to a fixed amount in the world as a whole, and one man’s gain was someone else’s loss.

That meant that the basic struggles of this world were irreconcilable and must be fought to a finish. This was part of the Puritan belief that nature was evil and that a state of nature was a jungle of violent conflicts.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.785-6

Related posts: