Sunday, July 20, 2008

What is the "Human Condition" and Is It Broken?

Most broadly phrased, "the human condition" encompasses our most general and abstract attitudes, beliefs, and judgments about being human. Just because the phrase is very general and very abstract does not mean that it is useless and meaningless. The phrase can be used to capture beliefs and judgments that oftentimes go unexamined and unquestioned.

An example. Christianity teaches that there is something fundamentally amiss with being human. The how and why is explained by Original Sin. The theological hocus-pocus that would find reasons for why and how things are out of alignment are less important than the originating sense that something, somehow is simply not right with the way people, the world, and even with the natural world, according to some theologians.

Less abstractly and more concretely, what does this Original Sin mean? In the end, it can only mean one thing: suffering, pain, misery, and despair are intrinsic and inherent to life in this world. To borrow Buddhism's First Noble Truth: Existence is suffering. Of course, the critical difference is that Buddhism is a prescription for dealing with this truth, while Christianity in essence amounts to wishful thinking about God fixing human nature.

The complement to Christianity's Teaching of the Brokenness of Humanity is of course The Redemption: Despair not! However badly broken everything might seem, it can be fixed.

The question concerning The Human Condition can be phrased thusly: What is suffering and is it inescapably human?

Pain and suffering doesn't just include the myriad ways our bodies conspire to betray us as we age. Most importantly, though, does the course of events of the world have a place for our human desires, wishes, plans, hopes, and dreams? This is what Kant meant with the last of his three great questions: "What can we know?" "What ought we to do?" and "For what may we hope?"

Traditionally, it seems that philosophers answer the first two questions as a prelude to the last. But what if the answer to the last question is simple, blunt, and final: "Nothing."?

If there is nothing to hope for, then that also means that humanity is irredeemably broken. Or does it?

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