Fundamental to the postmodern, post-Christian culture in which we live is the rejection of an objective human nature. Instead of believing human nature is what it is, our culture believes that being human is completely subjective and malleable, that being a person is a completely individual thing.
In my last column, I briefly described the objective reality of human nature. In this column, I want to give some reasons for and examples of why it is important to accept the truth about human nature.
Love is much more than an emotion. Love is commitment to doing what is good for another, to making another’s life better (CCC, 1766). Without understanding human nature, we cannot love as we should.
In order to know what is good for another, either we rely on human nature to tell us, or we rely on the other person to tell us what is good for him. Simply relying on the other is tempting. It is surely easier, but it turns out to be mistaken. No one is infallible about what is good for himself. We human beings are often our own worst enemies. No one knows everything he needs to know about himself; otherwise he would not need anyone more knowledgeable than him (parents, educators, doctors, nutritionists, counselors, mentors, and role models) but only his own five senses and emotions.
If we do not understand human nature, our attempts to be loving will devolve into doing what makes the other feel good instead of doing what is objectively good for the other. We can make others feel good either physically or emotionally. Any good parent, teacher, coach, boss—anyone exercising leadership—learns sooner or later that making those under his care feel good is sometimes bad for them. All good leaders and care-givers learn to say, “No.” And that “No” must be based on the requirements of human nature if it is not to be capricious or oppressive.
When an alcoholic wants a drink, the loving thing to do is to refrain from giving the drink that makes the alcoholic feel good. Love is not “enabling” the other to be in an unhealthy condition. Love is not living in denial that someone is an alcoholic. We cannot love the alcoholic unless we know what health is, and we cannot know what health is unless we know what human nature is. We cannot love anyone unless we know the difference between what makes someone feel good and what is objectively good for him, regardless of how it feels at the time. Although getting sober does not feel good to the alcoholic at the time, it is objectively good for the alcoholic. This is common sense.
One area in which people are greatly tempted to leave common sense behind is the realm of human sexuality. People who will not find it unloving to say “No” in so many other areas can find it unloving to say “No” when it comes to sex. “Should I vote for X?” “No.” “Should I buy X?” “No.” “Should I smoke cigarettes?” “No!!!” “Should I engage in this (sexual act or lifestyle)?” “I will not judge you, as long as it is between consenting adults, because I love you.”
The reason for this inconsistency – in fact, a kind of schizophrenia – is that the people who have abandoned any notion of an unchanging human nature in sexual matters have held on to, usually subconsciously, a fixed view of human nature in other areas. In the name of love (which is really false love), sexuality has become like ice cream—pick your flavor, there is no accounting for taste, whatever makes you feel good about yourself at the moment.
Those who abandon human nature in sexual matters usually seem blind to the consequences. They seem to think that they can reject human nature as long as they hold on to the “Consenting Adults” standard as some kind of firewall separating that which is the “new normal” from that which remains unthinkable. Little do they realize that without the standard of unchanging human nature, their logic will eventually make the terms “consenting” and “adult” meaningless.
And by then, will they care anyway? Maybe that is what Sodom and Gomorrah were—places where the terms “consenting” and “adult” had become meaningless and where such meaninglessness became the “new normal.” Maybe the Sexual Revolution—that separated procreation from marriage and refused to accept that marriage is between one man and one woman—is like the French Revolution and will end with a Reign of Terror that had started with “equality” and “tolerance.” Maybe the Sexual Revolution in particular, and political correctness in general, are the new Reign of Terror in slow motion. In both revolutions, the truth about human nature is rejected.
From the denial of an objective human nature, it follows logically that a person is whatever gender that person wishes to be. With states passing laws mandating hormonal and surgical treatments for children to be transgendered over against parents’ objections, we have an actual example of how the terms “consent” and “adult” have become meaningless. The age of consent and the distinction between the adult who makes decisions and the child who needs to obey are now meaningless.
I fear that, following this logic, it is only a matter of time until adults who are not outraged by transgenderism for children, will no longer be outraged at the sexual abuse of children, especially as children are persuaded that they are erotic beings. The trauma experienced by sexually abused children will be euphemized because human beings excel at denying the reality of evil. Human beings also excel at pretending and rationalizing. Adults who are not outraged by transgenderism for children consider themselves to be “nice” people. They will all too easily consider themselves “nice” when they are no longer outraged at the sexual abuse of children.
Other Aspects of Human Life
There are so many other aspects of human life that only make sense if there is an objective human nature. Like love, happiness is much more than an emotion. Real happiness is fulfillment. If we do not understand human nature, we will not be happy. To paraphrase St. Augustine, happiness is getting not what we want but, rather, what we should want. We cannot know what we should want unless we know the truth about human nature.
There used to be much talk about human rights in American political discourse. There does not seem to be much talk about it now. How can there be when we have lost our understanding of human nature? How can we have rights based on our humanity when we are not sure what our humanity is or if we even have humanity? Where do human rights come from when there is no human nature?
Things used to be criticized for being “de-humanizing,” but when was the last time that term was heard in public discourse? How can something be de-humanizing when there is no humanity with which we are all supposed to be dignified?
Another major issue is abortion. From the denial of an objective human nature, it follows logically that the unborn baby and even the newborn baby is whatever the mother or expert committee considers it to be. There is good news on this front, however. The passing of laws that outlaw or limit abortion based on fetal pain or heartbeat, the effectiveness of using ultrasounds to deter abortion, and the success of movies such as Gosnell and Unplanned give hope that acknowledgment of human nature has not been lost entirely and might be growing stronger.
Without understanding human nature, we cannot understand or appreciate Jesus Christ Himself. “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man” is a meaningless statement if being human is completely subjective. “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man” becomes the same thing as “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully whatever.” So much for the Incarnation.
Vatican II taught (Gaudium et Spes, 22) and St. John Paul II reiterated in his first encyclical (Redemptor Hominis, 10) that “Christ reveals man to himself.” But if there is no human nature, then there is no human identity for Christ to reveal to every human being. Christ’s “humanity” has nothing necessarily to do with my humanity when “humanity” is purely subjective. Christ becomes just one more unique individual whom I can take or leave as I become the unique individual I wish to be.
Without understanding human nature, the Resurrection of Jesus is meaningless. It becomes meaningful only if it reveals the ultimate human purpose and human destiny for which every human being should strive. But we cannot even begin to understand Jesus’ glorified existence after He rose from the dead if we do not understand human existence.
Why are people uninterested in Jesus Christ? A big reason has to be that they are uninterested in human nature. They do not believe in or think about human nature. Many young people have probably never even heard that there is such a thing as a human nature. And so they are more interested in themselves as unique individuals than they are in Jesus. Why look at sacred art when one can look in the mirror or at selfies?
To paraphrase St. Paul in Romans 10:14-15, how, then, can people be true to the human nature they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the human nature of which they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, including the good news that we have a human nature we share with Christ.
Let us do what we can to announce to others the good news that there is an objective human nature we share with God the Son. We need to speak and witness to the truth in love. Let us also remember that a real attribute of our objective human nature is free will. We should be neither pessimists nor optimists. Human beings can chose to be true to human nature or can rebel against it. Present trends can continue or change. As we try to bring the good news to others, we will have successes and we will have failures, until the complete victory of Christ when, as the Apostles Creed says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”