original sin16 Nov 2006
So, in a post talking about whether or not Christians are “under attack”, in discussing South Park’s eviscerations of Christianity and other religions, John Carney says this:
They had a storyline which made fun of fundamentalists for opposing the teaching of evolution, but also mocked the atheist viewpoint that everything would be so much better if we didn’t have those darn religious people mucking things up. In “South Park”’s projected future, the atheists have done away with religion, only to fall into their own holy wars between various factions of atheism. The problem is not religion, they seemed to be saying, it’s human beings.
And, I disagree. I mean, that is – it may be an accurate description of what Parker and Stone are going for, though I tend to think a better description is just that they are blissfully irreverent, but whatever.
But I hate the sentiment of the last sentence, which seems to have gotten a good reaction in the comments. The implication in saying “the problem is .. human beings” is that human beings are ultimately, innately flawed. I admit my gut reaction to this was to find it ironic that this itself is actually a concept deeply rooted in the Christian ethos. The idea of “human nature” as being a flawed or corrupt existence is a pervasive one in the Christian religion. In most sects of Christianity, I’d argue that it’s taken as a given that humans are flawed beings who require God’s mercy and salvation, and you can see this reflected back to Hobbs and his idea of a nasty, brutish, short “state of nature”, and even further. It’s a very powerful idea – powerful because it’s an excellent tool for reinforcing authority. If it’s a given that human beings are cruel, evil and flawed when left to their own devices, it’s easy to justify authority (whether the church’s or, now, a state’s) in reigning us in. (This is somewhat related to my opinion that Christianity can be difficult, but not impossible to reconcile with Libertarianism. Aunt B and I and others had a conversation about Glen Dean or something at one point, but I can’t find it. I also have noted in the past the opposite: Christianity used as a tool to refute libertarianism in favor of authoritarianism. This, also, is another blog post.)
Anyways, so .. I checked my thoughts at this point: my knowledge of this flawed-human guilt complex is mostly limited to Christianity, but it would be silly of me to assume it hasn’t appeared in other religions. I would, however, argue that it is probably most pervasive in the Christian religion. While I considered this, my thoughts wandered to probably the most extreme instance of Christian self-flagellation in history, which was .. well, self-flagellation. Mortification of the flesh. They loved this shit in the middle ages. This practice of self-inflicted flogging was rooted in the idea that by inflicting pain and suffering upon yourself, you absolve your sins and become closer to god, or something like that. It was also deeply rooted in the fundamental idea that humans are bad (mmkay), e.g. “Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5).
So I found myself wondering if there were parallels of this in any other religions. One that came to mind was “zanjeer matam”, a Shiite ceremony involving flagellation with a chain & curved knives to commemorate the day of Ashura. This is similar on its surface, but appears not to be entirely the same. The goal of this symbolic act is to sympathize with the suffering and death of the martyr Husayn, which is similar to the Christian goal of relating to Christ’s crucifixion, but it appears to lack the whole “put to death what is earthly in you” element. Maybe.
So, the question: do you agree that the concept of “human nature” as a flawed state is most pervasive in the Christian religion? Are there others in which it’s more pervasive?