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Friday, June 22, 2007

That of God

One day last week I woke up to two e-mails: one saying there was a new comment on my post “Fearless,” the other a message from someone who found me through my web site. Although one was long and thoughtful and the other short and cryptic, both seemed to assume a more pessimistic view of human nature than my own. It made me wonder how the different concepts we hold about human nature affect the way we live in the world.

The long message was from a man named David who described himself as a father, Christian, and US Marine, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He started off empathizing with some of my concerns about US foreign policy. He then said this:

Nevertheless, I have learned this............God is sovereign, the world will NEVER be a peaceful, happy place, and that humankind is inherently sinful and as such, outside of God's kingdom... I can appreciate the Quaker traditions and the desire to foster peace on earth, however, I would submit to you, that the elusive peace desired by so many will only be known when God himself rules the earth again and the evil one has been completely vanquished.

I appreciate that David is struggling with the ideas in my writing. I want to engage his ideas too (although at the moment I am preparing to leave town and therefore will make this short.) I think the thing that stuck me the most was his pessimistic view of humankind and how it seemed more subtly echoed in the other e-mail, which was in response to my post about getting rid of an obscene phone caller with compassion, rather than fear. Some of the comments before this one mentioned other similar stories. This anonymous comment said, “Interesting story............I wonder if any of them are actually true?”

Now as a teacher I encourage my students to be skeptical of things they read on the Internet. Anonymous doesn’t know me (presumably), so I have no reason to feel offended by this questioning of my integrity, especially post James Frey. But given that I received this email the same time as David’s, I couldn’t help reading it as skepticism about human goodness as well. If I had written a post about something violent happening, would this reader have been as quick to question its veracity, or is there something about human beings responding out of their better natures that seemed “unrealistic”?

The news is so full of the worst of human nature, it is not surprising that many of us end up fearful and skeptical of other people. I have to confess, the one story I heard in the news recently about a person finding God made even me skeptical. (Of course the person was Paris Hilton, but still. No one is beyond redemption.) One antidote is to tell our inspirational stories more. This is a place where bloggers can counteract the tendencies of the news media since we do not have to have a flashy visual or gripping headline to tell a story. It’s not to discount the real evil human beings commit. I am aware that as a Marine in Iraq David has seen more of that side than I have. Still, that is not all we are, and I do think that if we are looking for what Quakers call “that of God in every person” we are more likely to find it, and the kin-dom that is here on earth.


Blogger RichardM said...

Yes, we should keep telling our stories. It seems to me that most of us have at least one good (and true!) story to tell. But people don't have so many stories that every post would include one. Wouldn't it be nice if someone were to go through the Quaker blogs and pull out one or two of the best stories from each blog and collect them somewhere. I for one would like to read the whole lot.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I wanted to comment about your response to David's e-mail - that you see it as a pessimistic view of humankind. When I read his response, I saw it as an echo of what is written in the Bible - we are inherently sinful, it is a Biblical truth. And the only true peace will be the peace established with the return of Jesus. Of course we are supposed to be always reaching towards a more Christ-like ideal, peace and kindness to one another. But we all fall short. There has been violence among us almost from the very beginning, Cain and Abel, and there will continue to be. I don't think that is pessimistic - it is simply truth and I think that once that truth is accepted, then we still continue to work towards peace, but perhaps we don't risk discouragement and a loss of idealism because we didn't start from an idealistic place. We do our part, we do what God has commanded us to do, but we don't expect that our efforts will attain what we already know can only be accomplished by God.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elizabeth said...
I wanted to comment about your response to David's e-mail - that you see it as a pessimistic view of humankind. When I read his response, I saw it as an echo of what is written in the Bible - we are inherently sinful, it is a Biblical truth.

Thank you!

2:23 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks Elizabeth. Sorry it's taken me a few days to respond. I agree with your point that we can accept human sin and then work to do the best we can. What I referred to as pessimistic was the emphasis on sin, which is in the Bible, but so are compassion, forgiveness and hope. I think overemphasizing the negative aspects of human nature can excuse us from searching for the good within ourselves and others. I was responding partly to the e-mail that questioned whether or not a hopeful story was true. As you pointed out, there is a danger in refusing to the see the bad in people as well--the danger of being to idealistic and then getting disillusioned. However, I also think there is a danger in emphasizing sin so much that we don't try to do the good in the world that we could (with God's help) do.

9:56 AM  

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