Royal ruins

July 23, 2007 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Surveying the human race as a whole, it’s pretty tough at first glance to decide whether humanity is primarily characterized by greatness or by debauchery.

On the one hand, the race has produced the pyramids of Egypt and the Parthenon of Athens; we’ve figured out how to send emails through cyberspace and fly ourselves to the moon.

On the other hand, we are plagued by our Darfurs, our Auschwitzes, our Rwandas, our Baghdads. Our governments worldwide managed to kill more than 170 million of us in the twentieth century alone, and though it would be nice to think we eliminated slavery, we still support a sex trafficking industry worth millions (or is that billions?) per year.

Nor is this true only on a global scale: the same duality exists within each human heart as well. The mouth that sings an opera (or worse, in a church choir) one hour can be the same one that functions as a conduit for gossip, slander, cursing, or abuse the next.

In fact, the choice between greatness and debauchery is not an either/or choice with humanity: through and through, we find both characteristics present in ourselves.

How can we account both for humanity’s magnificence and our malevolence? In his recent article for, Doug Groothuis relates the answer of the 17th century scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal: Christianity is the only worldview that adequately explains both tendencies in the human character.

As Pascal wrote,

Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.

What could those principles be?

Humanity’s greatness, according to the Bible, is explained by the fact that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27); our wretchedness is accounted for through sin and the fall (Genesis 3, Romans 3), which had the consequence of defacing (but not completely erasing) the divine image.

While there are many religions and philosophies that recognize both aspects of human nature to some degree, Christianity, according to Pascal, is the only religion that satisfactorily balances and explains the two principles without elevating one over the other. Christianity neither exalts man nor debases man, but rather pictures him, in Groothuis’s words, as “royal ruins”: made in the image of a king, but tragically corrupted from that original intent.

Check out Groothuis’s analysis; the whole article is worth a read.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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