Stanley Hauerwas and my reading of the Roman Catechism on human dignity.
A few years ago, I met a man through books, his name was Stanley Hauerwas, along with Karl Barth and Jurgenn Moltmann, he became a very close friend of mine through his writing. I respect the minds of few people more than those of these men, and through Hauerwas I’ve learned a very different yet coherent sketch on Human Dignity.
Hauerwas on John Courtney Murray:
Hauerwas’ critique of Murray centers in the fact that Murray’s position is based on a high humanism that is inappropriately non-theological. Murray’s views are based on inalienable rights, that in his defense were at the time a brilliant and progressive critique of liberal democracy, but his grounds for his critique are supremely anthropological and betray a lack of trust in revelation as a source for human dignity.
As Hauerwas puts it “Christians do not believe that we have inalienable rights. That is the false presumption of Enlightenment individualism, and it opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature. ” The reasons Hauerwas maintains this position is that As Bentham et al have critiqued inalienability of human rights as a universal stricture from politics, Hauerwas does so because of the Church. For Hauerwas, human dignity is not a matter of negotiating competing parties and their rights in a survival of the fittest model. Hauerwas rejects all attempts to justify a politics and a communion based on violence.
Fortunately for us, human rights are not based on inalienable and competing powers, and are not rights at all but callings. The Christian Tradition has been right to focus on vocation instead of permission when discussing anthropology and human dignity.
To be blatantly specific, inalienable rights assert that the freedom of the individual is the trump card and that the freedom such an individual maintains is a thing called “rights” over against other forces which might attempt to impose strictures on them. The problem with such thinking is not merely the idealisms that do not translate into reality, but the fact that such a view of “rights” cannot help but undermine what the church claims about the reality Jesus makes possible.
To be a creature means to be in communion both with The Triune God and all other creatures. The communion which we share in is not based on dignifying rights, it is based in and through the internal life of the Trinity and such dignity as sharing in the Triune life grants to all other things through the continued act of creation and sustenance. The dignity of Humans then is a matter of creaturely and rightly theological understanding far more than a matter of rights and contracts and impositions and misuses of natural law.
If we are to be Christians, then let us be Christians and reject inalienable rights in favor of a communion based understanding of the dignity of humans. When it comes to legal theory, I am not saying that Christian lawyers and politicians and law makers must rewrite the entire government of this country, that’s ridiculous. What I am saying is that insofar as it is possible to approach the world they find themselves in, they must keep communion and the sacraments in mind, and approach these matters with the sober judgment of men and women mature in an imagination properly catechized by the faith.
Now I know that this seems a far-fetched stretch when brought back to politics, but I am not saying that American Christians must rewrite the constitution, what I am saying is that they must reject the worldview present in the constitution if they are to maintain a view of human dignity that is specifically Christian. If we are to be Christians at all, we must be Christians first.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident” is simply another way of saying “There does not need to be any revelation in order for humanity to exist and have freedom.” “Endowed with inalienable rights” is simply another way of saying “We understand that all life is always competitive in nature and there is no resolution aside from Darwinian social policies.”
These are no basis for a true and full dignity of the creature which is the right and domain of the Church to declare. And She has spoken:
“The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God.” -Catechism. 1994, Part One, 27.