The Human Condition
Leslie Stevenson, ed. (Oxford University Press: November 1999), 336 pages.
This unique anthology provides an introduction to a wide variety of views on human nature. Drawing from diverse cultures over three millennia, Leslie Stevenson has chosen selections ranging from ancient religious texts up to contemporary theories based on evolutionary science. The second edition of The Study of Human Nature offers substantial selections illustrating the perspectives discussed in Ten Theories of Human Nature, — the Bible, Hinduism, Confucianism, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, and Konrad Lorenz's ethnological diagnosis of human aggression. The Islamic tradition and 17th-18th century philosophers Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau are also represented. Selections from Rousseau, J.S. Mill, and Nancy Holmstrom raise feminist issues, and Henry Bracken's paper deals with racial issues. Examples from E.O. Wilson's sociobiology and his critics are also included, together with Chomsky and recent examples from evolutionary psychology. ~ Product Description
"Dying on Stage: 'The Act of a Dreadful Thing'" in Resurrection, Porter, Hayes, and Tombs, eds. (Continuum: 1999), pp. 297, 301.
Crucifixion demands entombment. And entombment generates drama. Who is hiding in the cupboard of French farce? Who is behind the screen on Blind Date? What is the bran tub, or the cracker, or the long awaited letter when it drops in the letter-box? Open the box! The drama of entombment is there literally in the stage illusionist's repertoire. It might have died with Harry Houdini, but it hasn't. I saw it only the other day on television: the comedian Freddie Star, bound and shackled and then submerged in a fish tank. Curtains drawn round the tank. Lights dimmed. A roll of drums, the lights flash, and then the lights go up and the curtains are drawn back to discover... an empty fish tank. And a few minutes later, Freddie is discovered somewhere else, damp but unharmed and smiling, the Starr reborn. ... I come back to death, 'nothing more terrible, nothing more true'. We go to Shakespeare's tragedies, go to sit in the dark in our boxes at the theatre, to confront what 'we can't escape'. And Shakespeare shows us the mutilated bodies in a stage spectacle. And he portrays death as final, 'the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always'. But the ritual of theatre-going won't allow it to rest there. We are obliged to remain incarcerated while another stage-spectacle is enacted, the resurrection before our eyes of the actors who are dead. The curtain call. It is a cheat. Like death. Something I know I can't escape, yet can't accept. Tirez le rideau.
Thomas Cahill on Sehnsucht said...
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Anchor Books, 1999), p. 8.
Is not the desire of the everlasting hills that they be saved from their everlastingness, that something new happen, that the everlasting cycle of human cruelty, of man's inhumanity to man, be brought to an end?
J.P. Moreland, "Naturalism Part IV" in Promise (Sep/Oct 1996), pp. 34-37.
What is the nature of the human person? A mere conglomeration of matter that consists of different levels of brain state or a being that is also endowed with a soul? In this final part of the series on Naturalism, Dr. J. P. Moreland exposes the philosophical inadequacies of physicalism and explains why the Christian message is more convincing.
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 529.
Window down, transmission in neutral, he was gliding along, exhausted, under stars and sinking moon, driving at swimming speed, otter speed, watching the same moon-silvered riffles and silent glides she'd navigated moments before. And when he pictured again the way she'd watched him — one small, rounded ear up, listening to his babble, the other ear down, listening to the world beneath the asphalt, crushed and alive, two worlds at once — it touched something in him, unlocked something, and he felt himself fall through a kind of false bottom, felt he was driving now, down, into a vast, dark pool. A pool of sorrows, it seemed at first. And not just his own, not just crushed otters and lost Tashas. The stuff of small and large losses, and of recent and ancient ones — poxed kakiutl and napalmed Asians, leveled cities and leveled minds, lost tribes and understandings, broken bridges between worlds — it was all somehow suspended here. Immense sadness on all sides, yet immense depth -- there was room down here for all of it. And in his exhaustion he didn't panic, didn't try to escape, didn't close his mind around any one hurt. He just kept easing the Olds down through it all, thrashing on a gurney, Natasha laughing in a cloudburst, the one good paw scrabbling at the road. No matter how much he saw, more kept coming. Sorrows were endless; he'd always known this. But so, he discovers as he kept sinking and sinking, was the spaciousness of this great black pool.
David James Duncan on Sehnsucht said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 81.
To describe in words makes the kingdom sound stark and empty, like the scrub desert of eastern Washington or something. But this is only because words can't explain the feeling that everything had. The fullness of things only made you notice this feeling more. The air, for instance smelled something like sea air, but whereas sea air makes you hungry, kingdom air made you full, and it wasn't a fullness like when you're stuffed from overeating: it was more like foodless fullness you get at the end of a really good movie. Like when the Captured Girl is about to be killed because she won't tell The Secret, and she takes a last look at the hills with tears in her huge brown eyes, and here comes The Hero you thought was dead, riding down out of nowhere with his sword flashing or gun blazing, making hamburger out of Evil while the music surges through you and the goose bumps shoot up and down you. That sort of fullness. Like I said, I can't explain it.
David James Duncan on Drunks said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 22.
I'd never seen anybody drink except the bums down in Portland. But once you saw the bums you never forgot. They had eyes like mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup all stirred together; the skin of their faces was like Soap Mahoney's hands; their teeth were bashed in or caramel-colored, if they had any, and their mouths dribbled tobacco or blood at the corners; they wore pieces of dead people's old suits, wore greasy overcoats that flapped like mangled wings, wore sores instead of socks on their ankles; and after they'd drink a while they'd just sit or lie down right on the sidewalk, letting real people walk over them while they argued with people who weren't even there. Once, while we were walking over some, Peter said to Everett that the bums had to listen to a whole sermon just to get a bowl of free soup at the Harbor Light Mission. Everett spat and said no wonder they stayed drunk. Then mama scared the hell out of us, and out of some bum too, by hauling off and slapping Everet so hard he almost fell down on a fat old Indian passed out against the wall there. Yet it was Everett who instantly said, "I'm sorry." Because he knew, we all knew, that she didn't hit him for any weird religious reason, or for spitting on sidewalks, or even out of nervousness at having to step around bums. She hit him because her father was a drunk. A mean one too. Died before any of us ever met him, but Mama still has dreams about him. And even dead he was the reason why drinking terrified her.
"Is Jesus the Only Way?" in Jesus Under Fire, eds. Michael J. Wilkins and JP Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 190.
Consider this small sample of perennial human concerns. We are moral creatures with moral duties to one another, but we seem confused about the source of morality's claim upon our lives, unsure of our judgements about what is right and wrong, and curiously impotent to consistently practice our morality. Though we are familiar with the brevity of life, and some of us even make a tolerably good show of accepting the finitude of our existence, we have an irresistible and uncanny hankering for permanence. We have no trouble relating to the ambivalence of Woody Allen's confession, "It's not that I'm afraid to die; I just don't want to be there when it happens." We ponder inconclusively the personal and cosmic significance of the many evils of human experience. And we are shocked to find the worst of human impulses lurking in that most unwelcome of places — the deep recesses of our own hearts. Even if we are fortunate enough to be spared life's greater tragedies (war, famine, plague, and the like), we fret about the monotony that accompanies a life of relative ease and comfort — and we come full circle to wonder again what life is about.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Eerdmans: Jan 1995), 216 pages.
This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it — and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble. Cornelius Plantinga pulls the ancient doctrine of sin out of mothballs and presents it to contemporary readers in clear language, drawing from a wide range of books, films, and other cultural resources. In smoothly flowing prose Plantinga describes how sin corrupts what is good and how such corruption spreads. He discusses the parasitic quality of sin and the ironies and pretenses generated by this quality. He examines the relation of sin to folly and addiction. He describes two classic "postures" or movements of sin – attack and flight. And in an epilogue he reminds us that whatever we say about sin also sharpens our eye for the beauty of grace. ~ Synopsis
New Inquisition (New Falcon Publications: December 1994)
This is the self-image of humanity: ...the sad clowns of Picasso — the frenzied monsters of his middle period — the defeated heroes and heroines of Hemingway and Sartre and Faulkner — the cosmic butcher shop (Whoa!) of Bacon — the homicidal nightmare of such arch-typical films as 'Dead End' and 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'Chinatown' — the bums and thugs and the endless succession of self-pitying and easily-defeated rebels in virtually all the novels and plays and films that claim to be naturalistic... the apotheosis finally achieved by Beckett: man and woman in garbage cans along with the rest of the rubbish.
G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press: 1994).
This book is a dandy — a little social commentary full of Chesterton's ever-so-fun-and-clever humor and incredible way of making you realize that the ways in which we humans think is often the exact opposite of what we ought to think. The content is, I suppose, a bit dated... it is intended for the turn-of-the-century (the last turn, not this one) English reader; as such, issues such as women's suffrage might appear to be entirely culturally irrelevant. If read in its historical context, however, it can function both as a history lesson and poignant (in its time) social commentary. And, needless to say, as with all truly good observations about something in the past, there is a good deal which is extremely pertinent to the current social condition... even in those things that might appear outmoded. A good read. ~ Fred Schultz
The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (Random House : 1993), pp. 245-246.
A Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow," Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother's words, "told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can't imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother's womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mother's eyes. Doing it before the mother's eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They've planned a diversion; they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby's face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out his little hand to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn't it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things they say.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993), 21.
The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don't need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.
Marlene Winell on Original Sin said...
Leaving the Fold (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 1993), p. 1.
In conservative Christianity you are told you are unacceptable. You are judged with regard to your relationship to God. Thus you can only be loved positionally, not essentially. And, contrary to any assumed ideal of Christian love, you cannot love others for their essence either. This is the horrible cost of the doctrine of original sin.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (Basic Books: 1993), pp. 154-5.
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more or less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable — fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. ... The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press: Apr 1, 1993)
What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? This, in part, is the question that G.K. Chesterton starts with in this classic exploration of human history. Responding to the evolutionary materialism of his contemporary (and antagonist) H.G. Wells, Chesterton in this work affirms human uniqueness and the unique message of the Christian faith. He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart's own knowledge. ~ Doug Thorpe
Peter Kreeft on Sin said...
Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), p. 82.
This interpretation (of the Sermon on the Mount) naively assumes what all of history disproves, that we broken bricks can constitute an unbroken building if only we have an unbroken blueprint. Malcolm Muggeridge says, more realistically, that the most unpopular of all Christian dogmas is the one that is most empirically verifiable, the dogma of Original Sin.
Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), p. 77.
We need grace. We need God. We need to be loved despite our sin. This is infinitely more than what secular psychology says, that we need human positive strokes, that we are O.K. We are not O.K., and we know it, even as we repeat, for the millionth time, the most attractive lie the Devil has ever hooked us on, that sin is a superstition, that we are intrinsically good. Modernized Christianity, in it desperate attempt to be accepted by the world, compromises its bad news of sin and thus trivializes its Good News of salvation. This modernized Christianity will never get what it wants, the world's acceptance. Even as it taunts us for Puritanism, it envies us for telling the truth that it knows, deep down inside, it has covered up. The patient likes to be told by the nice doctor that there's nothing seriously wrong, but the patient knows all the time that both are fooling themselves. Dying people in America are usually told they're going to be "just fine", and they play along to spare the family the grief and honesty it cannot endure, thus plunging both into a conspiracy of lies. The same is true with regard to the greater illness of the spirit when we indulge in the conspiracy of lies that "everything's going to be all right." That's the song people sing as they march to Hell.
Peter Kreeft on our Ancestors said...
Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), p. 25.
True, we are less courageous, less honest with ourselves, less self-disciplined, cruel, intolerant, snobbish, and inhumane than they were. They were better at the hard virtues; we are better at the soft virtues. The balance is fairly even, I think... When we act morally, we are better than our philosophy. Our ancestors were worse than theirs.
Peter Kreeft on Self-Control said...
Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), p. 23.
If we can conquer everything except ourselves, the result is that we do not hold the power. More and more power over nature is placed in hands that are weaker and weaker. Heredity, environment, the spirit of the times, "the inevitable dialectic of history," the media, something is always in the driver's seat instead of ourselves.