World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Inborn Goodness And Conscience

We continue the theme of the original human nature with passages on the essential goodness of human beings. Confucianism, for example, regards the original heart of man as inherently good and characterized by benevolence (jen); this is illustrated by the well-known passage from Mencius about people's spontaneous reactions to a child falling into a well. Islam likewise regards human nature as inherently upright, and St. Paul wrote of the human conscience, which allows even those unacquainted with religion or moral teachings to distinguish right from wrong. We begin, however, with a group of passages on the ideal of the little child, whose innocence and purity allows him or her to easily and naturally grasp the truth. On the converse, the innate sinfulness of man, see Ill, pp. 379-85.

Every child is born of the nature of purity and submission to God.

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

God needs no pointing out to a child.

African Traditional Religions. Akan Proverb (Ghana)

Mencius said, "The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart."

Confucianism. Mencius IV.B.12

Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, man became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Doctrine and Covenants 93.38

Mencius IV.B.12: Cf. Tao Te Ching 55, p. 231; 20, p. 608. Doctrine and Covenants 93.38: This is an argument against the need for infant baptism. Christ has already redeemed mankind from the original sin, and hence all people start out innocent at birth.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Christianity. Bible, Matthew 18.1-3

Gentleness and goodness are the roots of humanity.

Confucianism. Book of Ritual 38.18

Religion is basically virtue, which is grounded ultimately in the spiritual nature of man.

Jainism. Kundakunda, Pravacanasara 7

So set your purpose for religion as a man by nature upright--the nature [framed] of God, in which He has created man. There is no altering the laws of God's creation. That is the right religion.

Islam. Qur'an 30.30

You may not see yourself growing up, but you definitely know it when you are sinning.

African Traditional Religions. Akan Proverb (Ghana)

Wabisah ibn Ma`bad said, "I went to see the Messenger of God and he said to me, 'You want to question me on the subject of virtue?' 'Yes,' I replied, and he went on, 'Question your heart. Virtue is that by which the soul enjoys repose and the heart tranquillity. Sin is what introduces trouble into the soul and tumult into man's bosom--and this despite the religious advice which men may give you.'"

Islam. 40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 27

When Gentiles who have not the Law do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law. They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Christianity. Bible, Romans 2.14-16

Matthew 18.1-3: Christians do not take this text to mean that the original nature of man is innocent. Rather, the child exemplifies an attitude of simplicity and innocence by which one can easily accept the gospel; cf. Luke 18.16-17, p. 912. Book of Ritual 38.18: But the initial goodness is ordinarily corrupted; see Book of Songs, Ode 255, p. 385. Pravacanasara 7: Cf. Gottamasara, p. 453. Qur'an 30.30: See also Qur'an 12.53, p. 383. Romans 2.14-16: The conscience is that universal attribute of man that allows everyone to recognize the truth. Yet at the same time, everyone is afflicted by sin; see Romans 3.9-12, p. 383; 1 John 1.8, p. 383.

We are the pitiful prisoners of sin, totally ignorant of the most precious and intimate being and master whom we would never trade for everything in heaven and earth. That master is one's own conscience. How often has this conscience given us advice, and while we were immersed in sinful thinking day and night it tirelessly helped us to cross the river to safety.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 3-30-90

Mencius said, "All men have this heart that, when they see another man suffer, they suffer, too. The ancient kings had this heart: when they saw men suffer, they suffered, too. Therefore the former kings ran a government that, when it saw men suffer, it suffered, too. With a heart such as that... they could rule the empire as if it were something they turned in the palm of their hand.

"What do I mean, 'All men have this heart, that when they see another man suffer, they suffer too?' Well,take an example: a man looks out; a child is about to fall into a well. No matter who the man is, his heart will flip, flop, and he will feel the child's predicament; and not because he expects to get something out of it from the child's parents, or because he wants praise from his neighbors, associates, or friends, or because he is afraid of a bad name, or anything like that.

"From this we can see that it is not human not to have a heart that sympathizes with pain. Likewise not to have a heart that is repelled by vice: that is not human, either. Not to have a heart that is willing to defer: that's not human. And not to have a heart that discriminates between true and false is not human, either.

"What is the foundation of natural human feeling for others (jen)? The heart that sympathizes with pain. What is the foundation of a commitment to the common good (i)? The heart that is repelled by vice. What is the foundation of respect for social and religious forms (li)? The heart that is willing to defer. And what is the foundation for a liberal education (chih)? The heart that can tell true from false.

"People have these four foundations like they have four limbs. A man who says he cannot practice them is calling himself a criminal. A man who says the ruler cannot practice that is calling the ruler a criminal.

"Everybody has these four foundations in himself. If these four foundations can be filled in on a broad scale, it will be like a fire starting up, it will be like a spring bursting through. If they can be filled in, it will be enough to create and preserve the world order. Leave them unfilled, it will be impossible for a man to take care of his father and mother."

Confucianism. Mencius II.A.6

Sun Myung Moon, 3-30-90: Cf. Romans 7.15-24, p. 391; Chandogya Upanishad 8.12.1, p. 387. Mencius II.A.6: Mencius lists the four Confucian virtues: benevolence (jen), dutifulness or concern for the public good (i), observance of proper social and religious forms (li), and education (chih). They are all founded upon germs which lie in the heart of every person.

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