pope catholic

Is the Pope Right About the Human Heart Being ‘Fundamentally Good’?

4 June 2024

3.5 MINS

Pope Francis recently said in an interview that humans “are a little bit rogue and sinners” but that “the heart itself is good”. This claim is worth examining in light of church history — and the horrors of last century.

Is the Pope Catholic?

This humorous rhetorical device has long been used to answer a question with an emphatic “yes!” But after comments made by Pope Francis during a recent 60 Minutes interview, a lot of people are now asking the question for real.

“We are all fundamentally good,” Pope Francis told Norah O’Donnell during their exchange. “Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.”

A snippet of the interview captioned with the pontiff’s controversial claim went viral on X earlier this month, though additional context was later added by users to indicate a slight mistranslation by 60 Minutes. The community note explained:

Pope Francis said ‘somos un poco pícaros y pecadores’, meaning literally ‘we are a little bit rogue and sinners,’ speaking to some sinfulness within each of us. This is not the same as saying ‘there are some rogues and sinners.’

In other words, the pope did acknowledge that all humans are tainted with evil and was not claiming that all the world’s evil is concentrated in just a subset of the human population, as the tweet originally suggested.

Even so, his central claim is still troubling in light of 2,000 years of church history—not to mention, from a secular perspective, the horrors of the 20th century.

So, are all humans “fundamentally good”? Is the heart itself good? Are we just a “little bit” rogue and sinful?

Not according to the prophet Jeremiah, who said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Or King Solomon, who mourned, “The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).

Or Jesus, who explained that “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21–22).

Or the apostle Paul, who quoted the Psalms to emphasize his point: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10–12).

I am not a Catholic, so I don’t pretend to know the official Roman Catholic interpretation of these texts. But I do know there is broad overlap between Catholics and Protestants on the doctrine of original sin.

According to both traditions, all humans have inherited a sin nature as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden. As a result, we are born with a propensity towards sin, are estranged from God, and are in desperate need of salvation.

One of the Catholic Church’s great strengths down through the ages has been its defense of core doctrines like original sin.

As early as the fifth century, for instance, a British monk called Pelagius denied original sin. He taught that the fall of Adam did not cause all humanity to inherit a sin nature, and he stressed that humans were fundamentally free to live good lives without the intervention of divine grace.

Through a series of councils, Pelagianism was determined to be a heresy and has been rejected by Catholics and Protestants ever since.

Oddly, Pope Francis’ recent remarks appear to be summoning this ancient heresy.

But a secular argument can also be made that the Pope erred on the fundamental nature of humanity.

We need look no further than the collectivist political projects of last century—communism especially.

The belief that humans are inherently good allowed men like Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot to put forth—and put into action—their ideas that a harmonious society could be achieved if only the right social conditions were created. But eliminating existing class structures did just the opposite, creating a vacuum that was quickly filled by tyranny, oppression, and mass atrocities.

Ironically, the old systems these leaders did away with, while not perfect, had been honed over the centuries to take into account the fallenness of man. Still today, the safest and most prosperous nations on earth are those that  properly account for deep human fallibility through their provision of robust checks and balances.

Thus, while the idea of original sin might sound jarring today, it remains one of the most important political insights in history. Its logic is counterintuitive. When humans assume we are fundamentally good, we end up unleashing the most unspeakable evil. But when we are humble enough to admit our fallenness and sin, prudence urges us to create the social conditions fit for human flourishing.

My sense is that Pope Francis has trimmed his sails to predominant winds. In a bid to echo modern sentimentality, he crossed a line we ought not cross—both for our societies and for the gospel.

After all, the Christian gospel message is not that we are good, but that despite our sin, Jesus Christ is good, and that he has come to save us.

___

Republished with thanks to Intellectual Takeout. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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4 Comments

  1. Pearl Miller 4 June 2024 at 8:22 am - Reply

    I would go so far as to ask Is the Pope Christian? I have had my doubts for a long time culminating in the lightning strike on the statute of St Peter removing his sceptre. He works for the WEF as I see it sadly.

  2. H 4 June 2024 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Goodness. Catholicism is just a mockery at this point. It is why having someone be able to make decrees or change interpretations of the Bible was always dangerous.

  3. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 4 June 2024 at 10:08 am - Reply

    I am a Catholic and attend Mass to publically worship God , but, to me Pope Francis is a Pelagian HERETIC just as you pointed out. I ignore everything he says. He is , in my opinion, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a creature of the Woke world we live in which serves the Forces of Evil. I believe in the 10 Commandments and the Bible, not his interpretation ! There are many like me who thought that once he was gone things would return to normal, but, he has increased the numbers of (handpicked ) cardinals to ensure the next Pope is just as bad as himself ! The religious teachings in Catholic schools are nothing like they were in my day !The result is children graduate ignorant of the basic teachings of Christianity which makes them fall prey to the evils of the modern world. Meanwhile , the fastest growing religion in Australia is Islam The Koran preaches death to the Infidels, ie the rest of us. I feel no shame over the Crusades. They were an honourable thing. When the Moslems invaded Bosnia in the 14th century my ancestors fled to the Republic of Venice—the choice was convert to Islam or die . My Albanian ancestors did the same thing ! The Pope infers Terrorists are basically good. Does he think we are all stupid ! Read the Koran and learn how the Christian Middle East and Christian North Africa were converted , ie with the sword ! The teachings of the Koran are the same as they were in Mohammed’s time—nothing has changed, except the Media and government propaganda deceives us that “Islam is the religion of peace “.

  4. Joyce Michael 5 June 2024 at 1:26 am - Reply

    I am Catholic too and I’m very concerned about several statements that the Pope has made. If his comments are not supported by the Word of God, then he is wrong to speak as the head of the Catholic church. The Catholic church must stay faithful to its catechism which has been established over the centuries based on scripture.
    There is a whole section in the Catholic Catechism devoted to Original Sin (paragraphs 396-409). It was St Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism that helped the Church to articulate its teaching on original sin (para 406).
    I don’t know what the Pope is doing, but it’s becoming very distressing to many Catholics!

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