Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Really----What is Human Nature?

                                          Really----What is Human Nature?

When I was an adenoidal sophomore in college I was fascinated by the difficulty of definition. It seemed the more basic a term, the more difficult it was to define. A Professor would ask me to define, for example, a  book or a rose. I would stumble and sputter. But in handling  more complicated  terms, I was  fluid and verbal. Tautology  in human communication, is commonplace. It amused me to observe students in graduate psychology studies who, when asked to define “Intelligence”, would reply that   “Intelligence is that which intelligence tests are designed to measure.” There were so many cognitive side  streets and copouts to traverse that we could always find some  lame  justification for our positions. It has always been so with me and as, I suppose, with many others. An intellectual cop-out, in the instance of this essay, could be something like “Human nature is that which empowers human beings to be and function naturally.”
But, recently, a very urbane, sophisticated book publisher jogged me into thinking about a taken-for-granted- term I was using without definition of it. He rejected a monumental manuscript of mine,  stating, among other legitimate criticisms,  that nowhere did I ever define what I  saw as “human nature”, a term I used generously throughout the work. So, dutifully, I asked myself “What really is human nature?”   I found many perceptions, my own and a multitude of others..
 Some elites say you can buy any one ultimately.  Everyone has his “price.” Just  offer him enough of some kind of bribe and he’ll give in. Politicians, business people, theatrical people, sports figures, the Church,  they  all have a weak spot!  “It’s only human nature.”   We are all envious, proud, selfish, greedy, lazy, insensitive  and mean on some level. Sex drives, also, demand outward expression. Spending time trying to promote chastity, especially with young people tyis a waste of time and a joke. “It’s only human nature.” They all “fool around”.  Teens are going to do “it”. Everybody does.   It’s doing “what comes naturally.” Everyone needs some affection or love or attention. Whatever human nature is or is not, it demands companionship and “being with others.”  Copulation is part of this Human nature and will always be around as long as the human instinct for survival exists!
All you really can do is limit the damage done to self or others. All you                                                                              can do is to make your brief, meaningless span on earth as pleasant                                                                                                                                                                                           and long lasting as possible. So give in and accept reality!        
So goes the much thinking in our era. Defeatist. Damaging.  Corrosive. Bleak.  While partly true, it is the Gospel of the Half Truth.   The description above is not really a full picture of the human nature. It is a skewed and inaccurate battle cry of much of our populace.  And a tragic battle cry that shrieks boredom and low self esteem. It insinuates that “man” is really too weak and too “human” to resist the call of the easy way out.  “I’m only human” is not only a copout but an almost universal justification for anything the human does or endues. But, I am interested in more than function. I seek what this human nature is—in itself!
 I suppose the publisher is right. I haven’t defined something I am taking for granted. Yet, commonly, we say “ It’s only human  nature…” Perhaps, this is a case of everyone functioning  under his own perception while differing from everyone else’s. To a shark  mating and hunting for food is its nature—but it is a shark. To a dog  pleasing its master/mistress  is what its nature demands—but it  is a dog,  male or female. To a tree, nature means that leaves bloom in the spring and die in the fall. This is its nature—but it is a tree. While one might say that the best one can do is offer a descriptive definition of human nature, Christians claim there is a real possibility to truly plumb this mystery for spiritual and intellectual satisfaction and profound benefit.
But the concern of this paper is the nature of a human being –no other for the moment. So, what is human nature?  First of all, the term, Nature. It speaks  to that which makes something what it is. It speaks to the reason something exists. Atheists must ultimately claim that nothing has a nature. There is no meaning. There is no purpose. There is, beyond physics, neuroscience and chemistry, nothing but illusion. But, since these physical sciences can give only an abstract understanding of “things”, consistently  there is basically nothing, ultimately, to the honest atheist.    Physics, for example, tells us nothing about the inner nature of things that flesh out abstract structure.   It has been said that physics in fact is unintelligible unless there is more to reality than it tells us. This reduces life to a Reductio ad absurdum. Such dreary fantasy is unacceptable to my mind and to millions of others. Most of us intuit beyond such limitation and ask questions and make challenges. 
In my own questing for some kind of reasonable defined nition of human nature”, I quizzed a colleague (who is a professional, academic philosopher-- see footnote) on his perception of the term. Though wedded to intellectual resolution through natural law thinking, he instantly suggested the Genesis insight.  Namely that God, the Creator, made man in His own image, with an intellect with which man could reason, analyze, and see humor and with a will with which man could choose, decide and love. “In God’s image” would mean that these faculties would be spiritual, physically non-dimensional. Then I remembered  a phrase I had used many times myself  that we were called to  be “participators in the Divine Nature..”  But, of course.  Unite the faculties of intellect and will (the Divine Image) to the body and we now have full human nature. And there had to be a reason for this Creation which reason becomes part of the definition.
But,  then , I fancied, there is the whole question of the Adam and Eve  “thing.” Christianity teaches that somewhere along the generational Line there was some kind of great aboriginal calamity which is commonly called “Original sin.”  This Original “Fall” tainted the whole of the then human species, i.e. the primal parents, the aforementionedy Adam and Eve. All descendants of this Pair would inherit and pass on the wounded (but not evil nor corrupt) tainted  “Nature”. All descendants, because of the wound of Original sin, would be inclined to sin, categorized as the Seven Capital Sins flowing from this original tragedy (i.e. inherent inclinations to a series of misbehaviors). How this recalled for me the famous Wordsworth description of the Mother of Jesus,  “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast” as a poetic  acknowledgement of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Clearly this all presupposes the role of the “body” in definition. Body and soul “make” the Person who possesses this Human Nature.
But it would be important to note that  the  “inclination” with its coincidental temptations is not sinful in itself. There would be no pre- determined inevitability for evil or weakness to prevail since the Original sin would only darken the intellect and weaken the Uwill. It did not destroy the original powers of thinking and loving. So, the possibility of rising to share in the Divine Nature looms largely real for the believer. While the Original trial centered on the lie that “Ye shall be like  gods”  if you disobey Him, the truth  is that You shall share in His nature if you  obey Him. 
This “Nature” of the created tainted human being would be real since the very Creator Who allowed such things as rebellion to His will, at the same time, provides aid and help to resist the lure of Temptation and to rise to holiness and to unbelievable levels of generosity, love, courage and goodness. This is  called “Grace”  which is powerful and “amazin’”. So while “man” would be ever tempted to Pride, covetousness, sloth, wrath,  lust, envy ,gluttony, hatred, insensitivity, ingratitude  and bigotry as dictated by his wounded, inherited nature, even with the harmful effects of the Original sin, his outlook should be optimistic and bright.
‘Man’ would, as the Blessed Apostle Paul noted, be ever torn by interior tension in that on the one hand he does what he does not will, yet on the  other hand , does not what he wills. While his separation from God, the Creator, was healed  through the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus, the effects of this Fall would remain and Man would hear the  alluring Siren cry “Ye shall be like God”. The central problem of the human being would be the residual echo of the Great Lie: You can be God. So man has ever striven for the perfection which belongs to God alone, with the inevitable frustrating results. Man has constantly compared himself to others in the dynamic drive to be superior, to be above all others as is God. Hence, the commands given by God is Thou shalt not  have strange gods before me.  All sin is reducible to this order. The temptation not to strive for full human nature is strong. The inclinations to “sin” are powerful and difficult to control.                                                   It is not easy to be a truly human being. It is easier to settle for less and “give in.”
Obviously, then, the person, both body and soul, who is informed by and who possesses the human nature is a complex being. Superficial definitions  are probably wrong or at least very wanting.    “O Man, strange composite of heaven and earth” wrote John Henry Cardinal Newman in the “Dream of Gerontius”.  But, Cardinal Basil Hume wrote in his “Turning  to God”,  “there is in the composition of the human being a need to turn to God.” There is deep within the human nature a certain destiny which must be found if one is to have a satisfactory definition. St. Augustine  in  the “Confessions” stated the  destiny of man in these terms: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” To define human nature by functions  and usage is limited and relatively easy. That had been my own failing in perception like scores of others.  Human nature, by its own nature, is attuned to God. Any real definition must include that dimension. The Publisher who depressed me with his rejection of my manuscript has perhaps gifted me with a commission to think. Maybe that is what I can do with my eternity!

Monday, August 27, 2018

What does “Sic transit gloria mundi” mean? 

He was a Paulist priest “star.” He could do almost everything spectacularly well. He impacted the lives of multitudes. So, a large white marble “Icon” or plaque was constructed in his honor listing his triumphs and priestly labors for all to see. Yet as the years went on, his name faded from public awareness and attention focused on current affairs, other events and achievements of others.. The plaque, finally, wound up against a basement wall wedged between trash boxes and musty old furniture. 

Should a research scholar writing the history of the earlier Paulist priests ask to see the famous icon, he might be greeted with a quizzical look and an honest question…” Alexander who?” Such a discursive narrative is not unusual. It is the stuff of which time is partially made. The human mind so operates perhaps for its own survival. How often do we hear ” The King is dead. Long live the King”? Or variations thereof ? 

I recall with great clarity the instance of the Paulist priest who was universally viewed as our rare Saint. At the funeral Mass, heavily attended by the members of his community, his virtues were formally sung and poetic opinions were raised about his quick entrance into Paradise. Yet at lunch not one word was spoken of him..only eager observations about baseball, the weather or community gossip. It was as if that Icon of holiness had never lived. So quickly this communal phenomenon occured after the somewhat mechanical rituals of praise. 

Was such behavior a kind of defense? Perhaps even a need to blot out the “elephant” in one’s own awareness? That I too must die? It is the experience of most human beings that we forget frighteningly quickly those whom we have loved and to whom we promised eternal fealty? As time passes, so does clarity and sharp recollection. The media, except for bright eyed zealots, often run by the adage “Nothing is so dead as yesterday’s news”. 

Yet perhaps there are deep emotional drives unseen and unrecognized operating within the apparantly sophisticated and escatalogically oriented priests? 

Was it some kind of masculine masking so as not to express the sorrow of losing a beloved person? Or not knowing what to say? Or was it simply what it appeared to be? We have done our job.That is done. What’s next? We don’t really want to remember. Or is forget fulness built into human survival? 

Without completely analysing this type of human behavior, the student of life might still draw some rules for healthy behavior. The old Romans knew something of this. Hence, the Latin title of this little piece. “Thus goes the glory of the world”!!!! It was apparently the pagan custom that a slave would stand behind a returning victorious General who was receiving the plaudits of the crowd to remind the hero. It all passes. Glory is a fleeting thing. You too will pass. Out of sight.Out of mind. 

This sounds suprisingly similar to the thinking of the great Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila. “Let nothing affright thee…… 
all things pass….One thing alone remains………” It is God alone Who is present to me always whether I am aware of His Presence or not. 

Is there some kind of wistful thinking that “they” will nostalgically remember me with fondness and tenderness when I am called back to God? When in fact the human mind forgets so quickly? Think how we recover from the devestation of grief when we lose a loved one in death. Even a parent! This is the way it is !! 

As Puck opined: “What fools we mortals be…” I am urged by my Insight (or perhaps by the Holy Spirit) to say: “Fie upon thee” to people pleasing and to hopes of being remembered by others. My energy and attention and love must ultimately be driven by and to my Lord and my God, Jesus Himself. And surprise!!!! When I do that, everything I ever wanted comes to me. Maybe, the message of the “Hound of Heaven” is true and pragmatic after all.

On Reaching 85 years of age!!!! April 3, 2006

I was born (85 years ago today) in the ground floor apartment of a New York City Brownstone. It was Easter Sunday morning, at dawn. Although, the old Catholic ladies of that era thought that the Sun danced on Easter morn, I was too occupied to check it out. I was grasping for the dawn in that dingy front bedroom—as the local Physician, Dr. Sprague, was tugging me out of my mother’s womb. My mother’s (twin and older) sisters had just returned from Mass at the Paulist church and were agog with the excitement that there was a new Catholic (and half- Jewish) boy in the McArdle clan.

I would live in a circumscribed neighborhood for the immediate future, worshipping at the Paulist Church, learning the “ropes” of our own street (called in the local parlance “sixty foist” street) with the local dirty necks, of which I was one, attending the Paulist grammar school for eight years and occasionally  risking the long trek to Central Park where we played baseball, football and watched the awesome animals in the zoo. We, also, liked to see a tree occasionally. We played creative street games  which cost nothing for equipment or space. In our ignorance of how the other half lived, we were “happy.” 

We were apparently poor. I was never aware of that since we always had three meals a day, had cyclically new clothes and we laughed a lot. Everyone I knew lived the same way. Once in a while some family would be “evicted” or thrown out on the street with all their furniture and few belongings. This never happened to me. Hence, I never gave that possibility a thought. It never struck me that because I didn’t go away on vacations or that my family didn’t have a car  (or “machine” as they called it), that there was something inferior to my way of life. I lived in the present and felt very loved by all my family, especially by my Jewish father and my laughing Irish mother and my loving Grandmother. I was relatively content. It was the Great Depression era anyway.  It was the era of “Buddy can you spare a dime” and of well dressed guys selling apples on the corner. I felt lucky, blessed and very secure. I just somehow knew that I would always have three squares and a “flop.”

That eerie sense of confidence has always stayed with me all these years. “Somehow” I have known I’ll be OK and will always make it. More than hormones or ganglia, this sense of trust has fed my joie de vivre and my enthusiasm for what others have called the banal and repetitious. My prayer has been: My God stands by me. I place all my trust in Him. I have had a great life, or more accurately a delicious one. I have experienced the profundity of the Catholic Faith which has sustained and nourished me through stress and 

strain. The faith which clearly taught me the endless love of God the Father for me, the marvelous comradeship of Jesus the Lord, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It has made real the affection of the Blessed Mother and the endless and dazzling array of saints I can pray to.

I have had unbelievable deep friendships. I have had good health. I have been honored with the priesthood of the Jesus Himself. I have traveled much of the world and been appropriately impressed. I have experienced the thrill of higher education, of teaching on graduate levels, the challenges of modern radio and television broadcasting. I have had the confidences and trust of Archbishops, priests, religious brothers, nuns, married people, and single ones, the very young and the very old, the bright and the slow, who have asked me to walk with them through their fears and joys and perplexities. Scientists, police chiefs, Broadway personnel, frightened street people, alcoholics, sexaholics, anorexics, varlets with anorexic sideburns, all have trusted me with their secrets. 

In my later life I had the inexpressible privilege to minister to the good Catholic souls (of Courage) who struggle with the unasked for disordered tendency of Same Sex attraction. Week after week I have been spiritually wide eyed as I watch the miracle of God’s grace transform men of discouragement and despair to men of hope and self esteem.. 

Through the mysterious plan of the Lord, I became a local confessor for the fabulous Sisters of Life at the Sacred Heart convent where I had more than privilege or pleasure but deep seated joy. I saw the beauty of real Vocation and the noble lifestyle that confronts and challenges the contemporary Christian.

How much joy can the heart hold?  Or how does one articulate to the Lord the dimensions of Gratitude? How does one put into words one’s depth of feeling? Perhaps, there is no way except to stand in awe in His gracious and ineffable Presence and be still. Be still.  Be still.

I have been able to recognize my gifts, as Rush says: “On loan from God”. I have used them unhestitatingly, with joy and without apology. There is always something missing, to be sure. But that is the meaning of Paradise and life with Lord in eternity. On balance, it has been a really great ride especially for a primitive, dirty necked kid from the West side.     I am filled with gratitude to the Lord and my friends and family. Hallejuia.