Jan 15, 2011


My assignment has gone so well in the past hour or three that I’ve been inspired to blog on the human condition; on evil, goodness and you. Yes, you. I’ll take the liberty of using a collective “we” to begin the post.

This is a picture of a Kafka book with the title "metamorphosis". It seemed suitably pretentious. Apparently, in it, a man gets turned in to an insect.

We tend to think of people as fundamentally good – a leftover verse from a hymn of the Enlightenment, perhaps it was, that created this common consensus. We snuck a look at it, lying on the trashpile and we framed it, ignoring any irony or conflict. This may be an apposite and quotable quote I have invented: “a consensus without strong fences is a fragile one”. In any case, of course, in holding such a belief in the goodness of those around us, we are faced by many glaring contradictions; occasionally we must at least glimpse the face of evil. But these tend to be distanced from us in actuality – experienced through television, WOW3 and other media, perhaps we do not consider them real or let them impact us substantially. Our family and classmates and workmates and flatmates and the mates that are too good to get a prefix are good, really. Like, they’re not bad, you know?!

This easy-going optimism – maybe it’s partly a kiwi thing – may be contrasted, at least implicitly, with a ‘religious’ view. On such a view, humankind is damned, is evil and the world sucks. Let it burn; somehow or other, a handful of moralists are righteous and the rest are goneburger. Such an ugly view; perhaps we suspect it to be disturbingly close to the truth (who after all wouldn’t want to be more moral, if it came easily?) but sure as hell, we’d rather not believe it.

A naturalist believing in no moral order (a consistent naturalist, I’d suggest), believes, or says he does, that human beings are fundamentally neither good nor evil. For, the terms are meaningless and what is required is a neutral view (it may be a moot point whether “required” could be an appropriate term.) I’ll let you assess whether this position is plausible; for now, I move on to what I consider a more promising alternative to each proposal outlined above.

The Christian view is, I would suggest, both similar and different to each of these. Firstly, the Christian view asserts that evil is real and present and ugly and real and yes I can say that twice and it’s inside every single one of us and it is something we need to face up to. But there is a but; in fact, there are two. God made mankind in his image; we are made to represent him in his creation and he intended us for good – indeed, he intended us for “very good”. The image has been trodden upon; in a bizarre self-referential loop, in trashing others and their cities, we’ve trashed ourselves and we’re stuck. Yet finally, the Christian view is hopeful. We can expect something better; we are justified in believing that justification before God is on offer to humanity, by his grace. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead; he has been vindicated and we can trust him and his atoning sacrifice, such that in doing so, we now have access to the full life that God intended for us. This is a story worth making your own.

The world is not neutral - it is subtly but crucially (yes, that ugly wooden 'cross' seems to pop up in our language even here, thanks to the derivation of our words; our so-carelessly used words!) different to that - it is two-faced, but one face is more significant than the other. It is a cliche, but it's a damn good one - the better face is the "face of love" and his name is Jesus. So many words have been written on Him and on the human condition in light of Him - and there are many more to come.

How do I come up with this.. awesomeness, you may wonder? Inspiration was drawn from working on an analysis, of this article for an English course (I may submit that here after handing it in), along with reading this blog-post: I’d also credit the Bible, particularly the early chapters of Romans, though any errors are my own rather than God’s. Recent discussions about salvation, creation and sin have also fed the conversation, so perhaps I can blame any falsehoods on my friends, the books I have read or my cultural conditioning.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I make your "consistent" criterion for a naturalist. I was just thinking about this this morning on the way to uni. Being a naturalist and having studied scientific attempts to study human behaviour, I see any statement like "human nature is basically good" or "human nature is totally depraved" as a little meaningless (when I was a Christian I loved that I could believe wholeheartedly both those things were true - it is also a nice way of looking at it).

    On second thoughts, perhaps for a consistent naturalist like myself, even to say "human nature is neutral" is a bit too much of a value judgement. Better to stick to the natural facts: humans have evolved to look after themselves first and foremost, but have also biologically evolved the capacity for emotional empathy, through selection pressure for caring for one's family, etc etc. But I can't think of how to put that into a pithy statement in the form of "human nature is ___" :-(