On Creating Humanity

We are dying. Death is a "brute fact," the irreducible, undeniable, an absolute experience: the body dies. As was explained in a prior generation: It comes to us all . This should provoke thinking. Indeed, in shock from the cataclysmic Twentieth Century War that saw tens of millions die either directly from the war or as a result of the ideologies of the parties involved, Martin Heidegger asserted The most thought provoking question of this thought provoking time is 'why we are not yet thinking'.[1] The philosophical presumption behind the question is that by thinking, in some fashion, "humanity" is found, or discovered, or created, or resolved into nothingness.

"Humanity" is a second order construct, an artifact of recursive definition. Moreover, it is a attribute, a property, and not a class, a thing. The sentence "X is a member of humanity" lacks intelligibility the way "X is a human being" has clear and direct understandability. The ability to form such a notion may be a special characteristic of our race; we cannot know, nor is it important to know, if foxes carry about a notion of "foxiness."

As an attribute, the notion "humanity" is scalar; one can be more or less humane, more or less having those qualities identifiable with being a human. One hears this in the prayers epitomizing scripture: I am a worm, not a man, a beast, indeed, worse than a beast. Predication of fundamental attributes to existential classes is rarely a conscious activity. Some argue it is a shared social construction into which individuals enter, and in which they may, or may not, choose to participate. Arguments over the validity of attribute predication rest behind some of the social-logic issues of the past few centuries, such as gender identity (arguing that there is a nonconformity between biologic sex and self-identity attributes) and feminism (arguing that identity attributes is reducible to sex and that the properties commonly associated with the general notion of humanity need to be engendered: e.g. the assertion that female spirituality must be differentiated from male spirituality, and is in some certain essential sense is a non-overlapping condition. There is a fundamental sense in which this approach is makes common argument with those found in cannibalistic societies in which ethical taboos against eating humans are side stepped by defining non-tribe members and enemies as not fully-human or otherwise qualifying the constraint to a preferred class.

The value of the constructivist approach is that mathematical, useful, fractical models can be constructed by dividing numerators by zero, by imaginary numbers. However, fractals are irrational constructs[2] that are beyond evaluation within given axioms. In such cases, a valid question is whether assumed set of axioms are sufficiently rich as to describe the universe of problems, whether an alternative set of axioms would produce a rational, that is more a naturalistic model.

Death, as brute fact of life, cannot be left untested by the model. The constructivist approach to characterizing humanity is not death-facing and as such is disembodied from reality. There is no more difference between male death and female death. Indeed, from a materialist perspective, there is no difference between the death of human and a wombat: life is ripped from the body, the body evacuates dirt, bacteria overwhelm, and, perhaps, for a length of time the hard mineral deposits remain as witnesses to what once was.

The existential validity of the concept of humanity is not reducible in the way that modern constructivist theories would wish, a broader investigation is needed. World cultural history provides artifacts that attempt describe humanity. Inspection of these artifacts allows them to be classified in one of four ways: ethical approaches, cultural approaches, societal approaches, and creation approaches. Ethical approaches associated with philosophical inquiry have general appeal and utility but founder on the logical of the limit of the infinite as "thought horizons" (to refer again to Heidegger's analysis). Cultural approaches bind the attribute class human to either a cultural syntax, often reflected in a cultural legalism of clean and unclean, harmonious/non-harmonious/or an ancestral system. An example of societal approaches are exemplified above.

For two centuries, the death-facing attitude of nihilism has enjoyed popularity, in part due to its hedonic approach to ethics: personal demands create personal values that can be actualized by a will to power. Ultimately, this resolves to the solipsism of "art for art sake;" a novelty that rejects communication as value in expressive acts. As solipsistic, the semiotics of expressive acts is subject to deconstruction, in which any ego is a valid hermeneutic authority, a generalization of sola scriptura. As a death-facing strategy, nihilism, in at least some, philosophically constrained forms, validates suicide or other death-embracing actions. Justifications for suicide based on terminal illness and abortion based on economic implications are examples of a nihilistically rooted construction of humanity.

Orthodox Christianity offers a distinctive, if somewhat radical, death-facing approach to humanity. The attribute humanity is a sacred gift that adheres to our condition that does not arise out of the fact of the body, not out of its functionality or distinctness ascertainable by five senses and time perception, but as an ontological mater-of-factness rooted in our participation in an ontological groundwork that is deeper than substances sensuously presented, an ultra-substantial real. Note that this is not a Neo-Platonic realm, but a gift out of ultra-real into the ordinary created order. Humanity is not an idea or form but an attribute given as a capacity for virtuous expression.

Conceptually, the attribute "humanity" is an operational condition appropriate to persons, that is a person may exercise or exhibit their capacity to express more or less humanity. As a capacity, however, not a faculty, talent, or agency, humanity is essentially receptive. Humanity is developed through receptivity to, and hence participation in, the energies of God. [3]

The fruit of humanity is expressed naturally in the form of virtues, of which there are three cardinal forms: love, hope, faith. Expanded taxonomies of virtues are well-developed, meekness, patience, kindness, long-suffering, mercy, respect, sobriety, self-control, courage, honesty, single-mindedness, trustworthiness, and so forth. Each of these is equally accessible, each universally recognizable, and, when taken as a matrix, provide a general description of the semantic domain for the concept of humanity.

Inwardly, living toward God, participation in the hidden divine life, the ocean of love; outwardly, the heart having been softened, the humanity of the individual's is created, their human nature fulfilled in life. Theologically, this is evident in the glorious (doxological) in the life of the Mother of God, She whose receptivity to divine love resulted in Incarnation of God as existentially authentic humanity. Through Her, God made rational humanity corrupted by the irrationality of sin, the self-imagined reality of dark matter and the power needed to manipulate material form to fulfill the solipsistic agendas when reality shows all on the verge of death.

The complexity of this description can be simplified to two, inter-dependent instructions: love God, love neighbor. If one is to face death squarely, honestly, one must love; indeed, the more profoundly one love's the more clearly death is faced. In love, there is no aloneness, even in facing the advent of mortality. Spouses separated by measurable distances are connected profoundly by love, expressing it in many forms. That connectedness is created out of suffering and struggle, out of acquiring and practicing virtues toward each other, not romanticism. It is no different for those living in singleness. Whereas spouses approach God through loving each other, singles approach others through loving God. Either way the commandment is lived, death defeated by the gaze of God, humanity created.

Many contemporary shibboleths have been touched upon. All participate in one or more complexity one sort of rebellion, self-willed constraint, or death-attachment. These are serious issues, yet, in the end they are pseudo-problems. Each person has their own set of such problems, the discipline of asceticism provides a method for overcoming them, restoring life to sanity, it is a fundamentally joyful. Arising out of the paucity of authentic living (poor in spirit), it starts with mourning the irrational separation of the person from love, and proceeds by meekness. Of course, these are woes when attachments to the sources of their alienation are not overcome. The struggle to create humanity is the ground the spiritual life in the hypocrisy of individual daily life, abolishing the distinction is the work of a lifetime, the work of the Cross.

The more salient question is "what is ontological status of this created humanity?" Some seek the foundations of humanity as exclusively material functionalities.[4] Others[5] reject the material argument asserting either an underlying unity in which qualities are transient manifestations[6] or an existent that is over and above the material, often without the necessity excluding material functions, but explaining them. In themselves, neither perspective axiomatically overwhelms the other. The irreducibility of this dialectic derives from its axiomatic independence.[7]

The shared brute fact amongst the perspectives is death, a situation that makes it usable in testing the ontological status of humanity. Under the materialist perspective is a condition of pain and grief, life departs from the body, the individual is profoundly alone: death is the last act of individuality and with it, the power to will humanity ends, its ontological status is nil. Of those rejecting the materialist view and holding there is an ontological unity; death is no more, or less, than a reintegration, or recognition, of the extinguishability of all qualities in that which is eternal and beyond words, in this philosophy stillness is the action of fluid harmony undisturbed by ten-thousand things: stillness within natural activity. Death, life, and humanity disappear, as constructions, meaningful only for passionate and anxious persons. Humanity is realized by living consistently/harmoniously within the place of humans in the natural order. For the person, facing death is the individual is not only profoundly alone but inherently invalid, with a life of consequences, but no hope of existential (creative) value.[8]

Alternatively, there is the universal positive case to which experience testifies: the quality humanity has authentic persistence. Death need not be radical isolation of the individual. Each life has consequences that bind the living past and future to the present. Treated as a capacity for personal development through the practice of vitures, the is transformed into a bearer of humanity, becoming more humane.

The development of the capacity to be human is two-dimensional. A necessary, but not sufficient, dimension is personal, willful desire. Willful desire arises from self-suffering, anguish over ones condition and the need for the gift of life-giving mercy; softening the mental judgment, the heart becomes receptive.

For humanity to endure, however, source for sufficiency must reside outside the individual, bound to the individual it dies. To create the enduring reality of humanity love must enter the heart and become the governor of thoughts.[9] Life expressing humanity is the offspring of love entering the individual. The reality of love, as existentially other creative energy, energizes the personal capacity for humanity, and creating a life as magnification of love. Love is lived. The heart, penetrated by love, is increasingly expanded against the evils of the world. [10]

Facing death, through love compassionate mutual concern, not anxiety, is an intense outpouring of love between the person and the world. In high forms the result is unity in the truth of love, the starting point of Christian living. This evident in the Gospel: from the Cross, out His compassion, Christ commands His Most Blessed Virgin Mother and the Beloved Disciples to behold each other. Compassion for the sufferings of world; compassion for the suffer whose body is entering repose. Reciprocal engagement through compassion replaces isolation; shared grief over lost love, but not loneliness, despair, or futility. Love created companionship in death through humanity. The sting of death is conquered by the depths of love created humanity. No greater icons testify to this than those of the Extreme Humility of the Bridegroom and the Abolishion of Death as Christ Stands in Hades. In the Crucifixion Christ Jesus faced Death. In the Resurrection Jesus the Christ restored life to humanity. This is the gateway to communion, which as prayer, is the work of the people.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit for Mercy and Forgiveness

Third Bedtime Prayer

O Lord, Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth show compassion and have mercy on me Thy sinful servant, and loose me from mine unworthiness, and forgive all wherein I have sinned against Thee today as a man, and not only as a man, but even worse than a beast, my sins voluntary and involuntary, know, and unknown, whether from youth, and from evil suggestion, or whether from brazenness and despondency.

If I have sworn by thy name, or blasphemed it in my thought; or reproached anyone, or slandered anyone in my anger, or grieved anyone, or have become angry about anything; or have lied, or slept needlessly; If a beggar hath come to me and I distained him; If I have grieved my brother, or have quarreled, or have condemned anyone; or if I have been boastful, or prideful, or angry; If, as I stood at prayer, my mind hath been distracted by the wiles of this world, or by thoughts of depravity; If I have over-eaten, or have drunk excessively, or laughed frivolously; If I have thought evil, or seen the beauty of another and been wounded thereby in my heart; If I have said improper things, or derided my brother's sin when my own sins are countless; If I have been neglectful of prayer, or have done some other wrong that I do not remember, for all this and more than this have I done: Have mercy, O Master my Creator, on me Thy downcast and unworthy servant, and loose me, and remit, and forgive me, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind, so that, lustful, sinful, and wretched as I am, I may lie down and sleep and rest in peace. And I shall worship, and hymn, and glorify Thy most honorable name, together with the Father and His Only-begotten Son, now and ever, and unto the ages.


[1]Martin Heideger, What is Called Thinking?, trans. J Glenn Gray, Harper TorchBooks, ©1968, pub. 1972

[2]For a concise discussion of fractals, cf. K. J. Falconer The Geometry of Fractal Sets Cambridge University Press, ©1985

[3]cf. St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads Paulist Press, ©1983. It is human participation in the energies of God, not His essence, is the transformation in which the materialistic-centered life gives way to life lived in holiness, theosis.

[4]For especially rigorous, concise arguments W.V.O. Quine on mathematical foundations and semantics, especially, From a Logical Point of View, second edition, Harvard University Press/Harper TourchBook, ©1963.

[5]In addition to the positivist-materialist position, represented by Quine, there is a previously discussed existential-nihilistic materialism.

[6]Exquisitely, in Lao Tsu; for fleshing out these two different attitudes, see, Thomas Merton Zen and the Birds of Appetite New Directions, ©1968.

[7]Obviously, this summary domain analysis lacks nuance, however, that deficiency does not reach the issues here considered.

[8]This position is not fatalistic, but reflects the underlying logic characteristic of Chinese syllogistic in which there is a strong distinction between the categorical particular and individual. If universal major premise is true, and if minor premise is true, and if particular attribute is a valid inference class, then the judgment necessarily is constrained to testing whether any given individual is a member of the class described by the particular case. There is an organic ordering of what there is. Coming to be and passing away are part of the natural order. As part of what there is, people are born and die. Emotional attachments notwithstanding, there is no authentic concern for individual death as it is part of the natural order. The appropriate course of action is to practice emotional detachment.

[9]cf. Ana Smiljanic, translator, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitonvica St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, ©2009

[10]cf. Archimandrite Zacharias, The Enlargement of the Heart, Mount Thabor Publishing, ©2006