Member Peter asks a question that deserves an answer:
Can someone please explain to me how the personalist project concludes that no other persons besides Jews and Christians have the spiritual resources to acknowledge unconditional worth in all human persons?
According to our personalism, this sense of personal existence has emerged in the encounter with the living God of Judeo-Christian revelation. It can be sustained and deepened only by continuing to live in this encounter. Those who repudiate God cannot preserve the personalist affirmation of the incomparable worth of each person, though they may for a time live by the light of a setting sun. Nietzsche understood this; he understood that, once God is dead, we are at liberty to acknowledge real worth only in a few human beings of exceptional quality and to contrast these with the vast run of deficient and misbegotten human beings, whom we are at liberty to scorn as having relatively little worth. Only Jews and Christians have the spiritual resources to acknowledge unconditional worth in all human persons.
When I first read this paragraph, I balked a little. I was afraid it bordered on fideism and sounded offensively arrogant. But the longer I sat with it, the more uncontestably true it seemed to me, and then the idea of leaving it out seemed to come from fear and false modesty (which is arrogance in disguise.) So, it stayed in.
Does anyone want to dispute it? If so, on what grounds? Is it not true that personalism, in the sense we use the term here, emerged, as a matter of historical record, in the encounter with the living God of Judeo-Christian revelation? The western concept of "person" came from the Christological debates of the early Church, and developed in and through the theological, philosophical and legal traditions of Christendom.
Does any other religion have anything that compares to it, either in their doctrines or the legal tradition of their societies?
And while individuals who are not Jews or Christians (having benefitted from Revelation nonetheless) may grant the truth of such claims as
- Every person is absolutely unique and of incomparable worth and value
- A person is an end in himself, never to be used as a mere means
- A person is created for his own sake, and in such a way that he can only fulfill himself by making a sincere gift of himself in love
they will have difficulty justifying and sustaining those claims conceptually, without granting such things as the existence of an Absolute Being who is a Person in whose image we are made.
It should be clear to anyone who attends a little to the underlying metaphysics that only absolute being can ground moral absolutes. Likewise, "Personhood" is what is known in philosophy as a "pure perfection", viz, the kind—like Beauty and Justice and Love—that belongs by its essence to the Absolute Being. Love, by its essence is interpersonal.
And then there is moral experience. In the experience of conscience, for instance, we find, as Newman shows, not just Law, but a Lawgiver. We find that the roots of our being as persons are mysteriously not in ourselves, but beyond ourselves. We find that the way of life we are meant to live as persons is beyond our power. We find that we only fully flourish as persons when we live in conscious relation to God. And we find all this confirmed in the witness of the saints, as well as countless negative examples of the moral effects of the rejection of God. It evidently leads, inexorably, to contempt for individual persons. (Where is the atheistic society that embodies respect for individual rights?)
I am being horribly piecemeal and cursory, I realize. But that's the benefit of blogging, isn't it? We can be piecemeal and cursory and still say something that might be helpful to someone, somewhere, or that at least might serve to get a conversation off the ground.