There's a little bit of the devil in all of us

Taken from the seriesof Perkins Lectures thatwere delivered by theArchbishop of Canterburyin Wichita Falls, Texas
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The weakness of liberal Protestantism or liberal Catholicism, for that matter, is its overly optimistic view of humankind.

The weakness of liberal Protestantism or liberal Catholicism, for that matter, is its overly optimistic view of humankind.

If we follow that view we shall continue to be astonished by our capacity to do evil things beyond our comprehension. How often we have heard people say on TV about a neighbour who, perhaps, has done something particularly shocking, "He seemed like such an ordinary man. I simply can't believe he was capable of such an evil act." But, of course, people continue to say that of the appalling crimes in Nazi Germany - committed, sometimes, by ordinary people who pleaded after the war, "I had no choice."

No. This view of humankind simply is not adequate. We serve our world best when we tell the truth about its condition. As Sir Winston Churchill once observed in the bitterness of the Second World War: "Man's power has grown over practically every sphere - except himself. He has cracked the power of the atom but he can't conquer himself." Whether Churchill knew it or not, he was talking about the doctrine of original sin - although there is nothing original about it at all.

Yet this honest diagnosis also sits very easily with another analysis of humankind - that of our potentiality for goodness, for love and kindness. You and I in this hall are capable of acts of heroism, bravery and kindness - but equally of depressing evil and debauchery. And so, we have to consider both the bad and the good aspects of our society within this hopeful context: God's ability to surprise and confound us by making all things new.

We must be somewhat cautious when it comes to the altruism of humankind. Although much has been achieved in bringing hope to the destitute and the very poor, 1.3 billion people live on under one dollar a day, and a further 3 billion on under two dollars a day. In stark terms, this means that nearly two-thirds of the human family live in absolute poverty. It is no wonder in such circumstances that cynicism about the existence of altruism flourishes.

There is also cynicism about truth. We talk glibly these days about "post-modernism". This curious term expresses the idea that we have lost the certainties of science and knowledge. It claims that we have been let down so badly by all ideologies that we end up cynical about all claims for truth.

Thus, post-modernism says that truth has been splintered into many "truths", which are all supposed to be equally valid. Your truth is not my truth, but if it works for you - then OK!

And sadly, at times there is cynicism in Church life. We have become so used to the encroaching world of secularism that disillusionment and apathy have resulted.

We have seen ministers come with their enthusiasms and energy, and we've seen them leave with their tails between their legs. Sometimes it seems as though institutional Christianity crushes people more than helps, and a cynical attitude towards the Church grows as a result. So how do we bring together two opposing realities - a cynical questioning world and the hope and goodness of the Gospel?

In a world which is questioning, cynical about any final expressions of truth and so cynical about religious longings and answers, there is no one simple "message" which will cure all ills. And Christ never promised one. Read the Gospels and you will find more questions from Him than answers.

I recall years ago a young woman who came to see a friend of mine. She was a lovely person but her life was in a real mess. The day she saw him she was wearing a tee-shirt with the message printed on it: "Jesus is the answer." And my friend said to her: "Jean, Jesus never claimed to supply answers. He said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.'"

Walking with our Lord is more of journey than a seminar; more of an adventure than a treatise, and more of a dialogue than a monologue.