I am mystified by [...] the idea, [...] that the modern world has a deeper understanding of human dignity than previous ages did. I think the truth is precisely the opposite. The medievals regarded human beings as made in God’s image and as possessing immortal souls capable of grasping objective truth, and thus as having as much dignity as it is possible for a bodily creature to have, certainly a dignity far surpassing that of the rest of the natural world. The modern world, by contrast, sees human beings as just one animal among others, differing from the beasts only in degree, their reason being merely a more efficient instrument for finding opportunities to feed and copulate. The medievals emphasized individual guilt, and therefore individual responsibility. Moderns minimize or even deny individual responsibility or guilt, dissolving human agency into the nexus of physical causation, obsessing over our “collective responsibility” for this or that, and emphasizing “structural” rather than personal elements of justice and social life. The medievals regarded the human person as a psychosomatic whole, while moderns tend to see the locus of personhood exclusively in conscious and explicit desiring and planning, effectively obliterating the personhood and rights of the unborn, the comatose, and the mentally retarded. The medievals saw our lives as having epic significance, an arena in which a cosmic battle between good and evil is taking place, climaxing in either eternity in God’s presence or eternity in Hell. The moderns see our lives as a trivial accident which culminates in extinction. What matters, for them, is to get whatever paltry enjoyments out of it one can while it lasts, “morality” consisting of whatever rules rationally self-interested individuals might agree to for the sake of their “mutual advantage” (or something equally anticlimactic and amoral).
True, the rhetoric of “human dignity” has increased in modern times; indeed, modern people simply won’t shut up about it, even as they kill their own unborn children by the millions and live lives of depravity unimaginable to previous generations. If medieval people talked less about their own dignity, it is because they were more concerned about God’s dignity; if modern people talk more about it, it is because they are more concerned with themselves. For most modern people, talk about their “dignity” is, it seems, in reality little more than shorthand for “I can do what I want, and there is no objective or natural moral law that can tell me otherwise.”
Working with Iraqi refugees stretches, strengthens priest’s faith
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