An Optimistic or a Pessimistic Attitude Toward Our Humanness
by Gordon Wayne
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We humans are less than perfect, constantly making mistakes, engaging in foolish activities, overlooking critical details, etcetera. Although we humans are not absolutely infallible, we are not absolutely imperfect because we also have admirable characteristics like helping friends and family, giving to charities, and cooperating with coworkers. Truthfully, we humans have both desirable and undesirable characteristics, virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses. The big theological question is whether religion adopts a charitable attitude or judgmental attitude, whether religion recognizes our virtues or completely ignores our strengths and virtues.
Negative religious ideologies will interpret our mortal imperfections as undeniable proof that we mortals are profoundly iniquitous souls. A negative theological attitude will argue our human imperfections prove that we humans are spiritually depraved sinners desperately requiring salvation, redemption, or some form of spiritual cleansing. These negative theological attitudes are not very charitable or loving, and uncharitable, unloving attitudes may have negative consequences.
Negative attitudes and strategies can produce negative consequences such as high school shootings that result from students who suffer incessant ridicule and slander from other students. From Africa to Asia, South America to the Middle East, ordinary humans predictably celebrate the destruction of dictators who maintained their power through fear, intimidation, and oppression. Conversely, ordinary humans mourn the passing of beloved leaders, charismatic politicians who empowered ordinary citizens.
Even at home, work, and in the classroom, negative attitudes usually produce negative results rather than positive results. Parents who habitually berate their children, denigrating their blossoming character and personality, will likely create children who dislike and distrust their perpetually disapproving parents. Hypercritical, hostile employers usually have an extremely high employee turnover because employees are only too happy to leave ungrateful, disapproving employers. Students will grudgingly respect teachers that have an excessively negative attitude toward pupils but they will sincerely respect every teacher with a positive attitude toward students. Those who habitually berate others, constantly highlighting their faults and flaws, and reminding them of their weaknesses, rarely bring out the best in people.
While negative attitudes and strategies usually lead to negative results, positive attitudes and strategies will probably produce positive consequences. Every dog breed represents breeders cultivating desirable characteristics while mongrels represent the result of breeding undesirable attributes. Olympic athletes are the result of trainers helping an athlete develop and perfect their natural endowments and abilities, not by breaking their legs and cracking their skull. We can greatly increase the probability of producing desirable results by cultivating desirable attributes and employing positive strategies rather than by focusing on undesirable things.
Love also blossoms when we celebrate each other’s strengths and virtues, and withers when we habitually lament each other’s faults. A loving spouse chuckles with our nasal snorting and treasures our sense of humor while an unloving spouse ridicules our nasal chortling and denigrates our sense of humor. Although loving parents have the unpleasant task of chastising their children whenever they misbehave, they will carefully chastise the child’s conduct rather than condemning the child’s character. Thus, love, ordinary human love, may disapprove of our questionable conduct but never our character for ordinary human love chooses to celebrate our quintessence rather than condemning our soul.
An old adage states that we will attract more bees with honey than vinegar, meaning we will make more friends celebrating each other’s virtues than by highlighting each other’s faults. In other words, religious organizations will greater success employing a positive attitude toward our human limitations than with a negative attitude.
After all, if religion adopts a positive attitude toward our imperfections rather than slandering our souls, religion will set an exemplary example that parishioners can emulate. Thus, religion will help us cultivate empathy by showing a little compassion toward our humanity rather than by expressing pious contempt for our human imperfections. They will help us develop our altruism by showing a little charity toward our mortal fallibility rather than from expressing righteous indignation. They will help us develop a loving disposition by showing a little love toward our human imperfections rather than by adopting a judgmental attitude toward our mortal peccadillos. In other words, they will be more effective by being positive rather than negative, optimistic rather than pessimistic, tolerant rather than intolerant, generous rather than judgmental.
Although despots and dictators will never appreciate the value of positive attitudes and strategies, true omniscience probably understood this axiom a thousand millenniums ago. Moreover, true omniscience would understand that love, both ordinary human ardor and spiritual devotion, does not condemn our weaknesses but celebrates our strengths. Theologians and clergy could understand this if they bothered studying reality rather than dreaming of utopian destinations.