Daily we have the opportunity to ask ourselves how it is that human life has such little value in the eyes of some of our contemporaries—those contemporaries living in freedom and democracy (on paper, at least), who are educated and socialised within the same civilization as we are, often even in the same community, or under similar civil laws and generally having the same mentality regarding public morality.
Our astonishment and helpless revolt are frequently provoked by those sad occasions in which we witness indifference for someone’s death—from the indifference of the Brazilian president regarding the devastating fire of the Amazonian rainforest, “the lungs” of the entire planet, home to over 2,000 members of indigenous tribes, to the cruelty and cynicism of criminals trafficking in minors around the world.
“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” Ephesians 4:13).
This article is especially addressed to those of us who may think the value of these victims’ lives are vague, because they are not individualised, but collective. They are either not close to us or we do not directly know them. Are such evaluations of human life justifiable?
The secular evaluation of the human being
The worth of a human being is today the subject of many a discourse and social context.
For instance, a political discourse on human worth can be found in the Charter of the United Nations, which states that the nations “reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.
The legal discourse stipulates that “prostitution and the evil that accompanies it, trafficking in human beings for prostitution purposes are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the well-being of the individual, family and community.”
Only at a later stage, beginning at the end of the last century, did the discourse of the psychosocial sciences address the self-determination of the human being as one of the most prominent needs which motivate the internal acts of man (next to that of relating to other persons, and that of competence). Two Australian specialists, Deci and Ryan, theorise on the self-determination of the person as one’s need to feel in control of one’s life, to choose and act according to internal rather than external, voluntary rather than imposed, and rational rather than irrational urges. This psychological theory comes as a reply to the physiological approach that had until then been dominant and which placed the motivation of human action in the nervous system and bodily impulses.
Of course, there are many other approaches that could be mentioned as examples for the secular evaluation of the human being, but the ones above are enough to understand the limitations of this evaluation to the human body, to his psyche and his status of citizen with certain rights. It describes an assessment of the person as just a bio-psycho-social entity, and, outside the civil context, he is reduced to a simple organism: no longer a person, but a being which belongs to the animal kingdom, the climax of its evolution. This, also, is the vision of secular anthropology, as stated in the textbooks, such as: “Humans are the most adaptable animals in the world.”
Given these secular contexts on which the social, political and legal structure has been built, it seems surprising that people still respect each other, and spare each other’s dignity, self-determination and freedom. Notwithstanding, the structure seems very shaky and the recognition of a person’s value seems to be justified very lightly. Furthermore, it seems difficult to impose it as a social norm, especially in cases in which the public opinion does not exert certain pressure for compliance to this norm. As for the translation of this norm into mandatory laws for citizens, one can easily imagine situations in which, in the absence of witnesses or constraints imposed by authorities, someone could elude or flagrantly violate these laws. It is to be expected that the man who harbours the conviction that he merely shares the animal kingdom with his fellow men would be more willing, under harsh survival conditions, to save himself to their detriment or even at their expense. The oft-used expression homo homini lupus would thus be once again revived.
The religious evaluation of man
Religious anthropology differs from secular anthropology in that it places man in a higher rank, as the climax of divine creation, rather than in the animal kingdom. This religious approach may be found, to a certain extent, in some theological or philosophical discourses.
Thus, certain Catholic thinkers propose to view the embryo or the human fetus as a person, since life as a divine gift is manifested from the very first moment of conception. Being a person implies certain rights, including the right to life, which causes abortion to be regarded as an attack on a person’s life.
The Greek-Orthodox monk, Zacharias Zacharou, said the following on the value of a person: “A true person is Christ. Man is created in Christ’s image. Therefore, he too has the power to become a ‘Person’ (…) after he comes to completely loathe his sinful self and surrenders to God’s holy and perfect will. Christ’s Person was presented to the world through His love, to the very last moment. (…) This is the person.”
Danish philosopher and Protestant thinker Søren Kierkegaard, in his work Fear and Trembling (1843), writes about religious faith as being man’s highest passion, which ennobles and humanises an entire generation, which defines, in fact, what he calls the “essentially human”. He writes: “The essentially human is passion, in which one generation perfectly understands another and understands itself. For example, no generation has learned to love from another, (…) no later generation has a more abridged task than the previous one, and if someone desires to go further and not stop with loving as the previous generation did, this is foolish and idle talk. But the highest passion in a person is faith.”
The religious approach of the human being seems to give him more depth as well as more height. In any case, it elevates the bio-psycho-social entity of the secular sciences towards the area of the timeless, as well as the transcendent. Religious views capture a glimpse of man’s fate beyond history and the unfolding in time and space of his life on this earth. In addition, they endow man with a spirit of divine origin and a shot at immortality. Under these conditions, it is expected that the person who embraces this belonging will be, in relation to his fellow man, more willing to respect the same belonging and the same chance at immortality present in him.
How is the validation of the human being materialised?
Continuing what we have so far presented, we can ask ourselves the following: Could the types of religious evaluation of the human being, of the person, materialise on their own into moral behaviours? Will those who share the noble view of the human being as the climax of God’s creation also apply a fitting religious morality in their interactions with others?
The cases of those who pretend to have a religious view on the world and on life, but who, nevertheless, behave according to the idiom homo homini lupus, are numerous and sadly frequent. A single recent case shook me: the suicide of a 25-year-old young man named Adrian Lipan, a graduate of the Maritime University in Constanta (Romania), who, as a good Christian, asked for forgiveness of all he might have wronged, thanked his mother for everything, and motivated his final gesture of setting himself on fire with the fact that he could no longer bear the humiliation, offences and curse words coming from his alcoholic father: “Fathers, do not do to your sons what my father did to me!” The press reproduced the cynical and self-justifying reaction of the father, which was meant to be moralising, in the following online post: “With your permission, this ‘wretched’ father understood today that he had raised a snake, not a child, for the past 26 years. Those who want to hear the truth may contact me whenever they want to. Be warned, future parents.”
Faced with such people, incapable of being aware of their own guilt, of manifesting regret or remorse, it becomes clear that the assimilation of Christian morality fails in the absence of a mentally healthy family environment, of a good school which does not renounce either its objective of training or that of education, as well as of a church with efficient community involvement. All this can help to build that supportive community which would assist one’s development. If these are precarious, then the social environment in its entirety will also be precarious and hostile. It’s the same unfortunate experience of this young man, who was too quickly discouraged and disarmed in the face of life.
The precariousness of the climate in our society is explained by the precariousness of the philosophy which laid the foundation for the education of the last five decades. Aside from Christian education, only available in church and some families, the positive value of man would have only been accessible through contact with secular humanism (present in the culture of Greek and Latin Antiquity and in modern culture). However, the Romanian school has destroyed this contact, by reducing universal literature classes to a bare minimum, by eliminating Latin, as well as by neglecting civic culture and homeroom classes. Nobody told young students: “You should be proud to be humans!”
“The job of being human”—according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau—is gradually learned. It is, in fact, the first form of continuous education. And, if during his formative years, an individual lacks a healthy family, a good school, a community which encourages development, I believe his last chance is to search for a church that is welcoming, caring and guiding on his path to development as a human.
In these unreliable circumstances, the church tends to become “mankind’s asylum,” which Victor Kernbach spoke of at the end of the last century; a special kind of asylum, which is, to a certain extent, also a school, a family and a community for wounded souls. It seems like a difficult task to accomplish. However, it can be honored by a living church, built on Christian love springing from the divine love for mankind.
Only in the presence of this love does man come to truly be aware of his worth in the universe. Only under the protection of this love will man be willing to respect the same worth of his fellow man. Apart from divine love, humans have been evaluated throughout history in a very dubious way: either in relation to a sum of money, the price of a pair of shoes, like the slaves of Antiquity (see Amos 2:6), or the price of wounds and bruises inflicted on a vindictive man like Lameh: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me” (Genesis 4:23). Satan ascribes to man the value of a maggot, and to the son of man the value of a worm (Job 25:6). The satanic contempt for the value of human beings is perpetuated in time, according to the following description: “…how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!” (Job 4:19). Comparing man with a worm or a moth betrays a disdain and a hatred which creep into the minds of worldly people and either urges them to atrocious, inhuman acts, or induces discouragement and depression. It is the millennial whisper of evil in man, or around him, which does not come from within him but originates in satanic cruelty and cunning.
This satanic contempt and this disregard for the human being is in opposition to the greatness of the divine sacrifice, a sacrifice which ascribes an infinite worth to man, through the Creator’s boundless love for His creation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This bible verse is eternal, pulsating and always conveying Life. It is called the “golden verse” because it actually expresses the worth of a particular, unearthly kind of gold, of a coin unknown to worldly people, urging us to give to God what is God’s.
Corina Matei, PhD, is an associate professor at the Faculty of Communication Sciences and International Relations at Titu Maiorescu University.