How the New Meaning of “Dignity” Is Changing Everything

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 02/17/2016

In an article on Public Discourse, Roberta Green Ahmanson explains why our culture’s new understanding of human dignity “may well be the harbinger of a social transformation the likes of which we have not seen in the West for 1400 years”:

Dignity apparently justifies abortion, transgenderism, the redefinition of marriage, and physician-assisted suicide.

But what exactly constitutes this New Dignity? The work of George Kateb, professor emeritus at Princeton, provides a clue. In a book titled Human Dignity, Kateb writes: “Since nature has no telos, the human species is at its greatest when it breaks out of nature.” Human dignity is grounded, according to Kateb, in our ability to defy nature—to go beyond natural limitations and thereby create ourselves anew. Kateb agrees with Sartre: the freedom to “become different through an upsurge of free creativity,” which “can never be conclusively defined or delimited,” is “the philosophical anthropology that underlies human dignity.” This is the meaning of human dignity in a world with no clear origin, no purposeful end, no intrinsic meaning, and nothing real beyond matter in motion.

The New Dignity demands new positive freedoms, freedoms to—to remake our gender, to marry someone without regard to sex or the procreative potential of the union, to choose our time to die and enlist the medical profession in ending our lives, to not only abort a child developing in the womb but also to harvest his or her body parts for commercial gain. It also calls for new negative freedom, freedoms from—from all unwanted pain or discomfort, from limitations on what I can do to or with my body, from language or ideas that offend me or that challenge decisions I have made.

Dignity is no longer so much about who or what we are; it is about what our unfettered will can do, and what it can forbid others to do.

Ahmanson’s observation explains much of what’s happening today. (Remember this controversy?) She goes on to describe how the Christian view of human dignity—intrinsic human value resulting from being made in the image of God, a dignity which cannot be granted or revoked by any government—changed the world, beginning with new sexual norms that revolutionized all of society (see “Sexual Expression Is a Worldview Issue” for more on this).

This is all heading towards a very bad end because it’s based on a false foundation. We cannot remake ourselves into whatever we want to be because nature does have telos. Sooner or later, our society will lose its fight against human nature. Reality will win. And it’s likely to beat us up pretty badly in the process.