Herr, es ist zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groβ.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
Und auf den Fluren laβ die Winde los.
(‘Lord, it is time. The summer lasted long.
Upon the sundial draw your lengthening shade
And on the meadows let the winds blow strong’.)
The Theistic Outlook and the Human Condition
The characteristic theistic voice of hope in the face of suffering, with which the previous chapter ended, marks a transition to the rather more practical aspects of the religious outlook, which will be our main concern in the remaining chapters. These aspects do not always receive much prominence in philosophy of religion as commonly studied, but no philosophical inquiry into religion can afford to ignore them. For subscribing to a particular worldview is never simply a matter of assenting to certain doctrines or propositions; it characteristically makes a crucial difference to how we live – both to our overall sense of the meaning and purpose of life, and to how we come to terms with the constant stresses and changes that mark human existence, and with the bodily deterioration and eventual demise that sooner or later awaits us all.
Thinking about the human condition inevitably raises questions about what is the essential nature of a human being; philosophers have differed widely on this, and even on the question of whether there is such an essential nature at all. Socrates, in the Phaedo, famously characterizes human life as a ‘preparation for dying’: the goal of our existence is to purify the soul from its damaging attachment to the body and ready it for the pure rational activity that is its ultimate destiny. On this dualistic view, which has of course profoundly influenced much subsequent religious thinking, it seems to follow that illness, old age, and even death are not to be regretted, since they bring us nearer to our proper destination, the life of an immortal soul freed from the body. Our liability to physical infirmity and decay would seem, on this dualistic view, to be a help, not a hindrance, in the necessary Socratic process of learning to despise the bodily pleasures and attachments that hinder the functioning of the immortal part of us.