April 23, 2006


The Conservative Humanist: Those who are pro-life and pro-family should have no problem being pro-human. (Glenn T. Stanton, 04/21/2006, Christianity Today)

Here is my proposal: Just as I had to go "upstream" from the issue of abortion to the family, I propose that we need to go upstream again, this time from the family to humanity itself.

What if there were a movement dedicated to the question, What does it mean to be human?

Asking such a question would lead us to explore and demonstrate what it means to live, to feel, to hope, to love, to give, to receive, to be wounded, and to be healed. It would lead us to explore why our families' failures and rejections hurt us so much and why we desperately need others. It would drive us to ask what dignity means and what its enemies are. Ultimately, it would lead us to ask, What does it really mean to have life abundantly? These are not narrow, issue-based questions. They are not questions for the pro-family movement alone. They are human questions.

I hasten to add that moving upstream does not mean leaving family matters behind. Rather, focusing our attention on the meaning of being human will powerfully illuminate why everything else downstream matters. The pro-family movement is a critical subset of the pro-human movement. But our work needs the context provided by realizing that we have just left the most technologically advanced, but still humanly impoverished, century in history. We must weep at the human death, pain, and alienation caused by genocide, war, global poverty, substance abuse, fatherlessness, aids, and cancer, as well as pornography, human trafficking, child abandonment, commercialization, and radical individualism. Perhaps most of all, we must confront the fact that our knowledge of how to stop many of these scourges has never been greater. We just lack the wisdom and the will.

We must become students of humanity. We must become humanists: people who are unreservedly committed to human life at its fullest, and people deeply pained by human life at its worst. Yes, someone from the Religious Right said we must become humanists.

I don't primarily mean that the suffering of the modern era should drive us to humanism. As Christ said, the poor will always be among us. Human suffering in all its forms is a tragic reminder of the reality of the Fall. We will only be free when Christ's redemption is complete. However, we must become serious students of humanity because just as the Fall is real, so too is the Incarnation. The Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity—the Son of God leaving his eternal and divine communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit to become flesh and dwell among us—this is what should draw us to the question of what it means to be human in these inhumane times.

In his essay The Grand Miracle, C. S. Lewis wrote that if the Incarnation happened, "It was the central event in the history of the earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about." The Incarnation is the center of the Christian story, summed up by Jacob Handl in the 16th century:

God has become human. He remained what he was, and what he was not, he became, suffering neither confusion nor division.

The Incarnation is a heavenly declaration that humanity—both flesh and spirit—matters. Humanity matters because what God creates, becomes, and is seeking to redeem cannot escape our fascination.

It's not just that Christ became human. He lingered in humanity for 33 full years. I sometimes tease my colleagues by saying that if Jesus had been a good evangelical, he would have stayed in a human body for only a day or so, just enough time to get to the important "spiritual" work of saving humanity. If we verge on Gnosticism in our passion for "spiritual things," our Lord does not. It took him 30 years to get around to what we call his "public ministry." Christ, always obedient to the Father, was content to linger in daily human life. Perhaps the reason we have little record of his first 30 years is that they were largely unremarkable. Simple humanity was enough for God in the flesh.

The Incarnation means there are no small lives. All of human experience is meaningful. And while the Incarnation may be a distinctly Christian doctrine, it is also the doctrine that commits us most completely to seeking the common good of our non-Christian neighbors. We serve a God who created our humanity, weeps at the fall of our humanity, became our humanity, and is redeeming our humanity.

True humanism will demolish our gnostic tendencies to believe in a small God who is only interested in our eternal destiny and our moral behavior. If the Incarnation is true, God is intensely interested in every part of human experience, every corner of creation. We, too, should be intensely interested in it, dedicated to showing others the fingerprints of God everywhere, in everything.

True humanism will refuse to see people as things to be used.

Despite Mr. Schaefer, we are all Thomists now or Postmodern Augustinian Thomists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 23, 2006 9:22 AM

What's this "we", Kemosabe?

I'm amazed that you have enough compartments in your brain to declare for God given rights and at the same time, without any hint of irony, push ideas like this:

Some of these thinkers believe the concept of human rights can be redeemed by giving it a Christian content, which is John Pauls project. Others, such as Kraynak and MacIntyre, believe it would be better to abandon the language of rights altogether.

So are you an American or a Post Modern Augustinian Thomist?

It amazes me that it comes as a revelation to a Christian thinker that we need to emphasize humanity. D'uh!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 23, 2006 11:22 AM


Yes, we includes you. Unable to derive human dignity rationally you just accept it on faith, like all good Americans.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2006 1:52 PM

So do you believe in unalienable rights or not?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 23, 2006 1:57 PM

Not. I, like America's Founders, believe in unalienable rights endowed by the Creator, not free-floating rights. Creation is, likewise, the sole source of human dignity.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2006 2:17 PM

'Post-Modern Thomist' is an oxymoron. Thomas Aquinas was a Christian first and philospher second. To him natural law and moral law come from G-d and are immutable and eternal. A Thomist believes that human reason serves faith, allowing us to learn more about Him and his creation.

Posted by: Gideon at April 23, 2006 8:09 PM