On Human Dignity
Vatican II published an important document touching on modern times, Gaudium et spes. There we read about the dignity of the human person. The human is really central and even summit. This dignity of the human person is what serves as foundation of social life. If we are to ask what is it that we must constantly and vigilantly recognize as basis of all we do, is it human dignity.
Theologically, the dignity of the human person is directly related to the mystery of the Word made flesh (see Gaudium et spes 22). The human is created in the image and likeness of God and the Word—the Son—became flesh and lived among us (see Jn.1/14). The Word incarnated and became human—Jesus was in solidarity with humanity. The incarnation of Jesus was such a strong affirmation—and reaffirmation—of the value and dignity of the human. Truly the human is so valuable, the image of God is so valuable that God himself became human. Jesus in his incarnation and solidarity with us fully honored our humanity. Jesus also opened the doors telling us that we belong to the Father. Human as we are, we are meant to live in communion with God.
Human dignity is inalienable. This word, “inalienable” means that our dignity cannot be “alien” or “foreign” to us. By virtue of the fact that we are human; we cannot remove dignity from us. Dignity is not an addition to us. It is not a separate aspect of ourselves. We are of dignity. The fact that we are image of God and the fact that the Word became human affirm our dignity.
The sense of “being human” therefore is always linked with relationship with God. God is our source of “being” and God is the final end of our “being”. Now, there are different ways of living. Within culture some of us are richer, some are poorer. Some have more power, other have less power. Some are prestigious, others are not. But we have been created as image of God so no matter what status we have in society we remain image of God and we remain those whom Jesus shared life with. We can never say that a poor person has “less dignity” than the rich person. We all and altogether share the same dignity. Human dignity goes beyond the cultural statuses and labels we hold. Hence Gaudim et spes insists that because dignity is proper to everyone our dignity has rights that should not be violated. (See Gaudium ert spes 26).
The dignity of each of us is not based on success or failure in social life. It is not dependent on capacities, abilities and talents. Human dignity is based on a simple fact: God loves each of us.
This discussion on dignity clarifies the different stand we need to make in front of moral-ethical issues like abortion and euthanasia. We are also guided in our economic and political activities. We cannot remove the fact that we are all equal in dignity. Jesus has affirmed this well by being one of us. His incarnation and solidarity with us affirm that each and every single human is honored equally. Each and every single human person is “joined with” Christ; for we see how Christ became so fully human he even experienced suffering and death like all of us. (See Gaudium et spes 22). In Jesus Christ all humans stand in dignity.
Yes, the Word incanated—the Word became flesh. So flesh is, itself, an incarnation. We as human are incarnated. We are “in-flesh”. In our human condition as incarnate we are in link with everything around us. We taste our sweat; it is salty. We have the minerals in us. We grow and develop parts of our bodies; we are like the vegetation. We have sensations and feeling; we are like the other animals. Then of course we think and we reason out—and we use our thinking to relate with the world. We have language which identifies us socially. We are a kind of “summary” of the whole universe! How can we look down and belittle our being incarnate? Our different relationships with the world around us—with people, animals, things—are all possible thanks to our very own incarnation. Through our incarnation we enter into relationships with others.
What is so fantastic and wonderful is that the Word became flesh so that we be more and more clear about the love of God for us. In terms of ethics-morality, such as in the case of bioethics, sexual life and medical ethics, we can be guided by this dignity of the human incarnate. We can be guided in our discernment about what we shall do with the human body—as in transgender change, alcoholism, drug addiction, torture, prostitution and even work conditions. (See Gaudium et spes 27). We can also be guided in our discernment about our relationship with Nature—the ecological problem which is so actual today. How do we see our incarnation in front of Nature?
Now we believe in God as Trinitarian. The human is image of God—yes—who is Trinitarian. What do we see in the Trinity? We see communion. We see love and sharing. So our being image of the Trinitarian God leads us to recognize that we too are community. We are fulfilled and truly human in communion with others. We make full and real our being-human in communion, in relationship, is being-with others. To live with others is not an addition to our being-human. The human being is inter-relational. The human being is "communitarian". (See Gaudium et spes 25).
Social life, with all its different elements—economics, politics, etc.—must therefore have full respect for the human dignity. We can never say that some need to be in communion with others while others do not. To be human and to live in dignity is to be social. Society and all the institutions within society must give priority to human dignity. If we talk of economic growth and development we need to consider human dignity. We need to consider the community. We cannot just grow and develop economically at the expense of the community. We cannot be exclusive in economic growth and development. Each one must have a participation. Here we can think of the ethics of work and capital.
Now, social life has become so complex and so complicated we experience so much inequality—and poverty and misery. If we are to take seriously the respect for human dignity we need to be vigilant about the conditions of the poor and the marginalized. This is why we have, in the Church, the “preferential option for the poor”. Social life has become so complex that, indeed, many are marginalized. So many may have started to question their own dignity. The preferential option for the poor is to affirm that the poor always have dignity that must be respected.
Reflecting on human dignity, I ask myself if we exercise this respect for dignity in our country. There is a big danger in serving exclusively those who belong to the same political color. If one is wearing another color, this person runs the risk of being set aside and not even listened to. Is this not a violation of respect for human dignity? Any citizen of the country of any political color has the basic right to be served properly and humanely.