The very notion of theological anthropology suggests that ideas of human nature cannot in the last resort be separated from questions about God. Indeed, the problem of who we as humans really are and of our place in the world leads us immediately to the question whether we have been created by a God or not. The issue of theism or atheism is fundamental to any consideration of human nature. It is not a separate problem or an interesting side issue. The nature of human beings is indissolubly caught up with the question of whether they have any role in the purposes of a Creator.
To turn to the ways this matter is now commonly perceived, does human life have a meaning which is given to it from outside? Have we simply evolved as an accidental by-product of blind physical forces at work in an immense and ultimately uncaring universe? Does humanity have a unique place in the scheme of things or are we merely one animal species amongst many? These and similar questions illustrate how understandings based on the development of modern science can easily undercut traditional theological views of the purpose of God in Creation. If human beings are only viewed through the techniques available in the practice of science, it will be inevitable that they are seen as physical objects in a physical universe. Yet the pursuit of science is itself the product of the very human rationality that seems to set us apart from other organisms. We should not only look at scientific theories but note that the very ability to produce them is evidence of a remarkable capacity to reason and recognize truth which goes far beyond any animal characteristic and is certainly not shared by the ordinary physical constituents of the world around us.
Reason, language and consciousness are all aspects of something that seems to give us a unique place in the universe. It is the task of theology to give an explanation of their significance. Its starting point has been the insight that we are all made in the image of God. We are made by God for a purpose, and we reflect, however imperfectly, something of his nature. This immediately sets humans apart from animals, even though it has long been recognized that we also share an 'animal nature' with them. This way of looking at things can encourage the view that there is an inevitable conflict within us between our rationality and our 'instincts', between our 'divine' and 'human' natures. It is easy to make a distinction between an eternal soul which is somehow good, and a perishable body which is the root of evil. This form of dualism has its roots in Plato's understanding of human nature. Apart from the fact that it is unduly dismissive of 'natural' desires, it also ignores the great capacity for evil in rational human choice. Even if a distinction is made between our reason and our passions, our reason can be the source of great evil, just as our passions, or desires, may themselves be good. Christianity, however, has made it abundantly clear, despite occasional aberrations, that it is wrong to think in simplistic terms of the body as evil and the soul as good. The doctrine of the Incarnation has normally been at the heart of any Christian understanding of human nature. God sanctified our physical existence by entering into it in the person of Christ. This is essentially consistent with the view of Judaism, portrayed in the Old Testament, which shows God's care and concern for humans as physical creatures, as well as for their flourishing as responsible moral agents.
It is easy to challenge a Platonic dualism which seems to devalue the material world in favour of some spiritual world. Indeed, many have suggested that the influence of such Greek philosophy on Christian thinking has resulted in the distortion of traditional Hebraic conceptions. Aristotle's vision of formed matter, rather than of separate forms reflected imperfectly by matter, has often met with more favour. An embodied mind has seemed to be more in agreement with Christian teaching than an outright dualism of mind and body. The contrast is sometimes drawn between the Christian teaching on the resurrection of the body and some Greek teaching concerning the immortality of the soul. Certainly one aspect of Christian doctrine that makes it distinct from Greek views of a rational principle lodged in humans is its emphasis on the importance of the whole individual rather than of just some indwelling abstract ability.
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