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.
Ask yourself, “What is a hippie?” I mean, this is an old word that has a lot of connotations. Remember, the sixties happened in the early seventies. That’s sort of when I came of age. So I saw a lot of this. A lot of it happened right in our backyard here. To me, the spark of that was that there was something beyond what you see every day. There is something going on here in life beyond just a job and a family and two cars in the garage and a career. There is something more going on. There is another side of the coin, that we don’t talk about much. We experience it when there are gaps. When everything is not ordered and perfect, when there’s a gap, you experience this inrush of something. And a lot of people have set off throughout history to find out what that was. Whether it’s Thoreau, whether it’s some Indian mystics, or whoever it might be. The hippie movement got a little bit of that and wanted to find out what that was. And of course the pendulum swung too far the other way and it was crazy, but there was a germ of something there.
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.
Featuring works by Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Immanuel Kant, Albert Schweitzer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Rahner, and others, these are the essential writings on religion by German theologians, authors, and philosophers, from the Enlightenment to the present.
The Christian religion, [Pascal] claims, teaches two truths: that there is a God who men are capable of knowing, and that there is an element of corruption in men that renders them unworthy of God. Knowledge of God without knowledge of man’s wretchedness begets pride, and knowledge of man’s wretchedness without knowledge of God begets despair, but knowledge of Jesus Christ furnishes man knowledge of both simultaneouosly.
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 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.
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.
The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor’s basic premise is rather simple, “we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34).” His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood. The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical perspective. In this view, self was dependent on a vision of the True or the Ideal. The hierarchical nature of reality presupposed in classical thought meant that self-definition was subservient to the whole. Traditional Christian thought embraced the classical perspective and the preference for self-definition by externals. Obviously, this short sketch of classical thought seems to be absurdly irrelevant in our contemporary world. Self is definitely not defined in relation to externals, but by an extreme interiority, complete rejection of hierarchical schemes, and the assumption that reality is defined empirically rather than conceptually. This book traces the transformation of the classical perspective through history in each of these areas: the movement toward inwardness, the affirmation of ordinary life, and the voice of nature. ~ Peter A. Kindle at Amazon.com
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.
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.
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.
In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it. Let’s not go too far in such analogies, however, but rather return to everyday words. It is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering. ¶ What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.
According to Scripture, humankind was created in the image of God. Hoekema discusses the implications of this theme, devoting several chapters to the biblical teaching on God’s image, the teaching of philosophers and theologians through the ages, and his own theological analysis. This second book in a series of doctrinal studies concerns itself with theological anthropology, or the Christian doctrine of man. The theological viewpoint is that of evangelical Christianity from a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective. Suitable for seminary-level anthropology courses, yet accessible to educated laypeople. Extensive bibliography, fully indexed. ~ Publisher’s Description
We are, in the most profound sense, children of the Cosmos. Think of the Sun’s heat on your upturned face on a cloudless summer’s day; think how dangerous it is to gaze at the Sun directly. From 150 million kilometers away, we recognize its power. What would we feel on its seething self-luminous surface, or immersed in its heat of nuclear fire. The sun warms us and feeds us and permits us to see. It fecundated the Earth. It is powerful beyond human experience. Birds greet the sunrise with an audible ecstasy. Even some one-celled organisms know to swim to the light. Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars? Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the researcher himself is unaware of its presence, lies a kernel of awe.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams … glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those … moments will be lost … in time, like tears … in rain. Time … to die.
Evil, we have learned, is something demonic; its incarnation is Satan … or Lucifer … What I was confronted with was utterly different and still undeniably factual. I was struck by a manifest shallowness in the doer that made it impossible to trace the incontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer — at least the very effective one now on trial — was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives, and the only notable characteristic one could detect in his past behavior as well as in his behavior during the trial and throughout the pre-trial police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but thoughtlessness.
Precisely at the same hour in which [the Jews] were being done to death, the overwhelming plurality of human beings, two miles away on the Polish farms, five thousand miles away in New York, were sleeping or eating or going to a film or making love or worrying about the dentist. The two orders of simultaneous experience are so different, so irreconcilable to any common norm of human value, their coexistence is so hideous a paradox… Are there, as science fiction and Gnostic speculation imply, different species of time in the same world, “good time” and enveloping fold of inhuman time, in which men fall into the slow hand of the living damnation?… What had old Stingo been up to while Jozef (and Sophie and Wanda) had been writhing in Warsaw’s unspeakable Gehenna? Listening to Glenn Miller, swilling beer, horsing around in bars, whacking off. God, what an iniquitous world!
We have conjured up all manner of devils responsible for our present discontent. It is the unchecked bureaucracy in government, it is the selfishness of multinational corporate giants, it is the failure of the schools to teach and the students to learn, it is overpopulation, it is wasteful extravagance, it is squandering our national resources, it is racism, it is capitalism, it is our material affluence, or if we want a convenient foreign devil, we can say it is communism. But when we scrape away the varnish of wealth, education, class, ethnic origin, parochial loyalties, we discover that however much we’ve changed the shape of man’s physical environment, man himself is still sinful, vain, greedy, ambitious, lustful, self-centered, unrepentant, and requiring of restraint.
One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing that full chorus of song, which can only be heard at that that time of the year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed to me that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this all year round and I had never noticed it. As I walked I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom and again I thought that I had never seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing I could not have been more surprised. I came then to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God.
To view the crucifixion of Christ aright, as an objective fact of the world’s history, we should regard it as an act of the race, considered as an individual. Alas, for poor humanity! It had gone so far astray from its Creator, that it could not recognise Him even when He came to its every affection and faculty, in the human form of tenderest sympathy, of kindest, most patient instruction, of long suffering even unto death. The very light that was in it was darkness; for in the name of God it was, that it blasphemed and laid murderous hands on the perfect manifestation of the Divine in human life. Such was the crucifixion in the world’s history. And in the history of every individual, is there not precisely the same crucifixion of Christ? Is it not universal experience, that, by reason of the darkness that is in us while we are realising our own individuality, we reject, and misconceive, blaspheme, and attempt to destroy some principle which would lead us into life? He who is not conscious of some degree of this, has not lived to know himself.