CHAPTER 7: The Human Condition
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
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.