Human Dignity, Personal Dignity

Being here at Wheaton again has been such a breath of fresh air. It’s a beautiful spring day, with a slight breeze, sunshine, the bluest sky, and the trees are in bloom. Coupled with the beautiful campus, I’m having a much more refreshing time than I might have anticipated.

We drove up on Tuesday and since Valerie didn’t have anything scheduled until Wednesday, I got the bright idea to check out the calendar of events, just in case there was a play being performed. Although there was not, I did read about a lecture by Dr. Gilbert Mielaender, of whom I had heard, but about whom I knew nothing else. (I am sitting in the Wheaton College English Department lobby, so I am trying to be extra careful about grammar and punctuation.)

Greg was excited to hear about the lecture, because he is very familiar with Dr. Meilaender, through the Mars Hill Audio Journal, a monthly interview series dealing with matters of culture and faith. Dr. Mielaender has been interviewed multiple times by Mars Hill founder, Ken Myers.

Valerie expressed interest in attending, and I was personally excited because the topic was “The Dignity of the Human Person.” Having read stories over the years about how and who human dignity is and is not afforded to, I had a deep thirst to hear such a brilliant Christian thinker discuss the issue.

After references and/or quotes to or by the likes of Kant, Hobbes, Chesterton, Kirkegaard, Aristotle and others, I felt my brain come alive with my long-dormant joy of learning, of being stretched in my thinking, of wrestling with deep and important issues of life.

I came away from the lecture with a deeper understanding of human dignity and personal dignity, which are rather two aspects of a larger unity.

Here’s what I got out of it: there are of course distinctions among humans when it comes to abilities, or how fully a human is flourishing. To the extent that someone has a greater ability to flourish, and is doing so, that person has a greater amount of human dignity. But, personal dignity is afforded to every human, regardless of abilities, or even possibility of accomplishment. Every person is afforded personal dignity by virtue of the fact that each of us is equidistant to God. Dr. John Crosby said something along the lines of this: our innate unrepeatability brings about a kind of equality among all persons. You can read more about that here.

The most immediate application I see for this is in regard to children perhaps like our son, Kepler.

There are those thinkers, notably Peter Singer, and others who are probably firmly ensconced in their insulated ivory tower, who believe that some people are not worth keeping alive. There’s never been the slightest question in my mind that every person deserves to live, regardless of their abilities. Dr. Meilaender’s “ethical Christian reflection” (to quote a comment made by Dr. Roger Lundin today) put this huge concept into beautiful words of life, humbly connecting many great think thinkers throughout the ages, with grace and humor.

We each have personal dignity because we each stand in relationship to our Creator. This thought will inform my responses now to things I read about the concept of dignity and the worth of different types of human beings, or individuals. And I am so looking forward to investigating the many books and authors he mentioned in his lecture. I may not be able to fully understand Camus, but I can certainly digest the portion shared last night which speaks to this issue.

As we return to Concinnati tomorrow, I will be on the lookout for other opportunities to participate in this type of ethical Christian reflection.

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