There is a truth that people often ignore when they embrace some utopian idealism: People will be people. We can imagine, depending on our beliefs and ideology, that a world in which everyone is a Christian might ideally be a world in which there is no more sin. However, as long as we are still in this world of the fall, people will be people, and that means sinners will be in the church and among the clergy. The recent sexual abuse scandals in the Roman church expose the fact that people will be people. In the general population there are sexual predators and pedophiles. And guess what? They make their way into the church.
People might then imagine, well, that is only in the Catholic Church but not in other church bodies. However, I read statistics from companies which insure religious organizations which show across denominational lines pedophiles exist. The Roman Church makes the news more because it is a huge organization. Sexual misconduct occurs in clergy of all kinds of denominations. But among small denominations the appearance is of individual cases and they seem more rare; nevertheless, they too add up to serious numbers of problems. People will be people.
Atheists blame “faithists” for causing all the problems of the world, forgetting the truth that people will be people. You don’t need religion to hate, be prejudiced, to murder or rape. People will be people. Whatever exists in the general population will exist in religion, in atheistic society, in clerical ranks, and among ideologues of every stripe. Atheism will not escape fanatics or the mentally ill because it is supposedly based in pure reason. People will be people, and will cause people problems.
If people problems persist despite philosophical, religious or ideological differences, we might try to convince (delude?) ourselves that technology will make a difference and change the world. But people will be people.
As Ethan Zuckerman in “A Small World After All?” (THE WILSON QUARTERLY Spring 2012) notes:
“In 1912, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi declared, ‘The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.’ Two years later a ridiculous war began, ultimately killing nine million Europeans.”
Zuckerman goes on to comment on the belief that the Internet is going to change the world:
“While it’s easy to be dismissive of today’s Marconis—the pundits, experts, and enthusiasts who saw a rise in Internet connection leading to a rise in international understanding—that’s too simple and too cynical a response. Increased digital connection does not automatically lead to increased understanding. At the same time, there’s never been a tool as powerful as the Internet for building new ties (and maintaining existing ones) across distant borders.”
Yes, the Internet is a powerful new tool, but because people will be people, they will continue to behave as people. Violence will not disappear from the earth if Islam and all other religions disappear. The Internet can be used to promote violence as well as democracy or cooperation. People will continue to be people even into the future just as they were in the past. Some people will be hungry for power and wealth, the narcissistic personality disorder will continue to appear in the population. People will sin, make bad choices, inflict suffering on others. Maybe it is in our genes, Jesus said it is in our hearts (Mark 7:21-23).
Religion at its best calls people to some self denial and self restraint and self control. It calls us to reign in on our “people will be people” tendency. And yet, and yes, it has been used to call people to violence. Christ called people to self martyrdom, not to kill anyone else. Some Muslims do note that Islam calls people to an internal spiritual warfare more than to any jihad against the world. Atheism and technology will not change people more than theism and theology. Ideologues and abusers will continue to be part of the human population. We can however continue to point out this truth, and we can consciously try to resist those violent and destructive tendencies which come from our human hearts.
“People will be people” is not a phrase enshrining determinism or defeatism, but rather taking a hard, realistic, factual and truthful look at the human condition. Orthodox Christianity acknowledges the truth and calls all of its members to some forms of asceticism, abstinence, self denial and self control. Jesus said we have to take up the cross and follow Him. It is a call for us to exercise our free wills and to aspire to something greater than our genes appear to be willing to allow us to attain. It is a call to self will and to self emptying (kenosis) and to self sacrificial love for the other. We are not going to legislate ourselves to perfect behavior, nor genetically engineer the perfect human being, nor defeat evil by technology driven weapons of mass destruction. The process starts in each human heart by an act of will, when we respond to that invitation to change ourselves and to be like Christ.
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)