The cracks tell all. Nothing lasts forever. Nor in reality can we ever expect to attain the flawlessness of our most optmistic dreams. From the 24/7 of outrageous headlines emerges a basic fact about ourselves: human beings are irredeemably flawed creatures destined to fail even as we strive. Notwithstanding our ongoing attempts to build a truly civilised society, we know we'll never quite get there. Human nature is flawed - period. But is that true? What does being flawed precisely mean? And is there such a thing as perfection? To personalise just how vague these ideas can be: how often do we describe ourselves as imperfect following a moment of faulty judgement?
The notion that humanity is ethically flawed by nature precedes even Christianity. Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics all tried their hands at defining our limitations. Later the little known Chinese thinker, Shang Yang (390–338 BC), who founded the school of philosophy known as Legalism, presupposed that all human nature was fundamentally flawed, and because of this: stringent laws and harsh punishments are required to keep people in order for their own good.
But it took Christianity through its doctrine of Original Sin to permanently embed the flawed-species concept within Judeo-Christian culture. Consequently the West now has an odd duality at work in its collective psyche: that mankind is greater than the animals yet is deeply flawed itself. Contrast this with the Islamic belief that every person is born free from sin. The idea of Original Sin or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam, writes Dr. Hammudah Abdalati: Man, according to the Qur’an and the Prophet, is born in a natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the law of God. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors. A more responsible concept it appears, and ironically, in harmony with the self deterministic ideas of secular humanism.
Perhaps it would be prudent at this point to question whether animal nature is flawed. Or perhaps whether animal nature is a state of perfection? Obviously not, as the belief in inherent character flaws is an ethical dilemma applicable only to an intelligent species capable of self reflection. Yet we are mammals ourselves. But ethics is a moral philosophy largely relative to specific cultures and stages in history.
A set of moral choices cannot be applied universally without taking into account the social influences that define them. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. To give an unsavoury but stark example, take the issue of paedophilia. Today it is an appalling crime - in Ancient Greece and particularly Sparta,Pederasty, as it is known was an accepted and common practise unattached to moral considerations. The point is this: belief in an inherently flawed nature presumes there is an opposite. Without that opposite it is only relative to a given situation.
If something is flawless it must by definition be perfect. putting aside the belief in an eternal, divine being - itself only a concept - Is there any evidence of perfection? Are there any examples of perfection? There are none. There is no state of being of any kind that is beyond change. Simply put there is no such thing. Thus it makes no sense to assume that human nature is flawed. There are only individuals who make wrong decisions relative to the culture and ethical framework in which they exist. A wholly more life-affirming, progressive outlook to take I would say. So next time someone throws up their hands and says we're all no good, tell them to speak for themselves. We must take responsibility for our own choices as they relate to our community. Not fall back on the pessimism of a belief in an inherently flawed nature.