Wednesday, November 21, 2012

That Sweet, Innocent, Little Baby . . .

I wrote something a while back where I asserted that we are all born selfish and sinful, and a friend on FB took offense at the remark.  I told her I'd try to write about that sometime and explain myself, and another FB friend gave me the opportunity yesterday.  She posted to my wall a 60 Minutes story called "Babies help unlock the origins of morality."  A perfect launching pad for this discussion.

The story describes research being done on children, particularly infants, to look for how a sense of morality develops -- or more accurately, what morality we have innately.  But I want to start by stating my natural suspicious of any and all scientific research I hear about anymore.  Objective science is like objective journalism -- an ideal we all hope for and desperately need, but virtually non-existent.  We do best to approach both entities with a reasonable level of suspicion, perhaps all the more when they seem to support views we want to believe.

Anyway, here are some of the conclusions this research comes to:

1) Babies, even from just a few months old, have a natural preference for moral behavior (that is, for puppets they observe who display moral behavior).

2) Babies, even from just a few months old, have a natural preference for people who are like them, even in the most superficial commonalities (actually, they are only able to study the most superficial of commonalities in baby preferences).

3) Children's preference for commonality over-rides their preference for morality; they prefer bad people who are like them to good people who are different from them.  (The story implies that this is a basis for racism -- I think that's an interesting hypothesis, but I also think it could have a lot to do with a child's limited abstract thinking ability.)

4) Children at a very young age will choose an unjust situation that favors themselves over a fair and just situation that is better for everyone involved; being one-up to another person is most important.  This tendency, however, decreases as we mature -- which they attribute to societal teaching (but, again, I suspect may also relate to maturing thought processes).

Overall, nothing here is surprising.  Interesting, yes, but not surprising.  The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God, and therefore, a recognition of and desire for righteousness is in our nature.  In fact, the fact that we do have an innate sense of what is right and wrong despite how we may be taught or raised is the basis for our judgment in the eyes of God. The problem is that we consistently fail to do what we know is right.  As much as we admire morality and hold it up as an ideal, we still act in accordance with our selfish, immediate desires, even when our consciences condemn us.  Yes, we may get better with maturity (some of us . . . ), but not too much better -- frankly, what we really get better at is rationalizing our selfish behavior, making it look good to others and sound good to ourselves.  (And, by extension, rationalizing the selfish behavior of the fruit of our loins.)

Romans 3:10 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one."  Not even one.  "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51.5)  All appearances and wishful thinking aside, I still contend that we are born selfish little snits.  Adorable, but selfish.

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