My friend and fellow intellectual, John-Mark Hart, wrote a great piece titled, “God’s New Humanity” that got me to thinking about it means to be human and what it could mean. In his post, John-Mark writes that the goal of Christianity is not just to “be saved” but to become something new entirely, to transcend the very nature of man to become something that I will call “Fully Human” (I have touched on this idea in previous posts, which I will list at the bottom).
To break this idea down, perhaps it would be best to think through what it means to be human in the “traditional” sense (understanding, of course, that even this is contextually constrained by place, time, age, gender, ethnicity, etc.). To be functionally human physiologically is to be the homo erectus, the “upright man” who has to have certain needs met: food, water, shelter, safety, relationship, etc. This is being human at its base level.
The problem, as I see it, is that we do not strive for much more than that. Rather than transcending these needs, we sit on them and glorify them to the point of near madness. We need food, so we glorify this need by all-you-can-eat buffets, out of control portion sizes, fast food chains, processed foods, etc. We need shelter, so we glorify this need by building larger homes, moving into more exclusive neighborhoods, creating zip code inequity by putting great space between the “haves” and “have-nots”, etc. We need relationship, so we glorify this need by creating an infinite (quite literally) number of “friends” with whom we only engage through clicks, texts, and likes.
As you can see, these base needs are met, but not transcended, and certainly not made new. We are well-dressed, sophisticated, intelligent, cultured, well-meaning versions of the homo erectus, making our biggest decisions around our base needs at the expense of being “Fully Human” (an example of this that I see quite often is moving across the country to take a job to make more money to buy more stuff at the expense of planting and growing roots in one community for the long haul, often cutting off one’s family tree to do so).
We are caterpillars moving through life unaware that we were meant to be butterflies. Or, to borrow from Soren Kierkegaard, we are ducks who waddle through life, looking up at the sky in envy, unaware that our wings can actually get us there. Or, to borrow from Margery Williams, we are velveteen rabbits unaware that we can one day become rabbits with real fur and whiskers. Or, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, we are tin men, unaware that we can become real men of flesh and blood.
And that is the real rub, because to become “Fully Human” only comes about in one way for the caterpillar, the velveteen rabbit or the tin man…death to the former state of being. To move from “merely human” to “Fully Human” requires death to our very real needs, to our very real rational self-interest, to our very real way of seeing ourselves and our way of being in this world. Plus, it is so daggone hard to put off the “old man” and put on the “new”! It is so costly to turn tin into flesh, especially in a culture that glorifies the glamor of the “Tin Man”.
That is perhaps the greatest reason why I choose to follow the Deeper Magic of Christianity–it seems to be the only great religion or philosophy that makes this demand and this promise: “”If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24. See also John 3:1-21). That so few of us ever actually do this is no excuse to toss out the whole thing. It is, after all, a great conflict of interest to ask your followers to die splayed out, naked, beaten bloody, humiliated, ruined beyond all repair and then promise that that is the very way (perhaps the only way) to become “Fully Human”.
And yet, at least in my own life, I have found that being my own god brings nothing but pain, heartache, and regret. I make a terrible god. To be wise, to be virtuous, to be compassionate is beyond my efforts, and believe me, I have tried! In fact, my greatest moral failures have come not in the midst of great depravity or in some “dark place,” but when I have struggled to be “good”.
So what, then, does this new vision of Humanity look like?
From what I can gather, it is clothed in the scars of humility, spent in splayed compassion, reckless in humility, broken on behalf of the “other,” wise in sacrifice, noble in suffering. It seems to think nothing of itself (indeed, it seems to care little for the hungers and cravings we so often glorify). It is possessed of self-mastery, caring more for “root and fruit” than “power and profit”. It is wealthy in covenantal relationships and would agree with Confucius that “What makes a place beautiful is the humanity that dwells there”. Such a vision of Humanity worships Love and not Mammon, encourages virtue and not vice among its citizens, and works tirelessly to make all things new.
**I look forward to your thoughts on being “Fully Human” in the comments section below!