Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"I'm shocked! Shocked to find out that gambling is going on here!"

Two quotations about human nature:

J.V. Langmead Casserley:
.... It is indeed an odd paradox if a man says he believes in the Fall of man yet is shocked at anything human. Let us leave it to the romantic humanists to be shocked at these revelations. Being shocked at this kind of thing is no part of our game, so to speak.

It is strange that so many people who proclaim that they accept the orthodox belief in original sin are so little aware of the meaning and implications of their own theology that they are continually surprised and scandalized by the spectacle of the visible sins of their neighbors. After all, the visible sins are no more than the outward manifestation of the underlying sinfulness, and the orthodox Christian should not be particular shocked or surprised by their evidence.

Similarly, as we come to know more about the sins and sinfulness concealed in the lower depths of the human mind, the Christian should accept this new knowledge as a further confirmation of his own theological beliefs, neither surprising nor shocking, but precisely what his theology should lead him to expect. The laconic President Coolidge's Baptist preacher was described as being against sin. But more profoundly understood, however, the essentially Christian attitude is against sinfulness rather than against sin, against the underlying causal malady rather than against outward consequences and symptoms, and in no circumstances whatsoever against the sinner.
Dorothy L. Sayers:
A young and intelligent priest remarked to me the other day that he thought one of the greatest sources of strength in Christianity today lay in the profoundly pessimistic view it took of human nature. There is a great deal in what he says. The people who are most discouraged and made despondent by the barbarity and stupidity of human behaviour at this time are those who think highly of Homo Sapiens as a product of evolution, and who still cling to an optimistic belief in the civilizing influence of progress and enlightenment. To them, the appalling outburst of bestial ferocity in the Totalitarian States, and the obstinate selfishness and stupid greed of Capitalist Society, are not merely shocking and alarming. For them, these things are the utter negation of everything in which they have believed. It is as though the bottom had dropped out of their universe. The whole thing looks like a denial of all reason, and they feel as if they and the world had gone mad together. Now for the Christian, this is not so. He is as deeply shocked and grieved as anybody else, but he is not astonished. He has never thought very highly of human nature left to itself. He has been accustomed to the idea that there is a deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality, and that you can never, as they say, "make people good by Act of Parliament," just because laws are man-made and therefore partake of the imperfect and self-contradictory nature of man. Humanly speaking, it is not true at all that "truly to know the good is to do the good"; it is far truer to say with St. Paul that "the evil that I would not, that I do"; so that the mere increase of knowledge is of very little help in the struggle to outlaw evil. The delusion of the mechanical perfectibility of mankind through a combined process of scientific knowledge and unconscious evolution has been responsible for a great deal of heartbreak. It is, at bottom, far more pessimistic than Christian pessimism, because, if science and progress break down, there is nothing to fall back upon. Humanism is self-contained—it provides for man no resources outside himself. The Christian dogma of the double nature in man—which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him—makes the present parlous state of human society seem both less hopeless and less irrational.
J.V. Langmead Casserley: Graceful Reason, New York, 1954; Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos, New York, 1949, both quoted in Affirmations of God and Man, edited by Edmund Fuller, New York, 1967.

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