We learn quite early in the Bible that humanity is capable of both good and evil (I'm looking at you, Cain). And for the sake of argument, let's assume that this insight accurately reflects human nature or the character of humans from the beginning.
So we're a long way down the road of human history and the truth is that humanity still is capable of both good and evil. It sort of makes you wonder what forms human character.
That's precisely the question that The Character Project at Wake Forest University has been exploring.
The latest news from this effort is that the project has just awarded nearly $1 million in grants to philosophers and theologians to study vice and virtue and to understand various aspects of human character.
What, you might ask, could we possibly not know about vice and virtue after all this time of people engaging in both? Is this, in other words, just an employment plan for philosophers and theologians?
Well, maybe. But if this newly funded research can help us know what works and what doesn't when we're trying to get people more interested in being virtuous than they are interested in participating in vice, what can it hurt?
The reality is that not much about human nature or human character seems to change, though I would say that these days we're more comfortable killing people at a distance using high-tech weapons (bombs, drones, etc.) than we are killing them up close using swords and daggers. Is that progress?
At any rate, I hope Wake Forest will keep us informed about what these newly funded researchers discover. And I especially hope none of them will falsify his or her findings in order to get more grants to study vice.
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PRAYING FOR CONNECTICUT CLERGY
As we all react to the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, let's also think about the clergy and grief counselors who will have to help people through this trauma. My clergy friends tell me there is nothing worse than being called to lead a funeral for a child -- especially one who dies unexpectedly as a result of adult violence. And while we're pondering this whole matter, it's not too soon to ask -- slack-jawed with awe that it needs to be asked -- when the hell we're going to adopt sane gun control laws that will protect our right to bear arms while keeping murder weapons out of the hands of the unstable. Our gun laws -- or lack of them -- are a national scandal.
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P.S.: One of the best contemporary New Testament scholars, Luke Timothy Johnson of Candler School of Theology, will lecture at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. It's free and open to the public. Here's what I wrote about Johnson when he spoke in the Kansas City area in 2010.