Psalm 54

"God is my helper"

Last fall at Rochester University's Streaming conference I made a presentation about theological anthropology. ("Theological anthropology" is the fancy term for "Your Biblical and theological perspectives on human nature.") The theme of the Streaming conference was the line from the Psalms, "Who are humans that you are mindful of them?"

One of the points I made in my presentation was that conservatives and progressives tend to get caught up in debates about valuation in regards to humanity. That is to say, to you have a low or high anthropology? And by that we mean, do you have a pessimistic or optimistic view of humanity? 

Religious conservatives tend to have a low anthropology, a pessimistic view of human persons generally rooted in some vision of depravity and entrenched sinfulness. Religious progressives, by contrast, tend to have a higher view of human persons, more optimistic and humanistic visions of humanity and human potential. A lot of this, especially among the ex-evangelical subset of progressives, is due to the typical oedipal reactivity observed with ex-evangelical deconstruction. That is, whatever was once espoused during your evangelical youth as "good" is rejected as "bad" and replaced with the exact opposite view. The classic example here is penal substitutionary atonement: Jesus dying on the cross to atone for your sins was once "good" but now that idea is deconstructed as "bad." When it comes to theological anthropology, the trend to is to reject pessimistic views of human persons such as "original sin" and replace that with a more optimistic view like "original blessing." Relatedly, "total depravity" is replaced with "you are worthy." 

To be sure, a lot of this is really just about healing from church trauma. If you've been raised with a very pessimistic anthropology you may have internalized some negative scripts about yourself that have done great damage to your self-image and mental health. In those cases, you really do to need to recover from and rest in healthier and more affirming visions of your inherent value and worth. 

Still, the general point here is that conservatives and progressives tend to spend a lot of time debating back and forth about if humans are good or bad. My particular views in this regard are nuanced. I have a high view of human value, but a pessimistic view of human behavior. I agree that you are worthy, but I also think people are mean, and if not mean they will let you down and break your heart. We each are so, so precious, and yet we treat each other so, so badly.

Which brings me back to Psalm 54's line "God is my helper."

The argument I made at Streaming is that we tend to get overly focused upon the conservative/progressive debate over valuation. Are we good or bad? This debate, in my opinion, is too narrow and overly moralized. If so, what should we be focusing on? Well, I shared at Streaming that we should ponder the "What?" in the psalmist's question "What are humans?" What are we? And the answer is this: Humans are creatures. The issue, therefore, isn't really about if we are good or bad. The pressing issue confronting us is that we are finite and limited. Phrased differently, our primary predicament, as creatures, isn't if we are good or bad but our ontological dependency. Our vulnerability, our neediness. 

Even more simply, as creatures we are those who need help

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