SIN MISCONCEIVED AS INTRINSIC TO HUMAN NATURE
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. - Genesis 1:31
In contrast to the rather optimistic belief that the individual can perfect himself by an effort of will, most of the worlds philosophers and many of its artists have taken a radically different view. The majority subscribe to the melancholy doctrine that mans woes are due to the very conditions of human existence or to human nature as such. It is stated with unusual candor in the following account of a famous Buddhists teaching:
By sin Nichiren understood nothing else than estrangement from the truth . . . the falling away of individuals from the primordial oneness of universal life. But sin was not merely a matter of the individual person, it was the common heritage of all beings . . . .1
This sophisticated teaching sometimes succeeds in infiltrating the popular mind itself. Naive common sense is intimidated by the wholly arbitrary claim that any philosophy is superficial which lacks a tragic sense of life; in other words, that one must be pessimistic in order to be profound.
Before swallowing such a claim the man in the street may fairly ask for its credentials. On what grounds is all existence placed under blanket condemnation? A clue is provided by Platos famous myth of the cave, which teaches that the everyday world is but a passing shadow of the true reality, which belongs to an immaterial, nontemporal sphere of being. For Plato, as for so many other thinkers, the religious problem is how the soul may escape from its bondage here below and return to the disembodied state whence it originally fell. By what value judgment is this alleged realm exalted and the world of common sense disparaged? Platos yardstick is the same one which underlies the determinists creed: the ideal of perfect knowability, in the sense of absolute certainty. Knowledge in mans present state is always partial, never certain. Even the wisest and
1Masaharu Anesaki, History of Japanese Religion (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., Ltd., 1930), p. 201.
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oldest scientist knows only a fraction of what there is to know, and his surest knowledge attains no more than a high degree of probability. This is why the Oriental scoffs at the achievements of Western science as a chasing after wind.
The world of true Being which the philosopher postulates is custom-built to remedy these defects. Plato calls it a colorless, formless, intangible essence, visible only to the mind, the pilot of the soul.2 The souls present state of exile is due to its failure to hold fast to the intellectual vision which it formerly enjoyed. Accordingly, the way of salvation consists in recollecting, by philosophical contemplation, this precious forgotten knowledge. The soul thereby slips its earth-bound moorings and soars back to its true home. Plato would have no difficulty in agreeing with the Buddhist that sin is estrangement from the truth and that salvation consists in enlightenment. Both acknowledge the same ultimate standard of judgment: the good is conceived in terms of absolutely certain knowledge, while its opposite, evil, is merely ignorance.
Whoever thus deifies knowledge will discover all manner of grounds on which to convict the everyday world of obstructionism. In addition to his primary target, human freedom, he trains his fire on the mere fact of time, matter in general, the flesh in particular, and all desire whatever. These separate counts in the indictment will be considered in order.
Philosophers and poets throughout the ages have been nearly unanimous in their lament over mans involvement in the temporal process. It automatically precludes perfect knowledge, for the future is at best only imperfectly anticipated and the past only fragmentarily remembered. The realm of time is the realm of change, whereas the truth is that which never changes. As Plato declares, That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.3 In this spirit the contemporary philosopher,
3Plato, Timaeus, #28.
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W. T. Stace, declares that the unifying vision of truth must be timeless.4 Hence temporal existence itself is a stigma.5
The poet is likewise afflicted with melancholy and yearning at the thought of being the prisoner of time. The spectre of everything being swallowed up by its insatiable ravages drives him to exclaim with T. S. Eliot, To be conscious is not to be in time.6 Nearly every poet has composed at least one stanza on the sadness of transient existence. None surpasses Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day until the last syllable of recorded time.
Next in the indictment comes matter, the mere fact of there being physical objects. It is an opaque, inert, intractable stuff, impenetrable to the pure intellectual vision. Moreover, whereas the intellect thirsts for the primordial oneness of universal life, matter is the seat of multiplicity and diversity. As the hated principle of individuation, it splits reality into myriad fragments. The philosophy of Schopenhauer is almost obsessed with this refrain, although it neither originates nor ends with him. W. T. Stace expresses the incompatibility of material existence with perfect knowledge by describing the latter as an experience in which
all distinctions between one thing and another . . . self and notself, are abolished, overcome, transcended, so that all the different things in the world become one, become identical with one another.7
When applied to the individual, this attitude entails the disparagement of his bodily nature. The Hindu lying on his bed of nails is simply putting into practice a doctrine of contempt for the body and mortification of the flesh. He gives concrete expression to the maxim so popular among the Greeks, The body is a tomb. Its worst offense is that, by means of the five senses, it attracts the mind to the world of temporal and physical objects, thereby plunging it deeper into ignorance and illusion. Moreover, it subjects reason to the caprices of the biological organism and limits its perspective to a particular locus in space and time. Aristotle only echoes Greek
4 W. T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1952), pp. 231, 238.
5For a classic statement of this position, see Plotinus, Enneads, III, 7, 11.
6T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets (London: Faber and Faber, 1944), p. 10.
7W. T. Stace, op. cit., p. 230. Like other mystics, the author also holds reason responsible for the fragmentation of primordial oneness.
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thought in general when he complains that mans rational nature is impeded by the exercise of bodily functions.8
The man for whom complete knowledge is the ultimate goal also resents the flesh on the ground that it is the seat of desire. For two reasons he finds desire undesirable. First, it destroys his precious self-sufficiency. The thirst for knowledge for its own sake always goes hand in hand with the craving for self-sufficiency and indeed often turns out to be simply the means to this end. Desire, by relating a man to something outside himself, makes his happiness dependent upon circumstances beyond his control. Second, desire is incompatible with the idolization of knowledge as the supreme good. By preventing the knower from being completely disinterested, it introduces a subjective factor to distort the clarity of intellectual apprehension.
The campaign against the flesh frequently centers on the sex impulse. The pagan esteem for celibacy per se, so remote from the over-all biblical outlook, scarcely requires documentation. What does require emphasis is the fact that prudery in such matters is no part of biblical Christianity, even if Christians themselves have not always realized this.
CHRISTIAN THINKING SUBVERTED
Christian thinking has been so successfully infiltrated by pagan value judgments that most people simply take it for granted that Christianity has a negative view of the world in general and a repressive attitude toward the flesh in particular. They can certainly point to numerous historical illustrations in their support. The medieval Church provides ammunition by contrasting the divine or eternal order with the merely temporal. From the hermits of the Egyptian desert to the austerities of the Puritans, Christians have imagined that full devotion to God demanded the renunciation of his world. Of all such advocates of physical austerities none is fiercer than St. Jerome, whose writings bristle with passages like the following, in which he describes the ideal Christian life as he conceives it:
I dwelt in the desert, in the vast solitude which gives the hermit his savage home, parched by the burning sun . . . . Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs, and my skin from long neglect became as black as the
8Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Chapter 13, line 30.
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Ethiopians. Tears and groans were everyday my portion; if drowsiness chanced to overcome my struggles against it, my bare bones, which hardly held together, clashed against the ground. Of my food and drink I say nothing: for even in sickness the solitaries have nothing but cold water, and to eat ones food cooked is looked upon as self-indulgence . . . . My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting . . . . I do not blush to avow my abject misery; rather I lament that I am not now as then I was .9
This negative attitude toward the self and the world has at times managed to become part and parcel of the definition of sainthood. In the words of a recent student of medieval saints, The foundation, the root, of the love of self is the desire of things, that fatal wanting which St. Francis all his life proclaims to be so deadly, and À Kempis, like St. Francis, insists that desire must be rooted out altogether if perfection is to be attained.10
This is simply another illustration of how easily a saintly but uncritical mind may be betrayed into a thoroughly pagan outlook. Rightly perceiving that some desires are bad, he may wrongly conclude that the fault lies in the nature of desire itself. Unable by solitary effort to accomplish its purification, and neglecting to ask God for its transformation, he may clamor instead for its extinction. Whenever a Christian takes this position, his thinking has jumped the track. It has in fact, if not in intent, gone into the service of another, very different religion.
Christian theology, instead of providing solid ground from which to criticize these ascetic tendencies, has often provided them with a persuasive defense. Thomas Aquinas, for example, when he arranges matter on the lower half of his scale of realities, bifurcates human nature in the familiar dichotomy of mind and matter, thereby sacrificing biblical anthropology to Aristotelian. His Roman Catholic followers make a brave effort to say that, although mind is better, matter is still good. In practice, however, the consequences of
9Epistle 22, 7. Cited by Kenneth E. Kirk, The Vision of God (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1932), p. 176.
10Gamaliel Bradford, op. cit., p. 120. The author cites to similar effect a quotation from the Spanish thinker, Molinos: The soul must find itself dead to its will, desire, endeavor, understanding, and thought; willing as if it did not will; desiring as if it did not desire; understanding as if it did not understand; thinking as if it did not think; without inclination to anything, embracing equally contempt and honors, benefits and corrections. Oh what a happy soul is that which is thus dead and annihilated! It lives no longer in itself, because God lives in it. P. 141.
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choosing this lesser good are just as unpleasant as if it were bad. Accordingly, the saint turns his back upon this lower order.
For the two-story edifice of St. Thomas, Protestant orthodoxy often substitutes two intersecting dimensions. This device does have the merit of making explicit the ultimate irreconcilability of the lower and higher realms of being in Aquinass system. At bottom, however, this Protestant alternative is no improvement, for, despite protests to the contrary, it in fact is obliged to fall back upon the dualism of mind and body as the paradigm of the relation between the divine and the human. Although it has the technical merit of adhering to this dualism more rigorously than the Thomists, it thereby ends in a less biblical position than Roman Catholicism. For the inconsistencies of Thomism, which no amount of dialectical cleverness can conceal, are often committed for the sake of a more biblical conception of the relation between God and man.
In our own day Nicolas Berdyaev makes the blanket assertion that the temporal and spatial world is the source of all the misfortunes of man. Another example is Paul Tillich, who declares that creation coincides with the fall.12 Although he is careful not to say that creation is the fall, he fails to draw any distinction between them. A biblical theology would at all costs avoid the slightest possibility of ambiguity or misunderstanding on this score. It would make clear that nothing intrinsic to creation anticipates a fall.
These embarrassments will continue to beset Christian thinking until it develops explicitly the philosophical implications of the Bible, instead of casting about for a ready-made metaphysical framework upon which to hang a few biblical adornments. Such philosophies always turn out to be a Procrustean bed on which biblical Christianity is disfigured.
If the highest good is unshakable certainty, and if this goal is incompatible with the conditions of spatiotemporal existence, then a mans consequent attitude toward human life will be one of uncompromising hostility. He will define the good as the very opposite of anything in human experience. This is the famous via negativa of
11See Nicolas Berdyaev, The Divine and the Human (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949), Chapter 14.
12Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I (University of Chicago Press, 1951). Pp. 255f.
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the mystic, whether Eastern or Western. As one writer has eloquently put it:
If, he [the mystics argues, God is the contradiction of our human faculties in the sense that the one is exclusive of the other, then by contradicting, or negating, these same faculties we make ourselves like Him, so as to attain knowledge of Him, even oneness with Him . . . . What little our human faculties can discern on the path is of no avail to purge the spiritual eye of the humours of this world m order that it may behold the gleams of inspiration which flash upon it now and then: it must be closed in voluntary blindness. I have not exaggerated. This, and nothing less than this, is the secret of what St. John of the Cross means by describing the pilgrimage to eternity as the Dark Night of the Soul.13
A man who defines the good as the very opposite of anything in human experience will often take pride in his contempt for life. His animus against this world becomes the measure of his devotion to the other. The present writer once had a conversation with a woman who had been a friend of one of the most notorious Nazi brutes. He was a fine man, she said; he should have been a priest.
A priest? was the surprised reply.
Yes. He was such an idealist.
An idealist? How do you mean?
Oh, he hated the world so.
However astonishing at first glance, this equation of idealism with hatred of the world follows with inexorable logic from the deification of noetic certainty. Some Western philosophers have been deterred by a healthy common sense from pressing their logic so far. Some have even advocated taking a responsible role in society. However admirable this sense of duty, the Eastern sage has no trouble in pointing out its inconsistency. Platos wise man returns to the cave, not because of his logic, but in spite of it. This self-contradiction runs through most idealistic philosophy. It may reflect credit upon the thinkers sense of social responsibility but not upon the coherence of his thought.14
Oriental philosophers have had better logic and fewer scruples. The ultimate issue of the common ideal which they share with their Western counterparts has been expressed in stark candor by a Sufi mystic:
13Paul E. More, Christian Mysticism (London: S.P.C.K., 1932), pp. 59f. Any similarity between this theology and that of Karl Barth is hardly coincidental.
14This point is beautifully made by Arthur O. Lovejoy in his The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), p. 39.
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Thine existence is a sin with which no other sin can be compared.15 If, when stated in such a straightforward way, this teaching sounds fantastic to Western ears, this is due to a residual biblical heritage. Before assuming that It cannot happen here, however, one would do well to look beneath the surface of European culture. In its Graeco-Roman phase, as noted in a previous chapter, there were numerous echoes of the Homeric dictum, Better never to have been born at all. Although the advent of Christianity forced this value judgment partly underground, it has never ceased to reassert itself and, with the waning of Christian influence, has begun to emerge again in pagan nakedness. A contemporary philosopher believes that all beings are infected by the same disease, the disease of existence.16
In the world of literature and the arts, especially, a creeping taedium vitae has made considerable inroads upon the modern mind. The recurrence of the themes of alienation and estrangement in contemporary literature has been prematurely interpreted by some Christian commentators as a rediscovery on the secular plane of basic Christian categories. The sense in which Christianity speaks of estrangement, however, is that of a violated relation of personal trust between men and God, whereas the sense in which most modern authors use it is precisely that of the Buddhist: it is, as a review in the New Yorker magazine puts it, the entrapment of the spirit in the flesh, and the shadow cast by eternity upon time.17
The abhorrence of human existence as such has an ancient lineage in Western literature. Denis de Rougemont, in his remarkable study Passion and Society, traces it to its origin in pagan religion. The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi expresses it as well as any:
All that exists is evil . . . everything exists only to achieve evil, existence itself is an evil .... There is no other good than non-existence.l8
The final step in the argument is taken by the Spanish poet Calderon when he says, The greatest crime of man is that he ever was born.
15Quoted by George F. Moore, History of Religions (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, Vol. 2, 1919), p. 442.
16W. T. Stace, Time and Eternity (Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 95.
17The New Yorker magazine, Sept. 4, 1954. p. 75.
18Iris Origo, Leopardi: A Study In Solitude ( British Book Centre, 1954 ) . Quoted in Time magazine, Aug. 2, 1954, p. 78
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With this kind of ancestry it is not surprising that contemporary art and literature is characterized, as Lionel Trilling notes, by a real loathing of living forms and living beings . . . a disgust with history and society and the state.19
The crude manifestations of this contemptus mundi to which our generation is growing accustomed are anticipated by the more refined sentiments of Henry James on the death of his beloved. He writes that she now lived
as a steady unfaltering luminary in the mind rather than as a flickering wasting earth-stifled lamp . . . . The more I think of her the more perfectly satisfied I am to have her translated from this changing realm of fact to the steady realm of thought.20
This last remark is an appropriate reminder that hatred of the world is dictated by the ideal of perfect knowability.
An even more explicit statement of the same attitude is made by Robert Louis Stevenson:
This stuff [matter], when not purified by the lustration of fire, rots uncleanly into something we call life; seized through all its atoms with a pediculous malady; swelling with tumors which become independent, sometimes even (by a horrid prodigy) locomotory . . . And to put the last touch on this mountain mass of the revolting and the inconceivable, all these prey upon each other . . . What a monstrous spectre is this man, the disease of the agglutinated dust?21
Among the countless illustrations that could be cited from the mid-twentieth century, Robinson Jefferss poem Inscription for a Gravestone declares unmistakably that death is preferable to life, chiefly for the reason that it constitutes escape from the body and is beyond the fictions called good and evil.22 Sherwood Anderson says it more prosaically:
As for the end, I have often thought that when it comes, there will be a kind of real comfort in the fact that the self will go then. There is some
19Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1953), p. 254. The author is quoting Ortega.
20Leon Edel, Henry James: The Untried Years (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1953) p. 325.
21The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson (Boston: The Jefferson Press, n.d.), Vol. 2, pp. 595f. Cited by D. R. G. Owen, Scientism, Man, and Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952), pp. 162f.
22See Inscription for a Gravestone in The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1937). p. 480.
Sin Misconceived as Intrinsic to Human Nature 77
kind of universal thing we will pass into that will in any event give us escape from this disease of self.23
The attempt is sometimes made to silence critical discussion of these and similar utterances by means of the claim that they merely give voice to the underlying reality of our present situation or that they speak to our condition. Actually such literature represents not so much an unbiased examination of the human situation as an attempt to influence it. Harry and Bonaro Overstreet make the following remarks about writers of this kind:
They are avid gleaners of catastrophic news - and since they lack the power to feel drama in the things that are going on normally and well within our nation and the world, their disproportionate and insistent stress upon what is going wrong tends to cast a weird, apocalyptic light over the human scene at the very time when we are most needing to see it in the light of creative rationality?24
The unwary reader is sometimes disarmed by the claim that a poet is by definition a seer whose transcendent message may not be questioned. This is an ingenious way of demanding immunity to criticism. The privilege of seeking converts to a particular religion entails the obligation to label ones efforts as such.
Lionel Trilling has exposed a subtle connection between the cult of catastrophe and the contempt of self. He who despises himself, writes Professor Trilling, may gain a hypnotic power over all who will believe his fatalistic utterances:
The sense of evil is properly managed only when it is not allowed to be preponderant over the sense of self . . . we have to ask ourselves whether our quick antagonism to [the] mild recognition of pleasure does not imply an impatience with the self, a degree of yielding to what Hannah Arendt calls the irresistible temptation of disintegration, of identification by submission to the grandeur of historical necessity which is so much more powerful than the self. It is possible that our easily expressed contempt for the smiling aspects [of life] and our covert impulse to yield to the historical process are a way of acquiring charism . . . which, in the sociopolitical context, is the quality of power and leadership that seems to derive from a direct connection with great supernatural forces . . . . It is that peculiar charism which has always been inherent in death.25
The field of art and literature is not the only one in which the modern temper reveals a certain animus against human existence.
23Quoted in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 12, 1953.
24Harry and Bonaro Overstreet, op. cit., p. 101.
25Lionel Trilling, The Opposing Self (New York: The Viking Press, 1955), pp.99-102.
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It is implied, as noted in an earlier chapter, by the undue exaltation of the scientific method. The scientist who applies it to areas beyond its competence, the description of fact and the explanation of unfree acts and occurrences, is continually frustrated. A personal factor inevitably intrudes upon every controlled experiment. In a value system which regards knowledge as the supreme good, this residual subjective element will be resented as the worm in the apple. Though not always consistently or even directly expressed, this anti-personal bias works behind the scenes in a good deal of scientific literature. As Joseph Wood Krutch has so prophetically observed, when it does make its appearance, it wears a tragic mask. Its ultimate outcome would be human sacrifice, not indeed to an idol of wood or stone, but on the altar of impersonal truth- or even a heartless vegetable from Mars.
The recrudescence of the pagan contempt for human life is also evident in contemporary philosophy, particularly existentialism. One of its principal spokesmen, Martin Heidegger, regards human existence as shot through with the stigma of nothingness, a situation which can only be overcome in death. Especially significant is the fact that Heidegger explicitly designates this condition as guilt. A human being is guilty by definition! There could be no more perfect illustration of the conception of sin as intrinsic to human nature or of the devaluation of man that follows from it. Since man is guilty through his very existence, the only difference is between those who acknowledge and accept this fact and those who do not. The criterion by which the sheep are separated from the goats has not changed. It is still knowledge. Although the absolute knowledge to which the mystic aspires is now regarded as impossible, there still remains the aristocracy of those who realize how utterly repulsive mans condition is.
This attitude is beautifully illustrated by Robert Penn Warren in his Brother to Dragons. He maintains that there is no forgiveness for our being human. It is the inexpugnable error. However, since he also holds the concomitant view that all is redeemed in knowledge, one would expect him to find salvation in the mere awareness that existence is itself a sin. It is therefore no surprise that he further declares, The recognition of complicity is the beginning of innocence.26 If self-incrimination is the road to innocence, then the most
26Robert Penn Warren, Brother to Dragons (New York: Random House, 1953), pp. 24, 195, 214.
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innocent are those who castigate themselves most fiercely. This verbal jugglery would be comic if it did not provide such a plausible excuse for inculpating ones neighbor as well. By insisting upon his guilt one does him the dubious service of establishing his innocence.
T. S. Eliot carries this logic one step further when he declares, Our only health is the disease . . . To be restored, our sickness must grow worse.27 This reasoning is responsible for the existentialists perverse gratification in dwelling on the nauseating character of existence, a pastime not so new as he may imagine. Walter Pater, referring to ancient Rome, detects
that species of almost insane preoccupation with the materialities of our mouldering flesh, that luxury of disgust in gazing on corruption.28
According to Heidegger, human life is a mad roller coaster which will end in death. Like the oriental mystic, he holds out as the supreme goal simply the act of dying in the right way. Man, he says, acquires a superpower from hurling himself into death.29 This is the twentieth-century outgrowth of Socratess remark that philosophy is the study of death.30 And this statement, in turn, only makes explicit the implication of Aristotles observation that the philosophers goal of pure, unalloyed thinking is possible, not by virtue of what is human in man, but what is divine.31
Contempt and disgust with human life is also one of the main themes of another contemporary existentialist, jean Paul Sartre. The mood of his writing can be gathered from the following quotation from one of his novels:
There is a white hole in the wall, a mirror. It is a trap. I know I am going to let myself be caught in it. I have. The grey thing appears in the mirror. I go over and look at it, I can no longer get away.
It is the reflection of my face . . .
My glance slowly and wearily travels over my forehead, my cheeks: it finds nothing firm, it is stranded. Obviously there are a nose, two eyes, and a mouth, but none of it makes sense, there is not even a human expression . . . . What I see is well below the monkey, on the fringe of the vegetable world, on the level of the jellyfish . . . . I see the insipid flesh blossoming
27T. S. Eliot, op. cit., pp. 20f.
28Walter Pater, Marius, the Epicurean (New York: Modern Library, Random House, n.d. ) , p. 49. The words are those of Théophile Gautier.
29Martin Heidegger, Sein Und Zeit (Tübingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1949), p. 384.
30Plato, Phaedo, paragraph 81.
31Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Chapter 7, lines 26-28.
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and palpitating with abandon. The eyes especially are horrible seen so close. They are glassy, soft, blind, red-rimmed, they look like fish scales.32
Sentiments like these have moved Gabriel Marcel to characterize existentialism as an elaborate technique for the vilification of man.
Sartre has tried to extricate himself from the plain implications of his philosophy by declaring that existentialism is really a kind of humanism. The attempt, however, is a transparent failure. It stands as a sober warning to every humanist to take a second look at his bedfellows. The cultural achievements to which he points with such pride, and upon which he bases his confidence toward the future, precisely the area in which mans ancient enemy has established a bridgehead. The lofty expressions of the human spirit, in art, literature, science, and philosophy, have all too frequently denied human responsibility, resented the personal factor as an impediment to knowledge, and, consequently, entailed a proud contempt for human existence. In so doing they have become accomplices, intentional or not, in the vilification of man.
CONTRAST WITH THE BIBLE
the area in which mans ancient enemy has established a bridgehead. The lofty expressions of the human spirit, in art, literature, science, and philosophy, have all too frequently denied human responsibility, resented the personal factor as an impediment to knowledge, and, consequently, entailed a proud contempt for human existence. In so doing they have become accomplices, intentional or not, in the vilification of man. There is no more striking contrast to this baleful world-weariness than the first chapter of Genesis, where the events of creation are accompanied by the refrain, And God saw that it was good. Christian thinking sometimes tends to abandon this evaluation and to slip over into the pagan outlook when it deals with the fact of time. The Bible has simply never heard that time, as distinct from many of the things that happen in time, is something to be redeemed from. When it speaks of the ultimate fulfillment, it uses definitely temporal terms: life everlasting, world without end. The phrase eternal life means, in the original Greek, not a timeless state but the life of the age to come. The recent book by Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time,33 demonstrates conclusively that the Bible evaluates no state higher than the temporal.
the area in which mans ancient enemy has established a bridgehead. The lofty expressions of the human spirit, in art, literature, science, and philosophy, have all too frequently denied human responsibility, resented the personal factor as an impediment to knowledge, and, consequently, entailed a proud contempt for human existence. In so doing they have become accomplices, intentional or not, in the vilification of man. Genuinely distressed by the terrible things that do happen in time, the philosopher generally takes the only alternative available to the man who reckons without a Redeemer. He throws the baby out with
32Jean Paul Sartre, Nausea, translated by Lloyd Alexander (London: A New Directions book, 1949), pp. 27f.
33Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time, translated by Floyd V. Filson (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1951).
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the bath. Better no time at all, he concludes, than the tragedies of history. Even in philosophy, however, one neglects God at ones peril. The philosopher is betrayed into an impossible intellectual position. Without time there can be no activity and no life. A time less state is a static one. The Bible therefore asks those who would be rid of time, Are you willing to exchange the temporal condition for a lifeless and static one? The reply to this question is regularly equivocal. The man who cannot endure temporal existence also finds difficulty in coming to terms with a completely nontemporal state. He consequently falls back on phrases of highly dubious meaning, such as timeless activity or an eternity which is not without life.34 The resort to ambiguity in the face of a philosophical embarrassment is a device as old as philosophy itself. But unless one can convince oneself that obscurity is an intellectual asset the Bible certainly is in the stronger philosophical position.
The biblical affirmation of the goodness of matter is also unequivocal. As Archbishop Temple puts it, Christianity is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions.35 Hence it has no embarrassment about describing heaven in materialistic terms or in sifting upon the resurrection of the body. Whoever rejects this imagery on the ground that it is crude does well to recall that the only alternative is a pagan devaluation of the world. Without a body there is simply no self at all. In this, as in everything, Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition. It wants no part of a heaven in habited by ectoplasmic phantoms. This issue is raised explicitly by St. Luke:
Handle me, and see. For a spirit bath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:39-43.)
34An example of the theologians embarrassment in trying to talk about an eternity which is neither temporal nor static is Paul Tillichs Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp, 256-58 and 276-78. John Marsh, in his book, The Fullness of Time (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), attempts to refute the contention of Cullmann that eternity as the Bible conceives it is time without end. But Marsh falls into exactly the same difficulty. He is unwilling to grant either that eternity is temporal or that it is static.
35William Temple, Nature, Man, and God (London: The Macmillan Company, 1935) p. 478.
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The crowning testimony to the goodness of matter in general, and specifically of the human body, is, of course, the incarnation. If this momentous fact is true, it entails a metaphysical position unique in the history of thought. The doctrine of the incarnation declares seriously, and not just mythologically, that the difference between man and God is not primarily spatial, temporal, or physical. Though it wisely leaves open the question of whether God has a body, it does affirm that his nature is not incompatible with corporeal existence.
The biblical attitude toward desire is similar. The fact that some desires are destructive does not dictate the extinction of all desire as such. Here again the Bible enjoys an intellectual advantage. One cannot suppress desire without desiring to do so. The philosophy which prescribes its systematic annihilation is thus in contradiction with itself. Desire in some form is constitutive of human nature. No man can undertake a campaign against it without having first presupposed it. On strictly intellectual grounds the biblical view is stronger.
An indirect corroboration of this is the fact that in India, where asceticism is carried to its extreme, there exist side by side with it orgiastic practices which can only be described in language unprintable in this country. The history of medieval monasticism is likewise notable for its seamy side, and the private lives of many of the famous mystics are also a carefully guarded secret.
The biblical answer to the problem raised by unruly desires is characteristically positive: their transformation into constructive ones by the concrete agency of God. The Bible, for example, is never content simply to repress and negate sex or any other natural capacity simply because it can be abused. Such an attitude would impugn both the goodness and the power of God. It would imply that he was wrong to endow men with sex and unable to reclaim it from perversion. Although abstinence may be preferred to wrongdoing, in itself it is not meritorious in the least. It only conceals the real problem. The Bible, on the contrary, is never content to side-step an obstacle. It will settle for nothing less than complete victory. Its God wants, not the annihilation of unruly passions, but their conversion, for the greatest powers for evil may also be transformed into even greater forces for good. Sex, in particular, though the source of very great evils, can also become a unique medium for the perfect expression of agape. To stifle it simply in order to prevent its abuse would be to cut off ones nose to spite ones face. In short, the biblical answer
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to the misuse of any natural faculty is not disuse but redemption.
This is the basis for the biblical reply to the complaint that desire in any form constitutes a subjective factor which precludes perfect knowledge. While granting that a mans thinking may be distorted by wayward desires, the Bible also, and perhaps more consistently, holds the converse. It declares that knowledge is only made perfect by the right desires. True understanding is achieved, not at the expense of the heart, but as a consequence of its reorientation. Hence, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Or, in the more eloquent words in which St. Paul quotes Isaiah:
Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them (Acts 28:26-27).
For the Bible, creation is good because of who created it. The watershed which separates this view from pessimistic philosophies and religions reflects the difference between their respective gods. When knowledge, conceived in terms of immediate or demonstrable certainty, is deified, the derogation of the world follows. For the Bible, on the contrary, knowledge, though a very great good, is not an end in itself, and indeed is only made perfect when devoted to the right end, the service of agape. Without love, it runs amuck. In St. Pauls words, If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 12:2).
The attitude of St. Paul toward the flesh, so often invoked in defense of Christian asceticism, has been the subject of much illuminating research. The gist of the most recent scholarship on the subject is that he employs the term flesh in a highly technical sense, derived from Hebraic rather than Greek usage, and signifying any area of life which is subjected to a false god. For an excellent analysis, see J. A. T. Robinson, The Body (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952).
St. Pauls attitude toward marriage is somewhat less clear. Of the few passages (chiefly in 1 Corinthians 7) which suggest a negative view, most can be accounted for as ad hoc recommendations to meet a specific local situation rather than general principles. Some are un-
84 Hardness of Heart
doubtedly influenced by the notorious promiscuity of the Corinthians, while others are due to the expectation that Christ would return at any moment.
Less easy to explain, however, is the following statement:
He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Rather than try to extenuate St. Paul for this remark, it seems simpler to recall that the Bible contains within itself its own internal principles of self-criticism, against which this and other unguarded remarks of St. Paul can be tested. The above statement, when so judged, is less true to the spirit of the Bible as a whole than is the following, contrary statement, also by St. Paul:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? . . . Have we (Paul and Barnabas) no right to lead about a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Peter? (2 Corinthians 9:1, 5.)
Derrick S. Baileys The Mystery of Love and Marriage, despite its neoplatonic leanings, expresses truly and unequivocally the Christian conception of the sacredness of sex and marriage (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952).