I have to admit, that I am at times very confused about this.
The trouble is, it all sounds so nice on paper. We claim that every person has the same innate human dignity because we all were made in the image and likeness of God. We say that there is some equality between every person that has ever been born, and then we choose this odd word to describe it, dignity.
1.The state of equality of being worthy of honor or respect
2. A composed or serious manner or style
Now we are obviously talking about the first definition of dignity here, we are not saying that every human person has a serious manner, that would just be silly. So when we say that every person is equally worthy of honor or respect, do we really mean that? Am I really called to honor and respect everyone equally?
This all sound nice and fluffy, but when I actually try to put it into practice, this is a really hard teaching. Am I really supposed to have the same honor and respect for Stalin that I would have for Mother Theresa? Seriously? I mean, this is simply beyond my comprehension. How can I possibly put the Holy Father and the druggie Meth head who just got out of prison on the same level? It’s no challenge to imagine my bishop as having dignity, not so easy for the wife beater down the street.
But here is the real rub. That’s exactly what Jesus did. Spot on. He didn’t even flinch when talking with the prostitute. Poverty and sickness? Didn’t bug Him one bit. The only thing that really seemed to get His goat was religious hypocrisy, and guess what? I am most assuredly not a prostitute, but I have certainly been hypocritical about my beliefs. I’m not sure Jesus would have liked me all that much. That’s pretty darn scary. So since Jesus was clearly tied in to this idea of human dignity, even though it doesn’t make real sense to me, I have to accept it as true. That doesn’t make it any easier.
“Mrs. Turpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people. On the bottom of the heap were most colored people, not the kind that she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them- not above, just away from- were the white trash; then above them were the home owners, and above them the home and land owners, to which she and Claud belonged. Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land. But here the complexity of it would begin to bear in on her, for some of the people with a lot of money were common and ought to be below she and Claud and some of the people who had good blood had lost their money and had to rent and then there were colored people who owned their own homes and land as well.” -“Revelation” Flannery O’Conner
This is me. Maybe the tools I use to judge everyone are different than Mrs, Turpin, I’m pretty blind to race for example, but I still have a clear strata in my subconscious. That homeless guy is somehow beneath me and that guy at the country club is above me. Where the heck did I get the idea that I could possibly be better than someone else? How did this nonsense get into my brain?
Where do we get this need to place ourselves from? How did I get this way? Why is it so automatic for me to look down on the dirty hippy asking for money, and so easy for me to defer to someone just because they have loads of cash? And like Mrs, Turpin, it only gets more confusing the deeper you get into this mess.
More importantly, how do we break out of this evil cycle? How can we get to the point where we truly see every human person as having the same, true, innate dignity that they were given at their conception. I’m not saying we have to love sin or anything crazy like that, but how can we learn to love every person equally? Jesus pulled it off, and brought it into the realm of perfect possibility, how can we change what is so deeply ingrained in us?
I am certain that we can’t. I think it has to be done TO us. I think only the grace of God can possibly cure me of this evil, and I pray he does just that.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.” -Galatians 3:27-9