World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Chapter 7: The Human Condition

1. Ill
2. The War Within
3. Ignorance
4. Idolatry
5. Pride and Egotism
6. Selfish Desire, Lust, and Greed

Despite the purposes for human life, which are proclaimed by religion and, for the most part, nurtured as ideals in the breasts of men and women, the human condition is in reality characterized by suffering, war, oppression, poverty, vain striving, and disappointment. The starting point of Buddhism, the first of the Four Noble Truths, is that all life is ill--full of trouble and suffering. All religions recognize the correctness of this assertion in its broadest sense, that the human condition contradicts and defeats a person's true purpose as ordained by God or established by divine principles. The Christian understanding of man's inveterate tendency to do evil and turn away from God is found in the doctrine of Original Sin. The texts describing these and other comparable notions are brought together in the first section.

A second way to understand the human condition is to recognize human nature as the arena where the desires to do good and evil are in protracted conflict. This may be understood as reflecting a fundamental dualism within nature itself, or more commonly as a defect within the human heart. Due to this war within, it is hardly possible to fulfill the highest aspirations to goodness and holiness.

A third way of describing the human condition is by the theme of ignorance. Specifically, most people pass their lives in ignorance of God, his laws, and his purposes. Blinded by illusion or caught up in false values of materialism and egoism, their striving is in the wrong direction, one that leads away from God and towards their own destruction. A related concept in the monotheistic faiths is idolatry, which can mean allegiance to such false gods as money, power, race, nation, or any partisan political cause when it is made an absolute end in itself. Then there is pride and egoism, a most insidious form of ignorance, by which a person falsely places himself over others.

In the last section we turn to the root of suffering in selfish desire and craving--the second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The self-destructive character of selfish desire is widely recognized in the scriptures of the world's religions. It is manifested in specific forms, including: lust, anger, and greed.

The human condition is also understood as the result of a fall from a potential or primordial state of grace or as a deviation from humanity's original purpose. These themes and the scriptures which pertain to them will be treated in the next chapter.

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