It’s not “human nature” !

A useful reminder.

A vow of conversation

The popular idea that Christianity says “human nature” is inherently bad is actually the opposite of what the earliest Christian theologians believed. This book challenges the popularized negative view by proposing a prophetic alternative grounded in early Greek Christian sources. It draws on the wealth of early theological reflection, the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers, and the heritage of Eastern Christianity to discover what God has made us to be.

Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Baker Academic, 2010), 5.

This book arrived several months ago. I have dipped into it, and have wanted to get down to a serious reading of it many times, but let’s just say that other things have intervened. I don’t intend blogging on it in detail, worthwhile though that would be, because such an intention would no doubt simply go the way of all my other…

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5 responses

    • I don’t know off-hand. I suppose much turns on what “at the root” means, as well as what ultimately we should say about the existence-conditions and the nature of cognitive biases themselves. Are they supposed to be laboratory-approved analogs of ‘original sin’? What sense does it make to ascribe moral status to them? Etc. I don’t know the answers to these questions or to other questions like them.

      • “Then, we ask with Paul — what is it within us that makes a dwelling place for this power? He answers that it is our members in which sin hides. He also calls this place “flesh,” and sometimes he speaks of “our body of death.” But there are also forces within us that resist the power — our innermost self, our mind, our spirit. With these words, Paul wrestles with the deep mystery of human nature just as we do today. And it is no easier to understand him than our present scholarly language about man. But one thing is certain: Paul, and with him, the whole Bible, never made our body responsible for our estrangement from God, from our world and from our own self. Body, flesh, members — these are not the only sinful part of us, while the innermost self, mind and spirit, comprises the other, sinless part. Our whole being, every cell of our body, and every movement of our mind is both flesh and spirit, subjected to the power of sin and resisting its power. The fact that we accuse ourselves proves that we still have an awareness of what we truly are, and therefore ought to be. And the fact that we excuse ourselves shows that we cannot acknowledge our estrangement from our true nature. The fact that we are ashamed shows that we still know what we ought to be.

        There is no part of man that is bad in itself, as there is no part of man that is good in itself. Any Christian teaching that has forgotten this has fallen short of the height of Christian insight. And here all Christian churches must share the grave guilt of destroying human beings by casting them into despair over their own guilt where there should be no guilt. In pulpits, schools and families, Christians have called the natural strivings of the living, growing and self-propagating body sinful. They concentrate in an inordinate and purely pagan way on the sexual differentiation of all life and its possible distortions. Certainly, these distortions are as real as the distortions of our spiritual life — as, for example, pride and indifference. But to see the power of sin in the sexual power of life as such is itself a distortion. Such preaching completely misses the image of sin as Paul depicts it. What is worse, it produces distorted feelings of guilt in countless personalities, that drive them from doubt to anxiety, from anxiety to despair, from despair to escape into mental disease, and thence the desire to destroy themselves altogether.”

        These passages of Tillich’s seem right to me, as far as I understand them. How do they or the other things he says bear on cognitive bias? (I guess I have an idea about the answer to this question, but I want to be sure I understand you.)

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