(Christian Today) Rowan Williams: How theology helps us understand ‘Being Human’

[We] are in a cultural and work environment where it seems that individualist assumptions prevail, assumptions about control, assumptions about unavoidable conflict, assumptions about there being always a private area into which we can retreat and shut the doors…If we live in an uncooperative environment, if we’ve developed uncooperative selves, the field is not lost. Something can be reclaimed. But it can be reclaimed only by a careful, systematic challenge to those assumptions about what the human is that so imprison us – a challenge to our (in the broader sense) educational philosophies. That’s a challenge that needs clarity about what a person is and isn’t; clarity about the difference between the person and the mere individual; clarity about the capacity of human agents to do what my sources describe as transcending the merely natural, transcending the simple list of things that happen to be true about me.

Such clarity is not easily available either for a simply materialist view of human life – the human individual as a machine… – or for a purely spiritualist view of human life – human identity is just the sovereign iron will that lives somewhere in here and imposes itself on the world out there. Somewhere in between is an understanding of human identity, human personality, as fascinatingly and inescapably a hybrid reality: material, embedded in the material world, subject to the passage of time, and yet mysteriously able to respond to its environment so as to make a different environment; able to go beyond the agenda that is set, to reshape what is around; above all, committed to receiving and giving, to being dependent as well as independent, because that’s what relation is. I am neither a machine nor a self-contained soul. I’m a person because I am spoken to, I’m attended to, and I’m spoken and attended and loved into actual existence. Which takes us back to the question of human dignity and the sacred, and to that pervasive, mysterious, nagging sense that there is always something about the other person that’s to do with what I can’t see and that can’t be mastered.

Read it all.

Print Friendly

Posted in --Rowan Williams, Anthropology, Books, Theology

Leave a Reply