Friday, August 16, 2013

Thinking about Human Dignity

Ultimately, the way we think about humanity is the way we will treat humanity. The late and renowned Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, affirmed the impactfulness of our worldview:

  • The recent terrible years of the world war and of the preceding totalitarian revolutions have shown us that the understanding of man is the basis of all social order and of all culture…The denial of this dignity is equivalent to the total abandonment of man to the power of the state…The totalitarian state can arise, and is bound to arise, whenever the idea of human dignity has been lost. The idea of human dignity, however, is historically and, in principle, none other than the idea of man’s being created in the image of God. (The Scandal of Christianity, 69-71)

Most embrace an idealistic concept of the dignity of humanity and also acknowledge that, without such a concept, humanity is no more than an animal to be manipulated and used. But are there necessary preconditions for such an idealistic and dignified view of humanity? Brunner thought that there were:

  • [The] time of idealism has always been followed by one of materialism in which human dignity was denied. Such was the case after the idealist tide of the nineteenth century, which was followed by a terrible ebb of crudest materialism, which had nothing else to say of man but that he was the most differentiated and developed animal.

Sheer secular humanism cannot long retain this idealism. It lacks the necessary presuppositional underpinning and, therefore, belief in human dignity will eventually erode. If the human is no more than a sophisticated bio-chemical robot, eventually he will be treated in this manner. Robots are esteemed as long as they serve a purpose, and then are thrown on the junk heap.

Brunner concludes:

  • [The Christian] doctrine of man, which acknowledges the image of God as well as the depth of sin, is able to create a social order which has room for the dignity of man and at the same time provides for the necessary precautions against the terrible forces of evil which are slumbering in man.

These forces seem now to have been revived with renewed “progressive” vigor.

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