Theologians often live in ivory towers far from average folk who dismiss their lofty theological notions. Not so with eBay, the current theological teacher of the masses. This Internet company is constructed on a simple theological proposition: “People are good.” If you’ve not seen their powerful theological video you should watch this convincing piece of theological persuasion.
Of course eBay needs this theological assumption. If I am supposed to send $150 to some unknown fellow in Florida for a brand new sleeping bag I need to trust him because people are good. eBay reminds me t people will toss a basketball back over the fence, people volunteer to take Meals-on-wheels to sick folk, people hold elevator doors open for late-arriving people, people sometimes leave $10 tips for coffee, people in a crowd who see a guy’s briefcase flip open and all his papers are being blown away will rush in to help, people bump into a parked a car and when they can’t find the owner they’ll leave their address, people give blood and pick up trash, and when most people see a car stuck in the snow they’ll pitch in and help push it out—people are good.
Well, are they? Are people good? What do you think? Do you believe all people are basically good? Or perhaps you believe most people are good? Or, maybe you believe people are good most of the time? If you agree with eBay I suspect your sermons will sell in modern America. You might even splice eBay’s video into an upcoming worships service and it will bring a tear to eyes and inspire people to be better persons. While most Americans accept the presence of “a few bad apples” they generally believe people are good.
The only trouble is people are good isn’t orthodox. It flies in the face of St. Paul, Augustine, original sin, depravity and orthodox theology of the last 2000 years. This doctrine has been generally labeled heresy. Is it? Has the church been right about the nature of people, or is eBay right? Who is willing to stand up and promote one of the embarrassing doctrines of Christianity—people are bad. Whew—will you?
Of course, the bigger question is how to preach an unpopular doctrine to a nation who disbelieves it. Most Americans refuse to believe all humans are darkened and inclined toward evil continually. This is why the eBay campaign is so successful—it reinforces what Americans already believe. When we in the church proclaim that humanity is “totally depraved” they’d mostly roll their eyes. They suspect it’s not true. They trust eBay’s theology quicker than St. Paul’s or Augustine’s. So what will you do? Usually we’ve downplayed unpopular doctrines. I imagine most of us will take eBay’s campaign as a pleasant and helpful contribution to the American spirit. I suspect few will take it on and label it heresy. Face it; total depravity and original sin are obnoxious doctrines to Americans. However a few bold preachers and Sunday school teachers might mention it. Perhaps you are one? Which theological position do you have? EBay’s or that of St. Paul and Augustine?
© Keith Drury, 1995. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.