Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Here the claim is that there is something fundamentally malevolent in human nature

pebird Says: September 3, 2007 at 6:09 pm
I’ve never found the argument that people are by nature sinful to be philosophically limiting. In fact, the opposite.
If we are by nature unable to reach perfection, how is it we can even conceive of perfection?
Or perhaps our conception of perfection is itself flawed? Maybe there is no perfection - but the concept reflects a desire, a fantasy, to simply avoid error. Is perfection just a lack of error?
Is it possible for people to create anything without error, without an assumption, without some gap?
For example, if people were involved in writing any part of the Bible, and since no human is perfect, how is it that people can believe that the Bible is a reference containing no mistakes? Not to argue about the Bible, but how is that on the one hand we can hold that human fallibility is inherent, but on the other accept a work by inherently error-prone humans as perfection?
And perhaps the belief of attaining material perfection was what doomed the communist experiment?
These are simple twists on commonplace beliefs, sometimes needed to get students off their unconsciously accepted ideologies.
larvalsubjects Says: September 3, 2007 at 6:26 pm Pebird, nice to see you!
Is the claim that people are sinful identical to the claim that we are imperfect? I completely agree that we perpetually posit ideals and values (I would argue they change throughout history) and that we experience ourselves as falling short of these values.
By contrast, it seems to me that assertions of inherent sinfulness are often saying far more than this. Here the claim is that there is something fundamentally– for lack of a better word –malevolent in human nature that entails the necessary failure of any attempts to change aspects of science. This line of argument comes up quite often, in my experience, in fundamentalist circles. Somehow the claim that humans are sinful and we are forgiven by Christ gets translated into the claim that we are forgiven and shouldn’t even try to engage in any good works or attempts at self-betterment because
1) since we are already forgiven there’s no point in doing so anyway, and
2) because we are sinful by nature we’ll necessarily fail in trying to do so.
Often these claims asserted at the level of individual ethics get transferred to political change. I should emphasize that I’m not just pulling this thesis out of thin air, but have observed this rhetoric at work far more than I would have ever expected from those who are predominantly conservative in their thought. Moreover, I’m uninterested in whether talk of inherent sin is accurate theologically or is true, but only with the way this particular rhetoric seems to function (a number of the posts in this thread have gotten into discussions about the theological accuracy of this claim, which strikes me as beside the point).
As for how people can believe the Bible contains no mistakes… The thesis is that the Bible is divinely inspired such that even though it was written by people it was actually written by God who animated these people. Ergo it can contain no mistakes.
It seems to me that we can come up with many more reasons for why the communist experiment failed, not the least of which was Stalinism (i.e., the belief that the transformation of economic conditions is sufficient to transform social conditions). Couple this with a state centered, hierarchical bureaucratic form of government that believes it can predict all needs and you get quite a mess.

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