Applied Bioethics Magazine

Issue No. 01: The Human Person

Faith, Reason, & the Human Person

The human person is beautiful. Each person possesses a soul, intellect, and reason, the intricate fusion of the physical and spiritual. We find our source and purpose in our sharing in the image and likeness of God. Our soul works in concert with the physical nature of our body to form our personhood.

The essential element of the human person is the soul. The soul isn't a physical component of our body. The soul is the principle that animates the body. It's the foundation; the soul is what makes human life so precious. The soul is what makes you, you. The human body has unique identifiers, such as fingerprints and DNA. Similarly, your soul is unique to you and unrepeatable.

A human person has two requirements: a body and a soul. The creation of body and soul, and their fusion together, co-occur at the moment of conception. A new human body begins with the first cell, infused with a soul, and a new human person now exists.

The genius of this idea of the human person is that it treats all people as equal. It isn't a theoretical or romantic concept of equality. It's an idea with practical applications that always resolves bioethical questions to benefit the human person. Likewise, it promotes deference, respect, equality, civility. Not only that, but it protects the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

To be a human person, you don't need to have a perfect body, intellect, or spirituality. You only need a soul and a body. Your innate value remains in sickness or health, poverty or wealth, incapacitated, unconscious, maimed, disabled, or receiving a Gold Medal on the Olympic podium. That value is unchanging and unchangeable throughout your life. No action that you take can diminish your inherent worth. No effort by any other person, group, organization, or government can lessen or negate the dignity and value of the human person. No circumstance can impact this status: your intrinsic value is constant and complete.

In every time, culture, and place, the dignity of the human person is something that requires active defense. Unfortunately, our flawed nature leads us to selfishness. We tacitly approve of the degradation of other human persons, so long as we're not affected in the short term. We turn a blind eye to genocide in foreign lands, the plight of migrants, racial hatred, the false legality of abortion, or the excessive usage of the death penalty because we're comfortable. We do the same when we ignore people on the street, neighbors who need our help, or coworkers who are the subject of water-cooler gossip. The universality of the human person means that the degradation of any single human person affects us all.

The human person has a definitive beginning. Before conception, two separate cells with different DNA sequences exist, unrelated to one another. At conception, a new, single cell with unique DNA exists. This new DNA sequence is a clear, scientific marker; a new human life begins and that human life is infused with a new soul. We owe this new life reverence, respect, and protection.

Society's attitudes towards faith are different from even a half-century ago. This massive, rapid change is sobering, especially given its enormous personal costs. What was once a cornerstone of communal life is now met with suspicion and disdain. The orthodoxy of modern rationalism has supplanted faith's role in the town square. As a result, our souls are weary and sad, unable to recognize what we've given up.

This confused attitude is new, even in a country as academically liberal as the United States. The first institutions of higher learning focused on religious instruction. Even into the late 1800s, Yale University's mission was the education of the clergy.

The Catholic Church established the first university at Bologna in 1088. At a point in history when only the aristocracy had the benefit of education, the Church boldly codified the right of all peoples to access knowledge. That institutional principle led to the establishment of primary and secondary schools across the globe.

Rather than try to subjugate the faithful through ignorance, the Catholic Church recognized the importance of education in man's life. It's a vital aspect of the faithful's journey to know God. The Church doesn't seek mindless followers. On the contrary, it relishes its strong intellectual tradition, formed by thinkers, writers, and scientists throughout the ages. It's a tradition that continues to expand today. The application of faith and reason yields true freedom.

Faith and reason rely upon one another for the fulfillment and empowerment of the human person. Nurturing our spirituality enables us to live healthier, more balanced lives. Developing and enhancing our sense of reason opens up our minds and propels humanity forward. As our reason grows, our interaction with the Divine deepens. It's through reason that we understand the world in which we live and see the genius of God's design. Through reason, we come to know ourselves better and engage with the dignity of the human person.

Faith provides healthy boundaries for reason. Faith orients reason by giving it a moral code to direct its work. It gives reason its "why." It insists that the power, resources, and products of reason aim for the higher goods of man. Faith teaches us to cast off labels and divisions. We're no longer black or white, Christian or Jew, American or Korean; we're children of God and members of His family. With this groundwork established, reason helps us see the truth. All human persons are equal, sharing in the weaknesses of humanity and striving to live a good life.

To reject either faith or reason is to reject an essential component of humanity. Faith and reason are united in their essence, building upon one another to the benefit of humanity.

The human person is a magnificent reality gifted with cognition and reason itself. Charged with stewardship of the created world, the human person acts to serve the greater good. The human person is complete, integrated, and unrepeatable.

The human person has innate worth and dignity; their worth comes from their existence, unrelated to features, interests, and utility. The precious nature of this reality calls us back to the truth. Every life is sacred, meaningful, and valuable, from the moment of conception until natural death.