I've been teaching a lot lately about the development of democracy in the modern world. Part of that conversation is Enlightenment philosophy. One of the guys(though there were also ladies) who set the tone for the century long debate over whether or not people can be trusted to govern themsleves is a cat named Thomas Hobbes.
Hobbes has got to be one of my favorite thinkers of the last 400 years. Hobbes' basic premise is that people are intrinsically wicked. He wrote that if people were left in their natural state life would be"nasty, brutish and short". No truer words have ever been written. The historian in me knows that because Hobbes lived through the bloody English Civil war of the 1640's that colors his perspective on human nature. True. But perhaps that did not so much shape his view as much as it brought to light the very nature of the human condition.
You see, I first discovered Hobbes as a high school student. I grew up in a dysfunctional Catholic home with a very Old Testament view of God.
I promise I'm going somewhere with this.
During high school I began looking at other views of faith, reason, philosophy and spirituality to answer the big questions in life. I gave Buddhism a glance, dabbled with what Islam had to offer, even dated a couple of Jewish girls in the hope that their faith might answer the questions swirling around my head. I took humanism for a test drive. Nada.
I then turned to rationalism which inevitably led me to the Enlightenment and that in turn introduced me to a whole cast of characters I still walk through life with. I stumbled upon humanism and the idea that human potential is unlimited in its goodness. The problem I have with the whole movement of thought of that period is the indestructable belief in human nature as intrinsically good. In high school I fell in love with the only mistress I have ever had. . .history. History has taught me that humanity has a pattern of behavior that is very bad, dark and evil, not good. So much of what Enlightenment and humanistic philosophy espoused about human nature seemed to contradict what I knew about the truth of history.
Really, I promise I'm going somewhere.
Anyway, I really did buy into the general Enlightenment belief in the spread of liberty and the enfranchisement of the masses. But I couldn't get past what I knew to be historical truth about how bad people really were. Then I found Hobbes. He clearly laid out that people will tear each other apart if you leave them to their own devices. So people make a 'social contract' with a strong ruler. People agree to give up some of their rights to this ruler in exchange for law and order, in other words, peace.
Aha, now I was getting somewhere. But still, that strong ruler was human, and humans are wicked. I could not reconcile the truth of human nature with the Enlightenment or humanist view of humans as the ultimate answer to all of our problems. In my mind that is like saying the only way to cure cancer is to smoke even more.
A couple of years later, in my first year of college, I met some people of the Christian faith who were able to help me fit all the pieces together. Hobbes was right, but Jesus was the answer to the Hobbesian dilema I was facing. My point is, if you are still reading, is that I think my journey toward Jesus started with Thomas Hobbes. I was looking for Jesus when I didn't even know it. He was seeking me out when I couldn't have cared less. He was the answer to my questions . . . past, present and future. Trusting in Him for the security of our lives and spirits is the ultimate answer, not trusting in ourselves or trusting only in our own understanding. Only He brings the peace that Hobbes' Leviathan
This realization comforts my spirit. Jesus is there, seeking us out, in what seems like the oddest ways even when we are not looking.
Be well all.