dignity God

Jasmine, Cotton, Slavery and Dignity

6:00:00 AMMarisa Ramos

Step back into time for a minute. Let’s go back to a hot summer day in South Carolina in the year 1859. You are standing in the middle of a huge field of cotton. To your left is a large jasmine tree that is blowing its sweet scent through the wind. Far off in the distance to the right you see a nice cool creek with fresh clear water that is beckoning you to come drink from it, on account of it being so warm and humid today. You walk toward the creek and arrive at the bank then bend down to take a nice cool drink. But as you get closer to the water, almost close enough to taste it, you hear a crack and the cries of a man in pain far off in the distance.
This shocks you so much that you stop dead in that moment. You hear it again and decide to go running towards it to see what in the world could be causing this blood-curdling scream. As you get closer the image in front of you becomes clearer. You see a white slave owner whipping a black man. You are not sure why this man is being whipped; it could be that he was not doing the proper task, it could be that he was doing an extremely inefficient job, or that could be that the slave owner was angry and decided to take out on the next slave he saw. As you watch this horrendous scene unfold, you get a sick feeling deep within the pit of your stomach. You walk back to the creek thinking about what just happened and why it made you so sick inside. While reflecting on this, it occurs to you that the reason you felt sick was because of the injustice you were witnessing. Even though the man is a slave and is subject to the coercion of his master, there is no excuse for the way he is being treated. The slave is still a man and should be treated with justice.
In this instance of injustice you are motivated to an affective response of disgust and anger at this harsh mistreatment of another human person.
The affective response is engendered by the recognition of the inherent dignity  of this man as a person. On top of this dignity that man has as a person he has a further dignity in regards to man. In his book Liturgy and Personality, Dietrich von Hildebrand very simply affirms the existence of the dignity of man by way of his adoration of God: “The ultimate dignity of man consists precisely in that he can consciously adore and glorify God.” (1)
Man inherently has dignity within him that determines his worth. We recognize that man ought not to be hurt or abused because of his inherent dignity. If we take as true that man’s ultimate dignity consists in his conscious adoration of God then it would seem that an act that is contrary to the adoration of Him is diametrically opposed to our own dignity.
The act of the slave owner whipping his slave undermines the dignity of both the slave and of himself. Firstly, it undermines the dignity of the slave because the slave owner treats another human being like property which only suggests that the slave is merely an object and not with the justice and dignity that he deserves. Man is a being with inherent dignity because of his existence, an existence that is obviously different from that of a common object, so he cannot be justly treated as an object. Secondly, the slave owner greatly undermines his own dignity because his action is not in accord with the intrinsic worth of a person thus it also does not consciously adore and glorify God whatsoever. Man has an inherent dignity from simply being persons.
But if man’s dignity consists in his conscious adoration and glorification of God, if man is not glorifying the Lord is he mistreating his own dignity? Technically, yes. But does this mean that we must be constantly praying and shirking our work or always chanting or singing praise and worship music in the adoration chapel? No, for if we were to neglect our work then we would also be harming our dignity. For, we are called to glorify and adore the Lord by the vocation he calls us to.
Ultimately man’s dignity does consist in his glorification of God but this glorification of God does not only exist when man is praying. The Lord is glorified in our proper treatment of each other as coming from Him and in desiring the good for one another. For when we care for one another and treat them as they deserve by their inherent dignity each man is acting in his ultimate dignity. Man has dignity inherently as a person just by being a person but He also has dignity on top of this by his adoration of God. Thus when we treat others according to their dignity they are respected and our respect of their dignity glorifies God.

Lady Justice

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