Fr Jonathan Munn has just written this article in which he contends that man isn’t totally depraved. I won’t go into all the theology of it, the various theories of grace and sin from Saint Augustine to the present day.
I was listening to a video talk of an Australian who sailed a dinghy no bigger than mine from England to the Black Sea via a whole network of rivers and canals. His reflection was that it is a mistake to see all people as bad or selfish. There are many gestures of empathy, practical help, human solidarity, you name it. I have had the same experience with people of the sea, people I don’t know from Adam, but who are capable of extraordinary acts of kindness – and that encourages me to be attentive to their safety and well-being.
If I only considered the way people behaved in their cars, I would become about 90% Calvinist. But the way people are in boats and at sea, I would say it is the other way round. Only a minority would carve up a sailing dinghy with their powerful engines and big waves from their boats!
Power corrupts and, usually, empathy decreases as a person gets on the ascendency. Is it better to stay on the bottom, powerless and humble? Perhaps. If someone finds himself in power despite his own wishes to remain humble and unambitious, he is truly a saint if he keeps his empathy. In which case, power will be a terrible weight. I think of some of the men in history who wanted to be humble priests but were asked by the Church to be bishops and popes.
Humility is a grace, as is empathy for other people. Those are the greatest treasures we can find in life. Robert Baden Powell, the famous founder of the Boy Scouts, was a great believer in looking for good in his Scouts rather than evil, and to build up on what is good and noble in each of us. That would seem to be the healthiest philosophy of life, especially for Christians.