The Essence of Being Human
What does it mean to be a human being? The Christian answer is that we are created in image of God.
This leads to the question of the essence of God’s image.
At its core, creation in God’s image entails possessing an intellect that can give us objective input for directing our lives, emotions that provide subjective desires, and a will (volitional capacity) that decides our behavior.
In this arrangement the mind possesses the capacity to provide us with the “ought to” in a given situation while the emotions supply the “want to.” The will is left as referee between our “ought to” and our “want to.”
If the will follows the intellect, this will lead to success. We might diagram this as follows:
On the other hand, allowing the emotions to lead produces disaster:
In some decisions such as choosing a dessert or a spouse, the human desires should play a role. Nonetheless, we need to grant the intellect veto power over our desires even in these decisions. For example, if our desires opt for the pig trough ice cream sundae the intellect needs the capacity to override this decision.
In God’s design, to give accurate guidance the mind needs input from both the world around us (empirical data) and also from Scripture.
This arrangement makes us moral beings, enabling us to know and choose what is right despite the inclinations of the desires at times (many times) toward that which is wrong.
Though this perspective of human beings reduces humanity to its core features, it nonetheless describes the essence of human functioning.
Therefore, to function otherwise constitutes subhuman existence. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes a society in which people essentially function on a pleasure principle. Though this approach to life is fun and easy, the plot of the book makes us aware that these people are existing at less than a human level. Huxley helps us to realize that trading our humanity for pleasure is not a good exchange. Even though this lifestyle offers a high degree of comfort, it deprives us of something far more valuable: our humanity.
This thought has occurred to me on any number of days as I headed out for a challenging day at work and saw my dog sleeping comfortably in the corner. At that moment a dog’s life looked pretty good, having all her needs supplied without the requirement to work. However, neither the dog nor I opted to make the switch.
Robbing Our Humanity
The design for humanity described above seems self-evident. Yet, most of the decline in American society, and also among evangelicals, can be traced to the adoption of cultural concepts and practices that allow and even promote abandonment of this design for humanity for functioning at a sub-human level.
In future posts I plan to identify some of the cultural concepts that drive this subhuman existence, but for now let me just point out a few cultural trends that exposes the fact that we are living at the subhuman level.
One of the most egregious manifestations resides in the functioning of the United States government. Myriad examples could be marshaled to demonstrate that our government is not employing intellect to guide its decisions. The United States Senate without a budget for three years graphically illustrates this point. And the point is further demonstrated by an American populace that keeps reelecting the Senators responsible for such irresponsibility.
Some of the statements coming out of our Congress also make the point that America has abandoned intellect as a guiding force. Consider this assertion by Representative Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House: ”The cupboard is bare. There’s no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that. We all want to reduce the deficit.” Any sane person knows that billions in waste exists. The travesty of such as comment is that she can make it without being sent for a psychological evaluation.
Of course, these types of behaviors do not reflect so much a failure to employ the intellect as a failure to utilize the will to follow the intellect. These people are intelligent but self-serving, lying to cover their decisions to use the hard-earned money of American workers for their own benefit. However, in either case, whether a failure to function intellectually or volitionally, this behavior manifests subhuman living on the part of Congress and voters.
Yet another cultural manifestation of subhuman living is found in the trend toward cohabitation. Here also we find the employment of the formula for failure given above. Sexual desires trump intellectual wisdom in the decision to live together without being married. I especially marvel at women who choose to give a man the sexual privileges he wants while getting so little in return. To make matters worse, odds are that she will end up functioning as a single mom of the children born into this relationship.
A woman during the first session of counseling spontaneously provided me with an endless list of reasons why she had stopped living with her boyfriend. Her reasoning made all the sense in the world. She had allowed her intellect to guide her decision. Based on her description, the relationship was dysfunctional and she was coming out on the short end. When she came for the next session she reported having watched a Hallmark special on television that had as its theme, “Follow your heart.” This sage advice led her to abandon the rationale of the previous session and move back in with her boyfriend.
This incident provides a microcosm of American functioning, not just as related to sexual relations but also to life in general. Feelings trump intellect, negating the need for discipline and the acceptance of responsibility.
The really bad news resides in the incorporation of this subhuman existence into our secular and evangelical societies, making living at this level not only acceptable but even celebrated. In the posts ahead I plan to discuss how we got here and the concepts that have led to this deactivation of the intellect and the volition, assigning to our subjective side the leadership role.