DIGNITY AND RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING HUMAN
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
As we have seen, it is important to have a true image, concept, of God who is the ultimate norm of morality. It is equally important to have a true image, concept, of the human person, who is the subject of morality. Our understanding of what it means to be human is critical for our assessment of what is morally good or evil about human behavior.
First of all there is nature. The person is a unique human being, one of a kind. There never has been, there is not now, and there never will be another person like him. He is not only a unique individual he is also a social being, living in society with other persons. His relationship with these other people will help him to identify himself and determine to a large extent the person he will become.
He does not have integrity. He is born in the state of original sin, and as he matures he will discover a law in his body warring against the law of his mind. (Rom.7: 22-15) His parents, to some extent, have already determined what kind of person he will be. He comes into the world with genes, strengths and weaknesses he has inherited from his parents.
Then there is the dark and unknown part of the human psyche that the internationally famous psychologist, Carl Jung called “my shadow.” That part of me that contains all the unwanted and undeveloped aspects of my personality. Reinhold Niebur must have experienced this shadow when he wrote the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The Alcoholics Anonymous, who have adopted this prayer as their own, freely admit that they experience their shadow and are unable to control it. One of their members wrote an excellent book entitled, “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”
Then there is nurture. He grows up in a certain social, economic, cultural atmosphere where his values will be programmed by forces beyond his control. Parents, friend, neighbors and the social milieu in which he lives will influence the formation of his moral categories. These categories may seem to him to be objective norms but which are very subjective. For example, a child growing up in a community where lying and stealing is a way of life may think it quite normal. Our American culture, which worships the “trinitarian god of individualism, hedonism and consumerism,” is constantly beamed at us, day and night, through the media. These are values which are diametrically opposed to the values of the Gospel. It is difficult for one who is exposed to this daily to remain unaffected by it.
During his lifetime a person develops habits both good and evil. Evil habits lessen freedom and diminish imputability. We all know people addicted to tobacco or heroin, for example, and know how difficult they find it to give it up, even though they really want to.
A person’s health is also important. The person has a body, mind and spirit each of which effect the other two. Medicine today recognizes that health or illness is not only psychosomatic but also pneumapsychosomatic.
“Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments and other psychological or social factors.” (Catechism Part 3, Article 3 #1735)
This person is a work in progress, developing toward his potential. He is bound to obey the law according to his present capacity. No one is held to do the impossible. Only to the extent that he is free is he able to obey the law. It is an illusion to think that he has 100% freedom, or that he has no freedom at all. (Catechism 1739) Finally, and perhaps most important of all, what is the intention of this person in performing this act?
GOOD MORAL IS GOOD MEDICINE
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