The entirety of western culture has been formed, and continues to be influenced by Christianity. Our science and political theory, our understanding of human nature and how to live as humans has been dominated by a biblical foundation. Secularism has thrown off the religious trappings, but has not dug down into the underlying substructure so it is still useful to ask Christianity, ‘who are we?’.
As the books of the Bible are arranged, it would seem that the first thoughts on human nature for the Christian faith are that we are created in the image of God; male and female to live harmoniously in Paradise. The second story tells that we are created unequal, with men being made first and woman formed from the male (an odd view of reproduction, never to be repeated!). Then the story of temptation, disobedience and ejection from Eden, and copulation, farming and aggression and greed, and murder, and we are just a few pages into this epic collection of books.
If we ask the Bible, “Who are human beings? What am I?” we have the contradictory responses: a little lower than the angels; beautifully and wonderfully made; the crown of all creation; children of God, created in God’s image; full of wisdom, truth and light . . . OR . . . fallen beings, obsessed with power and control; from slaves to warring tribes; from oppressed to oppressor; patriarchal; monarchical; overwhelmed by avarice and greed. When some of us read the Bible we say, “Why is there so much war, and genocide, and political maneuvering, and oppression here?” From the books of history and law to the psalms, hatred, anger and pain are endemic in these writings. The usual and rather trite response, that I have given myself at times, is that: this is not God’s intended behavior for humankind; this is just documentation of the reality of who we are laid bare for us to critique, as indeed the prophets often do; that they show us who we are, and God’s response to that, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus.
In light of recent discussions about the nature of ‘the Human’, I might be revising that response!
If we ask popular science who we are, as humans, the classical response from the Darwinian myth is that we are the pinnacle of evolution – that we are the fittest species that has out-competed all others. Out of the evidence of geology and biology, Darwin developed a language for describing the Origin of the Species and the Descent of Man that was a product of our Christian heritage and, in the end, also rooted in Malthusian ideas of economics.
I unashamedly quote here from Wiki!
One proponent of Malthusianism was the novelist Harriet Martineau whose circle of acquaintances included Charles Darwin, and the ideas of Malthus were a significant influence on the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin was impressed by the idea that population growth would eventually lead to more organisms than could possibly survive in any given environment, leading him to theorize that organisms with a relative advantage in the struggle for survival and reproduction would be able to pass their characteristics on to further generations. Proponents of Malthusianism were in turn influenced by Darwin’s ideas, both schools coming to influence the field of eugenics. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr. advocated “humane birth selection through humane birth control” in order to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe by eliminating the “unfit”.
A new critique of the Victorian image of the white middle-class male as the pinnacle of evolution, and therefore of course, the rightful coloniser of all the world, is found in A.N Wilson’s eye-opening book, ‘Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker’. It sheds light on the way that a scientific theory can become a model, that creates a story to tell us who we are as human. In Darwin’s myth, faithfully retold by Richard Dawkins in the book the ‘Selfish Gene’, the primary drive of all human nature is the individual survival instinct and replication of that individual’s genetic heritage by sexual reproduction. That is all we are!
So the two great stories of our human nature told in western culture are before us, and neither look very appealing! Biblically we are fallen, sinful, greedy, warmongering and murderous. And scientifically we are competitive, self-seeking automatons controlled by our genes.
This may sound flippant, but if you think that you are not influenced by these stories try saying the following out loud:
“The first drive of humans is for the well-being of others; the human race is peaceful and non-competitive; we humans are innately creatures that share for the well-being of the entire community. Human beings are, by nature, not aggressive and thrive best in groupings that are fully devolved in power. Humans are primarily motivated by Love”
Even in writing, my conditioning rebels against this and tells me it sounds ridiculous and whimsical.
The power of the biblical and scientific stories can be seen, time and again, in all aspects of society. Do you remember the moves to remove competition from schools? There was the outcry that, if there were not winners and losers then how would anyone be motivated to get better at anything? But are we really saying that the primary motivation of the human condition is competition? Are we really saying that humans only strive to learn and create and become masters of their skills because the are aiming for a place of elevation over others?
This post is just a beginning which I hope will prompt lots of debate and tomorrow’s blog post gives a radical new twist on all this that may hold riches for the discussion . . .