14 August 2011

Weekend Reading - The Glory of the Human Individual

A relative of my wife's in-laws was called away in her sleep last night, at age 69. She had not been ill. As they say, only God knows the time and the place.

She was still working, in a low paying job with the occasional verbal abuse, to try and make ends meet. She was always cheerful, and always provided the meals for family gatherings. Some of her dishes were legendary. Alas, I have known her largely by reputation and the occasional shared recipe. I only met her a few times. I did not know her well, and her loss is felt only by empathy, by an understanding of what such losses can mean in the little universe of the family.

She was no great person, and the world will not remark her passing. One less old person. And some will say good riddance, just another statistic.

And yet her children and grandchildren are heartbroken and will be missing her greatly. She was a remarkably good wife, a good mother, and a good woman, always.

And at least in my own world view, her soul will still exist when planets decay and fall from their orbits, and stars burn out, and those who think they are doing God's work will still be regretting their selfish carelessness. And so the individual can be treasured, much more than objects.

Boxed and labeled, and viewed as things, at first a few, and then millions of people, can be efficiently eliminated and burned, and be counted as a mere statistic.

If we have learned nothing in the twentieth century, we should at least remember this, and never forget it. But the darkness, and the madness, will rise again in banal men with hardened hearts and sickened, deformed minds.

"God beholds you individually, whoever you are. He calls you by your name. He sees you and understands you, as He made you. He knows what is in you, all your own peculiar feelings and thoughts, your dispositions and likings, your strength, your weakness.

He views you in your day of rejoicing, and your day of sorrow. He sympathises in your hopes and your temptations. He interests Himself in all your anxieties and remembrances, all the rising and failings of your spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of your head and the height of your stature.

He compasses you round and bears you in His arms; He takes you up and sets you down. He notes your very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon your hands and your feet; He hears your voice, the beating of your heart, and your very breathing.

You do not love yourself better than He loves you. You cannot shrink from pain more than He dislikes your bearing it; and if He puts it on you, it is as you would put it on yourself, if you would be wise, for a greater good afterwards....

God has created you to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to you which He has not committed to another. You have your mission -- you may never know it in this life but you shall be told it in the next.

You are a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created you for naught. You shall do good, you shall do His work. You shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in your own place while not intending it if you do but keep His commandments.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me -- still He knows what He is about.

May the Lord support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.

Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last."

John Henry Newman

It is easy to lose sight of the humanity of others. The objectification of the individual, the reduction of the person to a placeholder, is at the heart of all prejudice, most hatred, and much injustice..

Some think that a human being is a wonder of creation, one of the few things in all creation that lasts, and that each person has a potential for value and inherent worth, even if not greatness in this world. They are great, they are essential, they are unique, each significant in their own way. But not everyone turns out well.

Crudely and badly developed people tend to diminish the individual with respect to themselves, even if carelessly, often because of how they themselves have been treated, or how they have learned, and they seek to elevate themselves above the crowd whom they privately despise.

They attempt to climb out of the deep well of emptiness and self-deception that they have become by filling the hole in their being with things and people.  And people of this sort of development and viewpoint are always with us, to some degree in their minority. It is how they influence the majority, society as a whole, that is different from time to time, and place to place.

It is the attitude of society towards the individual, and its obligation to protect the weak, the elderly, and the different from the criminals and the unbalanced predators that sets its character out for all to see.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

The American Constitution, even with its imperfections in realization over time, is laid on this founding principle, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

This is why corporatism is the very antithesis of American liberty.