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Doctrine of Selective Depravity, Parts I-III

Humanism has usually preferred the doctrine of selective depravity, one of the most pernicious ideas ever propagated by man. According to the doctrine of selective depravity, most men are naturally good, but some men are diabolically evil.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Part I

To all practical intent, there are three basic doctrines of the nature of man, although numerous variations of each exist. The first is the doctrine of man’s natural goodness. This is more often affirmed in theory than in fact. To affirm that man is naturally good means sometimes that man as he is needs no improving. Everything that is, some in more than one age have affirmed, is holy. Evil is a myth, and every person, thing, or act is holy. There is, then, no such thing as an evil person or an evil or perverted act. The logic of the doctrine tends to this position. Others, however, affirm the goodness of man but the evil of the environment, and the environment can be defined almost in any way possible. The problem then becomes this: if man is naturally good, why is he so readily prone to evil influences? The doctrine of the natural goodness of all men is more logical, but then no change or progress is necessary. A good humanity in a good environment means that all things as is are as they should be.

Humanism, however, has usually preferred a second doctrine, the doctrine of selective depravity, one of the most pernicious ideas ever propagated by man. According to the doctrine of selective depravity, most men are naturally good, but some men are diabolically evil. These depraved men have been variously defined in various eras: priests, pastors, communists, fascists, capitalists, bankers, the masses, the blacks, the whites, the Jews, Germans, Japanese, the Americans, and so on. The doctrine of selective depravity, whether in the hands of radicals, conservatives, or liberals, leads always to Pharisaism. Depravity is limited to a class or group. Instead of seeing the problem as sin, and sin as pandemic to all men in Adam, it sees sin as limited to a segment of humanity. Instead of fighting against sin, it calls upon us to fight against a particular group of men. This means a radically different plan of salvation than that which is set forth in Scripture. Instead of Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men, of every race, color, and class, it sees one segment of humanity, the “good guys,” as the world’s hope. The problem, then, is to exorcise the “bad guys.”

Because of the prevalence of the doctrine of selective depravity, the modern era, and especially the twentieth century, has become a time of especially bloody warfare, torture, and persecution. On all sides, men seek a solution by going after their scapegoats. The present hue and cry everywhere about “corrupt politicians” is an example of this idea of selective depravity. There is no reason to believe that the people are any better than their politicians, and they are probably not as good, but there is a widespread pharisaic moral self-satisfaction today in exposing the sins of politicians. The politicians themselves, of course, have often gained power by using the idea of selective depravity to damn a class or group and appeal thereby to the pharisaic greed and self-satisfaction of the electorate.

Marxism thrives on the doctrine of selective depravity. Having carried the doctrine to its logical conclusion, the Marxists find that every use of the idea favors their position and finally leaves them the winners.

The doctrine of selective depravity ensures conflict, not against sin, but between man and man, class and class. It has made humanism the most divisive creed ever to exist, and it leads to the isolation and “alienation” of man. In terms of this doctrine, no solutions are possible. A whole segment of mankind must be exterminated, if this doctrine be held, or at the very least brainwashed into submission. However, as new problems arise, a new group will be classified as the depraved class, because no other explanation for evil is possible.

The doctrine of selective depravity is basic to modern politics, education, sociology, and, too often, our religions. As long as this doctrine prevails, and it is deeply imbedded into modern man’s being, no solutions are possible. In fact, every “solution” only aggravates the problem.

The third doctrine is the Biblical doctrine of total depravity. By total is meant that all men are involved in it, and that the total life of man is involved in his depravity. It does not mean that the totally depraved man is not capable of some good. It does mean that the depravity is total in its extent in all of mankind and in all of a man.

In such a situation, it will not do to limit depravity to a class, race, or group. All men in Adam have a common nature. The problem is thus not limited to some men, nor is the answer in any man. As St. Paul declares, in his great theological, social, and political statement, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The answer is in God incarnate, Jesus Christ, who redeems man from his plight, gives him a new nature, and enables him to walk, not in the spirit of disobedience, but in the spirit of obedience to God and His law.

Man is removed from the bondage of his depravity into the status of a covenant man. Once a covenant-breaker, he now becomes a covenant-keeper. No longer an outlaw, he becomes God’s law-man. He is now on the road to dominion as God’s dominion man.

There is thus no solution to our social crises as long as the humanistic doctrines of man’s natural goodness, or of the selective depravity of man, prevail.

Part II

The doctrine of selective depravity is a doctrine of radical Pharisaism. By isolating depravity in a particular class, race, or group, it implicitly locates virtue in all others, particularly in the defining group. If evil is a national or racial trait, then membership in the other group, whether black, white, red or yellow, Anglo-Saxon, Arab, Japanese, or whatever it may be, constitutes virtue. All “facts” are collected to prove the point: we are the good guys, they are the bad guys. This is a very widespread and common practice, but it is no less evil and pharisaic for that.

(As a boy, I picked up an interesting form of this doctrine of selective depravity. My father went to Scotland for his advanced degrees and fell in love with the people and country. His Scottish friends kept me well supplied with books and magazines full of Scottish tales. Sir William Wallace was an early hero. The English were the villains, foul despoilers of all things good and pure. My American history confirmed that! I have since learned differently, but not because my wife is of Scottish ancestry! At any rate, Scottish nationalism is no surprise to me. I am only amazed that it took so long to develop.)

But, to return to the very aspects of the doctrine of selective depravity, it is inevitably a doctrine of murder. Sin must be destroyed. If sin is in us, we must through Christ destroy the principle of sin in order to be redeemed and to redeem history. However, if sin is incarnate in a race or class, it is then logical to destroy that race or class. Capital punishment is basic to human action, whether admittedly so or not. Marx placed virtue in the workers and evil in the middle (and upper) class. Hence, Marxism works to execute and eradicate the incarnations of evil in its midst. Hitler defined the evil class as the Jews: hence, the Jews had to be destroyed. Hitler himself had no anti-Jewish beliefs: his action was pragmatic. However, the logic of his position required, in a time of emergency, the elimination of evil. The result was the gas chamber. In the latter days of the war, he believed that the Germans were unworthy of him and betraying him, so he set the stage for the destruction and partition of Germany.

Whatever form the doctrine of selective depravity takes, it is a call, logically, for murder, and it begins to express itself accordingly. It declares: The only good Indian is a dead Indian. The only good Jap is a dead Jap. The only good black is a dead black. The only good honky is a dead honky (or white). The only good cop is a dead cop. The only good lawyer is a dead lawyer (according to something passed on to me today). And so on and on.

The doctrine of selective depravity leads not only to Pharisaism, and murder, but to a pharisaic self-righteousness about the most vicious murders. It closes the door to Christ’s salvation, because it defines sins, not in terms of every man’s apostasy from God, and the fall of man in Adam, the federal head of all men without any exception save the second Adam, Jesus Christ, but it defines sin in terms of some men, other people. Salvation then means the elimination of these other people. On all sides of the political scene, the answer to problems is in terms of the doctrine of selective depravity. Who is to blame? Why, the Communists, the conservatives, the whites, blacks, Jews, capitalists, workers, or what have you. The result is a radical incapacity to deal with the problem. Every “answer” only aggravates it.

In terms of Scripture, every man is created in God’s image, to be God’s covenant-keeper, and to be a dominion man, subduing the earth under God’s law to be God’s Kingdom. No man is exempt from this calling. It is not enough to profess faith and to be moral: we are called upon to develop God’s dominion requirements and to make every area we live and work in an outpost of His Kingdom. Otherwise, we are called “unprofitable servants,” and are cast into the “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30).

The means to dominion is the law of God, the means to sanctification. God’s covenant people live in terms of God’s covenant law. This means tithing, restitution, responsibility, the family as the basic governmental and social unit, and much, much more.

There are different kinds of outlaws and prisoners in a jail. Some are there for major offenses like murder, rape, and kidnapping: others are petty criminals, with a string of small crimes. But all are outlaws.

Similarly, if we feel that we have not committed any “major” sins against God and are therefore still a part of His family, we must remember that all sin has as its principle the belief that “my will, not God’s be done, unless it is to my advantage and convenience to obey God.” The principle of selective obedience is as offensive to God as the principle of selective depravity.

The covenant man knows that his problem was total depravity: in every area of his life he served himself rather than God. By God’s grace, he is now a redeemed man, a dominion man, and therefore a law-man, not an outlaw. Christ’s declaration becomes his also: “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9). Salvation for him is not the elimination or murder of a social class, race, or group, but the atoning death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The mark of salvation and the way of sanctification is the delight in God’s law-word, and his desire to place his whole life and world under God’s law. His calling becomes, in the words of T. Robert Ingram, “The world under God’s law,” beginning with himself. This is not a doctrine of salvation by murder: it is a calling to regeneration and life in and through Christ.

Part III

The doctrine of selective depravity creates a political order and a law structure after its own image.

In an earlier era, when kings and noblemen ruled, and again in the age of aristocracy, it was a common conviction that the “rabble” were incapable of morality and order unless kept firmly in check by a powerful force. Intelligence, virtue, responsibility, and the ability to rule were powers communicated by blood and rank.

Later, this idea of a ruling elite took various other forms: the Germans, Anglo-Saxons, the whites, the workers, the Freemasons, and so on, and now it is gaining modern forms in Asia and Africa, where such ideas have long existed. Marxism, of course, holds militantly to one version of this faith.

We have seen that the final implication of the doctrine of selective depravity is salvation by murder. Eliminate the evil group. Of course, reeducation is often attempted first, but, in a society of failures, as in Marxism and Fascism, there must be a sacrificial victim for the continued failures. The evil class or race must therefore be “purged.”

In the meantime, however, the people are told that their political order is their savior, and that salvation is a matter of law, and, in democracies, this also means elections. Elect the right people, who will pass the right laws, and salvation will arrive or be accomplished. More Social Security, Medicare, more taxes on the rich (or middle classes, or poor), more this and that kind of legislation, and paradise will begin.

This program of salvation by law means legislating against certain people in favor of other people. It means legislating against the rich, the poor, the middle classes, this or that race or class, or whatever group is defined as evil.

It is easy, of course, for the devout believers in the doctrine of selective depravity to catalogue the sins of the evil class. We all have our share of sins. On one trip, a man tried hard to convince me of the special depravity of the oil companies and the international bankers. All our problems and evils he traced to them. When I tried to present a Biblical doctrine of sin, he was rude, arrogant, and hostile. I had a duty to keep quiet and listen to him, or else I would lead people astray with my ignorance! Later, his wife apologized for what I learned was his chronic behavior and added, “I don’t know anything about the oil companies and bankers, but I do know from living with my husband that they have no monopoly on sin!” Exactly. There is no monopoly on sin. No class, race, or group has a corner on the sin market (although all nowadays seem to be trying!).

Legislation as well as thinking which has as its premise the doctrine of selective depravity not only denies the facts about all men, but it denies the very idea of justice. True justice, God’s justice, requires that we be blind to the people involved but alive to God’s requirements. It is in this sense that justice is blind, blind to human prejudices, partisanships, and claims, but alive to the law of God. God declares, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev. 19:15). We are not justified before God’s law by our estate: rich or poor, believer or unbeliever, clergyman or layman, our estate is not a determining factor, but God’s law is at all times to govern all men. At the same time, we cannot, in rigorously applying God’s law, forget that we are also under it, and that the person on trial is our “neighbour.” We cannot treat him as a different kind of humanity in whom selective depravity is operative. As the old expression has it, we are to remember, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

The doctrine of selective depravity overthrows justice because it legislates in terms of class, race, or group. It declares a segment of humanity to be the depraved element by nature, because of their membership in a class, race, or group. Injustice then becomes a way of life, as it is now, in varying degrees, all over the earth.

Moreover, if we believe that some other group is the selectively depraved group, then it easily follows that they will decide that we are the selectively depraved blight upon the earth. Present-day economic and political thought begins and ends, on the whole, in terms of the doctrine of selective depravity.

The returns are now coming in. Politics has long operated on this premise of selective depravity. Now more and more people are concluding that the depraved class is the political one, politicians and bureaucrats. Terrorists are increasingly in evidence everywhere, and political assassinations are becoming common, because the true believer in selective depravity believes finally in salvation by murder. The solution is then simple: kill the men of the establishment, and freedom and paradise will be born. Hence, “death to the pigs,” or death to the establishment in its every form. Salvation by murder becomes a passionate faith and hope. And I do mean passionate, as I have often seen. For example, on one occasion, I argued with a university student, who believed in selective depravity. He lost his temper, and began to shout that all the pigs in power should be killed, and I should be “prevented” from going around the country corrupting people. It does not take too much pressure for such people, whatever their politics, to express their demands for murder.

Consider, then, what hard times will do to many of them. It will push them over the edge in demands for revolutionary or for repressive, reactionary actions. Salvation by murder will become a faith in action. Reasoning with such will not work. The premise of their thinking, whatever their professed politics of religion, is a false doctrine of man, a doctrine of selective depravity. Nothing short of a return to the total Word of God can give men and nations a new direction.

(Reprinted from the Chalcedon Report, August-October, 1976)

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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