High or Low?
Religious thinkers and philosophers have long debated the essential nature of humanity. Are we inherently bad or good? And, if bad or good, is there any predictably hopeful or disastrous movement from one extreme to the other?
Some thinkers refer to these two options, assumptions, or positions, as reflecting a High or Low Anthropology. A High Anthropology sees us as either all good or at least improvable. A Low Anthropology sees us as all bad or certainly inclined hopelessly in that direction.
Protestant Christian theology, for instance, asserts a Low Anthropology. We are "saved" vicariously, through no efforts of our own, by the supremely noble and good efforts of the savior. Goodness is imputed to the sinner based on the merits of the sinless one. Apart from this divine intervention all is hopelessly doomed.
I have long considered this an either/or proposition, and have sided with the Low folk. The Optimistic Humanists were clearly wrong, as evidenced by the continually tragic history of humanity. The Protestant Evangelical, the Lowest of the Low, seemed to have an airtight answer to The Question, fitting both human experience and religious logic.
Enter the child of an alcoholic or dysfunctional home. One grows up in a home where lies are asserted as truth, crazy as normal, and bad as good. In order to survive the child adapts to and adopts these beliefs as their own, entering into the world of codependency. And the child becomes an adult.
The problem emerges as this adult child encounters a world with different norms than those they had learned. What to believe? What is good? Am I good? Am I bad? In the resulting confusion self-doubt and self-hate emerge.
Now imagine this Adult Child encountering a church's teaching on sin...and a Low Anthropology. All hell breaks lose. The person has no trouble with "hating sin". The confusion arises because this Adult Child hates himself or herself already. This is a hard-wired state. Their source of understanding good and bad is completely turned upside down and inside out.
Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunction has produced some excellent literature on all of this. In a pamphlet entitled, "Identity Papers" one reads, "adult children...are paralyzed by indecision and grow to hate themselves for being confused and vulnerable, and for needing to be safe and secure" ASO Identity Papers, p. 16. Add to this internal reality a regimen of stern, or even compassionate preaching on hating the sin and loving the sinner and you have a formula for paralyzed identity confusion.
I really don't know what the truth is about High or Low anthropologies. I do know what my experience of it all has been as a pastor and what my growing understanding of the whole dynamic is from the perspective of an Adult Child. What strikes me at this moment is that people are what they are—characters shaped by both nurture and nature.
Hope for the Adult Child is an experience of moving past survival to reparented soul health and mental sanity. (What many Adult Children find, through attending ACA meetings and working the 12 Steps, is a renewed relationship with a Higher Power...not necessarily the God of their fathers and mothers but a personal, active and compassionate god of their understanding. And, it works!)