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What are some of the most important insights of the contemporary understanding of the human person?

  1. Shift from ‘we are better than animals and can use non-human creation as we please’ to ‘we are creation too’. While this insight is beautiful when taken with a Christocentric view, it can be problematic if it is taken to mean we are not any different from animals and humans and animals have equal dignity. Not so! Franciscan views of the human person as part of creation amplify the dignity of the human person as images of God. In the Franciscan view we honor creation as imprints of God – we care for creation because we are moved to return God’s love by caring for what He cares about. In other words, the environmentalism of Franciscans is grounded in the love between God the Father and the Holy Spirit, which is expressed in creation, especially in the incarnation of Jesus. None of this denies what Horan calls “the broader community of creation” – both the human and nonhuman environment. (Horan 2019, 97) In fact, Bonaventure, and Scotus’ univocity of being are radically Christocentric and nature, all creation is an ascent towards God and the utter gift of the incarnation, Jesus.

  2. Shift from human beings are created by God and have inherent dignity to human beings come into the world and have more or less instrumental value in terms of what they are capable of doing and enjoying. This shift results from a limited horizon of significance that does not include God. This understanding of the human person focuses on the individual and perhaps those they care about. It is difficult for me to glean an ‘insight’ from this shift in perspective as I see this as the fundamental cause of many social ills in the world including abortion, euthanasia, elder abuse, human trafficking etc.

  3. Shift from the general view that human beings as a whole are special and unique to a focus on the particularity of the individual and what makes them uniquely them e.g. thisness or haecceities. While contemporary views are not necessarily rooted in the Trinity, science has shown us through DNA that we are all particular individuals, each one of us unlike any other. When a non-believer considers their ‘thisness’ they can be struck by wonder and awe that is a possible ascent to God – even if they do not realize it. When we realize the depth of anything says Gula, we can experience God: “to grasp anything in its depth is to discover grace, to experience God’s presence in the Holy Spirit.” (112)

What convictions do these offer you for moral living?

Because of the belief that human beings are creation too, I respect my place in the circle of life, knowing that God has placed me there and loved me into being. I believe in my own dignity and that of other human beings as well as all of creation. This conviction drives me to seek justice for all, to eradicate racism, to promote equality and diversity because God loves all His children and I love what He loves. I am committed to recycling and reducing the waste that leaves my home for landfills. I look for ways to reuse things, take broken electronics to the recycling depot, clothing I no longer need to the thrift store or textile recycling. I am challenged to purchase items that are made with fair labor practices and recognize that this is an area of growth for me.

Because I believe in the particularity of the individual, I am curious about each person I meet and try to understand what ‘makes them tick’ and what matters to them. I know that God loves people no matter their ‘status’ – He desires our love, and this encourages me to love what He loves – even if the people don’t worship as I do or are different in any number of ways.

What critiques would you bring to this newer understanding?

The contemporary understanding of the human person also includes a spectrum of genders which I admit to not understanding. My default is love nonetheless and to “continually ask God to fill [me] with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9). Part of this wisdom through the Spirit has led me to the conviction that I won’t promote or denounce this contemporary view of the human person. I believe it is less important to debate endlessly this understanding (or lack thereof) of contemporary understanding of the human person than it is to respect and love as God loves. (Overly simplistic perhaps, but that’s my approach to this contentious issue nonetheless.) I agree with Horan’s assertion “the focus on moral norms and applied ethics at times oversimplifies and instrumentalizes the lived experience of transgender persons” (2019, 157) and with Pope Francis “who am I to judge?”

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