Monday, July 4, 2005

Instinct-rich or instinct-poor? Nature, human constitution, and the will

I'm learning a lot about people by watching my new little daughter, Katelyn, take her first few metaphorical steps in this wild world we share. Though she has a relatively narrow spectrum of behavior, it is easy to see that most of what she does is driven by nature as opposed to learned reflex or conscious will.

She reacts to hunger by turning her head, opening her mouth, and making smacking noises, as if to call Melissa by pantomime. If her needs are not met, then crying begins (and the same is true for other needs, such as dirty diapers or any other general dissatisfaction or discomfort). At this stage in her life, she is more or less a creature of instinct, controlled by the whim of her tiny growing body.

What I did not expect was for Melissa's body to respond to instinct in so many ways. The birth itself set up a series of major changes in Melissa's ability to nurse, each perfectly matched to Katelyn's nutritional needs on a day-to-day schedule. Melissa's body, in a strange sort of mother-daughter synchronization, will wake her a few minutes before Katelyn wakes, in preparation for nursing. What I found most remarkable is that the simple sound of Katelyn crying causes Melissa's body to ready itself (sometimes dramatically) for nursing. Even as adults, we are under the influence of powerful forces.

In this day and age, our culture values the base and animal natures we all find at work in our bodies. As evidence, I would cite the dozens of variations on such advertising slogans as just do it, do what feels right, and obey your thirst. After a culture that had exalted human reason and will for so long (indeed, we founded a country on such ideals), we have let much of the notion go in favor of "being true to ourselves."

In the case of our care for Katelyn, going with our natural instincts has done much to fill in our lack of knowledge and experience. Melissa's body has done a lot of the work for that her mind or will could not, and we do a lot of "trusting our instincts."

Where our instincts fail us is in the area of moral responsibility. Is Melissa being more true to herself by obeying her body's reaction to Katelyn's crying, or by obeying her body's desire to go back to sleep?

This is where the will comes in, a will informed by reason and experience, under direction of God's designs for human life. It is the will that commands Melissa's body to rise from bed. Or mine, depending on whose turn it is, "turns" themselves being a construction of the will arising from a sense of justice (again, formed by God's designs for human relationships).

Who would have thought--all we needed to care for Katelyn, here in our midst: our created natures, our constitution and experience, and our will, formed by God's designs.

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