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.
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).
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.