As some this weekend read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration into radiant light, it’s a good time to think about our own transformations. As people move from child to teen to adult, some to spouse/partner, parent or grandparent, the really important and interesting transformations occur within. Gradually, we come to see ourselves and believe more in our identity as image of God. Ram Dass describes the transformation into a wise elder, “We move from role to soul.” The ego identities as teacher/caretaker/attorney/ doctor/chef/Democrat/Republican fade. Then we see as the mystic St. Catherine of Genoa did, “My me is God.”
Who I am in God, my true identity, is indestructible. All else passes away as I become “the very goodness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Of course humans still fail, but we get better at holding the paradoxes: we are both time-bound and eternal, empty and full, partial and complete, often wrong and radically OK.
Some balk when they hear of their own deep goodness. But Rutger Bregman in Humankind presents a compelling case that as Anne Frank said, “In spite of everything… people are truly good at heart.” For instance, he sees Lord of the Flies, a novel which details how boys abandoned on an island destroy each other more as a reflection of the author William Golding’s personal outlook than as reality. Golding was depressed, alcoholic, and unhappy. Yet his fiction was a hit, and gave many a harshly negative view of human nature.
But Bregman finds a real-life case: six boys marooned on an island for over a year, rescued by an Australian sea captain. Their true story is heartening: they began and ended each day with song and prayer, tended a fire that never went out, collected rainwater in hollow tree trunks, planted a garden, set up sports, and resolved quarrels by giving participants time-outs. The squabblers would go to opposite ends of the island and cool down. They suffered storms, terrible thirst, and one boy’s broken leg, but emerged as friends, in fine physical shape.
One isolated incident? Hardly. Bregman cites long-range statistics that show life improving for humanity. Most infectious diseases eradicated, slavery abolished, people living in extreme poverty under 10%. In the Middle Ages, 12% of the European and Asian populations died violent deaths. But in the last 100 years, that figure has gone down to 1.3% world-wide. Of course we face ecological crisis, but Bergman believes, “there’s no need to be fatalistic about civil society.”
During the London Blitz and the retaliatory bombing of Germany, a strange serenity pervaded despite the grief and destruction. Public mental health actually improved in Britain and in Germany, “there was no evidence of breakdown of morale.” Military experts still haven’t caught on; Putin’s heartbreaking bombing of the Ukraine seems to have only strengthened the peoples’ resolve.
Bregman doesn’t skirt the toughest examples, but presents angles on them we may not have seen before. My friends and family know that my personality type is idealistic; maybe I’m just reading what I want to find. But I keep returning to the astonishingly good news of the gospel: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” “Whoever receives one of these little ones receives me”—over and over, God’s identification with muddled, mistaken humanity. Sadly, the Christian message has been used to scold and shame, bludgeon and bully. Perhaps the bottom line is, can we believe awesome news?
Hi Kathy, thanks so much for presenting the specifics from Bregman’s book and the excellent way you wrote about this focus based on the positive view of human nature. Never doubt that you are a superb writer. (I almost put an exclamation point after that sentence.)😊 hope all is well, Joyce
Thank you, Kathy. This reflection encourages me when the news barrage is so discouraging. ❤️ Sas