Thursday, March 23, 2006

Human dignity, human worth

These things come ultimately from God, certainly--but it seems that the story doesn't end there. What makes someone worthwhile? Is it possible for someone to become a waste? Surely it's possible for someone to waste himself--but to say that someone is a waste seems to be a blasphemy: to claim that God errored in creation. But what baout those who seem doomed to waste themselves forever, until the end? Sometimes I seem that way myself, and still God saves me. But sometimes it seems like there are people who God permits to waste themselves, forever until the end. Why? Addicts go without help until their bodies give up hope; unconverted sinners go to their graves cursing God and exploiting others; and nobody is safe. Nobody can say "that will never be me;" there are some who cannot even say, though they try, "that is not me now."

Dignity is unconditional--it is the quality of being loved by God, and thus of deserving the Christian's love as well. Worthiness, however, is not unconditional. True, on one plane--the truest plane--all are unworthy before God. Thus all the merits of human beings are the Glory of God and nothing else. Nevertheless we do, frankly, speak of the relative worthiness or unworthiness of people on earth; the play of sin and grace, the struggle between God's freedom and human concupiscence (which he allows because it is a part of our own freedom and finitude).
This is not so much theology as it is simple rote catechesis: the deepest criterion of worthiness is charity--"Love God, and do as you will."

Simplicity of Love

Love is complicated by the self. Because we love ourselves--and we do, whether rightly or wrongly--our love for others tends to follow the image of ourselves. It is not necessarily that "I love those who are most like myself" (for a truly selfish person might feel threatened by the presence of those whose selfishness matches their own, e.g., all those "reality TV" shows). Rather, it is that one loves those who one imagines one ought to love. The keyword is "fittingness". One's friends are determined by a sort of analogy of the self--the pattern of "what fits my style." So also, the relationships themselves must conform to this style. If one imagines himself to be entirely in control, he will avoid friendships which are not entirely on his terms. If one imagines herself as being unworthy of love, she will gravitate to people who show her disrespect--such behavior "lights up" with the credibility of the expected, and thus appears more honest and more authentic.

When love is simple, it detaches itself from the criterion of the analogy of the self. It removes, from the pool of potential "beloveds," all artificial or imposed criteria--anything that would designate anyone "unloveable". Even those who despise me, I love. Simple love seeks the good of others, but always within the network of all the other virtues. The reason why simple love can appears complex (and why St. Therese's "Little Way" can seem to unattainable to people outside of a convent) is because the world is dreadfully complex. Dilemmas of consequence and human weaknesses and prudential considerations - and all of these even before the question of sin and selfishness enters in!

But even then, one can find solace in the fact that love is the last word and is the one thing that God desires most. When love of him is pursued in itself, everything else falls into place--and even the virtues which don't quite make it into our repertoire, God can forgive. In this respect, there is something true about the whole business of the "fundamental option" being the only really critical thing; however, it would be a horrific mistake to misconstrue the "fundamental option" as anything other than the desire and active pursuit of the perfection of charity according to the whole of human virtues, example of Christ, and moral law.

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