Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on defending human dignity

Here’s my first point. We remember Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn, and other men and women like them because of their moral witness. But the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it.

The philosopher Hans Jonas said that three things have distinguished human life from other animal experience since early prehistory: the tool, the image, and the grave. The tool imposes man’s knowledge and will onto nature. The image—man’s paintings and other art—projects his imagination. It implies a sense of beauty and memory, and a desire to express them. But the greatest difference between humans and other animals is the grave. Only man buries his dead. Only man knows his own mortality. And knowing that he will die, only man can ask where he came from, what his life means, and what comes after it.

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