Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What is the basic human problem?

Christians usually identify the basic human problem as sin. But what is that, and why wouldn't God just keep people from sinning and avoid the problem in the first place. But if it isn't sin, what could it be? One group of people would say ignorance. We don't know enough, and if we did, we wouldn't have so much trouble. Maybe by pursuing scientific knowledge we can solve the basic human problem. For people like atheist Richard Dawkins the basic human problem has to do with the tendency for form God-beliefs that hamper human progress. For others it might be unjust social structures, such as captialism. For still others, like the Buddha, the basic human problem is suffering. To stop suffering, you stop the cravings that cause the suffering. Perhaps for others it is government.


JD Walters said...

Richard Beck has a really good series on this, where he gives a Malthusian account of original sin, drawing on the work of Marilyn Adams, William Stringfellow and Reinhold Niebuhr, among others:

Original Sin: A New View

(Note: the above links only to the first part of the series; the rest can be found in the right sidebar under Original Sin: A New View)

Ken Jacobs said...

Good question, here's my thoughts.

Egocentrism, ethnocentrism and even "speciesism" just about covers everything. I think we take natural selfishness seriously enough in that we have a set of well-defined morals, but beyond our own respective cultures/nations, we are lacking a well-defined set of universally accepted principles. I'm guilty as anyone of these centralized POV -- I would even criticize my own humanism on that basis, in some ways as much as Christianity and other religions at their best, which -- as far as humanity is concerned -- try to be inclusive.

It reminds me of the ambivalence I feel in criticizing Christianity and theism in general. On the one hand I see religion as culture, the essential spiritual part of many cultures in the world, so who am I to tear that down. And those who would point to the divisiveness of religion, well, it is a bit hypocritical if we're too aggressive about advocating our own eccentric views. But on the other hand, I feel that culture itself is the major part of the problems in the world, not so much because they exist, but because most exist chauvinistically.

So we have to find a balance. We have knowledge of the balance for the self (we obviously ought to feed ourselves but we must have morals to share etc.). But we don't seem to have that balance beyond the cultural level. As a result, nations behave like violent adolescents according to just about every human moral system, and from a wider natural world perspective, we behave like mindless, destructive replicators.

Eric Koski said...

Why would you think that there is a *single* basic human problem?

IlĂ­on said...

Why would you think there's not?

To ask about "the basic human problem" is to ask "Is there, and if so what is it, a commonality which unifies the many disparate problems which appear to be inherent in the human condition?"