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?
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.