Humans are trapped in bodies, burdened by mortality, cursed with self-reflective thought, limited in freedom, lacking evidence for human progress, confused by morality, and without relief in knowledge or education.
That is the universal human condition according to John Gray’s 2015 book, The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom.
This statement is provocative and sobering. What can Quakers say to this proposition? We can endorse the Gray formulation and take pleasure in its clarity. We can reject it entirely. We can partially agree and partially disagree.
Based on our individual experience and our Quaker community experience in our tradition, can we substantially agree that humans are bound in bodies, challenged by mortality, faced with self-reflective thought, limited in freedom, confident in some evidence for human progress, engaged with morality, with significant relief in knowledge and education?
Can we testify to this descriptive revision of the human condition? If not concurring, what better can we say?
Implicitly and explicitly, we educate our children and our grandchildren on each element of the human condition. Children can be confused if our practice is not consistent with our words. It is our duty to conform our faith and practice even if we continue to be confused.
We use our practice to inform our understanding of our faith. We use our understanding of our faith to guide our practice. It is a messy process looking back at it.
John Gray can help us clarify our understanding, our instruction, our modeling and our actions.
What can we say?