Tell ‘Em That It’s Human Nature

It is little surprise that philosophers of all stripes, from musicians to theologians, have sought to deal with the subject of human nature. In looking at musicians, for example, some artists are remarkable up front about their philosophical inclinations. The musician Jewel, for example, placed the following (and revealing) comment on the front cover of her diamond-selling album “Pieces Of You”: What we call human nature in actuality is human habit. This sentiment would appear to express the new age belief that matter is irrelevant and all that matters is one’s mindset, advocating a belief in the power of positive thinking. Singers like Michael Jackson and Madonna have released hit singles called “Human Nature,” and seen them succeed on the charts. Such success would indicate that, all comments about the intellectual nature of the general public of the United States, there is at least some interest in the question of human nature, or the boundaries between the supposed tabula rasa (blank slate) that is to be filled in by experience and the existence of some sort of essential nature that mediates and influences (if not controls) our behavior. The tensions between free will and determinism find their way expressed even in music, where musicians and songwriters explore the contradiction between a radical belief in their own autonomy from moral and societal standards even as they find themselves caught in the grips of uncontrollable desires and seeking to avoid responsibility for their compulsive behaviors. On the one hand we have human nature being denigrated as a cop-out and on the other we have it invoked as a means of avoiding the burden of blame and responsibility.

Philosophers and theologians are no less divided about the issue of human nature. Whether one is dealing with the issue of original sin [1] or the complicated mixture of nature and nurture in our behaviors, questions of free will and the limitations of genetic programming are a major part of our contemporary discourse. We do not have to agree with all of the aspects of this discourse in order to appreciate that questions about human nature are at the base of it. In my own background it is customary for human nature to refer to the unredeemed and fallen aspects of our natural conduct, influenced by corrupt societies and generations of wickedness. Those of us who are sensitive and self-aware are very conscious both of our responsibilities as well as the influences we face through our backgrounds and our surroundings, without being determined by those influences.

It is striking, and somewhat unfortunate, that the focus on our human natures often tends to focus on those aspects of our natures that are negative. Whether we are trying to bring unredeemed humanity to an awareness of the fallen and rebellious place from which we begin as witting or unwitting rebels from our legitimate authorities [2], or whether we are trying to account for the difficulties we face in acting with the nobility and righteousness that we wish to model in our lives, our focus is usually on the undesirable aspects of the human nature that we have to work with. Although these negative influences are real and certain in our lives, they are only part of the story. Our wrestling with our nature is not simply as simple and straightforward a matter as reining in all aspects of our nature, but rather a more complicated and nuanced process.

This process involves first recognizing all aspects of our nature, both the good and bad aspects of it, to determine in light of the principles by which we live our lives what tendencies are to be resisted and overcome, which are to be encouraged and developed and appreciated as a gift from our Creator. These determinations can be highly complex, as there are situations where what are normally weaknesses and be strengths and where what are normally strengths can be weaknesses. Likewise, an appreciation of the gifts and talents we have been given helps us to appreciate the more complex aspects of our inheritance and our existence, as the recipients of unmerited grace in a world that has been tragically and drastically affected by the course of sin, seeing the good come out of the bad, grateful and responsible to our creator even as we engage in the difficult but rewarding struggles to build our talents and resist the pull towards sin and corruption. We all have a human nature, a complicated one, and we need to recognize our nature and appropriately nurture it and appreciate how it is refined through the complicated course of our lives. May it be worth every effort.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Tell ‘Em That It’s Human Nature

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