Unfortunately, to the extent most Christians think about anthropology at all, they reduce it to a series of propositions: We are created in God’s image; we are fallen; therefore, we should neither kill the very young (including the unborn), the sick, or the very old, nor expect much of those in-between.
That only sounds like a parody. A Christian understanding of the, to borrow a phrase from Reinhold Niebuhr, nature and destiny of man must begin, as all Christian ideas must, with what God has done in and through Jesus Christ.
Most contemporary Christian thinking about that question is as every bit as truncated as our thinking about anthropology. There’s Jesus’ birth and then there’s Good Friday, with Easter as a kind of validation of what happened on Good Friday. The 33 years in between are treated as if they were epiphenomenal—a kind of “side effect” of the Incarnation, instead of being an indispensable part of it.
That’s a shame, but because the firmest ground for solidarity lies in, as my old friend Christopher Hancock calls it, Jesus’ “continuing humanity.”
That’s right, continuing. The one who is “seated at the right hand of Father,” and upon whom has been bestowed “the name that is above every name,” is and forever will be every bit as human as you and I.
Hebrews 2 -- in fact, the entire epistle -- is largely a meditation on Jesus' continuing humanity and His solidarity with us. The author speaks of Jesus as the One to whom “God subjected the world to come,” and as authority quotes Psalm 8: “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet” -- a passage that outside of Hebrews is not associated with the Messiah but with us, good old homo sapiens.
Throughout the epistle, the author makes it clear that our destiny and Jesus’ destiny are inextricably intertwined. We are told “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.” Thus, Jesus is “not ashamed to call [us] brothers.” Indeed, it could not be otherwise since, “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” As the Cappadocian Fathers insisted, “What He did not assume He cannot heal.”
There is another sense in which we “all have one source” (ex henos pantes, “all are of one”). Despite our varied appearance, human beings are, genetically speaking, a remarkably un-diverse lot. There is probably more genetic diversity in the various groups of chimpanzees scattered through central Africa than there is in the entire human race -- all seven billion-plus of us. There is ten times more genetic diversity among fruit flies than among humans. As anthropologist Chris Stringer put it, “Relative to many other species, we’re almost clones of each other.”
This fact about what it means to be human delights me in more ways than I can count, starting with its implications for our solidarity. In a way that is not true of any other species, a single individual can represent the entirety of the race. Just as the first Adam’s trespass “led to condemnation for all men,” so the Last Adam’s “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
Similarly, when Jesus says “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me,” he is not speaking figuratively: it is Him -- or if you insist, a very close relative -- for whom you are doing these things. Likewise, if we ignore the thirsty, the immigrant (xenon, literally “alien” as in “xenophobia”), the naked, the sick, or the prisoner, we are, in as a real a sense as it gets, ignoring Jesus.
In a Christian understanding of solidarity, there are no “beggars,” only brethren. There are no “strong and productive” or “weak and useless.” There is only, as Alasdair MacIntyre has written, a “network of relationships of giving and receiving” in which what we are called “to give may be quite disproportionate to what [we] have received and . . . those to whom [we are] called upon to give may well be those from whom [we] shall receive nothing.”
What’s more, those who do the giving one day will almost certainly be on the receiving end at another time. We owe each other our best efforts because we are all in this together, whether we care to admit it or not.
Mostly not. This kind of mutual dependence and responsibility for each other goes against the grain of American thinking in more ways than I care to count. That doesn’t make any less dependent, though. It simply means that, like Nancy Kress, we can’t explain why our inescapable dependence shouldn’t cause us to lose sleep, genemods or not.
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