Am I My Brother’s Keeper?: The Tragedy of Depersonalization
“God created man in His own Image, in the Image of God He created him . . . and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:27, 30). How many in our culture today truly realize the remarkable dignity of the human person? How many of us actually treat others according to the truth that “each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation.” Sadly, society places the value of a person in pleasure and utility and, in so doing, the enduring truths and wonderful mysteries of personhood are lost.
Ultimately, the culture of death is caused by a loss of the realization that man has dignity because he is made in God’s image. We often tend to deny treating our fellow human beings according to this dignity. This is not just the fault of the pro-abortionists and supporters of euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research. Depersonalization is something we in the pro-life movement are guilty of as well. And the only way to even begin to heal the culture of death is to start treating people according to the dignity they have as persons made in the image and likeness of the Divine.
According to Pope Saint John Paul II, “the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man” is “the eclipse of the sense of God and of man.” Because modern man has lost faith and no longer sees creation as a reflection of God, he has lost the ability to understand himself as a creature made in God’s image. John Paul continues, “He no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something ‘sacred’ entrusted to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and ‘veneration.’ Life itself becomes a mere ‘thing’, which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation.”
Abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and embryonic stem cell research are all tragic results of modern man’s refusal to accept life as a gift. We are too proud to accept the fact that we do not earn our dignity. We cannot gain value by being useful and successful, but we want to believe that we can. As Saint John Paul II goes on to explain, modern man “is concerned only with ‘doing’, and, using all kinds of technology, he busies himself with programming, controlling and dominating birth and death. Birth and death, instead of being primary experiences demanding to be ‘lived’, become things to be merely ‘possessed’ or ‘rejected’.” Persons are treated as objects to be used, bought, and sold.
It’s easy to detach ourselves from the modern evils we perceive around us and blame these faults on the culture of death and utilitarianism. We pride ourselves in being pro-life, and we believe that we are going to change the world because we are right and they are wrong. But the truth is we are a part of the culture of death, and very often we contribute to this mindset of depersonalization. Ultimately, our goal is to spread an awareness of the truth and beauty of personhood. However, we often use means which contradict the message we are trying to promote.
In the fight against abortion, we often use images of the unborn to show people the tragedy of this event. But we must always remember these images are signs of actual, particular, unique human beings. We must be careful and make sure that in using these pictures we do not find ourselves using these persons objectively, merely as an argument for our cause without remembering their own individual worth. Is this not a potential consequence of disrespect for the dignity of every person and a result of the possessive mindset discouraged by Pope Saint John Paul II? After all, the value of a person lies in who he or she is, not what he or she does or stands for. We must strive not only to focus on the statistics and arguments of why abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and embryonic stem cell research are all wrong but get to root of these evils, which is a lacking in the understanding that we are made in God’s image.
Charles Dickens writes beautifully of the mystery of personhood: “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human being is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds and thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!” This dignity not only calls for respect for the right to life but ought to move us to wonder at the Creator Who imprints His own image on His creatures; an image that is unfathomable because it is infinitely beyond us.
We must be careful not to allow this reverence to be lost when we fight against the culture of death. Deeper than the tragedy of abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and embryonic stem cell research is the tragedy of depersonalization. When the Lord asks us, “Where is your brother?” can we even claim to know who our brother is or have we used him as a mere proof of injustice? Will we respond as Cain did, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”(Genesis 4: 9). We need to question ourselves on whether we really care about the persons who are being murdered in our society or if we just want to win our side because ultimately it’s not about whether we win or lose in the pro-life movement. It’s not about how many people we convince to join our side. It doesn’t even matter whether we make abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research illegal, for our hope does not consist in this passing world.
In the end, what really matters is our respect for the dignity of all persons as our brothers and sisters in Christ. As our Lord told Cain so long ago, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).” Are we answering our brothers’ cries with arguments and rage? Or can we stand before our Creator with faith and hope, and admit that we have lived our lives with sincere love and respect for His image? Let us remember, at each and every moment, that we are in the holy presence of God.
Teresa Benedicta is a barefoot Cajun girl from Louisiana who hates shoes and loves running outside or walking the woods with no shoes on, feeling the dirt and grass between her toes. She also enjoys reading (her favorite book is “Till We Have Faces” by C. S. Lewis), cooking, gardening and horseback riding. In the words of her confirmation saint, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, she recognizes that “it is truth which prompts the searching human spirit into endless pursuit.” Her desire is to live the rest of her life in pursuit of Truth, and someday to have the privilege of sharing that truth with others as a teacher. She also dreams of one day living on a self-sustaining farm with a big family and lots of horses. For now, she is a student striving to obtain a classical education and grow in wisdom and virtue with the help of amazing teachers. She is thankful to have been introduced to the Fellowship, and hopes to become a better writer through it.