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The Human Condition

“Into this world we’re thrown / Like a dog without a bone.”  So sang Jim Morrison of The Doors. (Imagine those words of course with the tune from “Riders on the Storm.”). Apparently, Morrison once heard a lecture on the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, where the speaker was explaining the existentialist notion that we exist as if “thrown into” this world (in German, Geworfenheit, “thrown-ness”). Such a concept is, of course, particularly appealing to alienated teenagers.  Children after a divorce or in current government schools understandably feel as if they are simply tossed, uncaringly, into their milieu.

In this triad – The Doors, Martin Heidegger, American teenagers – we see that there is a battle for construing who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.  The battle is decided at a level almost too deep for words.  What is Christianity’s position in this battle?   Does it agree we are thrown into the world like a dog without a bone?  If not, what does it say?

“The world” takes Christianity to be superficial and silly, telling a tale like “things were good in the past, and our work is to make them good again.”  And perhaps some Christians even believe that.

But if we look more carefully, we see that Christianity begins with something even darker than “thrown-ness,” and things get even worse from there, so to speak.

Christianity does not merely hold that we are thrown into the world like a dog without a bone.  It is more like we are thrown into the world like a puppy, with a predator lurking in the shadows, looking for the moment to destroy it.  Everything young and new and fragile is particularly at risk.

At least this is what I have learned from Sacred Scripture, when I study it with the interpretive key that “the mystery of man is made manifest in the mystery of Christ.” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22) The baby Christ is born, and Herod wipes out a generation of children to destroy him.  The Woman is about to give birth, and a great red dragon “stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth.” (Revelation 12:4)

How many families of ten or twelve children in past centuries saw only one live to adulthood?  If disease is properly interpreted, in general, as a sign and result of sin, then the sin of humankind without doubt has attacked children primarily.   And, as if it is a rule that cannot be escaped, the moment the human race conquered childhood infectious diseases, we start killing children of our own accord.

So this is the first truth: We are generated into a “world” that is set upon our destruction precisely when we are weakest and most vulnerable.  In this context, Christian marriage appears as a stronghold and refuge.


But it gets darker.  This “world” is set against truth as much as new life.  So also, I have learned from Scripture:  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  And yet it wanted to overcome it – this is the point.  John the Baptist was eliminated for telling the truth (we remembered his Passion yesterday).  And so were most of the prophets.  Jesus lasted only one week in Jerusalem.

The principle is confirmed without fail.  Even the unjust victors write the history.  Governments govern by controlling how their subjects perceive things.  We are dismayed that there is no longer any “reckoning” or “clearing” of truth by public authorities: think of Hunter Biden’s laptop, the Russia collusion hoax, the lab origin of COVID.  And yet this has always been the human condition.  (Granted, a republic founded on a proposition was supposed to be the exception.  But can it be?)

It gets darker still.  In finding our way, we cannot follow “the many.”  We must somehow find and follow “the few,” perhaps the very few.  “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” (Exodus 23:2)  “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat.” (Matthew 7:13) “Now is not the time for following anyone: follow only those who model their lives on the life of Christ.” (Saint Theresa of Avila)

Chesterton was wrong that tradition is the democracy of the dead; it is the aristocracy of the dead, where time has winnowed away everyone except the very few who are potentially worth following.

And then, darker still: if you take upon yourself the difficult task of following the few who are righteous, you most assuredly will be ridiculed, mocked, deserted and attacked – and possibly betrayed or subverted.

And then, even darker: you will find that there is something within you that wants to undermine yourself and your best efforts, ready to turn whatever good you do, without your hardly being able to notice it, into something ghastly and even demonic.  And so you must be constantly on guard against whatever this is within you.

Yes, while you are trying your best to walk against the wind with the righteous you must exercise extreme vigilance and constantly humble yourself, mortify yourself, strive for greater self-knowledge, and constantly convert, as if for the first time – or you will be lost.

And then at the end of the day, you will find that your best efforts, although necessary, are not sufficient, and that certainly thinking, purpose, resolution, good intentions — all fail in the battle, and count as if for naught. And it will be something simple, material, and fleshly, like holy water, a vocal prayer, or a priest’s anointing, that will prove your salvation.

There is so much more to be said, but this is a start.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction to acknowledge that, unless we constantly turn to Christ, “Into this world we’re thrown / Like a dog without a bone.”


Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is a professor in the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children. His acclaimed book on the Gospel of Mark is The Memoirs of St Peter. His most recent book, Mary's Voice in the Gospel of John: A New Translation with Commentary, is now available. His new book, Be Good Bankers: The Divine Economy in the Gospel of Matthew, is forthcoming from Regnery Gateway in the spring. Prof. Pakaluk was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI.