Craigslist’s Faulty Theological Foundation

Mark Beuving —  October 23, 2012

Craigslist is a great idea. Yard sales are so random, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you never know what you’re going to find. But Craigslist essentially links every yard sale in your extended area so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s simple and effective.

I’m pro Craigslist, generally speaking. I have used the site to successfully buy and sell items. Chances are, so have you.

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark

But a couple of years ago I read an interview with Craig Newmark, the “Craig” in “Craigslist.” He explained that his site is based on the belief that people are basically good. So give them a platform for interacting with one another, and everything will work out fine.

The Bible, however, has a different view of mankind. Yes, we were created good, but since the moment sin entered the world, we all possess a sin nature. This does not mean that we are all as bad as we could possibly be. Far from it. God’s grace is constantly restraining us from being as bad as we’d like to be. But we are all prone to sin, and the Bible can safely go so far as to say that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

So Craigslist is based on the assumption that people are basically good, yet in reality people are basically sinful, though not as thoroughly as they might be. What does this mean for the functionality of the site?

Because people are not as bad as they might be (because God’s grace is constantly working in all of us—even though we are typically unaware of its presence), we are going to have a pleasant experience with Craigslist much of the time. Given a platform in which to exchange goods, people will often be kind, straightforward, and honest.

But because sin lurks in every heart, we are also going to have bad experiences on Craigslist. I have had to dodge scams from people trying to “buy” my stuff on Craigslist, and I know others that have been ripped off. Craigslist has also served as a convenient marketplace for prostitution. They have been making changes to the site to try to avoid this, but the issue doesn’t appear to be resolved yet.

To be clear, this doesn’t make Craigslist the worst site on the net, nor is it the only site affected by human depravity. But I do think that sites like eBay, which enforce rules and have some level of governance, take human depravity into account and function better because of it. There’s still something to be said about freeing people up to do business (this is the basis of capitalism, and most of us enjoy this system on the whole), but we would be foolish to assume that no problems will arise (our form of capitalism is not this optimistic—we are miles away from a true free market economy).

Craigslist Warning

This warning comes standard in Craigslist email exchanges.

In reality, Craigslist does not function entirely on Craig Newmark’s assumption that people are basically good. The fact that they have made changes to the site to try to avoid prostitution shows that they are being forced to account for depravity. I have also noticed that every email interaction on Craigslist includes a standard warning about giving too much information to inquirers—another nod to mankind’s sinful condition.

As I said, I’m all for Craigslist. But our theological assumptions matter in the business world as much as anywhere else. Viewing the world as God views it means that we are viewing the world as it actually is. And when we view the world as it actually is, we are bound to function better in the real world.

 

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Mike Wolfe

    Good post, Mark. We had a speaker on the subject of creation/evolution in our church this fall (Dr. Mace Baker from Science for Creation). He passed along a view of sinfulness in mankind that was very helpful to me. When Adam and Eve at the fruit they were not supposed to eat, it was fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Consequently, we, humanity, are now able to experience both good AND evil. We were created to only experience good. We were not meant to even KNOW evil. But now we do. This explains how people – no matter their spiritual condition – can do “good” things. We know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We know that all our righteousness is like filthy rags – so whatever “good” we think we’re doing does not measure up to God’s perfect requirements. But that helps me put this whole “sin nature” thing in perspective. I don’t think a believer in Jesus Christ, one who has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, is “mostly” cleaned up” from sin. I think he/she is TOTALLY cleaned up – Romans 6 and many other passages seem to indicate that precise view. But when Adam ate the fruit, he put into mankind the option to do good OR evil, to see good AND evil. We still carry that ability – even after the cleansing of our “sin nature.” I buck against “sin nature” because it is not a biblical term – Bible versions that use the term are translating the ONE Greek word sarx, which is flesh – not two Greek words, harmartia and pneuma, sin and nature.

    Anyway – that explanation of what happened in the Garden has been helpful to me in understanding sin. I realize it has nothing to do with Craigslist or your main point. Sorry!

    • MarkBeuving

      Great point, Mike. That’s very helpful. I also find Romans 1:18-25 helpful in this regard. Paul is clear that everyone KNOWS God, but we suppress that knowledge in our unrighteousness. So we shouldn’t be surprised when people act unrighteously, but we also shouldn’t be surprised to see that true knowledge of God pop up from time to time as their suppression of the truth is incomplete.

    • Dale Cordes

      Mike, I disagree with part of what you said. Please know that my “disagreement” is simply an expression of my curiosity and understanding based on where I’m at in my pursuit to know God more each day. I don’t claim to know the right/wrong way to explain how sin entered the world.

      You said, “when Adam ate the fruit, he put into mankind the option to do good OR evil.” Eating the fruit was a sin, a deliberate decision to act for personal benefit in direct opposition to the instruction given by God. Therefore, it does not make sense to me that the option to sin entered the world after that point.

      I’m interested to hear what others think.

  • Jason

    When you say: “because God’s grace is constantly working in all of us—even though we are typically unaware of its presence”, is there a verse, or verses, that speak to this? Also, does the “all of us” pertain to believers, or non-believers as well? Interesting article you wrote – I enjoy reading your posts. Thanks….

    • MarkBeuving

      Hi Jason. Great question. What I’m referring to there is known as the doctrine of “common grace.” It basically means that God extends his grace to everyone (believer or no) to a certain extent. Theologically this is distinct from “special grace,” which God directs towards believers. The terms are theological (not biblical), but the concepts are in the Bible. For example, Matt. 5:45 says that God allows his rain to fall on the both the just and the unjust. That is an aspect of God’s grace extending to everyone. God also actively upholds the whole universe (Christians, non-Christians, and all creation) at every moment (Heb. 1). He sometimes restrains nonbelievers from sinning in ways that they might otherwise have done (see Gen. 20:6 and 1 Sam. 25:26). That’s the basic idea. It doesn’t mean that God is saving everyone, just that his grace operates all the time in big and small ways. Psalm 145:9 sums the whole idea up well: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. “

      • Jason

        Thanks Mark, those scripture references were helpful! I have a question for you off-topic. As believers, we believe we are both body and spirit. However, when we have a conversation with an unbeliever, are there tangible examples we can use to show that we are spirit?

        • MarkBeuving

          Great question, Jason. It all depends on the person. Many people today are “spiritual,” and already acknowledge this mysterious side of reality. But typically we Westerners tend to be naturalists, which means that they deny (or at least are very skeptical of) those things that cannot be verified by the five senses. In other words, if they can’t see, touch, taste, hear, or smell it, then it cannot serve as admissible evidence. Based on that criteria, there is no way to prove the spiritual because a naturalist has already discounted the possibility of anything spiritual.

          In any case, I do think that you can point to some aspects of the human experience that cannot be explained in purely material terms. Take human personality, for example. A consistent naturalist has to say that personality is an illusion, that we only seem to have personalities but that in reality we are the product of the chemical and electrical interactions in our brains. Yet we all know that personality is more than an illusion. I think this points beyond the material to the existence of the spiritual.

  • Lyndellbro

    I am interested in whether Craig just casually said people are basically good. The “basically” part makes me think, he is just being an optimist. But, if worldview embraces the idea as a Prime Assumption, that people ARE good, he is headed down a slippery slope and would be vulnerable to the doctrines of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. I think I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

    • MarkBeuving

      Yeah, he definitely deserves the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he doesn’t believe that people are always good and never do bad things. But in the interview I read, he said that he based his company on the belief that people are good so if you set them free, the results will be good. So I don’t think he’s a nutcase, I just think that the foundation of his business model will (and does) eventually lead to problems.