The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: Part 7, A Natural History of Rape

As discussed in last week's post, Louise Perry in Chapter 2 of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution uses evolutionary psychology to describe how men and women are "different." We reviewed some of the arguments from evolutionary psychology last week, and Perry will appeal to those arguments throughout the book. This is a controversial move on Perry's part, as the arguments of evolutionary psychology are hotly contested by many feminists. 

The controversy is basically this. If we argue for a "natural" inclination, for any psychological or behavioral inclination, this has the potential to reduce moral culpability. This is the materialistic version of the religious "the devil made me do it." But in this case, it's not the devil, it's evolutionary history. Your biology, your brain chemistry, your genetics caused you to act a certain way. Darwin made you do it. 

In moral philosophy this is often called "the naturalistic fallacy" or "the appeal to nature," which is related to Hume's dictum that you can't get an ought from an is. That is to say, there is a temptation to think that if something is "natural" then that something is "good." But as we know, natural things aren't always good. Think of food. Rocks are natural, but it's not good to eat rocks. In the world of social psychology you can make a strong argument that our fear of strangers is natural, wired into our psychology through genetics and evolutionary history. But xenophobia, while natural, is not a virtue. Our natural wariness toward difference is, rather, a moral obstacle that we have to do a lot of work to overcome. 

All this is background to set up the second half of Chapter 2 in The Case Against the Sexual Revolution when Perry turns to the issue of sexual assault and rape. Specifically, Perry describes how, as a feminist, she encountered the book A Natural History of Rape by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, a book, not surprisingly, that held a lot of interest for a woman working, as Perry was, in a rape counseling center.

A Natural History of Rape is a controversial book in the way it extends the evolutionary account of male sexual psychology I sketched out in last week's post. If you missed that post, I encourage you to read it. But the basic argument of A Natural History of Rape goes like this. If the sexual strategy of males, from an evolutionary standpoint, is to have as many sexual encounters as possible, and thereby pass on their genetic material in potential offspring, then some males may resort to pressure, force, coercion and violence to secure those sexual encounters. In short, the controversial conclusion of A Natural History of Rape--and this is a very, very dark conclusion to state out loud--is that rape is pursued by some men as a sexual/adaptive strategy to secure genetic offspring. 

At this point, alarm bells go off. Some might object that this is an argument that "all men are potential rapists." But that's not what the argument is saying. The argument is that some men might opt for this strategy. And, in fact, some men do.

The common objection from feminists regarding A Natural History of Rape is that, in feminist discourse, rape is about "power" rather than sex. That is, rape is used to perpetuate and enforce the patriarchy. A Natural History of Rape argues against that view, saying that rape is really about sex (as an evolutionary sexual strategy).

Now, I know many of you read this blog in the morning. So I expect you're not thrilled to be reading about sexual assault over your morning coffee. My apologies. But I do want to follow the thread of Perry's argument to reach the point she wants to make about the sexual revolution.

Before we get to the controversies about A Natural History of Rape, what I think we can all agree on is that our free and liberated sexual culture is haunted by darkness. Bluntly stated, it's not safe out there. There are sexual predators who seek out victims, men who head out into the night with plans to use drugs or violence to secure sex. And there are other men who will seize an opportunity for sex should that opportunity ever present itself (e.g., being alone with an intoxicated women). 

Perry's appeal to evolutionary psychology is to make the point that this dark aspect of male sexuality is a durable feature of the species that can't be eradicated through "teach men not to rape" or "seek consent" curriculum. This observation is not an excuse that absolves men from responsibility. Nor is it the claim that we give up teaching men about seeking and securing consent. It's just the claim that, for women, sex is always going to be haunted by risk, and that women need to take this risk seriously. 

Now, speaking as a Christian, we have names for all this. Evil. Wickedness. Depravity. Sin. No serious Christian denies the blackness that exists the heart of man. Jesus knew it, and withheld his trust of men accordingly.

But what does this pessimism about human nature, male sexuality in particular, have to do with Louise Perry's case against the sexual revolution?

Simply this: The darkness that haunts male sexual psychology blows up the naive, progressive utopianism that tends to characterize feminist discourse about sexual freedom and liberation. The sexual revolution sends young women out into the world of hook up culture, a world of bars, parties, and clubs where alcohol is flowing freely and drugs are widely shared, with the impression that these are pleasure-filled playgrounds. Enjoy yourself, young women, because everyone will be playing by the enlightened rules of the sexual revolution in seeking your consent. Our workplace and campus sexual harassment trainings will keep everyone safe.

Only they don't.

Perry's point is that while we all wish that the world was otherwise, that the risks of the sexual revolution fell equally upon both men and women, they don't. The risks are asymmetrical, and durably so. Feel free to blame either Darwin or the Devil, but our educational and resocialization efforts will not eliminate these risks entirely. And if that's the case, Louise Perry wants young women to hear about, face, and internalize those risks so they can take appropriate action in keeping themselves and their friends safe. Which dampens the "Girls Gone Wild" party vibe, of course, but grim realism might help keep more women from harm. Perry summing up her argument at the end of Chapter 2:

If we accept the evidence from evolutionary biology and move beyond the Brownmiller model [that rape is always about power and not about sex], then we can understand that rapists are really just men who are aroused by violence, have poor impulse control, and are presented with a suitable victim and a suitable set of circumstances. Those circumstances can include a victim who is drunk, high, or otherwise vulnerable, the absence of witnesses, and no fear of any legal or social repercussions...

If you wanted to design the perfect environment for the would-be rapist, then you couldn't do much better than a party or a nightclub filled with young women who are wearing high heels (limiting mobility) and drinking or taking drugs (limiting awareness). Is it appalling for a person even to contemplate assaulting these women? Yes. Does that moral statement provide any protection to these women whatsoever? No. I made this mistake many, many times as a young woman, and I understand the cultural pressure. But, while young women should feel free to get hammered with their girlfriends or highly trusted men, doing so among strange men will always be risky.

I think we all know this, just as we all know that it's risky for young women to hitch-hike, travel alone, or go back to a strange man's house. The sorry truth is that something in the region of 10 per cent of men pose a risk, and those men aren't always identifiable at first sight, or even after long acquaintance. So my advice to young women has to be this: avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are alone with a man you don't know or a man who gives you bad feelings in your gut...

Other feminists can gnash their teeth all they like, accuse me of victim blaming, and insist that the burden should be on rapists, not their victims, to prevent rape. But they have no other solutions to offer, since feeble efforts at resocialisation don't actually work...

Is all this profoundly and infuriatingly unfair and inegalitarian? Yes. Does facing the dangers of the sexual revolution dampen the progressive, utopian hopes for a free, liberated sexual future for women? Yes. But according to Louise Perry, facing these facts and taking appropriate caution is the only reliable way women can protect themselves. The alternative is to trust in the consistent and guaranteed virtue of men. But even Jesus knew better than that.

The World is Make Holy by Thanks

In 2016, I shared this Thanksgiving meditation concerning gratitude and the Christian life.

Gratitude is an important theme in my book The Slavery of Death. As I argue it, when life is treated as a possession that can be taken from us, damaged, or lost our lives become infused with fear, causing us to cling, protect, hoard, defend and aggress.

The antidote to this fear is gratitude, viewing life--the whole of life--not as a possession to be defended but as a gift to be shared.

Treating the whole of life as gift has become an important spiritual insight for me. Consequently, I was struck by Peter Leithart's commentary on 1 Timothy 4.4-5 in his book Gratitude. The text:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
This seems like a pretty bland and straightforward text. Be thankful. Got it.

But there is an idea at the heart of this text that is very profound if you let the implications sink in. And the idea is this: Gratitude sanctifies the world. Gratitude makes the world holy. Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thankfulness, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Think about that. Think of everything you possess, everything that is yours in life. How can we live with these things in a way that doesn't entangle us? In a way that isn't possessive or sinful? That answer is to receive them as gifts. When we handle the things of the world as gifts they become holy, consecrated and sanctified. Gratitude--thankfulness--marks the boundary between the sacred and the profane.

In the Slavery of Death I argue that gratitude accomplishes this because the object in question--which includes not just possessions but also things like your time, attention, status, and your very life--is relocated in the mind by thankfulness, making us able to "lose" and "let go" of the object as we live for and share with others. Thankfulness sanctifies the world because thankfulness creates the capacity to use things--by letting them go or sharing them--in holy ways.

Here is Peter's commentary from Gratitude about this text, linking thankfulness with the priestly use of the world:
[This is the logic behind] Paul's claim that everything is "sanctified" by thanksgiving. Since all things are good and all are to be received with thanks, all things are gifts from the Creator. By giving thanks for all that comes to hand, the Christian correctly identifies the character of created things as created gifts. For Paul, thanksgiving has a performative effect on the things received. Receiving God's gifts with thanks does not merely identify them as gifts but also sanctifies them, consecrates them as holy things. The world is sanctified, made holy, through thanks. To say that created things are "made holy" by thanks is to say that created things, already God's by virtue of creation, become specifically his possession by the prayers of the people. Given Paul's regular identification of believers as "holy ones" the logic seems to be this: Christians are holy ones, indwelt and anointed by the sanctifying Spirit of Jesus, priests to God and to Christ. As such, they ought only to touch, eat and use holy things. If they receive any thing that is is impure, their priesthood will be defiled by it. Purity and holiness "taboos" continue to operate in the New Testament. Holy people must have holy things. But for Paul no elaborate rite of sanctification is required: only the giving of thanks. Once consecrated by thanks, a thing may only be used for God's purposes. Holy food could be only eaten by priests in the Old Testament, holy implements could only be used in the sanctuary, holy incense could be used only on the altar. If Christians consecrate whatever they receive by thanks, they are not only claiming it as God's own but also obligating themselves to use it in a particular way, to use it with thanks. Thanksgiving is thus the liturgy of Christian living. It is the continuous sacrifice that Christians offer. Gratitude to God is the continuous sanctification of the world.

Jesus, Remember Me

I've shared some recently about my week in Taizé, France. During that week I had many spiritual "moments," if you will. What follows was one of them.  

We were singing the song "Jesus, Remember Me." As you know, these are the words spoken to Jesus by the thief on the cross. And to his request Jesus responds, "Today you shall be with me in paradise."

As I've described, the simple, repetitive nature of Taizé music really helps you settle into the words. Instead of moving through new verses with new words and meanings, Taizé keeps you still, hovering over the same words. Like a musical mantra, you linger, you remain. And after a while, the lyrics come to immerse you, like slowly slipping into a pool of water.

So as I sang, over and over, the petition "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," my thoughts turned to the thief on the cross. Tears began to well up in my eyes as a conviction settled in my heart, "This is me. This is my petition. I am the thief on the cross."

Here's what that moment meant for me. I spend a lot of time trying to build up my moral portfolio. Deep in my heart I have this conviction that I might be able to give a good showing before the Lord when we meet, at last, face to face. I want to commend myself. "Here, Lord, are all the good things that I have done. I've written these books. Shared many words on my blog. Spoken on stages before large audiences. I've served my church--as an elder, teaching Bible classes, helping with the children, and feeding the poor. I have visited the prisoner." 

But as I sang the petition of the thief on the cross, I faced the reality that, in the end, all is grace. In the moment of his request, the thief on the cross had nothing to commend himself to the Lord. Even worse, he had no chance, no opportunity, to add anything to his moral resume. He couldn't do a quick update of his spiritual LinkedIn profile. The thief was, quite literally, nailed down. His situation was morally frozen. He couldn't, in his final moments, help an old lady across the street or give some money to a homeless person. To do even one small act of goodness, he is denied. And so, the thief on the cross is about to die with a zero in the "goodness" column. Pinned to the wood, like an insect in a specimen case, he is absolutely helpless, unable to do anything other than ask for grace. And so he asks. "Remember me." And Jesus does.

As I cried in France, that was what moved me to tears. Grace. My hope, my only hope, is in the love of Christ. As Martin Luther said at his death, "We are all beggars." At my death, I, too, shall be a beggar. Like the thief on the cross, I will come with my petition and my only hope, "Jesus, remember me." 

And the words shall come, "Today you shall be with me in paradise."

Christian Humanism: Part 3, Made in the Image of God

The first pillar of my Christian humanism is a Christological vision of the human being. Human nature being what it is, we point to Christ as our normative definition of what it looks like to be a human being. 

The second pillar of my Christian humanism is the belief that each person is created in the image of God and the moral and political demands that creates for society. Because human beings are created in the image of God each person is imbued with inviolate dignity, value, and worth that must be recognized, respected, cared for, accommodated, and protected. 

In 2020 I shared a very good reflection on this topic, Glenn Tinder's 1989 essay in The Atlantic, "Can We Be Good Without God? On the political meaning of Christianity." 

In his essay, Tinder explores if the values modernity inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially the value of universal human dignity, can be sustained going forward without the metaphysical worldview that gave birth to those values. As Tinder asks at the start of his essay, "Can we affirm the dignity and equality of individual persons—values we ordinarily regard as secular—without giving them transcendental backing?" For this series we might ask the question this way: Can humanism survive if it isn't Christian

Tinder starts his essay with a consideration of Christian agape and how that call to love is rooted in the Hebrew confession that humans are created in the image of God. Love is the moral response to human dignity. Here's Tinder:

The nature of agape stands out sharply against the background of ordinary social existence. The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order; no groups whatever—clubs, corporations, universities, or nations—can survive without allocating responsibilities and powers with a degree of realism. It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle. 

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable. All of us manifest deficiencies of natural endowment—of intelligence, temperament, appearance, and so forth. And all personal lives reveal moral deficiencies as well—blamable failures in the past, and vanity, greed, and other such qualities in the present. The process is harsh also because it is unjust. Not only are those who are judged always imperfect and vulnerable, but the judges are imperfect too. They are always fallible and often cruel. Thus few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve... 

Agape means refusing to take part in this process. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power...Agape raises all those touched by it into the community brought by Christ, the Kingdom of God. Everyone is glorified. No one is judged and no one judges. 

When we look on others with love we ignore all observable metrics of worth, of aptitude, achievement, or endowment. We refuse to judge or evaluate others using criteria of worth. When we love these metrics of worth are ignored as we embrace the inherit value of the other person. Christianity universalizes this vision, demanding that we love all people. And this ethical demand, according to Tinder, flows out of the the Christian vision of what he calls "the exalted individual." Tinder describing this: 

To grasp fully the idea of the exalted individual is not easy...It refers to something intrinsically mysterious, a reality that one cannot see by having someone else point to it or describe it. It is often spoken of, but the words we use—"the dignity of the individual," "the infinite value of a human being," and so forth—have become banal and no longer evoke the mystery that called them forth. Hence we must try to understand what such phrases mean. In what way, from a Christian standpoint, are individuals exalted? In trying to answer this question, the concept of destiny may provide some help. 

In the act of creation God grants a human being glory, or participation in the goodness of all that has been created. The glory of a human being, however, is not like that of a star or a mountain. It is not objectively established but must be freely affirmed by the one to whom it belongs. In this sense the glory of a human being is placed in the future... 

Destiny is not the same as fate. The word refers not to anything terrible or even to anything inevitable, in the usual sense of the word, but to the temporal and free unfoldment of a person's essential being. A destiny is a spiritual drama. 

A destiny is never completely fulfilled in time, in the Christian vision, but leads onto the plane of eternity. It must be worked out in time, however, and everything that happens to a person in time enters into eternal selfhood and is there given meaning and justification. My destiny is what has often been referred to as my soul... 

The agape of God consists in the bestowal of a destiny, and that of human beings in its recognition through faith. Since a destiny is not a matter of empirical observation, a person with a destiny is, so to speak, invisible. But every person has a destiny. Hence the process of mutual scrutiny is in vain, and even the most objective judgments of other people are fundamentally false. Agape arises from a realization of this and is therefore expressed in a refusal to judge. 

The Lord of all time and existence has taken a personal interest in every human being, an interest that is compassionate and unwearying. The Christian universe is peopled exclusively with royalty... 

According to Christian metaphysics everyone has a destiny. Our life has a "plot," giving it purpose and meaning. And this story is a story of glory, no matter how small or ignoble our lives might be judged by others. Our destiny makes our life, and every life, "count." Given this metaphysical vision of the exalted individual, Tinder turns to unpack the political implications: 

What does this mean for society? 

To speak cautiously, the concept of the exalted individual implies that governments—indeed, all persons who wield power—must treat individuals with care. This can mean various things—for example, that individuals are to be fed and sheltered when they are destitute, listened to when they speak, or merely left alone so long as they do not break the law and fairly tried if they do. But however variously care may be defined, it always means that human beings are not to be treated like the things we use and discard or just leave lying about. They deserve attention. 

This vision of human dignity and worth--each of us exalted, royal, loved, and destined--is Christian humanism. 

Christian Humanism: Part 2, The Training to Become a Human Being

Before pushing on to a second pillar of my Christian humanism, a post to pause and note an implication of the last post.

Specifically, in describing human nature as pliable and adaptable, I stated that human nature requires direction and education. Christ, in Christian humanism, is both that direction and education. We see this in Christ's preferred self-description as the Son of Man. As students of Hebrew know, "Son of Man" simply means human, or human being. Taking that cue, the CEB translation translates the traditional "Son of Man" as "the Human One." Jesus comes to us as the Human Being. We become human was we emulate the Human One.

The implication here is that it takes training to become a human being.

I've told this story before, how a man once shared with me the journey of his father. When this man was younger, his father was, well, not very pleasant or kind. But as the father aged he grew into a different person. In his final years a beautiful and gracious person had come to replace the meanness of his youthful self. Reflecting on the change the years wrought in his father, the son shared with me, "It takes a lifetime to become a human being."

Yes it does. That is what I mean by training and education. Of course we're born human, but that humanity is immature and very much a work in progress. Let's all reflect back on the person we were when we were younger. The humanity latent in each of us takes time to grow and mature. Like that father, we become more and more human.

This is how Christian humanism differs from what I described as "naive humanism." In naive humanism we take human nature, all of it, as "human." And from a biological perspective, that is certainly true. Anything humans do is human. The serial killers, the sex traffickers, the child abusers. The meanness, the bullying, the indifference. All this is human. By contrast, Christian humanism spotlights the moral and spiritual aspects of human nature, the proverbial "better angels" of our nature. That which is humane within our humanity. Our capacities for the true, the beautiful and the good. Our moral courage. Our ability to love sacrificially. These are the virtues that make us human. 

Of course, most humanists would agree with this sentiment. But why? What justifies setting the Judeo-Christian vision of the human above other possible humanities? More, if you agree with the Judeo-Christian vision of "the human being," what does your humanism provide by way of training and virtue formation? Where are your teachers, syllabi, schools, and curricula? Or are you expecting true, beautiful and good human beings to just spontaneously emerge as we wander from screen to screen in this digital age, everyone clicking their way into wisdom, humility, generosity and love? 

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: Part 6, Men and Women Are Different

We now reach the second chapter of Louise Perry's The Case Against the Sexual Revolution entitled "Men and Women Are Different."

If you've followed this series we've mentioned a couple of times how Perry claims that the sexual revolution works well for men but not so well for women. The reason for this, according to Perry, is that men and women are different. Men and women have distinctive and unique sexual psychologies, and these differences intersect with the sexual revolution in particular ways.

Conservative Christians might be quick to jump in here to say, "Of course men and women are different! That's how God created them." But again, Perry isn't writing as a Christian. In this chapter Perry will describe the origins and differences between men and women by appealing to evolutionary biology. Which, I'm guessing, is not the move most conservative Christians would make.

Much of Perry's argument is well known. The basic idea goes like this. In the ancestral environments where human evolution occurred, men and women faced different adaptive challenges when it came to reproduction. Key to understanding these challenges is knowing that evolution is driven by reproductive success, creating genetic offspring. Survival of the fittest is more about having as many children as possible than about being strong or fast. 

If having as many children as possible is the driving imperative, men and women, due to their reproductive biologies, face different challenges. For example, women are biologically limited in how many children they can bear in a lifetime. Men are only limited by the number of sexual opportunities they have. In ancient cultures, a single woman could only ever have a handful of children. Men, by contrast, could have dozens, even hundreds, of children. For example, the Bible says Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. If we assume an average of one child per woman, that's the potential for 1,000 children. You can vividly see the reproductive asymmetry. No wife of Solomon could have 1,000 children. But Solomon could.  

Beyond reproductive capacity, another asymmetry women faced was the risk, cost and burden of bringing a child to term and raising it to independence. Before, during, and after childbirth women were in vulnerable situations. Less able to forage for food, travel, work, and generally fend for and protect themselves. Facing that challenge, it makes adaptive sense to look for a mate who will invest in protecting both you and your children. Putting all this together, evolutionary psychologists argue that women developed a sexual psychology biased toward relational intimacy and pair-bonding. An affectional bond with a caring and committed mate would help women solve the adaptive challenges of female reproduction in primitive contexts. Women who eschewed this psychology, by contrast, who were willing to have sex with any available man, were going to give birth to a lot of children she would be left to care for all on her own. That would be a reproductive disaster, for both the woman and her children. They would all die. And so, a sexual rule was instilled in female sexual psychology: Sex needs love. 

Male reproductive success, by contrast, was governed by different rules. If the goal is to have as many children as possible, then the male sexual strategy is straightforward: Have as much sex as possible. And given that males faced very little risk or burden in childbirth, natural selection provided little pushback on male promiscuity. If anything, promiscuity--because more sex equals more children--was rewarded rather than punished. I hope you see the point: male sexual psychology evolved in the exact opposite direction as female sexual psychology. For men, love doesn't need to be attached to sex as sex itself created the opportunity for reproductive success. Even worse, linking sex to love will limit your reproductive opportunities. Love is bad, given this adaptive logic. Sex, then, becomes decoupled from relational intimacy and commitment. 

In short, because of this evolutionary history, men and women are different. 

The critical point of all this for Perry's argument is to push back upon the "blank slate" assumptions concerning human nature often evoked by liberal feminists. The female desire for intimacy, to be loved and taken care of by a committed partner, is taken as evidence that women have internalized patriarchal gender norms. Not so fast, says Louise Perry. Female desires for romantic intimacy aren't due to culture but are rooted, rather, in evolutionary biology. It's nature, not nurture. 

Liberal feminism rejects that view and suggests that human nature--female nature, in this case--is a blank slate that we can shape at will, like play-doh, if we just raise our girls differently. And there is a whole lot of good and necessary truth to that view. Culture can and does enshrine oppressive and patriarchal gender norms. Plus, the nature versus nurture issue is complex. It's not either/or. Human nature displays radical plasticity, but it can also be stubbornly resistant to change. 

Perry's argument is that the sexual revolution--our liberated and loveless hookup culture--is perfectly suited to male sexual psychology. Males thrive when there is more and more sex with fewer and fewer relational strings attached. Men today can even outsex King Solomon. Wilt Chamberlain, for example, reported in his autobiography that he'd had sex with over 20,000 women. As Chamberlain noted about his sexual history, "We're all fascinated by the numbers." I guess we are. Hugh Hefner was more modest in his estimates, claiming he'd slept with over 1,000 women. And while we might question the accuracy of Chamberlain's memory, he's making the biological point perfectly clear for us. For men, sex is a numbers game. The more, the better.

By contrast, argues Louise Perry, the sexual psychology of women is ill-suited to a sexual marketplace built for the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Hugh Hefner. The sexual revolution is forcing women to "have sex like men," which means "liberated" sex stripped of love, intimacy, and commitment. Given their sexual psychology, rooted in a biological past, women emotionally suffer in this environment. Sex, for most women, longs for love, for some intimacy and attachment. 

Which brings us to another sad irony about the sexual revolution. According to Perry, the great irony of liberal feminism is how liberal feminism shames women for wanting love. Liberal feminism tells women that their longing for love in sex hurts the cause. If women want to make progress in the world women need to stuff their feelings and have sex like men. 

And so, that is how we raise our girls today: You will be free if you have sex like Wilt Chamberlain and Hugh Hefner. And thus equipped with the enlightened advice of the sexual revolution, we send young women out into a world full of hurt, pain, and monsters.

Christian Humanism: Part 1, Christ and Human Nature

There's a theological perspective described as "Christian humanism." For my part, I would describe myself as a Christian humanist.

Regarding the "humanist" aspect, this flows out of my perspective as a psychologist. I'm very much concerned with how theological beliefs, church structures, and readings of Scripture promote or harm human flourishing. The human being and the human condition has a huge "say" in how I think theologically. In the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, experience plays a large role in my discernments. 

And yet, I'm a Christian humanist. And while there are divergent views that sail under that flag, let me share with you my particular take. 

Specifically, while I'm deeply concerned with human nature, I don't think human nature is a steady or reliably virtuous thing. Due to the radical plasticity, malleability, and receptivity of human nature, human persons can become deformed and twisted. Due to our cognitive biases and limitations we're prone to becoming lost and confused. We're also prone to environmental influences of all sorts that can capture and distort our attention and choices. Just ponder how social media is radically capturing and reshaping human nature and society. There was human nature before social media, and there is human nature after social media, affecting our mental, physical, social, and political health.

Consequently, I reject what might be called a "naive humanism," the view that human nature as it stands is steady and reliably tuned to health and virtue. Human nature is, rather, a bit of a sponge and a choose your own adventure. Human nature can become almost anything. That's its nature, its open-endedness, a potentiality that is both blessing and curse, promise and peril.  

And so, human nature needs a target, a vision of what "being human" should mean. Human nature requires a teacher and an education. That's where the Christian humanism shows up. For a Christian humanist, Christ is the vision of what "being human" should look like. Christ is the teacher, the syllabus, the curriculum, the classroom, and the exam. 

Pascal summed it up nicely: "Outside Jesus Christ we do not know what is our life, our death, God or ourselves." 

The Natural Desire for God: Part 6, Fall and Redemption

Last post in this series. In this final post I want to reflect on the major source of controversy in the Catholic debate regarding a natural desire for God.

In yesterday's post I described the criticism of de Lubac and others regarding "two-tiered Thomism." But for their part, what do those same Thomists have to say about de Lubac regarding a natural desire for God?

Their main complaint is this. If there is a natural desire for God then there is a concern that God would "owe" nature the gift of grace. God would be obligated by the first gift to give the second gift. You can see the point: It would be mighty hard for God to implant the desire for Himself in human nature, only to have God not satisfy that desire. In giving us the desire God seems morally "on the hook" to give us grace.

So why's that a problem? I think a lot of people would be okay to say, yes, God has some moral "responsibility" to creation, especially if nature was intrinsically "unfulfilled" and "lacking" in some way all on its own. But if that is so, if God is obligated to give grace to nature, then this damages our definition of grace. Grace isn't given because of an obligation. Grace is grace because it is free, unexpected and gratuitous. 

So that's the concern. If humans possess a natural desire for God God would owe nature grace and that obligation would destroy our theology of grace.

How to respond to this criticism? 

There have been a variety of responses to this criticism among Catholic theologians, and I won't inventory them here. I only want to share, in my limited knowledge and expertise, what I think are two missing issues in much of the literature I have read about this debate.

Specifically, in many of these conversations regarding the relationship between nature and grace what I often find missing is how the fall and redemption history affects the whole conversation. It seems to me that the fall interrupts nature in away the ushers in the story of salvation. Any "lack" in nature isn't due to deficiencies in the "first gift" of creation. The "lack" we experience is a wound created by the fall. And given that the fall occurred out of human freedom, God is not obligated to follow with the "second gift" of grace. And yet, God does. Which makes grace grace.

Another issue that I think complicates this debate is the working assumption among Catholics that grace isn't universal. That is to say, some of humanity, perhaps a large portion of it, will not receive the second gift and will be eschatologically "lost." That some will be lost puts pressure on the argument for the natural desire of God as these lost souls would have a quibble with God on judgment day: "You made us with a longing for you and you never gave yourself to us in grace." Again, some Thomists might worry that these souls would have a claim upon God's grace if they possessed a natural desire for God. But I think this worry evaporates if we have a more general and universal vision of God's grace.

Specifically, if it is true, as 1 Timothy 2.4 proclaims, that God "desires all people to be saved," then God's grace pre-exists any claim a creature might lay upon Him. God created all people and, because God is gracious, God desires all people to be saved. That the first gift of existence is followed by the second gift of grace after the fall of humanity is not because God "owes" us anything but because God always acts generously and gratuitously. In short, the issue of God "owing" grace to nature is only possible if there is some sector of nature where God's grace is forever withheld. But if God's grace will, in the end, reach all nature, then there will never be occasion for nature to lay claim to grace as its due. The first gift doesn't create an obligation for a second gift. Rather, all is grace, start to finish, simply because of who God is. God is always gracious, and after the fall we needed rescue. And so, God effects a rescue. As it says in the gospel of John, we receive from God "grace upon grace." God is always giving us gifts.

Again, I'm no expert in these debates, but it seems to me that attention to both the fall and redemption history addresses the Thomist concern about nature being "owed" grace. In summary, there is a natural desire for God, but because of the fall we cannot, on our own, actualize that desire. God, being true to His nature, and not wanting to lose any part of his creation (1 Tim. 2.4), acts in Christ to reconcile all things to Himself (Col. 1.20). As sinners, we are not owed this grace, but God gives us this "second gift" graciously and gratuitously. Which means that, for all of humanity, our natural desire for God will reach its supernatural end. Not because of obligation, but simply because God is, and will forever be, all in all.

The Natural Desire for God: Part 5, Pure Nature and the Rise of the Secular

One of the reasons I became interested in the Catholic debates regarding a natural desire for God is the suggestion from within this debate about the relationship between pure nature and the rise of "the secular."

Recall, according to de Lubac the church fathers widely believed that human beings possess a natural desire for God. Our hearts are restless, as Augustine said, until they rest in God. But this raises a historical question. The work of de Lubac was seen as a "recovery" of this patristic teaching. And if that was so, in what way had this view become occluded or lost? 

The patristic teaching regarding a natural desire for God became lost due to a Scholastic interpretation of Thomas Aquinas that dominated the interpretation of the Angelic Doctor up to Vatican II. This interpretation of Thomas, what is often called the "two-tiered" view, is the "two ends" vision I've described in this series. Specifically, nature has its own integral end and goal, its own logic for flourishing intrinsic unto itself. This is the vision of "pure nature." On the other hand, there is the "second" and supernatural end that comes to nature as a gift of grace. Thus, humans have potentially "two ends," a natural end open to all humanity, and a supernatural end that comes with the advent of grace. This creates a "two-tiered" vision of human flourishing, a natural, albeit "lower," experience of beatitude, and a supernatural and "higher" beatitude.

Catholic thinkers, like de Lubac, began to criticize this "two-tiered Thomism" for unwittingly creating the space we now call "the secular." As the theologian John Milbank famously intoned at the start of one of his books, "Once, there was no secular." That is, the division we now recognize between "the sacred" and "the secular" is a modern, quite recent invention. For most of human history, the sacred imbued all of life. There was no "secular" space devoid of the presence of the sacred. Consequently, there has been a great deal of thinking, theological and sociological, about how the "secular" came into existence. How did this space devoid of God get invented? 

Part 1 of Hunting Magic Eels is devoted to this question, especially the chapter "The Slow Death of God." In the story I tell in Hunting Magic Eels, regarding the creation of the secular, I talk a lot about the rise of Newtonian Mechanics and the impact of the Protestant Reformation. But other influences have also been much discussed. And one of those influences has been two-tiered Thomism. 

You can easily see the point. Once "pure nature" is posited, a natural beatitude independent of God, we create a "disenchanted" arena for human life and flourishing, a space of flourishing devoid of the sacred and supernatural. If the created order can achieve good natural ends--biologically, psychologically, relationally, economically, and politically--without God, have we not in that instance created "the secular"?  

This was the criticism de Lubac and others leveled at two-tiered Thomism. By recovering the patristic vision of a natural desire for God, de Lubac wanted to reclaim nature for God, to reimbue the secular with the supernatural. If there is a natural desire for God then the secular evaporates, as all natural longings are, in fact, a longing for God. Everything is spiritual. True, as Augustine and Dante teach us, these longings get misdirected and malformed, but the longing itself is the natural desire and search for God. All human love is trying to get back home.

And this, dear reader, is why I stumbled upon this Catholic debate. For another way to describe de Lubac's recovery of a natural desire for God is to say that de Lubac's work in Surnaturel was seeking to re-enchant a disenchanted world. If there is a natural desire for God then there is no secular. Which is what Hunting Magic Eels is all about. The world was once enchanted. So how did we come to lose that enchantment? And how might we regain it? One way, following de Lubac, is to recover the notion that humans posses a natural desire for God. Which means everything is spiritual. All human love is trying to get back home.

The Natural Desire for God: Part 4, A Nature Open to Grace

Over the last fews posts I've walked through some of the controversies within Catholic theology regarding the relationship between nature and grace, especially concerning a natural desire for God. 

I started us off by asking us the question, "Do humans have a natural desire for God?" The quick and obvious answer was, "Of course!" But I hope over the last three posts you've come to appreciate some of the complexities of this debate. 

For example, while we might answer "Yes!" to humans having a natural desire for God, I think many of us also want to affirm that non-believers can experience happiness and fulfillment, and sometimes we observe a happiness and fulfillment that exceeds what find among some believers. So it seems that human nature has a logic of happiness intrinsic to its own being. As a psychologist, I'd agree with this. My entire discipline is devoted to the science of human flourishing, a science open and available to everyone, like all sciences, regardless of faith perspective.

A related impulse here, mostly among progressive Christians, is to view nature, as nature, as intrinsically good, blessed and graced. Relatedly, as I describe in Hunting Magic Eels, in an increasingly post-Christian world people are turning away from transcendent enchantments toward immanent enchantments, from the Christian toward the pagan. In pagan enchantment, the natural world is inherently sacred and holy. Again, nature is sufficient unto itself. Theologies of "original blessing" and the "cosmic Christ" make Christian arguments to reach similar conclusions.

So while we might agree that human beings have a natural desire for God, we also want to affirm the goodness of nature as nature, as whole and even blessed unto itself. 

Reflecting on this, I think there can be a variety of views at this point. A person can have an extraordinarily high view of nature, while still affirming that the gift of grace takes us infinitely beyond that very high summit. The "first gift" of existence can be exceedingly gratuitous. In the Protestant tradition this is often called "common grace," a blessedness and beatitude available to everyone, believer and non-believer alike. We can imagine "common grace" to be lavish, making the possibility of human joy and fulfillment universally accessible to every human person. 

And yet, as I ponder this, the greater the "first gift," the more lavish is common grace, the less pressing need there is for the "second gift" of grace. If humans can actualize and experience extreme, deep, and profound joy and fulfillment independently of grace, might that rich and abiding sense of wellness and peace be "enough"? If so, wouldn't grace become a non-essential, optional lifestyle choice? Something you could opt in for, should you be a spiritually inclined person, but not really necessary to be happy and fulfilled. You could have a rich and wonderful life without grace.

We're back here to the issues of continuity versus discontinuity. Grace assumes some "lack" in nature, the Augustinian restlessness that only God can satisfy. If the "lack" becomes too great, our view of nature becomes too pessimistic and dim. We have visions of "total depravity" and a Manichean, gnostic view of creation, seeing the material world as a place of ruin which we need to escape. Such a view also struggles with the empirical reality that many non-Christians are quite happy and secular technologies of wellness do work. 

Recoiling at this pessimistic view of nature we can minimize the "lack," adopting a positive, optimistic and even graced view of creation. The more positive this view becomes the lesser the "lack," the gap between nature and grace, to the point where nature becomes whole in itself and grace becomes unnecessary and optional.

In the Catholic debates, a way to navigate these issues of continuity versus discontinuity is to think of human nature as being complete in itself yet also possessing a natural "openness" to God. An (admittedly poor) metaphor you often see used to illustrate this point is a machine with modular parts. Consider a car. A new car comes in a "base model." No fancy bells and whistles. In itself, the base model of a car is not "lacking." It's an amazing car, fully functional and whole. And yet, the "base model" is "open" to additional accessories that expand and improve what the car can do and the comfort it can give. These additions do not change the nature of the car, it remains a car, and neither do the additions presuppose that the base car was in a state of non-functionality or total ruin (as, say, a theology of "total depravity" would argue about human nature.) Might grace do something similar with nature?  

As I noted, I don't know if this is the greatest metaphor. But you can sorta see what it is trying to do. We don't have to view nature as lacking to be open to the gratuitous gift of grace. That is, we don't have to look at human nature or the natural world as a bunch of wrecked and rusted cars in a junk heap. We can, rather, see them as base model cars, perfectly functional and amazing, yet open to so much more. In that much, I think the car metaphor is suggestive. But it doesn't resolve all the issues we noted above. For example, David Bentley Hart would argue that these mechanical metaphors radically miss the point that human nature is a biological organism, an integrated whole, that can't be compared to modular artifacts built up from component pieces. How could you "add" anything to an integrated whole without radically altering, or even damaging, that organic integrity? 

Regardless, in these Catholic debates about the natural desire for God there is the general belief that while nature has an integrity natural unto itself it also possesses an openness to the divine, and this openness, as potential and potency, lesses the need to presuppose a "lack" in nature while also smoothing the discontinuous disjoint upon the arrival of grace. To borrow a metaphor from space flight, nature can "dock" with grace. There might not be "God-shaped hole" in our lives, but there is a sense that there is something "more" to this life, a gift existing beyond ourselves and this material frame. Less a hole in the middle of human nature than a longing for a far horizon. Nature is whole and good but is also open-ended, as possibility and potentiality, to union with God, a participation in the divine nature that leads nature to a final, supernatural end. 

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: Part 5, The Hypocrisy of Chronological Snobbery

Before we start, just a reading note, which I might have to include at the start of every post going forward, that as this series goes on the conversation about sex is going to be, at times, blunt and explicit. Today, for example, you'll encounter references to pubic hair and anal sex. You're welcome. Enjoy your morning coffee. :-) 

That said, there's a part of me that finds this sort of warning ridiculous. I have little tolerance for snowflake Christians. If, as a Christian, you're so fragile that you can't handle direct conversations about sex today, well, I don't think this series is for you. But I do want you to know that I think fragility of this sort is a large a part of the reason young people are walking away from the church. The culture is more than happy to talk about sex. The church isn't. And the situation grows more alarming each day, as our children swim in increasingly explicit sexual waters. So if you want to make a difference in their lives, well, you better buckle up buttercup.

Louise Perry ends Chapter 1 "Sex Must be Taken Seriously" in The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by talking about some of the hypocrisies of what C.S. Lewis described as "chronological snobbery," how younger generations look back with distain and superiority upon the beliefs of their elders and prior generations. 

As Perry recounts, we look back with humor and horror upon the repressed sexuality and patriarchal gender norms of the 1950s era of "Father Knows Best." No one wants to go back to that era. And Perry agrees. And yet, Perry goes on to note that today's "liberated" culture still enshrines a focus on satisfying men's needs. Perry writes,

In 2016 an extract from a 1950s home economics book offering 'tips to look after your husband' went viral on social media. The housewife was advised that, when her husband got home from work, she should have dinner on the table, her apron off and a ribbon in her hair, and that she should always make sure to let her husband 'talk first.' This advice was not unusual for housewife manuals of the time, or indeed those of earlier eras, all of which advise women to make their housekeeping look effortless, hiding grime and exertion from their menfolk.

How reactionary, we think now, how stupid and backward! But then take a look at a small sample of Cosmopolitan magazine guides published within the last decade: '30 ways to please a man,' ' 20 ways to turn on your man,' or 'How to turn him on--42 things to do with a naked man' ... In what sense are these guides not encouraging precisely the same degree of focus on male desires, except in this case it is sexual pleasure rather than domestic comfort? ...

Women are still expected to please men and to make it look effortless. But while the 1950s 'angel of the house' hid her apron, the modern 'angel of the bedroom' hides her pubic hair. This waxed and willing swan glides across the water, concealing the fact that beneath the surface she is furiously working to maintain her image of perfection. She pretends to orgasm, pretends to like anal sex, and pretends not to mind when the 'friends with benefits' arrangement causes her pain ... We have smoothly transitioned from one form of feminine subservience to another, but we pretend that this is one of liberation.

Perry goes on to note, as many of you have as well, that our current sexual culture isn't just hurting women, it's hurting men as well. Still, her main focus in upon how our "liberated" sexual culture is biased toward men, in subtle and not so subtle ways, that are studiously avoided. We make fun of "Father Knows Best" sexual mores, but have replaced them with pornographic ideals, expecting women to service male sexual fantasies and desires. So it's fair to ask, which is more degrading? Having dinner on the table or, say, being pressured into unwanted anal sex by your boyfriend who was raised on PornHub?

Now, do the problems of today mean we need to go back in time? Of course not. Time moves forward, always. 

But I do think it's time to rethink just how liberated and enlightened we think we are.

The Natural Desire for God: Part 3, The Continuity versus Discontinuity of Grace

A still further way to ponder the relationship between nature and grace concerns the continuity versus discontinuity of grace.

On the one hand is the view that grace is radically discontinuous with nature, given that grace is an extrinsic gift. Grace accomplishes what nature cannot do on its own. Grace arrives as gratuitous surprise, wholly unanticipated and "beyond" nature.

This discontinuity seems right to us, almost definitional for what it means to call something "grace." If nature could, on its own, catalyze the beatitude we experience in a state of grace then that beatitude would not be an extrinsic gift but, rather, be latent within a creature's naturally endowed potencies. 

And yet, a problem is raised here. Specifically, if grace is radically alien to human nature then the meeting of nature and grace is less a gentle embrace than an ontological collision. The more qualitatively alien and discontinuous grace is defined the more it seems to nullify human nature. As a case study, this was a criticism leveled at Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans. Barth's early work on grace in Romans, which emphasized the radical discontinuity between nature and grace, the "infinite qualitative distinction" between God and humanity, was criticized as being anti-creation and anti-human. Grace was a categorial "No!" to human nature. 

David Bentley Hart makes a different criticism regarding the discontinuity of grace, arguing that the greater the discontinuity between nature and grace the more nature would "reject" grace as an alien intrusion, the way the human body rejects a transplanted organ. If grace is radically discontinuous from nature the union between them doesn't make a unified organic whole but a freakish hybrid. 

Given these concerns, attempts might be made to smooth away the discontinuities between nature and grace. But challenges lurk here as well. 

For example, in some popular and progressive Christian theologies nature is considered to be intrinsically graced. Examples of this come form theologies touting "original blessing" or the "cosmic Christ." 

In the view of "original blessing" all of creation is declared primordially "good" in Genesis 1. Thus, all of creation is primordially "graced." Grace is baked in at the start and is now an intrinsic feature of creation. Creation does not need an "additional" grace, as its "already" graced in the "original blessing." All is grace.

Theologies of a "cosmic Christ" get to the same place but with different theological moves. In a cosmic Christology, following the Christ Hymn of Colossians 1, "all things" were made through Christ and "in Christ" all things "hold together." Christ, in this view, is the spiritual fabric holding all creation together. With everything existing "in Christ" grace is baked into material reality. All is grace because all is Christ.

These are popular and attractive theologies, and they share a similar view that grace and nature are radically continuous rather than discontinuous. Nature and grace are simply the same thing.

To be sure, this is a beautiful vision of the world, and it is true that creation is the "first" of the "two gifts" of grace, but these theologies have some problems. Specifically, in making everything grace we lose the definition of grace we started out with at the top. Grace is supposed to be a gift that I do not posses on my own. That's what makes it grace. Grace implies something gratuitous, something that exceeds what I have on my own. Grace implies surprise, something new and unexpected coming from beyond the horizon of my own capacities. But if grace is already factored into nature, right from the start, if nature is grace just for being exactly what it already is, then we've said a really nice thing about nature but at the expense of losing grace. In these theologies, nature might be lovely, beautiful and wonderful simply as it is, but it needs no encounter with the "second gift" of grace. Nature is fine on its own, just as it is. 

Phrased in soteriological terms, if nature is intrinsically graced is there any such thing as needing to be "saved"? If all of created nature exists in a state of grace--from an original blessing or existing within the cosmic Christ--then everything is already "saved." Nothing need be found, as nothing now is lost. No mending is required, as everything is already whole. No liberation is effected, as everything is already free. No medicine is on hand, as everything is already well. No peace is extended, as everything is already reconciled. No atonement need be made, as everything is already forgiven. In short, a creational theology that radically conflates nature and grace, eradicating any discontinuity between them, places a biblically-informed soteriological theology under considerable strain. In simple terms, if you bake all your soteriology (salvation theology) into your creational theology you'll struggle later on to make sense of why Jesus died on the cross. 

Surveying these options and all the treacherous theological obstacles to the right and to the left, many try to find a middle way between radical discontinuity and radical continuity. I'll turn to those attempts in the next post.

The Natural Desire for God: Part 2, Two Gifts and Two Ends?

In the Catholic debate concerning the natural desire for God there is general agreement that God gives humanity "two gifts." The first gift is the gift of existence, created human nature. The second gift is the gift of grace, (re)union with God. The controversy concerns how these two gifts relate to each other.

Specifically, as described in the last post, does human nature have a natural telos (end) independent of grace? That is to say, if left alone is there marked upon human nature a telos of fulfillment and actualization? Simply, does human nature have a "natural end"? Or, according to de Lubac, do all humans have a single, final "supernatural end" in union with God? 

Summarizing, are there two ends for human flourishing, one natural and the other supernatural? Or is there a single, final supernatural end?

If you believe, with de Lubac, that humans have a natural desire for a supernatural end, then you believe that every human person is only ever ultimately fulfilled in union with God. We have a single, final, supernatural end. But if you believe humans can have a natural end, full unto itself, separate from God, then humanity has two possible ends, one natural and the other supernatural.

Obviously, when comparing the two ends, should two exist, the supernatural end is deemed the "better." But "better" would not imply a "lack" in the natural end. The natural end would be a "good" end unto itself.

If you're having trouble imagining this, consider Dante's Divine Comedy. In the first circle of hell, Limbo, Dante meets the unbaptized, virtuous pagans--philosophers and poets like Vigil, Homer, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Limbo is not torment. Rather, in Limbo these wise pagans pursue human virtue, just as they had in life. In the language of this series, in Limbo the unbaptized reach their "natural end" in human self-actualization separate from God.

By contrast, in the final part of the Comedy, Paradiso, the blessed reach God in the Beatific Vision. This is the "supernatural end" that nature cannot reach alone but requires the "second gift" of grace. And reaching this end is deemed "better" than the "natural end" being pursued in Limbo, even while those in Limbo are happy.

Now, if we reject this "two ends" view we come back to de Lubac's argument that humans have a single, final supernatural end. In this view, there is no final "natural end," for that "ending" would be, of necessity, lacking and incomplete. An Augustinian restlessness persists, even for the happiest and most well adjusted non-believer. Human nature, separate from God, would be "incomplete" in itself. The first gift would ever be longing for the second gift. 

The Natural Desire for God: Part 1, Does Humanity Have a Natural Desire for God?

Over the last few months I've been doing a deep dive into a controversy among Catholic theologians regarding the relationship between nature and grace. 

The origins of the debate go back to the French theologian Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) and his book Surnaturel, which had a significant influence upon Vatican II. 

In Surnaturel de Lubac argues that humans have a natural desire for God. That is to say, human nature possesses a natural, intrinsic, and created desire for a supernatural end. God implants in human nature a longing for union with God. As de Lubac argued, this belief was held by the early church fathers. You see it right there in Augustine's famous statement, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." Human life is restless and unfulfilled, less than what it was created to be, until it comes to rest in union with God.

Lubac's view won the day at Vatican II, and remains the widely held consensus. And I expect you agree. Of course humans were created for relationship with God! Who could disagree with this?

Well, one of authorities de Lubac cited in making his argument was Thomas Aquinas. And since the publication of Surnaturel Aquinas scholars have raised questions about if de Lubac read Aquinas correctly. In my assessment of the controversy, much of this has to do with Aquinas himself not being wholly consistent or clear, creating some interpretive ambiguity. Thus a fight emerged about the "correct" reading of Thomas.

The debate about a proper reading of Thomas need not concern us. But it might be asked, what is the opposing view to humans possessing a natural desire for God? The issue concerns what is called "pure nature." 

The idea of "pure nature" suggests that human nature was created whole and complete in itself. Think of a tree. The nature of a tree is complete and whole in itself. A tree doesn't need anything "more" to be a flourishing tree. A tree just needs what all trees need: sun, soil, water. If those things are present, a tree will flourish. All due to the "logic" inherent in creation. No miracles or supernatural "extras" needed.

Now, what about a human being? The idea of pure nature says that humans are like trees. Humans have a nature and the "logic" of creation can actualize that nature to produce flourishing persons. Think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you provide a human person with food, shelter, safety, esteem, care, and outlets for creativity and self-exploration human nature will "self-actualize." We'll grow like trees. None of this need involve God. Happiness isn't extrinsic to human nature, but intrinsic, built into our DNA so to speak. Human nature is whole and complete as it stands. 

Let me come at the issue this way: Can an atheist be happy, well-adjusted, fulfilled, and self-actualized? If you say yes, or are tempted to say yes, then you're assenting to the idea of "pure nature." You're assenting to the view that human nature possesses a natural logic of happiness that is open and available to all human persons, simply because they are human persons. Just as the logic of gardening is available to all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, the logic of human flourishing, the science of happiness, is also available to all. An atheist, for example, can make an excellent therapist, possessing access to the science of flourishing, just as they can be an excellent gardener. 

So, have you felt that big switcharoo in your head? At the start of the post we said, "Of course humans have a natural desire for God! Who would be crazy enough to deny it?" But now, after I've described the idea of "pure nature," some of you may be changing your answers: "Wait a minute. I do think atheists can be happy and well-adjusted. I know some." So which is it? Are those atheists secretly ailing, less fulfilled and actualized in their development because they lack God in their lives? Or are they truly happy without God, all on their own, because God has given human nature the gift of joy simply because we are a human person? 

Suddenly, I hope you can see, the question about the relationship between nature and grace has become a lot more complicated.