The Human Condition

Intellectually and spiritually everything in human life depends on the manner in which we experience the human condition, how we respond to this condition and whether we manage the human condition in a creative or a destructive direction.

Whatever joy we may find in life, there is a deep sense of tragedy inbuilt in our experience of ourselves and the world in which we exist. In the raw, uncultivated state the human person is not a satisfactory being. The human condition is experienced as thoroughly and absolutely unsatisfactory. It must be radically altered to a degree so great that it is traditionally described as a new birth, a truly human and spiritual birth. Otherwise the first birth is abortive; it never comes to term but is cut off in an undeveloped, indeed a savage condition. Thus the basic human questions are: how to sustain the pain of existence while struggling with the very structure of the human condition, how to give it meaning, then how to impose on it a saving discipline that transforms it. Traditional religions consider that all the forces in heaven and earth must contribute to this transforming process, to this new birth. This is the meaning of initiation rituals found among primitive peoples. It is the meaning of Christian baptism, of the Hindu bestowal of the sacred cord. This sense of giving to persons and to society a new birth is the essential doctrine of Marxist socialism.

In the traditional period there was general agreement that this new birth brought a higher, a sacred, a spiritual order that radiates over the whole of life and gives sublime meaning to every last detail of human existence. The whole purpose of life is to bring this higher birth to its full expression. It is not only the salvation process from the human condition. It is the transformation of the human condition itself.

--Thomas Berry, "Traditional Religions in the Modern World," 5-6. (edited and adapted)

Homework Assignment 1: Reflection on "The Human Condition"

1) Reword and summarize the statement: What does it say in your own words?

2) How do you respond to it? What emotional tone does it give? What aspects of your experience does it reflect? contradict? What would you like to say to a person who held such a view?

3) What is your experience of the human condition (including, simply, all that it means to be a person)?  How do you respond to it? How do you manage it?