By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Humans Becoming More Human

I find myself thinking of this often: people need "to become human." Of course, all persons are already human; and so the more precise language is: the human being needs to become more human.

It is not a mystery. We know what is meant. We speak of humane persons and thereby clearly imply that some of our fellow humans are not so humane. We speak of the warm, the simpatico personality. (But note that I am not lobbying for phony political charm which can be found both in and out of electoral politics. Genuine warmth is very different.)

We speak of people who are loving in contrast to cold people. We speak of the approachable as opposed to the aloof. We speak of the censorious personality as opposed to the encouraging personality. We speak of the opaque, distant person as opposed to the person who is authentically sincere and who clearly signals where you stand in his estimation. (I think of this reality also when I hear about the New Evangelization--which will never get off the ground if the academically certified messengers are cold and aloof.)

Now, personalities are by nature quite diverse; and diversity is the very good gift of a generous Deity. Yet, the truth is that, at some points, we do have to make some objective distinctions: this personality is more humane, warmer, encouraging, approachable, inspiring than another. That is reality. We cannot deny what will not go away. (It is ironic that sometimes the most human are persons we consider disabled in one way or another that makes them either more childlike or creates a more urgent need for them to engage with others. They are not so respectably independent!)

Your project, my project, is to become that more humane, more human person. In the Christian tradition (especially emphasized in the East), we say that the Deity becomes human so that we can be divinized, a "divinization" that--oh, this will be troublesome to those who are addicted to very discrete categories--which makes us more human! Well, if you believe humans are created in the image of God, then it is no surprise that the path to becoming more human is also the path of this mystical divinization.

Words cannot capture it fully. Thomas Aquinas, in his mystical experience, proclaimed that all his prior academic work was like chaff (too many of his followers at this point refuse to follow the angelic doctor). Now, Aquinas' mystical experience also included the message from Jesus that Aquinas had written well of Him. But there was something even and much better than the massive achievement of baptizing the categories of Aristotle.

It is also true that certain humane qualities emerge better in certain cultural contexts. The warmer climates seem to produce warmer people and personalities. It's just a cultural fact. Yes, we really do need "a climate change" in our cultures, especially in the cultures of distance and aloofness. All the wealth and efficiency mean nothing if we never develop the soul we have been given. Life is a project of constant development.

As they say, if you do not use it, you lose it. I say: if you do not develop your humanity and your soul, you gradually lose them. Maybe, in the end, that is the state of hell: we have gradually lost them by the time we pass away. The most salient twentieth century examples are Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Maoist China--but it happens in all countries and cultures if you dig deep enough in history with, admittedly, different magnitudes and levels of destruction: black slavery (practiced not just by Europeans but also by Africans themselves and Muslim Arabs), American Jim Crow, the Spanish Inquisition, our bloody European Catholic-Protestant religious wars, Islamic fundamentalism, Catholic sexual abuse of young people (the list of examples could, unfortunately, go on forever).

The old advertising slogan is "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste." So is a soul, so is our native humanity.

(Image of John XXIII under Creative Commons License)