Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Nature of Man

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Sin of Adam and Eve, The Fall of Man, Fresco at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel
But then, what exactly is evil? Is it really so easy and clear to define? Or is it simply a point of view? Evil is intentional. After all, predators kill prey for food, but we could never rightly say they are evil. Are humans inherently good or evil? Is evil made or born? Is good made or born? According to the Chinese philosopher, Wang Yang Ming, man is inherently good. He says, "when it [the mind] sees a child fall into a well it naturally knows what commiseration is. This is intuitive knowledge of good, and is not attained through external investigation. If the thing manifested emanates from the intuitive faculty, it is the more free from the obscuration of selfish purpose. This is what is meant by saying that the mind is filled with commiseration, and that love cannot be exhausted. . . ."

But, when we compare this philosophy to Christian theology, it is the complete opposite... man is a sinner because of original sin. Man is corrupt, selfish, and depraved, saved only by divine Grace.

What is interesting is that both philosophies (religion, philosophy, so closely linked...can we not call one the other and the other one?) speak of the passions of men. In Eastern thought, man is born whole, good, upright then corrupted by passions (from Wang Yang Ming):

"The mind is one. In case it has not been corrupted by the passions of men, it is called an upright mind. If corrupted by human aims and passions, it is called a selfish mind. When a selfish mind is rectified it is an upright mind; and when an upright mind loses its rightness it becomes a selfish mind. Originally there were not two minds. A selfish mind is due to selfish desire; an upright mind is natural law (is true to nature). . . .Someone said "All men have natural endowment (mind), and the mind is the embodiment of heaven-given principles (natural law). Why then do some devote themselves to virtue and others to vice? The mind of the evil man has lost its original nature. . . .There are no crises and problems beyond those of passion and change. Are not pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy passions of men? Seeing, hearing, talking, working, wealth and honor, poverty and lowliness, sorrow and difficulty, death and life, all are vicissitudes of life. All are included in the passions and feelings of men. These need only to be in a state of perfect equilibrium and harmony, which, in turn, depends upon being watchful over one's self. . . ."

So accordingly, evil is the result of not being watchful over one's self, yielding to the temptations that so readily present themselves in life whereas in Christian thought, evil is something we are born with and have to remove from our very souls by divine Grace... divine intervention?... that we will absolutely be doomed to evil... it's such a pessimistic view.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good vs Evil

Peter Paul Rubens, 1618, Head of Medusa

Nearly an entire month has passed in the blink of an eye; I did not mean to neglect writing, but some things needed addressing, dotted my i's and crossed my t's, all that good stuff that makes up life. I'm trying not to be sarcastic, though it's difficult not to be. I've been thinking about good versus evil. J has kept two constant friends in her life, through decades of turmoil, through thick and thin. She admits to not being able to philosophize with either, to not really confiding in either, but they've been her friends now for decades. Her oldest friend, let's call her Bambi, is pure innocence, naive today as the day she was born... happy-go-lucky in life, not particularly well-to-do. Then there is her other long-time friend, let's call her Medusa. Medusa has been married at least six times (all for money), was at one point a "madame," and is now quite wealthy from her dead husbands. Based on this, J believes that evil wins out in the end; all the scheming and plotting of Medusa, after all, has netted her a fortune, while the carefree, good-hearted Bambi lives a most ordinary life. But, this is where we disagree. From my point of view, I think Medusa is most miserable. She spent her entire life, deceiving people, telling lie upon lie until she can no longer recognize truth from fiction... certainly there must be some psychosis there? She trusts no one, not even her own children. She desires adoration from the "common people." She desires things and has spent her entire life feeling as if it were never enough... maybe just a little more. Bambi, on the other hand, lives in complete bliss. Life takes care of her; she wants nothing and so never feels that she needs anything. She has spent her entire life... well, happy, I suppose. Most people, of course, are neither extremes. I asked J why she is friends with either one since she confides in neither. She says she keeps Medusa around to remind her who not to be and Bambi... ignorance is bliss.