Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, Westerners are subject to a steady barrage of assumptions about human nature. Most depictions paint humans as inherently flawed. Purveyors of this perspective are found in the institutions of government, industry, the media and education. However, the most influential among them are found in the fixed beliefs of our dominant religion.
Through their emphasis on the creation narrative of Adam and Eve, traditional Christian interpretations of scripture have only reinforced this pessimistic worldview. The implications of this creation story have long shaped our own ideas on human nature.
Invariably, humankind’s natural dispositions are described as untrustworthy, narcissistic and sinful. According to this Christian worldview, we must submit our souls to the authority of a stern and ever-judging deity to be ‘saved’ from our eternal ‘hell-fire.’
The general premise, of course, is that we are all too deeply flawed to achieve personal redemption on our own. Such an assumption raises a quick counterpoint: why would an all-loving and all-knowing Creator design a flawed being in its image?
It is the misapplication of our culture’s power to reason, rather than a flaw in our original programming, that explains why so many are quick to validate the Christian perspective of human nature.
Perhaps our species is still learning how to appropriately harness this complex and powerful gift, and the same application of reason that assists us in navigating our physical world also inhibits us in the practice of unconditional love.
It is up to each of us, individually, to learn how to cultivate its responsible use through conscious reflection, intention and action, by becoming the very eyes through which the Creative Spirit sees and the heart with which IT reveals its infinite love and compassion.
Reason, informed by spirit, is always in lockstep with the aspirations of peace and love, and reason uninformed by spirit results in the ‘hell’ of ego and separation. This is the cultivated path of society.
In our absence of spirit, we have elevated reason, and our worship of it is one of the root causes of this planet’s suffering and a current that has pulled us away from the luminous bliss of Nature. The desecration of the natural world, war, poverty and disease are all due to our failure to balance its use with intuition.
Many will survey this Earth’s crises and repeat one of several cultural myths to account for it: “It’s just human nature,” or “We just want what another person has,” or “Look at how the animal world creates hierarchies that dominate one another just like we do.” These are diversions to prevent us from launching into more positive and meaningful dialogues on our true state of being.
Discussions like this inspire movements of spirit, and movements of spirit challenge those power bases that profit from egoic and counterintuitive patterns of behaviour, like consumerism and political tribalism.
An accurate picture of our natural state
There are a number of things we can all do to counter the negative assumptions about human nature.
Beyond simply relying on the highly interpretive teachings of Scripture, how do we know that human nature is naturally wicked, selfish, rapacious, etc.?
First, anytime we encounter them in the course of discussion, we should immediately interject with this question: Beyond simply relying on the highly interpretive teachings of Scripture, how do we know that human nature is naturally wicked, selfish, rapacious, etc.?
Our question will inevitably be met with something akin to the following: “We know that humans are wicked. Look at all the harm we cause to the planet! We are the only known species that destroys their own natural habitat and desecrates the wild. Just look at the harm we cause to ourselves … murder, rape, war, poverty, greed and violence. The human condition is one of self-interest and brutality.”
Our response in defense of human nature could go something like this: “At present, it is beyond dispute that we are visiting great harm upon the planet and ourselves. But does this reality paint an accurate picture of our natural state? Do the indigenous peoples of the world (past and present) promote the same careless disregard for the natural world as our culture does? No, they display great reverence for Mother Earth.”
Perhaps the serious problems cited are the result of a deeply detached arrogance of a single dominant culture that has managed to spread seeds of discord globally. There is also ample evidence from evolutionary scientists to support the fact that the natural condition of all living beings is much closer to that of co-operation than competition.
There are many living examples of this principle in nature. Trees provide life for many creatures—birds, insects, plants—even in their most advanced stages of decomposition, and ants exhibit staggering degrees of co-operation in their routine, even stopping to assist their fellow creatures who are in need of assistance.
Many humans, too, feel great empathy when they see another in distress. There are many instances throughout history when the people have awakened to the world’s great injustices and demanded a return to living in peace.
The eruption of the hippie counterculture in the 1960s and ’70s was a manifestation of this impulse, just as the buildup of a similar kind of energy is today. Perhaps a better question would be, “Has the West’s misapplication of reason contributed to mass global suffering?”
River of faith
Posing counter-narratives through questioning is the first step in moving beyond our pessimistic view of human nature. However, such a response is futile if we do not have an unbending faith that our souls are illuminated reflections of the One.
Many people have lost their faith in this truth, and what we need is something to inspire us. This ‘something’ should reignite our trust in the beauty of creation and help us remember where we all came from and who we really are. Only then will our faith in human nature be restored.
This glorious river of faith can be discovered in the flowing springs of our spontaneous encounters with love, made manifest through our feelings of awe and wonder. This experience of total oneness may be summoned through an infinite sea of outlets. It may come through one’s own intimate connections with family, friends and lovers, or it could be sparked by the soulful melodies and rhythms of song and dance.
This inspiration is also spawned through the serene and authentic settings of nature. Through the Earth, we reawaken to the glorious roots of our being, reflected within her humbling spirit.
It is time to reclaim human nature from the nihilistic portraits of it. If we lack faith in our own species, how can we have any faith in who we all are and where we are all headed?
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