Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Human Condition

Written by: on February 12, 2015

As I was getting started into the intro and first chapter of this week’s reading, I thought to myself “Great, this will be easy!  I’ll just connect the dots between the ‘agora’ and ‘ecclesia’ and make this week’s post a ‘part 2’ of last week’s.  I should be able to really drive home my assertion that Jesus’ intent when describing his ‘church’ was NOT to create a new religious sect but rather, an organism derived from the surrounding community… etc etc etc.”  Bauman’s section on the “Agora” seems to provide more evidence of my position that the “Ekklesia” was envisioned by Christ to serve in the best interest of the community rather than itself.  Yeah!  I had every intention to engage in a healthy dose of proof-texting, then I made it to chapter 9, “A natural history of evil.”  Oh my.

I found myself gripped, unable to skim over this chapter.  Initially, I found it difficult to grasp how this topic was connected to the broader themes of the book.  It felt sort of like a morbid aside, a macabre side-note, designed to drive the nail in the coffin of any hope remaining that humanity is salvageable.  It drew me into a downward spiral of darkness.  I was alarmed, disturbed and saddened while confronted with the stark reality of the depravity of humanity and our, not only willingness but apparent eagerness, to inflict the grossest forms of suffering upon other humans.  It is almost as if we are waiting for permission to do violence; it’s in our nature I suppose.  I found myself puzzled by the reality that we, as humans, are capable of de-humanizing other humans.  Then, the more I pondered this, another, even more distressing thought occurred, is it actually “de-humanizing” behavior after all?  Maybe we’re not de-humanizing in order to feel better about perpetrating violence.  Maybe we’re really just violating each other.  That is a chilling possibility.

Bauman examines historical accounts of remarkably “ordinary” people, very casually crossing over into the most horrific of behavior.  These are not monsters, they are our neighbors or perhaps, us.  In his commentary of Hannah Arendt’s observations about some of the most vile of the soulless, Himmler and Eichmann, he writes the following, bone-chilling conclusion:

What Arendt meant when she pronounced that verdict was that monstrosities do not need monsters, outrages do not need outrageous characters, and that the trouble with Eichmann lay precisely in the fact that, according to the assessments of supreme luminaries of psychology and psychiatry, he (alongside so many of his companions in crime) was not a monster or a sadist, but outrageously, terribly, frighteningly ‘normal’.1

Monstrosities do not need monsters…  It would be far easier to accept that an occasional anomaly, a very broken, twisted, desecrated former-human is capable of looking into the eyes of another while subjecting him to gut-wrenching, unspeakable acts but that is unfortunately no the case.

Christopher R. Brown investigated the twisted yet invariably gory path of men belonging to the German Reserve Police Battalion 101, assigned to the police from among conscripts unfit for frontline duty, and eventually delegated to participate in the mass murder of Jews in Poland. 17 Those people, who had never been known to commit violent, let alone murderous acts up till then, and gave no grounds for suspicion that they were capable of committing them, were ready (not 100 per cent of them, but a considerable majority) to comply with the command to murder: to shoot, point blank, men and women, old people and children, who were unarmed and obviously innocent since they had not been charged with any crime, none of whom nurturing the slightest intention to harm them or their comrades-in-arms.2

Yes, but that was an example of extreme circumstances, right?  The ravages of war had certainly and indelibly imprinted on the collective German psyche, creating the “perfect storm” anomaly, leading to a temporary lapse in humanity, a community sociopathy of a massive scale…  Or maybe not.  If this be the case, then how do we explain away Abu Ghraib?  How do we account for our own president Truman using the occasion of war to exterminate upwards of 200,000 innocent Japanese because, after all, we “just couldn’t waste two billion dollars,” could we?3  Extreme?  Hardly.  More likely, this is the human condition sans Jesus.  I can think of no more compelling reason to press the gospel into our societies.



1. Zygmunt Bauman. Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (Kindle Edition: Loc. 2615-2618 Wiley. 2013-04-18).

2. Location 2703.

3. The cost to develop the first atomic bomb through to testing and completion.  Once the bomb was developed and manufactured, there could be no compelling reason given Truman to NOT use it in real time.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

18 responses to “The Human Condition”

  1. Travis Biglow says:


    The way the world has been it lets us know how unhuman a person can be. If a person is on welfare people will talk about them when they need it. In a world full of disparity and ethical bankruptcy the ecclesia or the church that Christ started should work more towards the views of Christ not less. The shame is that the church in many societies are trying to emulate the system of the society that its in and minimalize the views of Christ as a secondary thought. Love is important to our faith. Jesus said, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples.” When the church is more concerned with how many members and how much money it has above being known by love, then the church cant help the system or the disparing conditions that society and the world is in!

    • Brian Yost says:

      “The shame is that the church in many societies are trying to emulate the system of the society that its in and minimalize the views of Christ”
      While I am troubled, I am not surprised that the world is in the state that it is in. What surprises me is that the Church is often more influenced by the world than by the love of Christ. We feel that to be relevant, we must look like and act like the world rather than reflect Christ to the world.

    • Jon spellman says:

      Travis, I wonder how many churches begin their strategic planning with the question: “what can we do that is in the best interest of the community?” Once an institution is formed, most of its energy is directed at self preservation… It’s just the way of things I suppose

      • Travis Biglow says:

        So true Jon, many of the meetings i have to attend the agenda is how the the churches that are in the group is going to do more for the leader. Little concern is ever really directed to how the big fish is going to help the little fish, because the big fish eat the little fish! lol

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          So true Travis! Our human nature makes us want to be big fish in little ponds. Churches are no different – our fallen nature can only be corrected by Christ. When we set our model up in the way of the world, it is broken from the start.

      • Mary Pandiani says:

        Jon and Travis,
        When I was doing some partnership work with churches and other organizations in our city, it turned out they were more territorial and protective of their people than the non-profits. Unwilling to listen to one another for the welfare of the city, they ended up undercutting the work that was being done. So sad.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    “Bauman examines historical accounts of remarkably “ordinary” people, very casually crossing over into the most horrific of behavior.”
    Jon, like you, I was deeply moved by this chapter. It is mind-boggling to realize how quickly the sinful human spirit can be manipulated into great atrocities. I had a friend named Marta who was part of Hitler’s Youth. One of her favorite songs included the phrase “today Germany, tomorrow the world”. She love to sing about Germany conquering the entire world. She told me that she never questioned the philosophy of what she learned in Hitler’s Youth-she said it felt like girl scouts or 4-H. It wasn’t until after the war, while living in Canada that she saw the Nazi doctrine for what it really was.
    “I can think of no more compelling reason to press the gospel into our societies.” Dittos!

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Jon! “Monstrosities do not need monsters…” Scary and true. My Father in law was a great man and he use to say, “I’m just one mistake away from doing something I’ll regret forever.” It’s in us all and these acts tend to come from a place of disconnect to people and the communities around us. In our sinful nature we tend to elevate ourselves instead of what John the Baptist said, “He must become greater, I must become less.”

  4. Dave Young says:

    Jon. Crap! Reading this weeks posts I didn’t think I could go further down the morbid rabbit trail… and then there you go opening the pandora’s box of depravity. Actually I think we did come to similar conclusions, without any theological considerations Bauman was doing a tremendous about of public theology. Depraved people do depraved acts no amount of sociological reflection is going to change depravity which is exactly why I appreciate your last six words. 🙂

    • Jon Spellman says:

      This strengthens my belief that people everywhere, all the time are engaging in theology, whatever their preconceptions or perspectives may be. Bauman was discussing deeply theological concepts but excluding the focus of theology during the conversation.


  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Great post Jon, I found it funny that “sociology” is Bauman’s great answer to ordinary people committing monstrosities. Maybe I am too entrenched in Christianeese but when the depravity of our humanity is so clearly unpacked it is hard to imagine thinking that we could address that, let alone fix that on our own, by our best thinking and reasoning. I have always loved the quote, “It was my current best thinking that always led me to end up in my current worst way.” or something close to that. I am with you with the hope in the gospel for our society!!!

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    Jon – have you ever heard of the psychology experiment when they put “normal” people behind a darkened glass window where they could see their subjects. The “normal” people were to press a button to induce an electric shock, and then turn it up until they couldn’t handle the sight of the person in pain. Interestingly enough, when people in the darkened room watched others next to them increasing the electric shock, they also continued to do so, even when it went beyond the pain threshold that was reasonable. However, if the “normal” person was by him/herself, they didn’t turn it up. So I wonder what that says about influence of society?
    By the way, everyone other than the “normal” person/people was an actor. No one was, fortunately, actually hurt. Curious, don’t you think?

  7. Jon Spellman says:

    I have read about similar studies that measure humans’ capacity to do “wrong” if instructed to do so by an authority figure but I haven’t seen that specific one…

    It is interesting how much weight people assign to peer-norms when settling on their own acceptable behaviors. We measure by the behaviors of people around us rather than by clearly articulated wrong and right in scripture.
    Interesting. Sheds light on the Abu Ghraib cohort of evil-doers doesn’t it?

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