Thursday, October 6, 2011

Total Depravity or Total Nonsense?

I recently got a comment on my post about Concupiscence where the commenter discussed the Protestant doctrine of Total Depravity.  I encourage you to read it.

So what exactly is Total Depravity?  Well basically it's this:  after the fall man became sinful and he can't escape it.  He's utterly incapable, apart from God's grace, to ever make a good choice or do something good.  He relies utterly on God. There is much more to it than that, but that's the basic gist. 

Problems with this:  from the Catholic prospective, God made us good.  We had the fall and then through God's grace (the road to Calvary, Baptism, among other things) we were somewhat restored to our goodness.  Like any time a person falls, you will get a scar.  And we retain the scar (concupiscence).  This doesn't make us evil.  It just makes us prone to evil.  Biggest difference here:  we are capable of making good choices because of our redemption.  We are given free will to be good or be bad.  Total depravity makes it out to be that God has to constantly stand by and help us make that choice.  The Catholic prospective is that he already helped us make that choice when he died on a cross.  No hand holding necessary.

At least that's my understanding of it.

There are some other more sinister inherent problems to Total Depravity doctrine other than the constant belittling of God's creation (man).  Some people use this theological mumbo jumbo to justify child abuse.  Google the Pearl's and you will see that two children have already succumbed to this.  The Pearl's advocate spanking a child as young as four months old.  They also believe that the "rod of correction" to be used is a piece of plumbing line.

If anyone can tell you how sick and twisted this is, you should read Elizabeth Esther's blog.  For those of you who haven't read it, she's a Catholic convert who grew up in a Christian cult.  She will tell you that the number one reason why she became a Catholic is that Catholic's don't view people as evil.  She explained that Mary was actually the gateway to picking up a relationship with Jesus again.  Through Mary's love, she began to see that God is loving and he makes us good.

The whole idea that we are evil, horrible, deserving of hell, and therefore God allows evil to befall us is total rubish.  God allows evil in the world.  Yes, we deserve hell when we sin.  But to think that God sets up our lives this way just totally nullifies Christ's death.  If God wanted us to be evil, he wouldn't have done so many great things for us.  He wouldn't have redeemed us.  God loves us.  We make the bad choices, but still God finds ways to make it easier for us to make the right choices.  He doesn't make it harder.

Does that make sense?


  1. That sums up total depravity as I understand it. I grew up reformed protestant with Calvinist leaning. Totally changes one's view of kids if you believe they are totally incapable of good and need to learn that they are bad creatures who need to learn they are bad and need God's grace. As a good parent you have to emphasize how bad they are and discipline the evil out of them. One of the things that pushed me to Catholicism.

  2. Oh, oh, oh how twisted Calvinist theology makes you. I'm actually going to therapy right now to try and deal with the twisted residual emotion issues that I was left with after being raised to believe that I was intrinsically evil.

    I can't tell you what a glorious day it was when I finally believe, for the first time, that I could do something good. Not allow the Holy Spirit to work through me to do something good, but that I could actually, on my own, do something that God would not try to hide from His sight.

    Also, my parents were not cultists, but they used James Dobson's "The Strong Willed Child" as evidence for why they had to spank the sin out of us. Literally. They had to break our will (and please note that my parents were absolutely not abusive, just terribly misguided) so that we could understand that all our desires and wants were evil.

    It is a horrible way to grow up. I don't talk about it on my blog because I'm still dealing with it and because I love my family too much to put a schism between us, but you're right to bring it up. It's just sick. Thanks for putting some light on it.

  3. Thanks, Calah for your comments. I enjoy reading your blog- Barefoot and your articles on Virtuous.

    I'm so sorry to hear that you too are dealing with the emotional pain that Total Depravity creates.

    I'm a cradle Catholic, but my parents were spankers. My father less so, but my mother who converted more so. I think the reasoning was because that's how she grew up (which is to say with some inkling of that doctrine).

    My difficulty is trying to explain to my relatives why I have such a problem with the spanking. My reasons are personal. I have a temper and think just to be more in control of myself I'd rather not spank. But my family members think I'm nutty because of Total Depravity and certain Bible passages. They feel that a parent must spank or would be going against the Bible.

    Thank God for the Church and Thank God for some Protestants who see that "beating the devil" out of a child is just wrong. I highly recommend to any Protestant who thinks high levels of corporal punishment is the way to go should read Grace-Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel. He's not a Catholic; he's an evangelical. But he presents an alternative that I think Protestants who believe in the whole Total Depravity thing can swallow.

    Prayers for your recovery. I know from reading your blog that you struggle with other "demons". I think we all do. For some us our demons are just more concealed. So don't feel like your alone.

  4. A little quibble, I hope you won't take offense; but I think you get the Catholic theology a bit wrong. Or maybe you left something out or worded it poorly?

    You say: "we are capable of making good choices because of our redemption." If that were true, it would imply that fallen man was unable to make good choices before Christ's passion and resurrection; but that is clearly not the case. Rather, even after the fall unredeemed man was still capable of free will, and was able to choose either good or evil; but because of original sin fallen man's ability to choose good is severely impaired. Still, the Bible holds up examples of unredeemed men who exercised their free will to choose good. Abel chose the good and so did Noah and so did Abraham and Moses and David all the prophets. They chose to follow God and did many good things. But all of them at one time or another also made bad choices as well. That is the result of concupiscence.

    Through our baptism Christ's redemptive act removes guilt and the stain of sin and gives us graces that make it easier to choose good, even though it doesn't completely repair our broken will or remove concupiscence. When we go to confession that also removes the guilt of sin and also strengthens our will for the fight against concupiscence.

  5. No offense taken. I wasn't really getting in depth with Catholic theology especially the part before Christ's death on the cross.

    Total depravity is a doctrine for the here and now. It deals with redemptive man ie what is man's nature after Christ's redemption.

    That's what I was focusing on. But you're right we had free will before redemption and afterwards.

    The idea behind Total depravity is that Christ's death did not restore man's goodness. Instead it made man rely more on God whose redemption was supposed to give man more grace and not restore some of his goodness.

    Sorry if I was confusing. I tend to type on the fly, which is why I ask if I've confused anyone.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!