Human Being

Day 1 (David Jenkins)

To get back to basics about human beings, what way would you go? Religion and philosophy would both find disagreements; the sciences provide a map of our basic make-up, evolved from the space-time continuum -- back to basics in an agreed sense. Only some of us can operate efficiently in these disciplines, but all agree the sciences are reasonably based in reality -- we are convinced by the practical results of this reasoning. By understanding these processes, we find we have freedom to make choice to influence us and other things - long discussed but coming into sharper relief -- for example choice of genetic makeup of offspring -- but how do we choose?

A basic thing: we shape ourselves, and each other. We are all members one of another, and have consequent responsibilities. We are part of the basic stuff of the universe.

As individual persons in the numbers game of space-time, we are statistically insignificant. But we have found we have consciousness and the ability to make choices. What then is basic to us, through Human Being? One unique feature of us all is our capacity for conscious foresight, which selfish genes do not have. They just evolve to an outcome - possibly including disinterested altruism -- We alone on earth can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.

We find ourselves confronted with our own uniqueness and responsibility. We know we are a problem to ourselves and each other -- we have evolved consciousness and freedom -- are we an evolutionary contradiction in terms?

We have made problems, such as the car, with our growth system. This system makes some people very rich, and others much poorer. As the economy improves, more are left out of it. These signs of our evolutionary contradictions are manifested in measurable things such as forest destruction, but also in something less measurable: ``is it worth it?'' Consider reports on ``executive stress'' which looks more like an addiction than an attraction. The process requires a constant stream of losers and victims. The system seems to prevent the making of space. We seemed to have developed systems of survival which appear to be necessary and inevitable, but at the same time destroy any possibility of enjoyment for the survivors -- even in our internal worlds.

Humans have refused to let things be -- we are natural explorers. However total scientific explanations become, we are unfinished -- we are on a pilgrimage from which science, art, philosophy, religion and politics have arisen. Maybe there is nothing in it, but this maybe cannot be explained by analyzing us back to our origins?

So how can we get back to the basics of human being? How are we more than our origins? Is it worth it to look? It is accepted that the value of each having our internal worlds is that we matter to ourselves -- and so we should matter to each other.

Can my need for self-fulfilment as I see it override social considerations -- are individual autonomous decisions the basic determinant of our behaviour?

For example, what are we to judge of the wealthy west concentrating on fertility treatments for a few while ignoring third-world problems? -- while the individuals need to seek their own self-fulfilment. Can the market solve this? But it brings the problems of increased production.

The search for the basics does not seem to produce satisfying sustainable answers; science and economics fall short.

People's approaches to religion, philosophy, and aesthetics are diverse, but the concerns are common - as are science and technology. We have the paradox of living in one world, but are increasingly pluralistic, fragmented, and opposed.

So will we get anywhere by going back to basics? Do we need to look for a uniting future rather than a united set of basics? Look out instead of in -- a Who who lies beyond -- or are we accidents of evolution, or created beings evolving towards the image of God? Any Christian mission will attempt to give and elaborate an answer -- including that God sustains an attempt to communicate with us. We are not totally determined by the limitations of our consciousness -- God is in contact with us as we reach out and reach in.

We believe that a central clue to the ongoing approach of God is in the sending of Jesus, underwriting God's continuing interest in this world. We open ourselves up, and invite others to open up, to the amazing possibility of that we have reached the point where God can reach down to us and fulfilling our aspirations; selfish struggles become simple sharing. We say: ``Existence is not a problem, but an invitation.''

God is there to surprise us all, care for us all, and take us beyond.

God is as he is in Jesus: patient and persevering, known as the shaping of shared being, the rescuing of wrong-being so all can share in the excitement of being. How does the Gospel engage with our apparent evolutionary contradictions? In our global village? As we are all in process, whether seen from science or economics or the Christian pilgrimage, any attempt to get back to basics is looking in the wrong directions -- propaganda escapism. How can we find a converging and collaborative way of moving toward a worthwhile future?

We must strive to maintain the vision of all of us as being on the way to the image of God -- to treat all people as ends not means. Cost-effectiveness must be subordinated to treating people as mattering. Most are in danger of being treated a means of efficient production or use of money.

The accompanying vision is that our world is a creation to be maintained, not an infinite quarry. These are issues of looking forward. Part of mission is to link these issues to the reality of our situation.

Questions, day 1

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Last modified: Thu Dec 16 14:53:28 GMT 2004