Not Changed, But Perfected

We live in strange times. I’m sure people of every age feel this way. There is a constant tension between the past and the future. New ideas and ways of thinking are scrutinized against a long tradition.

But the last century or so has brought with it a strange idea that human nature can be changed.

I know that there are other purveyors of this idea, but I always come back to Karl Marx, the father of socialism and communism. Marx saw a society in a constant state of conflict because of social classes. Fear, envy, and resentment between the classes would constantly lead to violence. He believed that if you could abolish social classes, you would abolish this violence. Once everyone had all of the same material needs and desires met, then no one would be fearful, envious and resentful. Human nature would change once we achieved the classless society. This may be a radical oversimplification, but that is the nub of his idea.

Throughout the years there have been many cultural fads and political movements that have claimed that they could change human beings for the better. And some have had varying degrees of success. But they have yet to succeed in bringing about their Utopias.

The social engineers like Marx see human nature as lump of potential mass, like Play-Doh, that can be shaped however they see fit. If just apply the right education or social program, they think we can reshape the essence of human beings. This is why you will tend to find people who hold these ideas to have positions of influence in academia or in government so that they can experiment on the populace to prove their theory. But the ones that claim to radically change human nature, as Marx did, are doomed to ultimate failure for one very important reason:

Human nature cannot change.

We need to make a distinction here between essential human nature and fallen human nature.

Essential human nature is what we are by definition. The most commonly understood essence of human beings is that we are the rational animal. We have animal, bodily needs and desires. But we also have a soul or mind that is not of the body. One of the reasons Marx’s ideology was impossible to achieve was because he denied the soul and thought of man only as body. That is like fashioning the wood for the guitar but leaving out the strings; the picture is incomplete.

But another problem that people like Marx had was that they didn’t fully grasp that nature was fallen.

Human beings were made good, as the book of Genesis makes clear. God made us free from sin, death, and suffering. But because of the sin of our first parents, we have inherited their broken nature. Now we have sin, death, and suffering, but also that horrible thing called concupiscence, which is our attraction to sin. Marx didn’t think that we had any state of grace to fall from. So our current nature was simply one that had evolved from the natural environment and one that could evolve again.

Here is the rub: we cannot fix fallen human nature. No one is capable of overcoming their sinful dispositions. To be sure, we can make improvements. But to become perfect by sheer force of will, constant habit, or by the experimentation of the state is impossible. You cannot remove vice from the heart of man simply by education. Socrates thought that if you could only teach people virtue, they would be virtuous. But we can see clearly that this is not the case. If we forced everyone to have the same material comforts, we could not erase envy. That is because our concupiscence is not fixed by social restructuring. The state cannot make saints.

Any man-made program that says that it can change human nature for the better will not work.

So are we all doomed to live in cruel, savage vice?

No. As I wrote, we cannot fix fallen human nature. But God can.

The reason why we will always fail is because in our fallen state, we are incapable of saving ourselves.

In an episode of The Office, Stanley has is recovering from a heart attack. His idiotic boss, Michael wants to teach Stanley CPR. They have the following exchange:

Michael: We are not always going to be there, to coddle your heart back, when it disappears to be working. What are you going to do when your heart stops?
Stanley: I would die.
Michael: And you’re okay with that?
Stanley: I’m okay with the logic of it.

A man who has a heart attack cannot perform CPR on himself. If the man next to him is having a heart attack, neither can save each other. They need someone whose heart is good. That is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus, the man with the good heart, comes to save those of us with bad hearts. He can fix the problem because He gives us supernatural grace and fixes the root problem: sin. Social engineers want to change our mental habits, our social interactions, and the like. But “Only God can forgive sins.” (Mark 2:7) Modern society likes to ignore sin and instead rename it things like, “lifestyle choice.” But doing so only compounds the problem.

When Christ comes with His grace to makes saints of us, He does not change human nature in essence. The fall was never part of His original design. We were not meant to be born with sin, suffering, and death. War, birth defects, greed, disease, destruction, and other such malevolence were not meant to come from human nature. Once our nature was broken, these things were the puss that oozed from the original infection.

But with the Blood of Christ, the wound has been cleansed. And if we take the medicine of Himself, we will be cured. In this case, we are not changed so much as we are perfected. We are now and shall ever be what God made us in essence: the rational animal. But His grace wipes out the imperfection so that we can be what we are.

Doing this does not change our essential nature. We are not Play-Doh, as Marx thought. God looks at us like a mirror that has been cracked down the middle and tarnished. But it never ceases to be a mirror. It is now simply a bad mirror. Because of this, it’s reflection is misshapen and poor. But by the power of the Cross, Jesus miraculously fixed the crack. We can then let him continue to polish away our imperfection, painful though it may be. When that happens, the mirror does not transform into something else. It becomes the mirror it was always meant to be, to give a perfect reflection. If we become perfected saints, we have not changed our essential nature.

We become what God always intended us to be: perfect.

Copyright 2018, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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