Applied Bioethics Magazine

Issue No. 01: The Human Person

Made in God's Image

The world teems with profound beauty—winter sunrises viewed from the beach and rainbows after intense summer storms. Snow rests on the peaks of mountain ranges, and deserts are full of painted rocks. Lush forests teem with life, and the oceans are full of species, shells, and corals.

Beauty is not only found in nature. A bride and groom walk through town with their wedding party. Newborn babies first open their eyes to capture the gaze of their fathers. The smell of fresh coffee wafts through the air at daybreak, and fresh loaves of bread share their aromas in time for dinner. Looking through the windows of our homes, we can see children at play. Families gather around the Thanksgiving table to share love, joy, and gratitude each November.

The world is a beautiful place.

Beauty is food for the soul. It tells us that life is a precious gift. Goodness also tells us something about the nature of our Creator. God is good, with no evil or malice within Him. Everything that He creates is good. Adding to the pantheon of His good creation is the human person, made in His image and likeness.

The creation stories told in the Book of Genesis are not intended to be a historical record. Jesus often used literary devices to communicate essential truths to His uneducated audience. He did so to make knowledge accessible and comprehendible. God didn't write the Bible. Instead, He inspired its authors. He used the creative capacity of the human mind. Its writers share essential truths through historical characters, stories, and at times, allegories.

There's no contradiction in saying that evolution and creationism are real. Creationism posits that God, as an intelligent designer, brought the created world into being. Evolution holds that, over time, organisms change to adapt to their circumstances. There's ample evidence to support both theories. God chose to use the evolutionary process to fulfill His vision for the created order. The purpose of these pages is not to debate their scientific merits but to think about those essential truths.

The human person is unique in the created order. In The Natural Law & Creation, I illustrated a three-strata hierarchy of importance. The human person is the most important, followed by the animal kingdom and nature. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Bible understand the human person as made in the "image and likeness of God." Those five words profoundly impact our understanding of the sacredness of human life and man's place within the created order.

To unpack these five words, let's first look at Jesus. Catholic theology holds that Jesus had two natures: fully man and fully God. Jesus came to earth as a man, not as a coconut tree, not as a grapefruit, not as a lion. He entered the world through the natural cycle of human reproduction. He developed from an embryo to a full term baby to a delivered child. His body had the same systems, worked in the same manner, and had the same bones and joints as your body. He looked like a human because He was human.

The Judeo-Christian understanding of God is very different from many other ancient religions. We understand God to be consistent to a fault and full of love. He creates out of goodness, not violence or boredom. He is a God who keeps His promises and does not deviate from His Word. Especially when compared to the Ancient Greeks, this is revolutionary. The Greek gods see humanity as something to play with. In their boredom, they interfere with humans as entertainment for the residents of Mount Olympus, or to serve the gods’ political agendas.

When Jesus took on humanity, He retained His divinity. How this is possible remains a great mystery of faith. But thinking about it, some things become apparent. God is timeless without beginning or end. If He took on humanity and gave up divinity, then He could not be God by definition.

So, as a human person, as Jesus is, you share in the image and likeness of God.

As a human person, Jesus also shared a unity between His body and His soul. Unfortunately, we built many false contradictions constructed between the body and soul. These theories lack a unified vision and miss the essential truth. The body and soul are two sides of the same coin, not two separate dynamics.

The body is the material or physical dynamic of our person. It's the part of us that we can see and touch. The soul is our spiritual dynamic, held within. The soul is the life force that animates the body. You can't be a human person by having only a body. Likewise, you can't be a human person with only a soul. It's the unique combination of body and soul that constitutes you. It's the unity that renders your existence as a human person.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e. it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. CCC 365

This idea of the human person stands in contrast to French philosopher René Descartes's dualism. His thoughts are so influential that they shade the attitudes of many people today. Descartes' famous quote may be familiar to you, "I think; therefore I am."

Here we find another set of five powerful words. In the Cartesian view, the body and soul are distinct and separate things. The soul is the thinking part of the person, while the body is its physical manifestation. It's this understanding that drives attacks on conscience rights and religious liberty.

If the body and soul are separate, in this thinking, then the soul is an optional part of the human person. It's like the human appendix; you can make it through life with or without it. So if the soul is optional and the body is all that matters, why should people be permitted to claim special religious protections or exemptions from otherwise legally mandated things?

The unity of body and soul makes the human person distinct and unique. We share many traits and behaviors with some members of the animal kingdom. But, with body and soul intricately combined, we become rational. We can love and be selfless. The human person can understand our place in the world and the preciousness of life. We can think outside ourselves for the greater good.

A child shares in the image and likeness of their parents. Their physical features, character traits, and mannerisms display a unique blend of their parents. They belong to one another. In the same way, the glory of God is alive in the human person. Made in His image and likeness, the essential truth that the human person belongs to God is clear. Our existence mirrors His. As rational beings and irreplaceable life, we share the capacity to love as God loves. We also share in His dignity. We are all precious and deserving of respect.

Respect for the dignity of the human person is the cornerstone of a moral society. With it, we're able to make decisions and judgments that promote the common good and defend that dignity. Moreover, the human person's existence, marked with the image of God, sets them apart as having innate worth. Existence confers this special dignity, not productivity, satisfaction, or utility measurements.

A just society only exists if absolute respect of the human person is complete: at all stages, in all places, and in every circumstance. It's our responsibility to challenge the flawed views of the human person, especially when they provide legal avenues to attack and destroy life. All life is sacred, and we must protect all people, especially the vulnerable.