Of the several imponderables about our human condition
Of the several imponderables about our human condition, this one, now shouting in the headlines, is the most vexing: our propensity to violence.
Bertrand Russell and others dismissive of the Christian doctrine of original sin believed the problem is that our spiritual development lags behind our technical capabilities. As if nuclear annihilation could be nullified by the intensive education of our spirits. What, I wonder, would Dr. Russell make of the present world-wide spike in spirituality advocating violence? Think fundamentalism, there and here. Joan of Arc has her Twenty-First Century representatives.
The spirit, no less than the spleen, is capable of untold horrors.
Grandson Robert is reading Golding's Lord of the Flies. For those of you who have never read the novel, and those of you who did but don't remember, it's the tale of proper little English schoolboys marooned on a desert island. Their propriety quickly fades as their innate human savagery rises. Golding's thesis is one shared by Sir Thomas More (in his portrayal, at least, in A Man for All Seasons) who compares our human laws to a forest that provides shelter against the fierce winds of an otherwise barren wilderness. Much of that wilderness lies within the human soul.
We are war-like by nature, a claim Golding in another novel, The Inheritors, describes historically, as Homo sapiens commits genocide the better to displace from earth the peaceful Neanderthals. We are hard-wired for violence. Which goes a long way toward understanding Baghdad, Dafur, Kosovo, Twin Towers, Auschwitz, Gettysburg, and... well, you can name the scenes of human bloodshed every bit as well as me.
What humanity as original evil does not explain, however, are the billions of human impulses toward tenderness, compassion, and self-giving.
The woman, who sat at the cash register in the hardware store where I purchased thousands of dollars of stuff over a twenty-nine year period for church and self, narrowly escaped the Holocaust by entraining to England and the home of total strangers where she was housed and fed and schooled until the nightmare in Europe ended. It's a story her daughter has told in film, "Into the Arms of Strangers." And though those strangers were not very affectionate, they were good, very good and kind.
The film, "In America," about an Irish family in New York City struggling to make a go of it, tells the the story too of a Nigerian artist with a terminal mental illness. He is befriended by the couple's children, an exchange of kindness fraught with overtones of menace. The artist dies and leaves more than sufficient money to the struggling family to pay for the hospitalization and remedial surgery for the family's newborn. A grand gesture of compassion in both directions from people who do not share race or language, only their humanity.
The life I have experienced these many, many years has been punctuated, no, ennobled, by "random acts" of kindness, generosity, and, yes, sacrifice.
Which brings me to the cross, the cross of Calvary, the cross of Jesus, and the hope raised there with those two killing beams of wood, that from that agony there has been born into the world a new race of people, in whom our natural bloodlust yields to self-giving love.
I've just completed the reading (and proof-reading) of the second novel of a friend from the exercise room. I refer to him as the super-exerciser, content each day with nothing less than the burning of 1000 calories on the elliptical treadmill. In his novel he posits the emergence of Nova sapiens, the new humanity, with enough ESP to make Duke's Dr. Rhine's head spin, and the kind of mental force Houdini would covet. I didn't explain to my friend the exerciser that I personally believe Nova sapiens has already arrived, only what distinguishes him is not clairvoyance and mental transpositional power. What distinguishes him is the triumph in his soul of love over violence. Jesus is the first-born.
Those who believe in him, born of his spirit, committed to his ways, are his children.
And they shall, by God, overcome.