Sin NatureBy Robin Schumacher
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John Wayne Gacy was put to death by lethal injection in the early morning hours of May 10, 1994, for murdering 33 young men and boys, 29 of whom he buried in the crawl space beneath his own Chicago home between the years of 1972 and 1978. After Gacy's death, he was delivered into the hands of Dr. Helen Morrison to perform a very unique autopsy. Dr. Morrison had previously interviewed Gacy, along with many other serial killers, in an attempt to isolate personality traits that were common among such ruthless murderers. Now at the request of Gacy's family, Dr. Morrison was going to remove the brain of the notorious serial killer in hopes of discovering some sort of physical abnormality that would provide answers for why Gacy destroyed so many innocent lives.
In her book, My Life Among the Serial Killers, Dr. Morrison commented on what she believed to be a genetically predetermined factor in people like Gacy: "He is a serial killer when he is a fetus, even as soon as sperm meets egg to create the genes of a new person." In other words, according to Morrison, there was no hope for Gacy; his genes determined his actions and his behavior. In some sense, Gacy could be excused for his behavior if there were no laws prohibiting his actions. Morrison did not see any separation between the natural ability in her patients and their moral ability.
Is such a thing true? Or is there instead a division between each person's natural body and their intrinsic essence or nature — that which makes them who they are from a moral standpoint? Atheists and naturalists say "no," but the Bible counters with the reality that there is a spiritual and moral side to every person that is distinct from their physical body. And Scripture also states that it is this component of a person who has inherited what is called a "sin nature" that produces everything from white lies to atrocities such as those committed by John Wayne Gacy.
The Reality of the Sin Nature
Some psychologists and scientists have attempted to deny that humanity is inherently sinful or "bad." For example, the founder of humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslow, said: "As far as I know we just don't have any intrinsic instincts for evil." Agreeing with Maslow is noted psychologist Carl Rogers who stated, "I do not find that...evil is inherent in human nature." Both Maslow and Rogers dismiss sin and instead say if a person is committing evil acts, then the "patient" is psychologically ill and must be brought back to mental sanity through medication and therapy.
However, history has shown that the evil actions of humanity transcend mere mental disorders. Commenting on the Nazi atrocities, Catholic monk and priest Thomas Merton observed, "One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people...And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous."
Various philosophers have also tried to either deny a sin nature or explain it away through various means. One example is Jean Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century philosopher, writer, and composer of Romanticism, whose political philosophy heavily influenced the French Revolution. He believed that mankind was naturally good and that each person was born an "innocent savage." If each person was born innocent, how did Rousseau explain humanity's evil actions? Simply put, Rousseau claimed that society corrupted people, and that is why they end up exhibiting bad behavior. However, as various opponents of Rousseau's claims soon pointed out to him, societies are comprised of people, and are therefore only a collective manifestation of individual wickedness.
Even some theologians have tried to deny an inherent sin nature in humanity, with the most famous being the Culdee Monk Pelagius who rejected the notion of a person being born anything but perfect and innocent. Pelagius' theological wrestling matches with the famous Augustine resulted in the condemnation of Pelagius' teaching in the early church, although it still lives on in various places today.
The fact is that the reality of a sin nature is clearly seen in human behavior. Such truth caused Reinhold Niebuhr to comment, "The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith." Expounding on Niebuhr's statement in more detail, R.C. Sproul describes the situation this way: "If each one of us is born without a sinful nature, how do we account for the universality of sin? If four billion people were born with no inclination to sin, with no corruption to their nature, we would reasonably expect that at least some of them would refrain from falling...But if everybody does it, without exception, then we begin to wonder why."
The Bible provides the answer as to why every person sins. Scripture says that God created humankind originally good and without a sin nature: "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27). However, Genesis chapter 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve, and with that fall, sin entered into the two previously sinless creatures that God had made. And when they, in turn, had children, their sin nature was passed along to their offspring. That sin nature immediately manifested itself in the very first man born from Adam and Eve, a man named Cain who became a murderer (Genesis 4:8).
Instead of only the image of God being passed down through the human procreation process, a sin nature was passed as well: "When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth" (Genesis 5:3, emphasis added). The fact is that each and every person born from the beginning has inherited the sin nature of his parents, with both the Old and New Testaments speaking to this fact. For example, David says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). In another Psalm, David states: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth" (Psalm 58:3). His son Solomon wrote: "Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
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Image Credit: Billy Wilson; "Apples"; Creative Commons
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