The moment of revelation came over a meal of polenta and chicken. I was in my third year of theological study at a residential college where we all not only ate the same meals but also studied the same subjects, shared the same friends, and lived in the same building.
It hit me as I sat there, idly contemplating whether I even liked polenta: After three years living the same life as everyone else, I was convinced my peers were all doing it much more successfully than I was.
The opening pages of David Zahl’s Low Anthropology: The Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself) instantly transported me back to that moment. Zahl, founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries, readily acknowledges that we all-too-frequently feel that “everyone else is happy and not struggling.” The solution, he contends, lies in readjusting our anthropology.
Before that impressive-sounding word puts off his readers, he quickly explains that anthropology simply means understanding what it is to be human. “Whether we realize it or not,” he writes, “our personal anthropology funds expectations in our relationships, jobs, marriages, and politics. Its bearing on our worldview—and therefore our happiness—cannot be overstated.”
Zahl plots anthropologies on a linear spectrum. Up one end is a “high anthropology,” characterized by optimistic—in fact, perfectionistic—assumptions about human nature. Down the other end is a “low anthropology,” which represents a far more modest—though not hopelessly pessimistic—alternative.
In the first part of his argument, Zahl analyzes what he calls the three pillars of low anthropology. In the second, ...1
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