Friday, December 16, 2011

What is Our Humanity and Why this Question Matters

Historian, Richard Weikart, claims that when we fail to understand humankind correctly, we will fail to treat humankind correctly. He cites the late psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl:

• When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted, with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment--or, as the Nazi liked to say, of 'Blood and Soil.' I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

Frankl and Weikart couldn’t be more right. As surely as the sun shepherds its rays as it traverses our sky, so too do ideas govern our thinking and subsequently our behavior. If we regard humanity as a product – merely a result – of deterministic forces, then we’ll treat humanity as a result and think nothing of manipulating them into whatever suits us.

It matters little whether the deterministic forces are of “nature or nurture” – genetics or social conditioning or a combination of the two – we are still no more than an accident of mindless uncaring forces. Think of a baby, long-awaited and beloved by her parents. Now think of a baby hatched in a laboratory, the result of an experiment or perhaps one of millions concocted by an economic enterprise to raise an army of workers. Which will we respect and value more? Our ideas matter!

The degradation of humanity was hastened by materialism of the 19th century. Humanity was relegated to the status an evolutionary accident, even to the extent of denying our freewill. After all, according the materialistic orthodoxy, we are merely a sack of chemicals producing electro-chemical reactions. Also, we are animals without any qualitative difference from fleas and mosquitoes. If they can be swatted into oblivion, so too can we! Weikart writes:

• One of the most prominent popularizers of Darwinism in Germany, the famous materialist Ludwig Büchner, published The Power of Heredity and Its Influence on the Moral and Mental Progress of Humanity in 1882. In the midst of his extended argument for biological determinism of mental and moral traits, Büchner showed where his vision of humanity led. He stated, "In the flow [of time] the individual is nothing, the species is everything; and history, just as nature, marks each of its steps forward, even the smallest, with innumerable piles of corpses."

Consequently, the idea of producing a master species became acceptable, a fact evidently not lost on Adolph Hitler. The eugenics movement was a logical corollary to this philosophical shift:

• By the 1890s and especially in the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement gained popularity, especially in medical circles, in Europe and the United States. Eugenics was driven in part by fears that modern institutions had set aside the beneficial aspects of natural selection. Eugenicists continually played on the specter of weak and sickly humans beings preserved through modern medicine, hygiene, and charitable institutions, while the more intelligent and supposedly better human beings were beginning to voluntarily restrict their reproduction. This was producing biological degeneration, according to many eugenicists. Their solution? Introduce artificial selection by restricting the reproduction of the so-called "inferior" and encouraging the "superior" to procreate. Biological determinism permeated the eugenics movement, which pressed for marriage restrictions, compulsory sterilization, and sometimes even involuntary euthanasia for the disabled, because they were deemed biologically inferior.

It is inevitable that, as we think, so too will we act. If our view of the human race is mechanistic, our treatment of humanity will be mechanistic and manipulative. A variation of this materialistic and deterministic understanding – Marxism – also arose in the 19th century. Humanity was no more than the product of the economic system. (Well, who made the economic system?) Change the system and you change humanity. Therefore, humans were once again merely objects for manipulation and even extermination – whatever it took to build the Marxist paradise. We, mere products of chance and accident, were expendable.

We need an accurate understanding of humanity, one that recognizes our glorious origin and Divine purpose, an understanding that confers honor upon us and not dishonor (No wonder there is such a pre-occupation about building self-esteem now that society has destroyed it!). This understanding is found in the first chapter of Genesis:

• Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Whenever this vital understanding is lost, so too is our humanity.

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