What It Means to Be Human

The human being is the most complex and fascinating phenomenon ever created. All people of knowledge from philosophers, to scientists, sociologists etc. have attempted to come up with propositions capable of summarizing the human being. Some have provided propositions that destroy the very dignity of the human person. Others have come up with more or less acceptable view. I call their view acceptable because they have sustained the test of time and debates in the philosophical arena.
Here, I want to consider Aristotle’s view of the human person, which deals with basics of what a human being is, but lacks what makes us great; and I want to express one of the elements that make us stand apart from all other beings.
In the De Anima, Aristotle argues that the human person is a composite of body and soul. For him, the body cannot be separated from the soul in the same way form cannot be separated from matter. The soul, as he conceives it, is the substantial form of the body; by this, he means that it needs the body for its subsistence, but it is not a body. It is what makes a human being a human being in the same way the ability to cut is what makes an axe an axe, sight is what makes an eye an eye, so the soul is makes a human being what he/she is.
It is noteworthy to mention that the telos of Aristotle in studying the soul is not because he believes that it has some value beyond this life; he is studying it because he believes that it is something fascinating as any philosophical concept. Knowing what something is tells us what it can do. As a result, he defines it as the first actuality of a natural body that potentially has life.
Due to this understanding, he maintains that anything that has life has also a soul. So plants have nutritive soul- meaning the can take in food and so grow; animals have perceptive/sensitive soul, which means that they can do what plants do, and they can also sense and reproduce. Human beings, according to his view, have a rational/intellective soul which is unique to them. Humans have the capacity to do what both plants and animals do, but more importantly, he/she has the capacity to reason. Due to that capacity, human can strive toward a higher telos (end).
How does the body communicate with each other as we observe it? Unlike most thinkers, Aristotle differs between the mind and the soul. The mind is part of the body and so is a physical thing while the soul is an immaterial, non spatial thing that acts in a physical thing (the mind). So the soul interacts with the body by means of the mind. The soul acts on the mind which acts on the body, but it is unaffected by it and has nothing in common with the body. So when the body is deteriorated, the soul remains intact. The soul never gets tired doing what it does. If the mind can be weary thinking, if the body gets tired daily, the soul can never be tired exercising its activity.
A concept that Aristotle was probably never interested in, but which interests me greatly, is that the human person originates from love, by means of love, to become love, and ultimately return to love. As such, he is the only being capable of selflessly giving himself as a gift of love. Actually, love is the only requirement that a person asks of others. We are just to a person if we love him/her. This is true for God as well as human. Love, for a person, excludes the idea that he/she is being treated as object of pleasure. Here, I think Kant would strongly agree with me since he maintains that a person must always be treated as an end in his Categorical Imperative.
Thus, the way we manifest our humanity, the way we echo our identity is when we let love blossom selflessly. It’s in selfless love that we become fully human. As a consequence of this behavior and understanding, before we do anything, we must always question whether or not that elevates the human person to love more deeply and so allows him/her to flourish as a person of dignity. Moreover, the capacity to offer ourselves as a gift of love when we fully know what that involves is a testimony that we are unique and was intentionally given that capacity. It is a witness that we were created as an intrinsic end for a particular purpose. As a result, we must live in a way that bears witness to that. We are truly human when we avoid engaging in what compromises the purpose for which we were made.
So to be human means to be constantly giving ourselves as a selfless gift. In fact, every move we make in life, our cravings, restless effort to succeed, search for friendship, bonding, conviviality, and striving to know the truth and the good are done for the sake of love. Entrust your self to selfless love so we can attain the depth of human existence. Know this. That love you are seeking, the love you have a right to enjoy and should selflessly die for has a name and a face— Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross to give meaning to your life and purpose to your endeavors.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Leibniz, in his metaphysical work The Monadology, argues that this world is the most perfect of all the possible worlds. God being perfect, loving and all-knowing could not have given to us a bad world had there been any better than this one as he understands it. The classic question arising from this argument is why is there so much evil in this world if it was chosen by God? Well, simple answer, the other ones are worse than this one. So there would even be more evil had we had a different one.  That is a very depressing answer because many of us believe that the God we know and obey must be able to do better than this, so why this evil one? It seems, from this view, that God did not create the world. He only had to choose the best of many worlds. People like me believe that though the big bang happened, God was its author, and so He had control over what emerges from it. If He only had to choose from many worlds created from the big bang, it would seem that He did not monitor the big bang as we understand it.

It seems to me that that question, though it has taken many different forms over the centuries, has been a concern for many generations before us. We see that St Augustine, who was very well versed in philosophy before converted to Christianity, had tried to provide an answer to this classic question. For him, a good God could not possibly create evil. Evil could not be if good is not. “All things are good because their maker is supremely good”, he says. But in these things goodness can be increased or decreased. As he sees it, all things were created good, but when its good decreases, we call it evil. So evil is a diminution of good. Evil is corruption of the good. Though things are created good, they can be contaminated by evil/corruption. Since all things are created good, they can never be totally deprived of goodness. So no matter how evil a thing is, it has some good in it. Evil would be unable to exist if there were no good for it to exist in. I know that answer may make you edgy, but it’s a very apologetic answer that may not satisfy objections such as by what mean did the first evil/corruption enter the world since everything was originally good? Why did God, the author of all, allow the good to dwindle and so become evil? These are concerns that don’t make us comfortable with St Augustine’s very insightful answer. Keep reading!

Another way that question surfaces is through reflection from the creation story. If God is the creator of all things, God must be the author of evil. If God is not its author, where does it come from? If God is a loving, merciful God, why in the world does He need to allow or create so much evil? The way I see it is that God is not responsible for the evil in the world; we are. It’s only because we misuse our free-will that evil exists in the world. Our free-will is given so we can choose the good, but we don’t always do so. When we don’t, it has consequences. All of us have at some point misused our free-will, so we all deserve what happens to us. Does the evil that happens to us proportionate to what we do? You answer that. Is evil a consequence of sin, or does it occur even when we don’t sin? Who can say he does not sin?

The third way that question emerges is why do bad things happen to good people? The most classic and puzzling writing about this question is the book of Job. May that book be our guide in our endeavor to answer that question.

The book of Job seems to provide the most straightforward answer to the problem of evil, and why bad things happen to good people. According to the book of Job (one of the books in the Bible), there are things that transcends our understanding. So we don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Though Job deemed himself good, God actually boasts of Job’s goodness, evil almost destroys him. Job, before then, never expected evil to happen to him since he served God so well. God only allows evil to happen to Job to teach (him) a lesson. Who knows whether each one of us must not learn that lesson about life? Maybe through experiencing suffering ourselves or seeing someone suffers. Who says that suffering is not part of life’s cycle? Job’s friends attempted to convince him that he must not be as good as he thought he was. He rightly rejected that. Job maintains his integrity and uprightness despite what his friends say. He believes that his suffering is not on par with his sins. He refrains from cursing God, though his wife suggested it. Finally, God intervenes and condemns Job’s friends for acting as if they understand the way of God. He makes Job understands that there are mysteries surpassing man’s knowledge. Job repents for having spoken too arrogantly.

There is such a thing as mystery. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. It is so easy for you and I to determine whether someone is good or bad. A kind, generous, loving, peaceful person who loves God and neighbor is undoubtedly a good person. Children are undoubtedly good people. We cannot access someone’s conscious; we only judge from appearances, and so make assumptions. We assume a lot when we ask why bad things happen to good people. First, we assume as if we can really say who’s good or bad. Does not good or bad in this case depend solely on our own standard? Such assumptions kick God’s standard, whom we cannot thoroughly know, out of the equation. Secondly, we act as if we understand God’s way. He says in Isaiah 55, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts”. Thirdly, we assume that suffering is bad. Well, bad for us I know. What about God? Did Jesus not conquer the world through the most humiliating suffering? So we should stop blaming God for the way things are. It is best to say that they are that way for a good cause.

Now it is understandable these kinds of questions are asked. We are, after all, weak human beings unable to understand our own self. So it is no surprise we cannot crack open the mysteries of God. Shall we say then evil happen or sufferings are the cause of our own condition, or our innocent loved ones suffer because  of our own wretchedness?

From a purely secular viewpoint, suffering is a curse hampering us from living life to the full. However, only when looked at from a religious’ perspective does it make sense. Only when we add God in the picture is suffering bearable. Only then is there a reason to suffer. Without the cross our suffering would be meaningless. There would be no reason to endure it. It is no surprise the unbeliever committed suicide as soon as the doctor says his illness is incurable. The believer, though he may not know the reason for his particular suffering, knows it is a good one and can make use of his suffering and be transformed by prayer. More importantly, the God the sufferer is calling upon is not a distant God who does not know what suffering entails. He went through it himself and so is capable of helping those who are undergoing similar things.