My effort here is to explore with theologian the notion of human openness to the world as a way of re-thinking the classical notion of human creation in the image of God. I will do so primarily in dialogue with his Anthropology in Theological Perspective.
The hint humanity may be more important than some science suggests lies in the openness of humanity to its world. The ontological priority of humanity rests on the fact that humanity is the one species to whom its existence is a question to which, in the course of life, each individual must answer. Humanity is so open in fact, that we do not know the “end” for which it is here. In contrast, other animals have reached their evolutionary end. Such openness means that human beings do not “have” their human nature, but are on their way toward it. For this reason, as helpful as science is in helping us understanding the “selfish gene,” as Richard Dawkins put it, science will never define the nature and essence of humanity. With all the insights of socio-biology, it will not be sufficient for defining human life. The scientific description of the evolutionary and genetic nature of humanity will always be an abstraction, cut off as it is from the way in which interpersonal and cultural relations shape the individual. We will always need the engagement of psychology, sociology, philosophy, and religion in order to resolve issues related to our life together. Humanity has not reached its evolutionary end. Further, we can only imagine what such an end would be. We gain our identity over the course of our lives. Our openness to the world is our dignity and closing ourselves from the world is our misery.
It will make sense, then, to move from the larger question of creation to the particular question raised by the presence of human beings. Human beings are not just products of genes or the social order. In fact, if we take seriously human openness to the world the implication (not proof) is the presence of the transcendent (God.) I want to consider this statement for a moment. Individuals need to de-center themselves by realizing that their authentic center is outside the individual. Yet, that center is not the Other, whether an individual, social group, religious group, or nation. If that were true, the individual would be a prisoner of cultural surroundings. The Other must not become a prison. We see this fact in the rebellious child, the rebellious social group, or the one who leaves society to chart a different course. As much as our openness to the world suggests the importance of our cultural settings in our individual formation, the cultural setting is not determinative. This means that openness to the world includes the ability to criticize present social structure. This suggests the possibility (not proof) of the transcendent. It suggests that the only genuine center or ground of being proper to the human quest is God.
The dignity of the individual, so much part of the modern and post-modern world, has its basis in the destiny of humanity for fellowship with God. The Incarnation is a Christian witness to the unique role of humanity within creation. To use the terminology of John Keats (April 21, 1810) the world God has made is not so much a vale of tears as a place of making souls. The presence of sin, suffering, and injustice does not erase the destiny and dignity of humanity. The misery of humanity arises from our alienation from God, our striving for autonomy, and our alienation from human beings.
Another scientific hint of the openness of humanity within creation is that a basic fact of human life is consciousness, self-consciousness, and bodily life. Self-consciousness liberates the body from the genes. Socrates was right to say, then, that the soul must rule the body. Genes become largely passive in the body, allowing the mind to assess its relation to the world. In fact, instincts suitable an earlier time in human evolutionary history may not be suitable as the mind analyzes matters in a new social setting. Consciousness arises out of the symbiotic relation of self and world is a hint of the infinite basis of life. Out of this symbiotic relation, feelings of pleasure and pain, the development of an explicit self-consciousness, and the emergence of perception, point to the infinite basis of life. The point is that we start with our awareness of our unity with the world and slowly develop distinctions. The ego arises slowly by learning distinctions.
Understood theologically, we might suggest that the center of our being is outside us, that consciousness actually begins outside, means that our orientation is toward the creative origin of life, namely, the Spirit, who becomes the infinite basis of life. The rising of consciousness and self-consciousness is the rising of soul in the biblical tradition and rationality in the philosophical and theological tradition. While consciousness, self-consciousness, and body are basic facts of a human life, they form a unity. In the biblical tradition, this means the unity of the soul and body, with a leadership role given to the soul. This role suggests the importance of self-rule. We will see why this is important in a moment.
Biblical texts like Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26-27 suggest the importance of the role humanity in ruling creation in such a way that it reflects the image and likeness of God. Too often, our minds go to the misuse of power. Yet, the image of this rule in Genesis 2:15 is that of the gardener. Human beings are to represent God on earth. The Trinity suggests a pattern of mutual fellowship that provides direction into the form of rule human beings are to have if it is reflect the divine image. One could make a strong case that emancipating humanity from accountability to God has led to the abuse of each other and to nature. The transformation of human beings into the image of Christ is a matter of aligning humanity with its destiny. Christ clarifies what the image of God means for us. The image of God is ahead of us, still forming in the course of time. We participate in that image through personal transformation from excessive self-love and toward an outwardly focused love of God and life. Humanity has an inward movement toward its destiny of fellowship with God and thus toward the image and likeness of God. If this were not so, the purpose of God would have become impotent and the image of God lost. The inward movement shows itself in an indefinite trust that opens us to the world and in our restless overcoming of the finite. Our unrest is a hint that the final horizon of human life will unveil the knowledge for which we long. This suggests the unthematic awareness of the infinite and openness beyond the finite.
Martin Buber expressed this powerfully with his image of the identity of the I arising out of the encounter with You. Such mutual self-giving we find in the power of love and fellowship binds I and You. The I-You encounter is one in which we look upon each other in the eye, even though we can also look past each other. The I-You encounter is a matter of mutual speech and hearing, even though we can also talk past each other. The I-You encounter is also a matter of rendering mutual assistance, even though we can also engage in egoistic behavior. The I-You encounter orients itself toward gladness throughout. We do not lose the self in the other or simply use the other to discover the self. Rather, we look upon the other as companions, associates, comrades, and friends. The individual is the I-You encounter. Human beings become such in community. Human individuals are fellow human beings.
The point of all this is that the social nexus precedes the “I.” Individual identity arises out of social relations. The “center” of who we are is actually outside. We can see this social nexus at work in language and rationality, with imagination an important aspect of rationality. It especially expresses itself in its orientation toward ruling or authority. This social nexus first finds expression in the family and sexuality. It will eventually find expression in the social and political order. The awareness of the infinite basis of life, then, is prior to the emergence of the “I.” Such awareness is always “ecstatic” in relation to the other. The infinite ground of being is the basis for of the “I.” One could make a strong argument that the sacredness of human life and the concept of person arose out of theological reflections upon the “persons” of the Trinity. The person is the result of the integration of the individual moments of life that results in an identity of authentic selfhood.
The intellectual pedigree of my thoughts here are the social self of William James, the ego psychology of Freud, and the approach to behaviorism of George Herbert Mead. The social world is the place where the exocentric destiny of individuals becomes a reality and thus forms individual identity. The field of social relations explains the process of the development of subjectivity. This is not easy, since a tension is always present between subjectivity and exocentricity. We create our identity in the process of social interaction. This process begins with a basic trust, especially in relation to the mother, as Erik H. Erikson has shown. This trustful relation begins the process of opening subjectivity to the social sphere. Such self-opening to the world requires courage, as Paul Tillich has shown in his notion of the courage to be. Such trust emerges from the process of relating to the world. The orientation of this trust is toward the wholeness of the self, which is a goal rather than a reality. This orientation suggests the temporal structure of wholeness. We are ourselves now, but we are also on the way to becoming ourselves. Person and personality arise out of the tension contained in the temporal process. Therefore, we are not a prisoner to the social setting. The self-assertion individuals often make against their social setting is an expression, regardless of imperfect it may be, of an orientation toward the fulfillment of human destiny. The dignity of the individual at this point suggests the divine destiny of the individual.
The broadest context of the social nexus of human life is that of the shared world we call culture. The self forms within a field of social relations, a process that develops self-consciousness and subjectivity. Development of trust involves the formation of trust toward the shared world and the development of affective life. We at least need to hint at an ontology of the shared world. The fact of the shared world means humanity has never experienced a purely natural world. Yes, other animals have societies, but human beings have the symbols and institutions of culture.
The sectors of culture include language, art, myth, religion, science, family, and economic relations. The experience of such cultural forms is the shared world of individuals. Such cultural organization is the priority of the life-world of individuals. Human beings are both the creators and the creatures of culture. Individuals become themselves only through participation in a cultural medium. Yet, if human beings can participate in culture, human beings must have first created it. Although an individual today has little influence upon culture, previous generations have given culture its shape. Further, culture is, in part, the result of unconscious activity. In human creative activity, reality is in the process of manifesting itself.
The freedom of play is a clue to the foundations of culture. In play, the symbolized reality becomes present. Involvement in play achieves its purpose when the game throws its spell over those directly involved in playing. In play, human beings put into practice that being-outside-themselves to which their exocentricity destines them. Considering play as a foundation of culture assumes that one could trace the games children play into the adult games of culture, including myth and religion. Yet, the ecstasy characteristic of play conceals demonic possibilities. Play brings intelligence and language together, both of which are foundational to culture.
Language, already a basic form of culture, is a medium of the Spirit. The meaning of reality is the common theme of language and reason. In language, meaning achieves presentation, and by means of its expression in language by individuals, they communicate it. Reason detaches the content of meaning from linguistic form. Reason is able to do this because it precedes language and speech, even though it remains dependent on language as the medium for presenting meaning. Language allows humanity to spin a network of words and relations between words as the means for representing the interconnection of diverse things in reality. Humanity asserts its ruling role in the world through the artificial world it creates. Language allows human beings to grasp larger interconnections that allow them to shape their world. Language and reason are fundamental to the entrance of humanity into culture.
The alternation of speaking and listening unites the conversing partners in an encompassing community, a fact that gives the conversation a life of its own. This common bond may arise out of the topic of conversation or from an already present emotional bond. A successful conversation leads to a transformation into a communion, in which participants do not remain where they were. The object of the conversation is present in a way that produces its own atmosphere and causes anticipation by the partners in the conversation. Any contribution that promotes the ongoing conversation owes its existence to attentiveness to the object as it manifests itself in outline and through intimations. Concentration on the totality of the conversation gives the speaker the rights words to say. Further, participants integrate the objects of any conversation into the totality of their lives. The spirit of life as a totality, the universe of meaning, finds expression in the spirit of the conversation.
The consciousness of meaning finds articulation in cultural institutions, uniting culture in a whole. The content of the meaning grounds the order of the shared life-world. The unified meaning must take shape in institutions that regulate the communal life of individuals. Such meaning expresses itself by extending to the whole of life, thereby giving individuals the opportunity to achieve their identity. Institutions may lose their meaning. Citizens may view them as imposing meaningless constraints on the behavior of individuals from which individuals will seek to free themselves. However, simply destroying such empty forms is not enough. The tasks of communal life constantly demand the development of institutional forms of interaction that one can affirm as meaningful based on interaction of shared consciousness of meaning.
The social system is a structure of interactions between individual modes of behavior, bringing one to the idea of institutions as originating in the behavior of individuals. Individuals play a role, have a status in relation to others based upon that role, and have role expectations subject sanctions if one does not meet them. Given the variety of institutions, individuals will fulfill several roles. The question of the personal identity and the fulfillment of roles create a problem in modern society. The modern problem is that the various institutions no longer represent a clear division of labor with a unitary order of life that includes them all. The unity of life fades behind the variety of institutions that operate each according to its laws.
The purpose of institutions is to regulate relations among individuals in connection with the satisfaction of their basic human needs and in connection with the secondary needs that attach themselves to the basic needs. Institutions are an aspect of the exocentricity of human behavior.
Family and property are likely the basis of all cultural forms. Family is the basic area of mutuality that allows for individuality as each member takes their place. In family, individual uniqueness subordinates itself to community. Property and economy, that is, the production and exchange of property, are subject to conditions of reciprocity. All other institutions are variants, further developments, or combinations, of the two basic formal types. The social association is an extension of family and includes the tribe, people, and state as well as religious communities. Other institutions are forms of communication in which individuals relate to each other as they assert their independence, including economic life and law. This notion focuses upon our attention upon the particularity of self-assertion and the mutuality of shared life. Although I will not get into this extensively, I should mention that the male and difference is something we need to ponder as we discuss the social nature of the self. This difference is basic, while ethnic, class, and racial differences are superficial. What we do with that difference of male and female will determine the character of a person. I will discuss this experience further in my discussion of the affective life and love.
Another element in the explication of the cultural meaning of social institutions is to direct attention to property, work, and economy. Property is the social institution that most clearly shows the element of particularism in contrast to mutuality. Property is the exclusive right to dispose of a thing. Individually owned property seems to have existed since the beginnings of humankind, as one can infer from burial gifts. Higher animals occupy a territory in an exclusive manner and defend it against inroads by others of the same species. For human beings, a sphere exists of which the individual has disposal. Human behavior, with its openness to the world, finds that it can use objects in many ways. People keep them and take them along for future use. Human beings, in identifying such objects, see reflected their own identity. Work is necessary because of the deficient bodily adaptation of human beings to their natural surroundings. Work is the means whereby they turn their natural surroundings into an artificial world that serves to satisfy their needs. The transformation of the natural environment into a cultural world is a communal accomplishment of human beings. Their work is always individual and as such is the basis for the claim to property by the individual. Through postponement of enjoyment, work creates property that frees human beings from the immediate pressure of their primary needs. The products of their work are now at their disposition for future use.
Although work is by a private individual, work is not by the isolated individual. Work suggests goods and services for others. Workers need the goods and services of others. These two facts suggest trade and exchange. Adam Smith saw that self-interest of productive individuals led, via the exchange of products, to the socialization of production through a division of labor as people began to produce precisely for purposes of exchange. Socialization includes the development of the types of values that lead to considering the needs to those in authority, co-workers, and customers. He also saw the danger in the imbalance associated with the increasing division of labor.
The final set of cultural institutions to consider is the political order, justice, and religion. The question of the legitimacy of those in power implies the possibility of illegitimate rule. The rise of emancipation from any religious foundation for the state has made the question of legitimacy acute. Rule on basis of the well-being of the association and its members are the basis of legitimacy. The result has been reflection upon the significance of a written constitution as the criterion of the action of the state, the concomitant division of political powers, and the independence of the judiciary. This concept provided constitutional guarantees for justice, but also making relative the constitution by providing opportunities to change to it. When the constitution became a living and breathing document, open to the interpretation of a majority, the constitution became impotent to protect the rights of its citizens. Further, along with popular sovereignty in modern society, civil society has become increasingly independent of the political order. When religion became primarily a private affair, society became a self-regulating system as the result of market mechanisms. Part of the market mechanisms, however, includes the values of the workers, employers, and customers. The market, with its system of families and concerns for personal property and wealth, are the best protections against overbearing government. In the market, you do not have to work for a particular business or buy a particular product. The government has the means to compel. Yet, as Hegel saw, the antagonisms between special interests will not find resolution through the market. The temptation will always be present to use the powers of government to advantage one group over another. The idea of an ethical state has the potential for resolving the antagonism created in modern society. Such a state would free citizens from the oppressor/oppressed relationship that Marx foresaw, and that we have learned to see in fascist, communist, totalitarian, and Sharia-run states. Such a state would have the vision of respect for the worth and dignity of individuals and their property, refusing to interfere into the ways the civil society provides opportunities for cooperation and competition. The welfare state does not provide a lasting substitute for such legitimation, since no state can permanently satisfy all the needs of its citizens and guarantee their happiness. The recognition that happiness is personal pursuit, and not a guarantee from political leaders, provides a limit to political ideology and opens the door for religion.
Finally, we can hardly avoid the importance of love. Love animates the system of justice. It contains the impetus to go beyond the existing order. Since circumstances repeatedly change, the rules must change. Love is resourceful in such settings. Children, under the pressure of playing a game, can make a cardboard box part of a game. The chef can make, from the same chicken, a Chinese, Mexican, or Western grilled. Following the rules keeps one within limits. Love moves beyond them when the situation demands it. Love must be the basis of the change.
Such considerations lead toward the ontology of culture or the shared world. Aristotle rightly said that we are political animals, in that social and political organization arises out of individual human desire. At the same time, social structures shape individual desire. The temporal structure of human beings is the peculiar nature of the ecstatic self-transcendence found in all living things.
The drives of all living things drive them to a future that will bring a change in their condition. Human beings alone are able to distinguish the future as future from the present. They are present to what is other than themselves and present to it as an other that they distinguish from themselves. They grasp it in its distinctness from what is other than it and in its uniqueness within the horizon of an all-embracing whole. They distinguish the present from the future that they strive for or fear. They distinguish the future from the present. Language was important for holding on to these distinctions and keeping them present. What distinguishes human beings is the development of a consciousness that bridges time, cancels the distinction of things and times, and sublimates this in the unity and continuity of its own present. It gives a presentiment of human destiny. The continuity of consciousness derives from its anticipation of the future. This anticipation also allows them to see things present and past as what they will or can become. Anticipation makes it possible to deal activity with things in the context of human goals. Anticipation grasps the abiding identity of things. The time-spanning present peculiar to human consciousness has an ecstatic character. The ecstatic relation to the world has itself a temporal structure that depends on anticipation of the future. From the future the abiding essence of things disclose themselves, because the future decides what is truly lasting.
A reference to the future also characterizes trust, because those who trust believe that the future of their own being is made secure by the one in whose hands they place themselves. Only the future shows whether the foundation on which they build is able to bear the weight they place on it. This reality is how the person lives in the present, for such is the ecstatic mode of existence proper to the person. History as a formative process is the way to the future to which the individual is destined. As long as the journey is incomplete, one can only describe it in terms of anticipation of its end and goal. In the light of that end and goal, human beings grasp the meaning of their lives and the task life sets them. Way and goal must be so related to each other that the way thus far traveled can be interpreted as a way to that goal. This movement derives its unity from the future by which it will be completed. Only through anticipation of this future can human beings presently exist as themselves. Since individuals are inseparable from their world, personal destiny has a close connection with human destiny.