Does human nature carry with it a moral structure and a specific end or purpose that remain constant over time and to which we must conform ourselves in order to flourish?
Or are we simply the stuff of which we are made and beyond that be free to be or do whatever we so choose?
Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman
I have been thinking lately about the book of Genesis, specifically the first three or four chapters. Not as science or as history, but as anthropology and as foundational for natural law.
Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Did God create a universe of order, or disorder? We see the answer in all of creation, from the movement of the stars and planets to the sufficiency of all things necessary to sustain life on earth to the most minute processes in the human body.
We see the answer in the last verse of chapter 1:
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.
Good: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree: of high quality; excellent. As opposed to bad: not good in any manner or degree. having a wicked or evil character; morally reprehensible: of poor or inferior quality; defective; deficient.
We see that creation is ordered, and God calls this order “good.” Had creation been chaotic, well, first of all there would be no creation to speak of, but I suspect God would have called it “bad.” This being not possible, of course….
Order was created. In this, we find the roots of natural law. If order is created, that order can be discovered – it must be discovered, it cannot be invented. Just as we can discover the order of the universe, we can discover the order of and between men. To the extent we conform to that order, we will be right with creation.
Earlier in chapter 1 we have the following:
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Here we see another key component of natural law: all men and all women are made in the image of God. This verse is the foundation of understanding proper behavior between men, but it says nothing of the capabilities and qualities of any specific man. The only sense in which we can use the phrase “all men are created equal” is the one offered in this verse. One cannot find egalitarianism in creation, where all outcomes must be equal. We see that all outcomes aren’t equal in God’s created order, for example when God found Cain’s “outcome” unequal.
Continuing in the first chapter:
28(a) And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,
I think this is self-explanatory. It conforms to the proper created order that man populates the earth (and that requires some not-very-deep thinking on what this means regarding proper sexual relationships).
28(b) and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
This orders man’s place relative to the other living creatures. As they are also created by God, man is to exercise proper dominion – to subdue the rest of creation. This offers two aspects of this ordered creation: man is higher than any other aspect of creation, and man is to properly care for creation. What cannot be derived from this is that man must be removed from creation in order to save creation, as many wish upon us today.
Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Is there a better explanation of why man is so completely different than any other earthly created being. Does “we are just made of stuff” explain why we are so different than other things made of stuff? None of this 98 percent (or whatever) commonality with the apes or lizards stuff; neither apes nor lizards have written a novel or symphony, or painted a masterpiece, or contemplated the meaning of life.
“Oh, how can you know any of that, bionic? Maybe they communicate such things in a much different form.” OK. Let’s just consider air conditioning.
Continuing with chapter 2, verse 20:
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
This was the first purpose for the creation of Eve – at least the first purpose identified in the narrative. I know it doesn’t sit well in our age, but for all of recorded history until the last few decades, it has worked out this way – not because of some will to power by males, but because of the physical realities of men and of women.
Chapter 3 describes the fall, and how this fall separates us from realizing the full value of and meaning in creation. In this, we can understand the actual meaning of the word toleration. We are all fallen, but this does not mean that we must accept or affirm or celebrate with pride every time that fall is demonstrated in a human life.
Returning to Trueman.
The modern self is not simply one that sees inner feelings as authoritative; the modern self also largely rejects the idea that human nature has any intrinsic moral structure or significance.
Nowhere does God offer to Adam and Eve to run with their “inner feelings.” God never says, “if it feels good, do it.” In fact, just the opposite. Don’t eat of the fruit, no matter how good you think it might make you feel.
Trueman runs through Marx and Hegel. Marx picks up on Feuerbach, who says that the religious talk about God is nothing more than an idealized version of humanity. Man creates god in man’s image, not the other way around. Therefore, it follows, that man can create man to be whatever he wishes man to be.
He then comes to Nietzsche, and his famous passage regarding the madman (which includes the proclamation, “God is dead”), which Trueman quotes at length. Just a few lines will suffice:
“Whither is God?” he cried. “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. …Whither are we moving? Away from all suns?” Are we not plunging continually?
When man has divorced himself from God, there is no order left to creation – there is no meaning and no chance for liberty, because the natural order (natural law) is destroyed.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderer of all murderers?”
With amusements. But these will come from outside of, and even against, the created order. This will, inevitably, lead to a crisis of meaning and to a loss of liberty. Many knew this at the time of Nietzsche’s writing, or shortly thereafter. But we are living it today.
We might say that the death of God is also the death of human nature, or at least the end of any cogent argument that there is such a thing as human nature.
Men and women cannot be made in God’s image if there is no God. Which really destroys any idea of natural law. Which then destroys any possibility for liberty to flourish, and which also leads man inevitably to a meaningless life.
No, not all men. But we see the despondency in the West. We see the slide, obvious since the First World War, but with seeds planted in the Enlightenment and even the Renaissance.
Kill God and you have, instead of order, chaos. Perhaps there are better examples for evidence of God, but the chaos around us, so plainly evident today, is a pretty good witness.
Thinking about Genesis 1-2 here it is interesting to see that God makes order by separating things. Dark from light. Day one from the next day. Water from land. Sky from water. Etc.ReplyDelete
That inherently makes creation a collection of different/unequal things. Then the order determines how those things relate to one another. Then most controversially of all God separates out nations in Genesis 11. That means nations are unequal (gasp) and that created order instructs them on how to behave towards one another. We are all human because we are all created in God's image. That's the universal. But the particular is that we are Jews, Poles, Slavs, Siamese, Indian, Mongol, Yoruba, Baganda, and Celts.
Without separation and inequality you have a chaotic blob. There is no order because there can be no order when there is nothing separate. God separates. So if He is dead then the material universe goes back to the blob even if the process is very slow.
But God is not dead. He is holding creation together every second. He has ordered the universe and mankind according to reason. We can understand things like liberty, ownership, aggression, and punishment through the application of reason.
"He is holding creation together every second."Delete
This is so true. If moderns could have their wish, there would be no more creation. Wait...that is their wish.
If natural law is “engraved in the heart” of people everywhere as the Apostle Paul wrote, John Locke expounded and the Declaration of Independence enshrined, it is enormously difficult to verify empirically. If an unsupervised infant has crawled out into the street (which I witnessed recently), it is assumed even a mass murderer or homeless indigent would be compelled to rescue the baby. But if that child is not a member of his tribe (or religion in many parts of the world) the response of a bystander may be indifference; just as the members of the Political Class may incite violence by calling for the death of Donald Trump or his “deplorable” followers without a moral qualm. Ergo, moral imperatives do not naturally or necessarily apply to enemy tribes or political parties, but government requires moral legitimization.ReplyDelete
Conversely, both tribes and parties will give minimal lip service that slavery is evil and that stealing to feed a starving family should not be a crime. But it has taken many years of re-socialization to get people to deplore slavery and not to hang people for real, not staged, crimes of necessity.
If neither absolutism nor relativism are firm a basis for government, and depend on historical time and place, the question then becomes on what foundation do we base government? This is especially crucial because neither Christianity or Judaism prohibited slavery, Jesus said nothing about it, Paul advocated only kindness toward slaves, and Judaism only sought to regulate (legalize) it. Neither were the classicists involved in this evolution. Aristotle, the progenitor of natural law, believed there was a class of “natural slaves”. Greeks asserted there was a natural domination of men, civilized Hellenes and citizens over women, Trojan barbarians and slaves. Thomas Aquinas grafted natural law into Catholic Christianity.
But with the creation of semi-open labor and property markets what evolved was what French sociologist Daniele Hervieu-Leger termed the “ecumenism of human rights” tied to Western cultural imperialism and globalization. Concomitantly, and perhaps more importantly, oligarchs saw their fortunes tied to the creation of such markets.
The American Founders evoked the language of nascent Natural Rights, but it was based on the social perception that trade tariffs, property rights, and laws were inequitable and hence immoral. However, what evolved in America was a hybrid civic religion of Judeo-Christianism that pluralized and relativized religion. Social perceptions may be a moral basis of government, but it is highly manipulable in a mass media society where social justice and equality relegates citizens, parents, veterans and independent workers into second class citizens relative to politicized identity groups. And oligarchs no longer see open markets as a way to enhance their fortunes and control over the masses.
Even if Natural Law as a basis of Natural Rights is not empirically validate-able, we are compelled to assert what Voltaire stated: "If God (Natural Law) does not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" (Natural Rights).
"... the question then becomes on what foundation do we base government?"Delete
I see no foundation for government.
People in government believe they have rights I do not have - to steal, kidnap, murder, etc.
Either all people are equal under the Natural Law, or they are not.
If people in govt are said to be lawfully able to exercise powers above and beyond Natural Law, then that foundation for govt is intrinsically unlawful.
Base the authority of government on the consent of the governed. No man has a natural right to govern another man without his consent. Each man has a natural right to choose for himself, and only for himself, what rules he is to live under. Any crimes committed against other men are a violation of their right to live under rules of their own choosing.Delete
Wayne, natural law is engraved on the heart. The line dividing good and evil also runs through every heart. For some people, the line is far more on one side than the other.Delete
Man is fallen. We cannot escape this.
As to nothing in the Bible against slavery...this is wrong. Galatians 3: 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
It took the Christian world some time to figure out how to sort this out in practice - unlike much of the non-Christian world even today.