Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Human dignity as social hierarchy
I'm delving more deeply into the concept of human dignity, exploring in particular the notion that human dignity is primarily of legal relevance to, and evidenced by, human relationships, rather than a stand-alone construct of the human person. In this regard, I came across an intriguing passage in Robert Kraynak's contribution to this volume, In Defense of Human Dignity. An excerpt (pp 90-91):
In the biblical view, dignity is hierarchical and comparative; in the modern, it is democratic and absolute. The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) promotes hierarchies because it understands reality in terms of the "image of God," which is a type of reflected glory -- a reflection of something more perfect. Hence, dignity exists in degrees of perfection rather than in abstractions that are absolutely uniform. Moreover, the dignity or glory possessed by something made in the image of a more perfect being carries moral claims of deference, reciprocal obligation, and duty rather than equality, freedom, and rights. Christ is bound to the dominion of the Father and Creator; man is bound to the dominion of Christ; woman is bound to the dominion of man; and, reciprocally, God is bound in love to Christ, Christ to man, man to woman.
Following the logic of reciprocal obligation, there is no contraction between the statements of the New Testament that require obedience to hierarchies -- whether the be divinely created, natural, or conventional -- and passages that speak of the spiritual dignity of all human beings.