Who am I? What am I? Humans have been asking these questions almost from the moment they were first capable of framing them. For the Christian, they are questions with added dimensions to them, because our faith prompts us to ask, who am I, and what am I before God, the Originator of everything that is? And those added dimensions include ethical ones, as we ask the further question: How am I to become the person that God wishes me to be?
Such reflections prompted members of the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church to explore how we might respond to them in our current circumstances: in short, how we might start to frame a twenty-first century Christian anthropology.
As someone who has been engaged (Michael Fuller) at different times both with scientific research and with ordained ministry in busy parishes, and who now teaches in a university in the field of science-and-religion studies, the question Who am I? is one I have been privileged to look at from a number of different perspectives as I reflect on my own experiences, and on those of the people around me. The Church, as the community of the faithful, has many wonderful resources to help people considering the question, Who am I? – from the Scriptures, to the writings of theologians, sages and mystics, to the lived experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Those lived experiences, and the internalised wisdom of our tradition, are perhaps what help us most in forming a response to the question. But it seems to me that we should not neglect the knowledge that comes from outside our tradition in shaping such responses. In particular, the sciences have generated a huge amount of knowledge about what it is to be a human being: they show us to be evolved, biological creatures, formed by our genetic heritage and by our environment to behave in particular ways.
My thoughts centre on the ways in which the sciences place parameters around how we think of ourselves as living beings, in particular when we come to think about ourselves as somehow ‘special’ within the created order (which our being in the ‘Image of God’ surely suggests). How are we to think of ourselves in such terms when we share so much genetic information with other creatures (including our prehistoric hominin ancestors)? Are there particular aspects of our behaviour that mark us out as unique – are we the only creatures on our planet capable of prayer, for example (or, indeed, of sin)? Is it likely that life forms like ourselves might exist elsewhere in the universe, and if so what would that tell us about ourselves? As we create more and more complex, and more and more capable, artificial intelligences, what does that tell us about ourselves? And what might we say regarding the possibility of a ‘post-human’ future, in which people might be genetically and cybernetically enhanced to achieve feats completely beyond those of which we are currently capable? And would such people even be ‘human’?
(CEN) Michael Fuller and David Jasper-Being human in the 21st century UK https://t.co/6T6LV2iSft #books #anthropology 'our faith prompts us to ask, who am I,+what am I before God, the Originator of everything that is? And.. How am I to become the person that God wishes me to be?' pic.twitter.com/aadcSvDkYa
— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) June 15, 2021