Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2. Worth and Dignity of an Individual (Outwardly Focused Spirituality)


           
This world is our home.

I have some reflections based upon the science of our time. I hope you will be patient with me. Even if you disagree with what I say about science, I hope the reflections on the providence of God and human responsibility and freedom will be challenging.

The more scientists study the universe and the human body, the more aware we are that the human body truly belongs here.

            The significance of this is that we often sense our separation and alienation from each other and from nature. Although we have good reason to sense this as well, we need to grasp the significance of the fact that this world is our home.

            I want to discuss some science in this context. I know some elements of the Christian community want to argue with the science I am about to mention. My approach will be to assume that the science, in particular, in biology and physics, is a reasonably accurate description of the world in which we live. If so, I want to suggest some ways in which this belief affects the Christian community.

            Science will locate the universe as having a beginning about 14 billion years ago through an immense explosion of energy. Life evolved on this planet largely due to the abundance of water and the distance from the sun. The human body and brain evolved through a random process of natural selection. The earth will fall into the sun in about two billion years. The universe will likely reach its end in emptiness and nothingness in about one trillion years.

            Yet, science also hints another possibility. Although scientists do not often go in the direction, I want to suggest that meaning and purpose are questions that lead human beings beyond themselves. Human beings are part of a wholeness of which we are aware but can never define analytically. Religious experience suggests that human beings individually and corporately have a responsibility to the divine. The divine realm provides whatever meaning and purpose humanity will experience.

            I want to begin with the concept of patience. Let us assume that God exists. Let us also assume that this God wanted the world to exist, and chose the evolutionary process to do so. Imagine the immense patience God has to see life emerge and evolve the way it did. God patiently nudges and pulls the universe toward life. Our view of divine sovereignty and power, often called omnipotence and providence, often suggests God as one who dictates and directs, much as we imagine we would do if we were in charge. Yet, evolution suggests that God patiently cares for and treasures each level of this universe. The universe is not perfect. Only God is perfect. This universe is full of finite things. A finite creature, not even you and I, can envision the whole. Yet, God has placed us in this universe. We have our place in it. We can believe this by a clear vision that a good and competent God is here with us, guiding life toward its fullness. Life with God locates us in a world adequate to our nature as creative beings who are always in the presence of God.

            Frankly, this view of God makes more sense to me than the view that God dictated and planned everything that ever happened. The idea that everything in the universe acts out what God dictates brings little encouragement or comfort to me. When I think of the tragic character of human history, as well as of the tragic character of human life, it brings little comfort that God dictated these things to happen.

            Further, some dimension of good and bad fortune is part of a human life. Although human effort and setting of goals are important elements of a well-lived life, few people are bold enough to suggest that everything that happens in their lives is solely the result of their efforts. The best of human efforts sometimes fail, and the weakest of human efforts sometimes end in success. Although we can play our hand in cards the best we can, the result in the game depends on how others in the system play their hand. Human life is a chancy matter. Good fortune and bad fortune influence our lives in sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle ways. Some of the risks we take are of our choosing. Many risks come into our lives unbidden and unwelcome. Even if we grant providence moving the world toward the end that God intends, we can also admit some unpredictability in matters close to us.

            I suggest here a God that loves each part of the universe enough to grant genuine independence. This means some genuine unpredictability in terms of the future. This independence achieved its greatest extent in human beings, who have the capacity to deny the God who made them and continues to sustain their lives. At this point, we have no idea what humanity will achieve in the future. Given enough time, what we consider science fiction today becomes reality tomorrow.

            Further, this scientific description suggests that the way human life emerged is a process of nature. Human life is not an imposition upon nature, but rather is a product of nature. The most significant aspect of this process is the development of language. Most evolutionary scientists today will agree that the capacity for thought distinguishes human beings from other high order animals. In whatever way such thought occurred in humanoid creatures, it longed for expression. Such expression began with gestures and sounds, production of primitive art, moral considerations, primitive cultural formulations, and religion. In other words, religious questions were present with the first thoughts. Language was the primary expression of human thought. Everything suggests that our brains are wired for language. The symbolization required for language is complex, but it arose out of natural processes. Language arose because it assisted human beings to survive and thrive on this planet. We are at home here. The only home this body will ever have is here.

            Yet, we justly recognize our apartness from the rest of nature. Language has opened up for us a space of experience that no other creature can have. Human beings do not simply live out of instinct. Language is the capacity to reflect upon why we did what we did, how we can change toward something better, and imagine a better future for self and for others. Language is the capacity to engage others in the journey of life. Language is the capacity to connect with people from the past, to learn from them, and move beyond them. Language is the capacity to connect with a possible future, one that begins in our imagination of it today. Every other living organism, no matter on what continent, no matter what generation, acts the way it does out of instinct. A dog is a dog, no matter in what country, or if it is alive today or 2000 years ago. Language opens up possibility beyond pure instinct for genetic survival. Even the most primitive of human beings paint pictures and design objects, moving beyond simple utility and toward the aesthetic. Even the most primitive person is aware of the moral nature of the encounter with another human being. Language opens up possibilities for choice and responsibility for those choices that human beings cannot attribute to other living beings. We recognize that we are agents in history. We have some responsibility for our future as individuals. We have a responsibility to past generations. We have a responsibility to future generations.

            Thus, although I cannot scientifically prove what I am about to say, I would like to suggest that language creates such a difference with the rest of nature that it actually makes us closer to God than to the most developed primate. Human life is not about getting God into human life. Rather, human life is about growing in the God who already embraces us. The Bible says that God made human beings in the image and likeness of God. The New Testament says that God wants to shape us into the image and likeness of Christ. This is why we experience difference and even alienation from the rest of nature. We know we are different, even if we are not aliens to this planet. Therefore, we have a responsibility to God. We make an important step in this direction when we accept that every part of our lives belongs to us. The patience of God in working through the evolutionary process helps me to see God as caring for every part of nature, and therefore for me. We are co-creators with God in making a future that we can only imagine now. We have some responsibility in determining the shape of our future. We have no idea today what future human beings will have the capacity to make. We have the responsibility to do the best we can with the life we have today. Each generation has its own unique responsibility to improve life on this planet. That improvement includes learning better ways of governing our social world, living economically, treating each other well, raising children, and building strong communities.

            God has loved the world enough to send his Son. We need to love the world enough to make it our home. The moral and religious question we answer with the way we live our lives and build our cultures is this: What kind of home will we make for ourselves and for others?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

1-Making Sense of Our Lives [Outwardly Focused Spirituality]



  
         
Life is not about us. My life is not about me. Your life is not about you. We are part of a web of relationships that shape us in ways that we often find difficult to analyze. The shaping influence of family, neighborhood, friends, and culture is profound. Tradition already shapes the way we live our lives. These relationships become part of us. They embed themselves in the way we reason, the things about which we become emotional, the beliefs we hold, and the values by which we live. Truly, if we view ourselves as solitary and isolated individuals, possibly fulfilling nothing other than a biological function, I grant that such questions do not arise. However, is it not self-evident that we are interdependent and interconnected?

            Further, we are part of whole web of relationships with people whom we know intimately and with people whom we do not know. Using a computer will involve parts developed in Japan and Korea, shipped to the United States, assembled in this country, placed on trains or trucks, and eventually to stores and to home. Each individual depends upon others having an interest in doing what they do, taking responsibility for it, and doing their roles reasonably well. When others do not fulfill their roles, as when defective products cause death or when some choose stealing, lying, and murder, we have awareness of the slender threads that hold community together.

            Yet, as much as such forces provide the context of our lives, they do not determine our lives. The interconnections of relationships are not a prison. Rather, they provide the context within which we reason about our lives: its goals, purposes, ambitions, and dreams. Here is a clue to one of the most profound of human predicaments: fulfilling a task in our families or communities, even to the best that any human being has ever done, does not leave us with a sense of fulfillment. We still want to know, in the context of the various struggles, obstacles, sufferings, and evils that occur in a human life, if our lives make sense. A word makes no sense apart from a sentence. A sentence makes no sense apart from a paragraph. A paragraph makes no sense apart from the total work. A word makes no sense without the language of which it is a part. We make sense of our lives by constructing stories about them that have a point. Our individual stories occur in the context of a web of relationships of others telling stories with their lives. How our lives fit into the web of relationships that result from past and present, as well as how our lives affects the future, is a question of ultimate ends. We want to be good spouses, good parents, contribute to work that we find meaningful, and even serve in our communities. Yet, the meaning of our lives is a question dealing with a sense of wholeness and completeness of our lives. As much as our lives may feel fragmented and compartmentalized, we sense frustration with that. Although this human problem is perennial, life in a modern society tends to encourage us to live compartmentalized lives. We separate values and beliefs from business and friendships. We lead secret lives. We isolate the various fragments of our lives quite intentionally. Yet, that is our frustration. Something in us rebels against such lack of authentic living. Something in us longs for integrity and wholeness that holds together the various dimensions of our lives. We want our lives to tell a story. We want the story of our lives to be part of a story larger than we are. We want to know that our lives contribute to something larger than we are. We are aware that our lives are part of a whole that will continue beyond death. We want our lives to contribute to the wholeness of the human quest.

            Therefore, although our lives are not about us, the question of how our lives fit in to this larger whole of which we are only vaguely aware is an important one to us. We discover the uniqueness of the gift we have to offer in life in the context of our relationships with others. This set of genes has never existed before and will never exist again. We value this life for the uniqueness it is, for the treasure it represents, and for the responsibility we have to discover the gift and offer it. We rightly make goals for this year, for this decade, and even for our lives. We rightly reason about such goals and the steps it takes to fulfill them. Success in setting and achieving goals at various stages of life is important for the building of self-esteem and self-confidence. Yet, these goals are of such a nature that, once reached, we simply devise new goals that we sense will bring us greater fulfillment and happiness. Success encourages us to move on to the next level of achievement. Healthy individuals do not find success a resting place, but an encouragement toward setting other worthy goals.

            The question I want to propose is this: To what end and for what purpose. I doubt if any question is more simple and complex, basic and highest order, than such a question. Such a question helps us to focus our lives upon what matters most. I consider the following dimensions of our lives especially important as we reflect upon such a question.

            First, such questions are the realm of religion. At its best, religion gives substance, fullness, and richness to life. It enables us to find meaning and purpose. It sets us toward home. It requires us to be more than we ever thought we could become. It raises our sights beyond self. It establishes ideals that make us stretch from where we are to where we might be.

            We need to consider the place God has in our lives if we are to consider such questions. I realize the complexity of this area of life in a pluralistic and global religious community. However, I think we have good reasons to consider that if religious experience in human history has any validity, then God has sought to communicate who God is to humanity. Religion is not about itself, but about God. Further, if God has sought to communicate with humanity, it makes sense that God would have to choose some form of communication involving language, at a particular time and place. Human beings continually evaluate what believers say the realm of what the divine is like. We have access to many such beliefs only in museums. Many gods have died. They did not prove themselves in the minds and hearts of believers. Believers do not direct their attention to themselves or to their form of worship, but to the God in whom they believe. For Christians, God communicates to the people of Israel through Torah and prophets, and finally in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son, the Word of God, who communicates in his person what God intends for humanity. The history of world religion is not one in which one can assume that the realm of the divine has a favorable disposition toward humanity. Many religions have gods who would just as soon frustrate human endeavors as assist them. In Jesus Christ, Christians believe that God has turned toward humanity in love, grace, forgiveness, and judgment. God loves the world enough to send his Son. On that basis, Christians believe the standard of judgment is to turn toward the world the same love that God has for it.

            Second, such questions arise out of the basic human condition. We have certain biological functions that drive and condition behavior. Yet, our brains have the capacity to interact with the world in a way that helps us to move toward reasonably happy, fulfilled, peaceful, and just lives. We can make this world increasingly like a home through the capacity we have for language. Our ability to communicate with each other now, and across generations, is a capacity that creates a space of experience more like the divine than the animal. As much a part of nature as we are, language itself creates experiences that no other part of nature has the capacity to share. We learn from each other. We learn from the past. We look forward to anticipated and improved life together. In the process, we learn our limits in our finite and temporal life. God is God; we are not. An authentic experience of God helps us approach the world with a degree of humility that we need. It saves others from experiencing our tendency toward superiority and arrogance.

            Third, such questions require some awareness of the past. Of course, the past does not have authority over us, for the past has often shown itself to be quite wrong. The past consists of people who are no better and no worse than we are. Further, any present consensus, which is the result of accumulating tradition, may need correction. Yet, modernity itself has rich resources in its past from which to draw. Tradition is living in that it influences beliefs and values today. We need to learn from the past. The present has its blind spots that the past can illuminate. Tradition can constrict and bind the present from making needed changes. Yet, the present exists because of that tradition. People of the present need wise and discerning reading of the tradition within which they live. I like to think of it as a respectful dialogue, in which we today join with those of the past, who seek the same sense of truth and wholeness to life that we seek. Religious tradition becomes a map to a place no human being has gone. The path we take is our spiritual path.

            Fourth, such questions take place in the context of a culture. We have the capacity to reflect upon the culture that also shapes us. We have the capacity to imagine a better culture in the future. The culture in which an individual lives intersects with the culture in which other individuals live. Cultures are not monolithic, and therefore do not impose one system upon all its members. The various groups and communities of a culture, whether as families, businesses, religions, educational institutions, have their beliefs and values somewhat distinct from the general culture. The diversity of human culture and community does not mean that all human cultures are equal. Rather, it reminds us that we have the capacity to reflect upon such diversity and learn from it. We have the capacity to see areas of needed improvement and growth. Because of the advances in technology, the matter of a global community has become increasingly important for humanity to envision.

            I cannot pose the question, to what end and for what purpose is human life as if I have all the answers. I cannot pose the question as if some book has all the answers. I cannot prove anything to you. I can suggest that we reason together. I can only offer what I consider good reasons for moving down the path I suggest. Language grants us the capacity to think with others, as well as to think against others. I invite you to do both as we consider one of the most important questions any human being can consider.

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Letters: Pannenberg and Barth


Someone I follow on Twitter, Moltmaniac, has posted some correspondence between Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg. You can find the letter here.

The praise Barth heaps upon Pannenberg has its balance in his observation that they are likely "separated" people. He seemed to be looking for someone who could surpass his theological achievement, but alas, neither Pannenberg nor Moltmann could do so. In response, Pannenberg makes it clear that he is disappointed in the response because he had hoped Barth would see his indebtedness to Barth and his need to respond to a different set of intellectual challenges. While Barth largely responded to the theological issues of the 1800s, Pannenberg and Moltmann had the challenges of the post-war period to face. Calling them children of peace and promise, however, is not a bad thing, even if Barth thinks they did not fulfill their potential.

In any case, the exchange is interesting. It shows that Barth could be harsh toward those with whom he disagreed. Pannenberg has said that Barth did appreciate criticism from his students. Pannenberg has drunk deeply from the well of Barth, even if at the same time feels a need to move onward.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Affective Life in Pannenberg and Human Openness to the World


           
My reflections here are with theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg on the role of the affective life in understanding human openness to the world. In this case, he will use these reflections to re-think the classic notion of creation in the image of God as well as the classic notion of original sin.

          We need to explore the theme of our identity and non-identity in the context of affective life. My attempt here is to provide an ontology of feeling. This notion moves against the tradition that offers the distinguishing mark of humanity as being rationality. As important as rationality is, we have good reason to suspect that the interior, affective life of humanity reveals far more than we think. The tension between identity and nonidentity is a theme of affective life. It shows itself in the antagonism individuals experience toward society. The quest for wholeness subordinates to the particularity of the individual, distorting social relations. It spoils relations between persons and institutions. Conflict and brokenness become becomes the essence of social relation. Yet, even here, we see the hope people have for wholeness and fellowship.

Most people today make a distinction between feeling and mood. Feeling refers to momentary arousals while mood is more lasting than is feeling and touches individuals at a deeper level. Mood discloses our being as a whole, constituting our openness to the world. Yet, even feelings point toward the future, a way I want something to be. Feelings always occur in a personal field, an experience of one's self as personal and an imagining of others even if no one else is literally present. Feeling has a regressive aspect in revealing the past and especially childhood experiences; it also has progressive aspect.

Before we go too far down this path, we need to consider the positive expression of feeling that we find in our experience. We will see that they reveal the tension in identity and nonidentity. They reveal the temporal dimension of the growth of identity.

One positive dimension of the affective life is the aesthetic experience. What people describe as an aesthetic experience is simply a dimension of common human experience available to us all. Aesthetic experience typically relieves tension and quiets destructive impulses. It resolves lesser conflicts in the self and assists toward interpretation. It refines perception and discrimination. It develops the imagination and the ability to put oneself in the place of others. It is an aid to mental health. It fosters mutual sympathy and understanding. It offers an ideal for human life. Aesthetic experience is momentary. The original emotion disrupts normal consciousness, experience, and behavior. What occupied our attention before is not as interesting. We abandon occupations. Our situation is disoriented; it checks our daily experience. Eventually, we must resume daily experience, we must return. It satisfies our desire to see the object of reflection. We satisfy the hunger with this experience. Yet, it contains within it the beginning of a new longing or desire. In an aesthetic experience or love experience, the self does not disappear, even though one may direct one's attention so fully outside the self that it feels as if the self disappears. Such peak experiences have their own intrinsic value. Truth, goodness, and beauty form into a unity in such moments. Peak experiences bring momentary loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense and control, a giving up of renunciation, delay and restraint. As a peak experience, one feels more integrated than at other times. The greatest attainment of identity is a transcending of self, a going beyond and above selfhood. We feel ourselves to be at the peak of our powers, using all our capacities at the best and fullest. People feel lucky, fortunate, and graced. Joy surprises us. Aesthetic contemplation is for the sake of enjoyment. We would not continue to attend to the object of contemplation if doing so were not enjoyable. We savor the experience, rather than classify and identify it. Although analysis may enhance such savoring of experience, it often stifles it. The object of contemplation goes beyond practical use as well. We often quickly determine the utility of an object. When something in our world overwhelms us, forces itself upon us, disrupts us, we have gone beyond utility. Aesthetic experience brings us to the surplus of human experience.

A second positive dimension of the affective life is beauty. An occasion of beauty incites and requires an act of replication. An occasion of beauty prompts the begetting of children; it prompts a copy of itself. We are willing to revise our own location in order to place ourselves in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We cannot conceive of a beautiful thing that does not have the quality of replication as an impulse toward creation that results in both the famous painting and in the mundane act of staring.

Beauty takes place in particulars - a painting, a symphony, a poem, a novel, etc. Beauty has a sacred and unprecedented character. Beauty saves lives and confers the gift of life; it quickens adrenalin, making the heartbeat faster. It makes life increasingly vivid, animated, living, and worth living. The beauty of a phenomenon captures our attention, puts us out of gear with practical life, and forces us to view it on the level of aesthetic consciousness. The object focuses our attention outside self. Beauty also incites deliberation; it fills the mind and invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger with which we need to bring it into relation. Beauty causes us to gape and suspend thought; while also causing us to reflect upon precedents and parallels and move forward toward new acts of creation. It causes us to bring things into relation with a kind of urgency as though one's life depended upon it. Beautiful things have a forward momentum, inciting the desire to bring new things into the world. Beautiful things also incite us to move backward, to the ground out of which we may rediscover and whatever new thing is made.

What can we hope to bring about in ourselves when we open ourselves to and actively pursue beauty? As those who behold beauty, we seek to bring new beauty into the world and may become successful in this endeavor. We become increasingly beautiful in our interior life. Further, beauty is life-saving and life-restoring. We receive the gift of life in our perception of beauty, as well as bestow life.

A third positive dimension of affective is that of love. André Comte-Sponville (A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues, 2002) and Eric Fromm (The Art of Loving,1956) have been helpful to me here.

Love has a neurotic dimension, as Freud point out. Yet, human beings in their loving point to something in which they hope. Love stimulates moral reflection, and is, in fact, the beginning and goal of all moral reflection. Apathy is the withdrawal of feeling. Love suggests that something matters. Caring for another is the opposite of apathy. Love embraces another in the world. In a negative mood, we have the nagging suspicion that nothing matters. We become apathetic and uninvolved. Caring leads to a healing of this sickness. Love is responsibility for another in caring for their needs. Love is respect. Love implies knowledge of the other. Love is the escape from the prison of our aloneness. In discovering the other, love helps us discover who we are. We love people we naturally like, but Jesus recommended that we love the neighbor and even the enemy. Love recognizes our incompleteness. Love is a quest and desire. Yet, the quest is not really for oneness. The proper aim of love, as well expressed lovemaking, is intimate responsiveness. What the lover wants is to be extremely close to the person he or she loves, to be close enough to perceive and respond to every movement and every perceptible sign. In that closeness, the lover wants to achieve the pleasure of the other person and his or her own. Lovers also seek to kind of knowledge of the other person, the sort of knowledge that consists in awareness and acknowledgement of every perceptible portion of that person's activity.

We express love in our friendships. This love extends to universality of humanity and the totality of the person. It introduces into the sphere of human relations that distant goal of universality that we find suggested compassion and justice. This love joyfully accepts the other of the other, as the person is and will be. This love includes oneself, but not in a preferential way. To love is to find one's riches outside oneself. This is why love is poor, and yet the only wealth. We experience both the poverty and wealth of love through want (passion), through received and shared joy (friendship), and through joy that is given and given up (agape). The absence of this love makes virtues necessary. When the love of friendship and agape exists it frees us from the law and makes it enter our hearts. That love is more absent than not is what justifies our education in the virtues. Even Augustine said that a true definition virtue is a due ordering of love. Love commits us to morality and frees from it. Morality commits us to love, even in its absence, and must yield before it. Love is primarily an attitude, an orientation of character that determines our relationship to others in general, not to specific persons. To love one person, and not love others, is to have an alienated kind of love. Such love is egotism and magnifies their alienation with others they do not love. We become loving people. If we love one person genuinely, we love all persons, we love the world, and we love life.

Self-love is an extension of our general love to human beings; after all, we are human beings as well. Our love for ourselves needs to reflect what we have already said about being loving persons: care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. The basic affirmation contained in love is directed toward the person loved. Our capacity to love is the affirmation of our own life, happiness, growth, and freedom.

A fourth dimension of the positive role of the affective life is that feelings reveal that at which one's life aims. They reveal the orientation of the tendencies that direct life toward the world. Feeling reveals its meaning by contrast with the more refined form of thinking proper to what we commonly call knowledge. Feeling makes interior what we objectify. In these tensions, we experience something of the misery of human life and the separation we experience within it. Yet, religious experience closely connects with the concept of feeling (Schleiermacher) in that feeling indicates the totality of life.

Schleiermacher was correct in indicating that the heart of religious feeling was receptivity and dependence. Feelings have their place in self-transcendence and in the temporal flow of life. Feeling relates ecstatically to the world and the people around us. The orientation of human beings to a fullness of life that transcends them and manifests itself especially in the community of their fellow human beings finds expression in the positive feelings and passions, especially in feelings of sympathy but also in joy and hope. We participate in the forming of the future by virtue of our capacity to conceive of and respond to new possibilities, and to bring them out of imagination and try them in actuality. New possibilities motivate us; goals and ideals attract and pull us toward the future, even while our past pushes us; the present brings together the push and the attraction, the past and the future. Feeling is the basis for certainty of the external world and for the presence of the ego. Feeling as receptivity unites itself to the totality of the finite and thus relates itself to the infinite as distinct from the world, although only reflection reveals all of this. Every experience is embedded in a complete whole. In feeling, we find the theme of the wholeness of human life. In its reaching out to the totality of life, feeling anticipates the distinction and correlation effected by the intellect, even though because of its vagueness feeling depends on thinking for definition.

            I have been exploring the affective life as the region of our lives that relates us ecstatically to the world and people around us. The depth psychology of C. J. Jung has shown how the prior orientation of the individual to the community is significant for the constitution of the self. The orientation of human beings to a fullness of life that transcends them and manifests itself especially in the community of their fellow human beings finds expression in the positive effects and passions, especially in feelings of sympathy, but also in joy and hope. Such feelings draw individuals out of their isolation. However, a characteristic of negative moods and feelings, such as fear, anxiety, arrogance, sadness, envy, and hate, is to isolate individuals within themselves. The positive effects are expressions of an anticipatory expectation.

            If we stopped here, it would feel as if humanity were just wonderful. Yet, we know that not to be the case. Human beings have a profound misery that the affective life reveals. This discussion will serve as our re-thinking of the notion of humanity as sinful.

To make the transition to a discussion of the negative dimension of the interior, affective life, Hegel and Freud may well provide us with some help.[1] Freud will stress regression in that the symbols of adult life derive from the infancy of the individual. Hegel will stress the emergence of new figures that anticipate our spiritual adventure as individuals. Regression and progression understood in symbols are the tension of the emerging identity of the individual. Present behavior disguise and reveal. Symbols in dreams, myths, and fairy-tales are vestiges of childhood but they also contain creative meaning. We are spirited beings that sometimes sides with reason and courage and sometimes with aggression. Our spiritedness suggests a restless heart that does not have satisfaction or rest. Spiritedness suggests desire that arises from a lack and a drive toward. The fragility of humanity shows itself in the capacity for evil. At the same time, feeling will anticipate more than it can give.

To reflect with Hegel, then, feeling will center on having through the realities of scarcity and work, power and its alienation, and worth as culture recognizes it. Having anchors that which is mine in economic relation. Any having also suggests a power relation in the appropriation of economic goods. Yes, it can lead to subjection and domination. Yet, in properly constructed social relations, having and power will lead to proper worth and dignity of individuals. Of course, worth or esteem come from our belief about self and world. I believe that I am worth something in the eyes of another who approves my existence. Insofar as I the worth in the eyes of the Other affects me, this belief, this credence, this trust, constitutes the very feeling of my worth. This appreciative affection or this affective appreciation, is the highest point to which one can raise self-consciousness in spiritedness (thymos). As a belief, worth may be little more than self-delusion or arrived upon through the deprecation of others. Such esteem is fragile and easy to wound. Further, as I have suggested, spiritedness suggests the restless heart. When is having enough? When is power properly exercised and received? When will I feel properly recognized? The point of feeling is to unite us to people and things, even while alienation (Marx) is a counter movement in our relation to the world. The cultural world and its institution disguise and disclose this uniting and alienating tension that pervades human experience.

            Thus, humanity is a broken presence in the world. Human beings could accept their responsibility in answering the question of themselves, their question as to the totality of the world, their question of human destiny, and the operation of mastery over nature, by expanding their self-interest to include responsibility for others and for nature. Yet, exploitation and oppression to the advantage of private self-interest is another direction of human behavior. Egocentricity makes its appearance and determines the way in which people experience the world. The relatedness of everything to the ego is in the form of self love. Such brokenness is part of the natural condition of humanity. The misery of humanity is evident to us all. However, the emphasis on sin in Christian teaching is in need of re-formulation. The discussion has led to inauthentic guilt feelings. The notion of “original sin” is one that moves against our sense of individual responsibility. Yet, the decay of this teaching led to a focus on acts of sin and therefore moralism, life-denying rigidity, and extended feelings of guilt. The neurotic result provided fertile ground for Nietzsche and Freud. Their unmasking exposed the potential oppressive nature of Christian belief in God. The notion of sin is now property of the church, rather than a reference to a universal human condition. The light-hearted use of sin in the public sphere (the devil made me do it or sinfully good) makes the credibility of the Christian view of sin in question.

            In order to understand the misery of humanity, we need to balance the social nexus of sin with individual choice. Sin will show itself in the idolatry we see in the excess of self-affirmation, in lust as a refusal to mature our love, in injustice as we make others serve us and in the despair that leads us to the failure to risk creative action. Yet, we cannot separate ourselves from sin. Thus, the roots of sin are not in society. Sin has its root in the heart, as Romans 7 makes clear, and thus, the social nexus fails to explain the universality of sin. Sin represents our alienation from God, an alienation that comes through our cooperation with it. We engage in sin because of its deceptive character. If we are grateful for the independence that God has granted us, then its “cost” is the permission of sin.

The notion of the misery of humanity refers to the corruption in the structure of human conduct. The loss of meaning is the place where modern consciousness begins. Awareness of evil remains part of the modern discussion, as movies and television series show. The problem secularity has, however, is that evil human beings are responsible for evil and for victory over it. The tendency is to place blame for evil on anonymous structures and pressures on the social system. It tends to localize evil in others or groups. Another way to think of this is the basic “game” that people play of victim-persecutor-rescuer. Modernity has gotten itself into a sick game and simplistic game that, as with individual lives, will lead to sick political culture rather than a healthy one that will solve legitimate problems of a free society. If evil could find its localization in a group (the rich, the capitalist, a race, a gender) then all one has to do is single out, isolate, or destroy the group. Of course, if we step back, even if we could destroy the group, evil would remain. As I see it, George Orwell told of this issue in his parable Animal Farm, and it remains a powerful reminder of this truth. Evil pierces deep into the human heart.

            The first negative dimension of the affective life is anxiety.

Kierkegaard said that self-fulfillment based on our subjectivity and finitude is a perversion of the basic relation to the Infinite and Eternal. When we refuse to consider the Infinite and Eternal, we may not even properly understand the issue that faces human beings. The result is the desperate character of our strivings for self-fulfillment, resulting in anxiety and despair. Excessive focusing on the self and our identity is deforming the theme of human life.

            Anxiety becomes the source of despair, care, and aggressiveness. Need and desire characterize human life. However, the step to excessive desire that sins takes in anxiety leads to attempts to ensure the self by possession of what we desire. Anxiety and the related fixation on the self also are behind the search for confirmation from others. We want recognition by others. When we seek it at any price to secure own identity, the search springs from an anxiety about the self that expresses a self-fixation. Uncertainty of the future and the incomplete nature of our identity feed the anxiety. Anxiety makes us cling to the self. The alternative is confidence in the future. Our lives are a gift for which we can be thankful and with which we can move confidently into the future. Anxiety keeps us from this confidence. Such everyday manifestations of sin are its true nature, which remains concealed for the most part from us. Here is the basis of its seduction.

The mood of anxiety is the point of departure in the question of the wholeness of human existence. Anxiety reveals the tension between the temporal moment and the whole of life. It confronts the possibility of the void and emptiness. Our experience of “everydayness” can express boredom with life and our alienation from the world. Our talking can articulate our life in the world, but it also indicates our alienation from it in idle talk. We fall from the true possibility that resides within each of us. True life hides from us. Yet, the choice of living life authentically and in freedom leads to genuine joy.

The second negative dimension of the affective life is alienation that arises out of anxiety.

The depth of the term “alienation” is that it allows one to bring into a single theme the brokenness of human existence in the self, to other human beings, to society, and to any sense of human destiny and meaningfulness. Given the alienation that individuals experience, the shared world they create will also reflect alienation.

Anxiety has a paralyzing power. People devote much of their lives in dealing with others, to avoiding more anxiety than he already has and to getting rid of this anxiety. Anxiety often arises out of anticipated unfavorable appraisal of one's current activity by someone whose opinion one values. The state of alienation makes itself known to us in feelings of malaise, discontent, anxiety, and general depression; alienation makes its presence by means of such feelings. Dreams often reflect these alienating forces, dealing with unsatisfied needs that waking life of which waking life does not take care. Alienated individuals are thrown back upon their egos and reduced to them; they remove themselves from their true selves and question their identity. The process of alienation may begin as a separation from a specified counterpart; it tends to a generalized state of estrangement and apartness in which the ego falls back upon itself. This indeterminacy is essential to the feeling of self-alienation in particular. The feeling of personal nonidentity means that the identity that is lacking is not grasped; for this reason, the nonidentity too remains vague.

Here is the point. Human beings who are trying to find their identity have a primary concern with themselves. They lack their authentic identity. When human beings who are concerned about themselves think that they come closest to their own identity through this kind of preoccupation with themselves, then they are alienated form their true destiny and their true selves. The awareness of alienation can lead to many efforts to overcome it. However, no human action can alter the condition of alienation if what they consider to constitute their alienation is not the think that really makes them alienated. A false identification of the source of alienation that leads to changed behavior will lead to increased alienation.

            The third dimension to the negative dimension of the affective life is guilt, keeping in mind that this entire discussion concerns the tension that we find in identity and nonidentity of the person. Guilt is a specialized feeling proper when one has transgressed an established norm. The concept of conscience had its origin in the experience of guilt. Being guilty is an expression of an ought, the content of which is the authenticity of our self. Guilt as transgression becomes intelligible in this sense. The concept of action presupposes the concept of responsibility. The capacity for action is grounded in the call to authentic selfhood.

Alienated individuals experience being thrown back upon their egos and reduced to them. Feelings of malaise, discontent, anxiety, and depression express such alienation. The consciousness of guilt presents itself as a heightened expression of the alienation of the ego from itself. Feelings of alienation are indeterminate. On the other hand, guilt is occurs in a quite determinate objective situation, a transgression of a norm. One can also experience neurotic guilt that would be indeterminate. It would be the result, according to Freud, of an excessively strict superego. Guilt presupposes an authority, whether legal or moral. Paul Ricoeur[2] has made this clear. Culprits are to answer for their actions.

A fourth dimension of the negative dimension of the affective life is the prospect (fear) of death. We cannot leave these considerations without a brief reflection on time, eternity, and death.

Human life occurs within limits. We are discussing the primary limit. Life and death have a certain mystery to them. True, everything has its season, a time for birth, and a time for death. They are the simple beginning and end of a life. They are facts. What we do with the pages between them is what matters. Yet, in the type of lives we human beings have, we wrestle with the meaning and purpose of it all. We live forward. We often understand it backward. While we are often busily engaged in living, we rarely give the gift of a pause in order to reflect upon the picture we are painting with our lives. The purpose of our lives often arises slowly in the course of our having lived. We may not see it with relative clarity until we develop a retrospective lens on our lives. We are what we are in this time. The time ahead is not yet and the time behind is no longer. Our lives begin and end, and therefore, our lives have a history. We have responsibility for this time. We have no responsibility for what came before or what will come after our end. The story of our lives arises out of the conflict and cooperation of these two forces. Our lives occur under the sign of our finitude. We have an allotted time that will define the character of our lives. We do not receive the gift of time so that everyone could follow the same path – the easy path, the straight and narrow one – to arrive safely at its end. We received the loan of this allotted time. Those who rebel against the limit will not experience pleasure with life. The offer of this loan will not come again. The loan is full of meaning. We experience goodness, as we are young, grow old, and die. We live with others and, with some good fortune, die with others. We have no right to belittle it as fleeting and transient. We must take the loan seriously and joyfully. The beginning of life is a gift. The end of life is removal of that gift. The beginning of life raises the question of whether we will respond to the calling or vocation that will arise in the course of our lives. Response to the calling is our share, as small as it may be, in the cosmos and the formation of human history. The end of life involves leaving that response behind. We have time as an opportunity that occurs under the sign of the promise and goal. For now, in the present time of human beings, they have their unique opportunity, and since they do not know how long it will last they must seize and use it. They have no time to lose, and so must make time to take time. The power of the calling is that it occurs within the interval of time and its limit. Time goes on. Our time on this earth is still ticking. We cannot change the past. Everything we do will change the future. Time moves forward in such a way that every decision we make regarding our lives has an open quality to it. We can always make changes in another direction. Time is a precious gift in which the challenge is to use it fully. The beginning of life is the necessary foundation of what will become the structure of our lives. The end of life is a completion of that structure. Your life is like a building under construction and your end is its completion. Think of your life like a play with several scenes and acts. As with any play, it must begin and it must end. If we did not have an end, it would not be history; it would not be a story. Understandably, many human beings focus upon the end. Many approach it with dread. Somewhere ahead of us is the term of our lives, the frontier of our time toward which we approach with every day and hour. At that point, we shall be no longer. Yet, the beginning is every bit as real. We also come from a term and frontier. We move further away from the beginning frontier every day and hour. The question posed by our beginning seems less urgent while the question posed by our end seems to become more so. Yes, our being in time will end one day. This reality is disquieting. Our present will one day have no future. This seems more disquieting than the other reality, that our lives once began as a present without past. What looms before us is the approaching end rather than the receding beginning. Our beginning seems to have no urgent or pressing cause to consider. After all, the beginning is behind us. We tend to look ahead, of course, so our end is what we see and contemplate. Our beginning is behind and receding further into the past. The nearer our end approaches, the less the beginning claims our attention. Yet, life strives and calls for further life. Every moment, even at our end, we are living out the calling out of which we have lived our lives. Taking life seriously and seizing the opportunity of the allotted time suggests a lack of fear in the presence of death. Now is the time to express our gratitude for the people who have made our allotted time meaningful and joyful. Waiting until such persons are in the grave will create regret. Grief is present, in part, because we do not end this life at the same time. It is unpleasant to think that someday I shall be a corpse whom others will leave and go home chatting after they have heaped wreaths and flowers and poured out kind words and music upon me. It is indeed unpleasant to think that my place will then be in a coffin or urn a few feet below the surface of the ground. It is indeed an unpleasant thought that for a time people will miss me up above in the daylight, but that time will finally extinguish me from human memory when the last of those who knew me has gone the same way. This unpleasantness is the kind of death that awaits us with absolute certainty. This unpleasantness is the form of the end of our existence in our time and the conclusion of our transience. To consider that we shall die means to accept oneself; to admit that one day we shall no longer exist, but will stand before a final “too late.” I in my uniqueness have to do this one allotted time. [3] Yes, the time may grow short for us. Such knowledge may set us free to prevent mourning its end or letting the fact of our end depressing us. Grief and joy may deepen in our quiet desire for the day when we realize that the many kisses and embraces we receive today were simply incarnation of the eternal embrace of eternity.[4]



[1] (Ricoeur New Haven, CT).
[2] (The Symbolism of Evil, 1967)
[3] ( (Barth 2004, 1932-67), III.3 [49.3], 226-236); III.4 [56.1].
[4] Henri Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal (HarperCollins, 1987).

Openness of Humanity to the World


My effort here is to explore with theologian the notion of human openness to the world as a way of re-thinking the classical notion of human creation in the image of God. I will do so primarily in dialogue with his Anthropology in Theological Perspective.

The hint humanity may be more important than some science suggests lies in the openness of humanity to its world.[1] The ontological priority of humanity rests on the fact that humanity is the one species to whom its existence is a question to which, in the course of life, each individual must answer. Humanity is so open in fact, that we do not know the “end” for which it is here. In contrast, other animals have reached their evolutionary end. Such openness means that human beings do not “have” their human nature, but are on their way toward it. For this reason, as helpful as science is in helping us understanding the “selfish gene,” as Richard Dawkins put it, science will never define the nature and essence of humanity. With all the insights of socio-biology, it will not be sufficient for defining human life. The scientific description of the evolutionary and genetic nature of humanity will always be an abstraction, cut off as it is from the way in which interpersonal and cultural relations shape the individual. We will always need the engagement of psychology, sociology, philosophy, and religion in order to resolve issues related to our life together. Humanity has not reached its evolutionary end. Further, we can only imagine what such an end would be. We gain our identity over the course of our lives. Our openness to the world is our dignity and closing ourselves from the world is our misery.

It will make sense, then, to move from the larger question of creation to the particular question raised by the presence of human beings. Human beings are not just products of genes or the social order. In fact, if we take seriously human openness to the world the implication (not proof) is the presence of the transcendent (God.) I want to consider this statement for a moment. Individuals need to de-center themselves by realizing that their authentic center is outside the individual. Yet, that center is not the Other, whether an individual, social group, religious group, or nation. If that were true, the individual would be a prisoner of cultural surroundings. The Other must not become a prison. We see this fact in the rebellious child, the rebellious social group, or the one who leaves society to chart a different course. As much as our openness to the world suggests the importance of our cultural settings in our individual formation, the cultural setting is not determinative. This means that openness to the world includes the ability to criticize present social structure. This suggests the possibility (not proof) of the transcendent. It suggests that the only genuine center or ground of being proper to the human quest is God.

The dignity of the individual, so much part of the modern and post-modern world, has its basis in the destiny of humanity for fellowship with God. The Incarnation is a Christian witness to the unique role of humanity within creation. To use the terminology of John Keats (April 21, 1810) the world God has made is not so much a vale of tears as a place of making souls. The presence of sin, suffering, and injustice does not erase the destiny and dignity of humanity. The misery of humanity arises from our alienation from God, our striving for autonomy, and our alienation from human beings.

            Another scientific hint of the openness of humanity within creation is that a basic fact of human life is consciousness, self-consciousness, and bodily life. Self-consciousness liberates the body from the genes. Socrates was right to say, then, that the soul must rule the body. Genes become largely passive in the body, allowing the mind to assess its relation to the world. In fact, instincts suitable an earlier time in human evolutionary history may not be suitable as the mind analyzes matters in a new social setting. Consciousness arises out of the symbiotic relation of self and world is a hint of the infinite basis of life. Out of this symbiotic relation, feelings of pleasure and pain, the development of an explicit self-consciousness, and the emergence of perception, point to the infinite basis of life. The point is that we start with our awareness of our unity with the world and slowly develop distinctions. The ego arises slowly by learning distinctions.

            Understood theologically, we might suggest that the center of our being is outside us, that consciousness actually begins outside, means that our orientation is toward the creative origin of life, namely, the Spirit, who becomes the infinite basis of life. The rising of consciousness and self-consciousness is the rising of soul in the biblical tradition and rationality in the philosophical and theological tradition. While consciousness, self-consciousness, and body are basic facts of a human life, they form a unity. In the biblical tradition, this means the unity of the soul and body, with a leadership role given to the soul. This role suggests the importance of self-rule. We will see why this is important in a moment.

            Biblical texts like Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26-27 suggest the importance of the role humanity in ruling creation in such a way that it reflects the image and likeness of God. Too often, our minds go to the misuse of power. Yet, the image of this rule in Genesis 2:15 is that of the gardener. Human beings are to represent God on earth. The Trinity suggests a pattern of mutual fellowship that provides direction into the form of rule human beings are to have if it is reflect the divine image. One could make a strong case that emancipating humanity from accountability to God has led to the abuse of each other and to nature. The transformation of human beings into the image of Christ is a matter of aligning humanity with its destiny. Christ clarifies what the image of God means for us. The image of God is ahead of us, still forming in the course of time. We participate in that image through personal transformation from excessive self-love and toward an outwardly focused love of God and life. Humanity has an inward movement toward its destiny of fellowship with God and thus toward the image and likeness of God. If this were not so, the purpose of God would have become impotent and the image of God lost. The inward movement shows itself in an indefinite trust that opens us to the world and in our restless overcoming of the finite. Our unrest is a hint that the final horizon of human life will unveil the knowledge for which we long. This suggests the unthematic awareness of the infinite and openness beyond the finite.

Martin Buber expressed this powerfully with his image of the identity of the I arising out of the encounter with You. Such mutual self-giving we find in the power of love and fellowship binds I and You. The I-You encounter is one in which we look upon each other in the eye, even though we can also look past each other. The I-You encounter is a matter of mutual speech and hearing, even though we can also talk past each other. The I-You encounter is also a matter of rendering mutual assistance, even though we can also engage in egoistic behavior. The I-You encounter orients itself toward gladness throughout. We do not lose the self in the other or simply use the other to discover the self. Rather, we look upon the other as companions, associates, comrades, and friends. The individual is the I-You encounter. Human beings become such in community. Human individuals are fellow human beings.

The point of all this is that the social nexus precedes the “I.” Individual identity arises out of social relations. The “center” of who we are is actually outside. We can see this social nexus at work in language and rationality, with imagination an important aspect of rationality. It especially expresses itself in its orientation toward ruling or authority. This social nexus first finds expression in the family and sexuality. It will eventually find expression in the social and political order. The awareness of the infinite basis of life, then, is prior to the emergence of the “I.” Such awareness is always “ecstatic” in relation to the other. The infinite ground of being is the basis for of the “I.” One could make a strong argument that the sacredness of human life and the concept of person arose out of theological reflections upon the “persons” of the Trinity. The person is the result of the integration of the individual moments of life that results in an identity of authentic selfhood.

            The intellectual pedigree of my thoughts here are the social self of William James, the ego psychology of Freud, and the approach to behaviorism of George Herbert Mead. The social world is the place where the exocentric destiny of individuals becomes a reality and thus forms individual identity. The field of social relations explains the process of the development of subjectivity. This is not easy, since a tension is always present between subjectivity and exocentricity. We create our identity in the process of social interaction. This process begins with a basic trust, especially in relation to the mother, as Erik H. Erikson has shown. This trustful relation begins the process of opening subjectivity to the social sphere. Such self-opening to the world requires courage, as Paul Tillich has shown in his notion of the courage to be. Such trust emerges from the process of relating to the world. The orientation of this trust is toward the wholeness of the self, which is a goal rather than a reality. This orientation suggests the temporal structure of wholeness. We are ourselves now, but we are also on the way to becoming ourselves. Person and personality arise out of the tension contained in the temporal process. Therefore, we are not a prisoner to the social setting. The self-assertion individuals often make against their social setting is an expression, regardless of imperfect it may be, of an orientation toward the fulfillment of human destiny. The dignity of the individual at this point suggests the divine destiny of the individual.

The broadest context of the social nexus of human life is that of the shared world we call culture. The self forms within a field of social relations, a process that develops self-consciousness and subjectivity. Development of trust involves the formation of trust toward the shared world and the development of affective life. We at least need to hint at an ontology of the shared world. The fact of the shared world means humanity has never experienced a purely natural world. Yes, other animals have societies, but human beings have the symbols and institutions of culture.

The sectors of culture include language, art, myth, religion, science, family, and economic relations. The experience of such cultural forms is the shared world of individuals. Such cultural organization is the priority of the life-world of individuals. Human beings are both the creators and the creatures of culture. Individuals become themselves only through participation in a cultural medium. Yet, if human beings can participate in culture, human beings must have first created it. Although an individual today has little influence upon culture, previous generations have given culture its shape. Further, culture is, in part, the result of unconscious activity. In human creative activity, reality is in the process of manifesting itself.

The freedom of play is a clue to the foundations of culture. In play, the symbolized reality becomes present. Involvement in play achieves its purpose when the game throws its spell over those directly involved in playing. In play, human beings put into practice that being-outside-themselves to which their exocentricity destines them. Considering play as a foundation of culture assumes that one could trace the games children play into the adult games of culture, including myth and religion. Yet, the ecstasy characteristic of play conceals demonic possibilities. Play brings intelligence and language together, both of which are foundational to culture.

Language, already a basic form of culture, is a medium of the Spirit. The meaning of reality is the common theme of language and reason. In language, meaning achieves presentation, and by means of its expression in language by individuals, they communicate it. Reason detaches the content of meaning from linguistic form. Reason is able to do this because it precedes language and speech, even though it remains dependent on language as the medium for presenting meaning. Language allows humanity to spin a network of words and relations between words as the means for representing the interconnection of diverse things in reality. Humanity asserts its ruling role in the world through the artificial world it creates. Language allows human beings to grasp larger interconnections that allow them to shape their world. Language and reason are fundamental to the entrance of humanity into culture.

The alternation of speaking and listening unites the conversing partners in an encompassing community, a fact that gives the conversation a life of its own. This common bond may arise out of the topic of conversation or from an already present emotional bond. A successful conversation leads to a transformation into a communion, in which participants do not remain where they were. The object of the conversation is present in a way that produces its own atmosphere and causes anticipation by the partners in the conversation. Any contribution that promotes the ongoing conversation owes its existence to attentiveness to the object as it manifests itself in outline and through intimations. Concentration on the totality of the conversation gives the speaker the rights words to say. Further, participants integrate the objects of any conversation into the totality of their lives. The spirit of life as a totality, the universe of meaning, finds expression in the spirit of the conversation.

The consciousness of meaning finds articulation in cultural institutions, uniting culture in a whole. The content of the meaning grounds the order of the shared life-world. The unified meaning must take shape in institutions that regulate the communal life of individuals. Such meaning expresses itself by extending to the whole of life, thereby giving individuals the opportunity to achieve their identity. Institutions may lose their meaning. Citizens may view them as imposing meaningless constraints on the behavior of individuals from which individuals will seek to free themselves. However, simply destroying such empty forms is not enough. The tasks of communal life constantly demand the development of institutional forms of interaction that one can affirm as meaningful based on interaction of shared consciousness of meaning.

The social system is a structure of interactions between individual modes of behavior, bringing one to the idea of institutions as originating in the behavior of individuals. Individuals play a role, have a status in relation to others based upon that role, and have role expectations subject sanctions if one does not meet them. Given the variety of institutions, individuals will fulfill several roles. The question of the personal identity and the fulfillment of roles create a problem in modern society. The modern problem is that the various institutions no longer represent a clear division of labor with a unitary order of life that includes them all. The unity of life fades behind the variety of institutions that operate each according to its laws.

The purpose of institutions is to regulate relations among individuals in connection with the satisfaction of their basic human needs and in connection with the secondary needs that attach themselves to the basic needs. Institutions are an aspect of the exocentricity of human behavior.

Family and property are likely the basis of all cultural forms. Family is the basic area of mutuality that allows for individuality as each member takes their place. In family, individual uniqueness subordinates itself to community. Property and economy, that is, the production and exchange of property, are subject to conditions of reciprocity. All other institutions are variants, further developments, or combinations, of the two basic formal types. The social association is an extension of family and includes the tribe, people, and state as well as religious communities. Other institutions are forms of communication in which individuals relate to each other as they assert their independence, including economic life and law. This notion focuses upon our attention upon the particularity of self-assertion and the mutuality of shared life. Although I will not get into this extensively, I should mention that the male and difference is something we need to ponder as we discuss the social nature of the self. This difference is basic, while ethnic, class, and racial differences are superficial. What we do with that difference of male and female will determine the character of a person. I will discuss this experience further in my discussion of the affective life and love.

Another element in the explication of the cultural meaning of social institutions is to direct attention to property, work, and economy.  Property is the social institution that most clearly shows the element of particularism in contrast to mutuality. Property is the exclusive right to dispose of a thing. Individually owned property seems to have existed since the beginnings of humankind, as one can infer from burial gifts. Higher animals occupy a territory in an exclusive manner and defend it against inroads by others of the same species. For human beings, a sphere exists of which the individual has disposal. Human behavior, with its openness to the world, finds that it can use objects in many ways. People keep them and take them along for future use. Human beings, in identifying such objects, see reflected their own identity. Work is necessary because of the deficient bodily adaptation of human beings to their natural surroundings. Work is the means whereby they turn their natural surroundings into an artificial world that serves to satisfy their needs. The transformation of the natural environment into a cultural world is a communal accomplishment of human beings. Their work is always individual and as such is the basis for the claim to property by the individual. Through postponement of enjoyment, work creates property that frees human beings from the immediate pressure of their primary needs. The products of their work are now at their disposition for future use.

Although work is by a private individual, work is not by the isolated individual. Work suggests goods and services for others. Workers need the goods and services of others. These two facts suggest trade and exchange. Adam Smith saw that self-interest of productive individuals led, via the exchange of products, to the socialization of production through a division of labor as people began to produce precisely for purposes of exchange. Socialization includes the development of the types of values that lead to considering the needs to those in authority, co-workers, and customers. He also saw the danger in the imbalance associated with the increasing division of labor.

The final set of cultural institutions to consider is the political order, justice, and religion. The question of the legitimacy of those in power implies the possibility of illegitimate rule. The rise of emancipation from any religious foundation for the state has made the question of legitimacy acute. Rule on basis of the well-being of the association and its members are the basis of legitimacy. The result has been reflection upon the significance of a written constitution as the criterion of the action of the state, the concomitant division of political powers, and the independence of the judiciary. This concept provided constitutional guarantees for justice, but also making relative the constitution by providing opportunities to change to it. When the constitution became a living and breathing document, open to the interpretation of a majority, the constitution became impotent to protect the rights of its citizens. Further, along with popular sovereignty in modern society, civil society has become increasingly independent of the political order. When religion became primarily a private affair, society became a self-regulating system as the result of market mechanisms. Part of the market mechanisms, however, includes the values of the workers, employers, and customers. The market, with its system of families and concerns for personal property and wealth, are the best protections against overbearing government. In the market, you do not have to work for a particular business or buy a particular product. The government has the means to compel. Yet, as Hegel saw, the antagonisms between special interests will not find resolution through the market. The temptation will always be present to use the powers of government to advantage one group over another. The idea of an ethical state has the potential for resolving the antagonism created in modern society. Such a state would free citizens from the oppressor/oppressed relationship that Marx foresaw, and that we have learned to see in fascist, communist, totalitarian, and Sharia-run states. Such a state would have the vision of respect for the worth and dignity of individuals and their property, refusing to interfere into the ways the civil society provides opportunities for cooperation and competition. The welfare state does not provide a lasting substitute for such legitimation, since no state can permanently satisfy all the needs of its citizens and guarantee their happiness. The recognition that happiness is personal pursuit, and not a guarantee from political leaders, provides a limit to political ideology and opens the door for religion.

Finally, we can hardly avoid the importance of love. Love animates the system of justice. It contains the impetus to go beyond the existing order. Since circumstances repeatedly change, the rules must change. Love is resourceful in such settings. Children, under the pressure of playing a game, can make a cardboard box part of a game. The chef can make, from the same chicken, a Chinese, Mexican, or Western grilled. Following the rules keeps one within limits. Love moves beyond them when the situation demands it. Love must be the basis of the change.

Such considerations lead toward the ontology of culture or the shared world. Aristotle rightly said that we are political animals, in that social and political organization arises out of individual human desire. At the same time, social structures shape individual desire. The temporal structure of human beings is the peculiar nature of the ecstatic self-transcendence found in all living things.

The drives of all living things drive them to a future that will bring a change in their condition. Human beings alone are able to distinguish the future as future from the present. They are present to what is other than themselves and present to it as an other that they distinguish from themselves. They grasp it in its distinctness from what is other than it and in its uniqueness within the horizon of an all-embracing whole. They distinguish the present from the future that they strive for or fear. They distinguish the future from the present. Language was important for holding on to these distinctions and keeping them present. What distinguishes human beings is the development of a consciousness that bridges time, cancels the distinction of things and times, and sublimates this in the unity and continuity of its own present. It gives a presentiment of human destiny. The continuity of consciousness derives from its anticipation of the future. This anticipation also allows them to see things present and past as what they will or can become. Anticipation makes it possible to deal activity with things in the context of human goals. Anticipation grasps the abiding identity of things. The time-spanning present peculiar to human consciousness has an ecstatic character. The ecstatic relation to the world has itself a temporal structure that depends on anticipation of the future. From the future the abiding essence of things disclose themselves, because the future decides what is truly lasting.

A reference to the future also characterizes trust, because those who trust believe that the future of their own being is made secure by the one in whose hands they place themselves. Only the future shows whether the foundation on which they build is able to bear the weight they place on it. This reality is how the person lives in the present, for such is the ecstatic mode of existence proper to the person. History as a formative process is the way to the future to which the individual is destined. As long as the journey is incomplete, one can only describe it in terms of anticipation of its end and goal. In the light of that end and goal, human beings grasp the meaning of their lives and the task life sets them. Way and goal must be so related to each other that the way thus far traveled can be interpreted as a way to that goal. This movement derives its unity from the future by which it will be completed. Only through anticipation of this future can human beings presently exist as themselves. Since individuals are inseparable from their world, personal destiny has a close connection with human destiny.



[1] Writers in this field include Arnold Hehlen, Max Scheler, Johannan Herder, Helmth Plessner, Maurice Merleau Ponty, and Karl Rahner.