Embrace the Truth of Human Nature

When we treat a man as if he were something else, we damage and sin against him.

(photo: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay/CC0)

Imagine for a moment that you use a guitar to do construction. No other tool is needed — just a guitar. It is long and stiff, so you can use it as a crow bar. It has a handle and large end, so it can be used as a hammer. It would be a very versatile tool.

Obviously, the guitar would not last very long. It was not made to be used in that way. Based on the nature of a guitar, it would be damaging to the guitar, to say the least, to use it for something other than what is dictated by its nature. Put it in the hand of a guitar virtuoso, in contrast you get beautiful music. Use it in the way it is supposed to be used, and the guitar thrives.

(By the way, the illustration at right comes from my book, The Wiseguy and the Fool, and it was drawn by Brother Francois, CFR. His genius is not to be missed: the picture to be hung is the cover image of the book.)

Animal trainers are constantly aware of the animals they train if they want those animals to thrive. If a dog is treated like a human being, the dog will languish. Dogs are not humans. They were bred to have specific jobs and fill certain roles. Their natures demand that they have certain amounts and kinds of activity. Otherwise, the dogs get restless and misbehave. The way a dog is to be treated depends on the nature of the dog, not whatever we want to do with the dog. The dog-ness of the dog is the basis of anything else we may want to train the dog to do.

Here is the basic principle: when we treat something as if it were something else, we do damage to it and commit an injustice against it.

When it comes to us humans, the basic principle is not that different. Contrary to what some modern philosophers have asserted, we humans have a particular nature. We are a body-soul unity. We are social by nature, which means that we must live in community in order to thrive. We are made to live in communion with God.

The primary difference between us and all other things in this world is that we are intelligent, and, therefore, we have free will. In other words, we decide how much of our nature we will fulfill based on our actions. A dog cannot make free choices to try to be something else, and neither can a guitar. Those things are what they are. We cannot change our nature, but we do participate in how much we fulfill that nature. We have the capacity to delude ourselves about our nature and try to act in ways contrary to the fact of our humanity. We are the only ones who can commit injustices against ourselves by attempting to reject what we are.

Since we are social by nature, we dent and bruise ourselves by deceiving or harming other instead of living in communion with them. Our body, gender and sexuality are a part of the soul-body reality and the beauty of the created order, so we rend ourselves when we reject or distort any of those gifts. When we ignore our need for encounter with God, we become spiritually malnourished.

It is a distortion of the truth to imagine that the moral law is a foreign imposition by an arbitrarily empowered and selfish deity. We are made to become who we are, and we participate in that becoming. The moral law forms the basic guidebook for running the human machine, and it is given to us in love.

It might be objected that we live in a different age where the comforts and revolutions made available by technology have rendered our reliance on nature irrelevant. Surgery can now change our bodies. We don’t have to work so hard to put food on the table. We can fill our lives with entertainment and luxury. But a human being is still a human being. Our surroundings may have changed, but our nature is no different. We were not made to alter our bodies, live in excess and do as little work as possible. We were made to embrace reality and the world and work. A dog’s circumstances may allow him to be treated differently, but he is still a dog.

The result of our efforts to destroy our nature is no less destructive than using a guitar for construction. In fact, the damage is far worse because by each act of violence against ourselves, we disorder the very center of our beings — our souls. St. Augustine wrote that matters are so arranged at God’s command that every disordered soul is its own punishment. The more twisted up we are on the inside, the less we know it because it is with our twisted selves that we try to perceive the world. If we lose our selves, we lose all.

Praise God that he is in the business of untwisting and reordering human beings. Redemption is possible. Joy is real. Hope is alive thanks to Jesus Christ. Let us embrace the truth of our nature, a gift from him, and work with the Holy Spirit to restore our very selves.