“Manifest Propensity” Explained


“Manifest Destiny”

This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation.

The purpose of this post is to explain why this blog is called “Manifest Propensity.” I have said a few things in this regard, but have never offered a full explanation. The name comes from two sources. The first source you may have guessed due to the verbal similarity.

“Manifest Destiny”

The first source is the idea of manifest destiny. My knowledge of the idea and its historical significance is far from comprehensive, but I used it for a few reasons. First, it has a good ring to it. Second, it is a loaded concept so that with merely two words it is pregnant with meaning. Third, people have a general idea of the meaning, but perhaps more so a general feeling they get from it. In other words it is slightly provocative. Fourth, it reveals to us the drive or propensity of America. This last item, is what leads toward the purpose of this blog, and to the second source for inspiration.

The term “Manifest Destiny” revealed the propensity of America and therefore is an important key to understanding the nature of America. The painting above, called “American Progress,” probably reveals more about the “American propensity” than true progress. (There are many historic voices, namely those of the Native Americans,  that would testify to this fact.)

Blaise Pascal

A major theory of Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth century genius, is the second source. He was a mathematician, scientist, and anti-philosopher. He was also a great theologian, although his “systematic theology” was never completed before he died. He had a collection of fragments or notes, that were the seed thoughts that he had planned to develop into a comprehensive theological work. These fragments were collected, compiled and published posthumously as “The Pensees.”

One of his main theories was that the nature of man was obviously “corrupted.” He took the word in its full sense, namely that something cannot be corrupted unless it was first “uncorrupted.” Therefore, there was an original nature of man that was pure, but at some subsequent time became corrupt. Pascal did not seek to explore and provide evidence for the obvious, that man does good and man does evil. What Pascal did, was to explore why each man was a perplexing duality, a monstrous hybrid of good and evil. He surveyed man as he is, everyman, the existential man. Pascal then sought to integrate this man, with the views of science, philosophy, and theology. His goal was to determine what view if any best explained this nature of man. Pascal came to believe that the biblical view of man best accounted for man as he is known empirically.

We live in a strange age with little shared consensus in regard to any field of knowledge. In Pascal’s day, he didn’t need to demonstrate that there was good and evil, or that men did both. Today many would deny that good or evil exist, or that man is either.

Therefore “Manifest Propensity” is for the purpose of providing evidences that Pascal’s monster, man as duality, is the man, the self that we know. The propensities of man for good, and for evil need to be recognized because they are in fact manifested constantly. We all merely need to look in a mirror and have the courage to be honest. Most of the time I try to chose evidences for these things in our own persons, but sometimes they are the broader societal or political evidences.

Some of my posts deal with the duality itself, while others deal more exclusively with either the propensity for good or for evil. I find that people are (naturally) more receptive and apt to “like” the posts revealing the propensity for good, while I seem to receive less favor posts revealing the propensities for evil. It also seems to be much more difficult to convince people regarding the evil propensities, but precisely for that reason I feel I need to emphasize it even more, and become the bearer of “bad news.”

On resistance to the idea of manifest propensities

I realize that to some this seems to be a recipe for despair or worse. Some today vehemently deny the Pascalian and biblical views of man because they believe that teaching its reality will actually perpetuate the evil. Ironically, to deny the reality of evil necessitates the recognition of evil, which strongly suggests that evil actually exists. But this fact is overlooked and their reaction is to dismiss it as merely part of some collective dream or illusion. (Sometimes I wish it were an illusion – but it is not and we therefore have a responsibility to combat evil as a reality in our own selves, our society, and our world.)

I have often wondered, regarding our easy denial of obvious evil, that such a view could only take root in America. In America we have seen the following reality denying views: the “Christian” health and wealth gospel; the “left behind” rapture from the world escape hatch; the “new age” create your own warm & fuzzy reality;  the think and grow rich gospel, the I’m OK you’re OK naiveté. We need to remember the hubris of “Manifest Destiny?” We Americans are still fulfilling it, in that we are mainly revealing our manifest propensity for self-justification in selfishness. Of course the answer to my wondering about Americans is that our denial of reality is not merely an American tendency, but a human tendency.

Somehow I missed the news last fall following the release of “Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine” which revealed the horrors of the “Xinyang Incident” of 1958-1962 in which around 40 million people died in Communist China when there was no natural disaster or international upheaval. My point is that as China was repudiating the evil views that man was evil, the foundation was laid for unimaginable evil. China is still China, America is still America, Man is still Man, You are still You, and I am still I. The question then is whether there is a solution beyond the easy-out of denying the realities of man.

On the “manifest propensities” of God

I do not believe that the biblical view that man is “corrupted” is necessarily a recipe for despair and ever-cyclical evil. It is not, because there is a “manifest propensity” of the creator God, and He is working against evil. God has his own propensity. God acts, God redeems. God has outwardly manifested his acts in the real space/time continuum: In relation to the nation of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament; in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; in relation to the birth and growth of the multiracial entity called “one new man” (you may know of it as the church).

He also acts and inwardly manifests himself to individuals through the Holy Spirit who convinces us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. But this God is also strangely shy, and only manifests himself inwardly to the humble. He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Following is an excerpt from Blaise Pascal, that shows his view of the reality of man. I have divided the paragraph to help highlight some points of emphasis.

And how can it happen that the following argument occurs to a reasonable man?
“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.
“As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty.

And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state.”
Who would desire to have for a friend a man who talks in this fashion? Who would choose him out from others to tell him of his affairs? Who would have recourse to him in affliction? And indeed to what use in life could one put him?

In truth, it is the glory of religion to have for enemies men so unreasonable; and their opposition to it is so little dangerous that it serves, on the contrary, to establish its truths. For the Christian faith goes mainly to establish these two facts: the corruption of nature, and redemption by Jesus Christ. Now I contend that, if these men do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the holiness of their behaviour, they at least serve admirably to show the corruption of nature by sentiments so unnatural. (Pensees, 194)

Hopefully this post explains what I am “up to” with “Manifest Propensity.” Every post is not specifically about what I have explained here, since some are merely about life in general. But when all is said and done it seems that most every aspect  of our existence, in one way or another, relates in some way to the propensities of life that are manifested. And if anything, I believe that what is manifested is interesting, to say the least.

To the reader:

I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!

So, what say ye? 

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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