Human Responsibility

One of the main reasons for the tension between traditional Christians and progressives lies in our differing conception of the individual.

For the Christian a human being is the highest point of creation, a little lower than the angels, made of the dust of the earth but also in the image of God. Part of creation but alone in the midst of creation we have a direct relationship with God.

That means love. We are made in the image of the God who describes Himself as love. There can be no love where there is coercion, genuine love demands freedom. The individual human being is created a freely responsible actor.

For the progressive man is part of creation, distinguishable from his fellow animals on grounds of intelligence. For Peter Singer professor of Bioethics at Princeton this leads to the logical conclusion that to prefer or to promote the needs of humans before that of other animals is specism. Humans are just part of the animal kingdom.

The traditional Christian accords the individual the respect of acknowledging his or her personal responsibility for the choices made in life; the progressive in reducing the responsible status of humanity introduces a form of dogmatic determinism which denies freedom of will in an effort to excuse moral lapses.

This determinism attempts to redefine the moral consequences of actions as non-causal outcomes which have happened without the moral agency of the individual.

Patterns of behaviour such as drunkenness and drug abuse are removed from the realm of moral decision making and understood in terms of reaction to external pressures. Thus crime is seen as a “consequence” of poverty or of oppressive social structures. Whilst social structures may be contributory factors in sinful behaviour to emphasise them, as we increasingly do, to the exclusion of personal responsibility is to devalue the human actor.

When Michael Douglas blamed his desire to fornicate with as many women as possible on his “sex-addiction,” he was denying personal responsibility and devaluing his own humanity. He portrayed himself as the helpless victim of some form of society borne virus which arrived outside himself in order to diminish personal fault from the understanding of his activities. He was a victim not an actor. Of course the last statement may well be true in another sense but I merely wish to indicate that by playing the victim card he devalued himself.

If this was restricted to Hollywood it would be of interest only to those who sadly imagine that film actors are important. Unfortunately this attitude has serious consequences. The approach that the individual should take responsibility and say “No” to temptation has lost credence. We are all Oscar Wilde who claimed he could resist everything but temptation.

Education authorities have been known to reject a stress on chastity during sex-education classes on the grounds that abstinence defies nature and is therefore unrealistic. The ability to fulfil one’s personality must not be infringed. For some the suggestion that self-control be a major item in the school curriculum is a something to be condemned with derision.

Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that in all this there is a hefty dose of self-interest in the stance of the trendy progressive? The fatalism of seeing ourselves as helpless victims of forces beyond our control places us at the mercy of the ‘experts’ who assure us that unless we have their help we truly are powerless before drives we cannot resist.

The traditional Christian sees the individual as a responsible decision maker who must, as much as possible, be left to make his or her own decisions. The progressive sees the individual as a component part of society whose decisions are shaped by society and who should be guided by the powers within society.

Christians believe that humans are responsible grown ups; progressives that humans are irresponsible children who need the guidance of those who are wiser and more responsible, namely themselves.


2 thoughts on “Human Responsibility

  1. Hi Campbell,

    While my theological knowledge is limited, I wonder if this isn’t two sides of the same coin?

    Christianity has the concept of “original sin”, the main point of which I believe is that while man has personal responsiblity and freedom to think and act, he is essentially flawed, and therefore requires guidance to keep him on the straight and narrow. Reality would certainly bear this out – so far, so good.

    I wonder if the diminished responsibility advocated by progressives is in itself a flawed implementation of this concept? It doesn’t take a huge leap of illogic to go from the concept of original sin to “It’s just our bringin’ upke that gets us out of hand.” The difference being that the former empowers us to make change for the better, whereas the latter gives justification to persistance of negative activities.

  2. The difference, I believe, lies in the origin of our flaws. A crucial question in determining one’s standpoint on most socials issues is: Do you believe in original sin, or original virtue?

    The Christian believes in original sin. We by our rebellion introduced sin into a good creation, this is not only the condition in which we are born but something which we re-enact every day. We are natural born rebels, born flawed in every aspect. However, with God’s help we can change, take responsibility and live lives which fulfil our purpose. Original sin elevates the responsible individual, the way to improve man’s lot is to change man.

    The progressive holds that we are born good but are corrupted by society. As Rousseu said “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.” And as Marx told us we have nothing to lose but our chains.The progressive believes that only with the help of society can we change our course. Original virtue elevates the social environment, the way to improve man’s lot is to change society.

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