In the homily about which I recently complained, Pope Francis was quoted as affirming “the infinite dignity of every human being.” There is, I will grant, a kernel of theological truth in this expression, but because this kernel is encased by a shell of fatuous grandiloquence, this truth is hard to see.
By fatuous grandiloquence, I mean all of the beads, bangles and bows of verbal vanity, all of the windy nonsense that men love to hear themselves saying because it makes them believe (mistakenly) that they possess generous and noble souls. I mean bespangled cant, and in the catalogue of bespangled cant, “the infinite dignity of every human being” surely appear on page 1.
Let’s begin with the word “dignity.” It comes from the Latin dignitas and is synonymous with worth. If someone treats you as somehow less than you are worth, you will be indignant; if you condescend to do something that is beneath your station (although not absolutely disgraceful), you have not “stood on your dignity;” if you are a person of great importance, other people will call you a dignitary (or a worthy).
These examples show us that dignitas is essential to society, for a human group devoid of dignitas is what we call a mob! They also show is that it is nonsense to say that dignity is infinite or equal, and that it is double-plus nonsense to say that it is infinite and equal.
We would all be better off if we left the word infinite to the mathematicians, for the rest of us tend to use it wrongly, and then simply to impress people. Strictly speaking, “infinite dignity” would mean dignity of a quantity and quality than which no greater dignity is possible. That, needless to say, is a heck of a lot of dignity. In fact, I’d venture to say that it as a blasphemous amount of dignity, since infinite dignity is a dignity exactly equal to the dignity of God.
Perhaps you are beginning to see where fatuous grandiloquence takes us. You start out wanting to hear yourself say fine and noble things about the wretched refuse of the earth, and before you know it you have hoisted Humanity onto the throne of God.
Of course, if every human being has infinite dignity, every human being has equal dignity, which is the same as having no dignity at all. A society of equal dignity is like a land of equal elevation—a dead level! And a society that is a dead level is not a society; it’s a mob.
You see, if we are all of equal dignity (no matter that that dignity is “infinite”), I have no reason to treat anyone as worthy, since no one has a special claim on me and I am, in any case, of infinite dignity myself. Think of a crowd of people with equal and infinite dignity trying to push their way through a narrow doorway and you will see what this fatuous grandiloquence is talking about.
And now that you mention it, if every last one of us is dignified to a degree than which no greater dignity is possible, why do we go to mass?
Now there is, as I said, a kernel of truth buried in this fatuous grandiloquence. We find this truth expressed with commendable austerity and precision in John 3:16. If people know one Bible verse, it is that one, so I won’t reproduce it here. What I will give you is a Satanic version of John 3:16, written as it would have to have been written if this fatuously grandiloquence about “the infinite dignity of every human being” were true.
For God was so awed by the splendor of Man, that he saw that he owed Man the life of his Son, not as a benefit to Man, which was impossible, but for the honor and glory of Man unto all eternity.
John 3:16 has been called the Gospel in a nutshell. The verse I have written is also the gospel in a nutshell, but in this case the gospel is Humanism.
The difference between the two is that John 3:16 (Christian version) inspires a feeling of gratitude, whereas John 3:16 (Satanic version) inspires a feeling of pride. The feeling of gratitude is based in the prior knowledge that I am not of infinite dignity, but am in fact a shifty little runt who had no reason to expect much of anything for Christmas. That’s why, when I come downstairs and (so to speak) find a shiny new bicycle under the Christmas tree, I am, like, “thanks a bunch, God.”
Now if I were a little boy who crept down the stairs on Christmas morning under the absurd delusion that, far from being a shifty runt, I was a glorious creature possessed of “infinite dignity,” I would hardly be satisfied by a bicycle. I would hardly be satisfied by anything. But then, as I began to grump with indignation, my parents would no doubt explain that all the children have infinite dignity, so none of us will be getting anything for Christmas.
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I was feeling infinitely dignified until I read your post. Thanks a lot for bursting my bubble. 🙂
Concerning John 3: 16 (AHV – Authorized Humanist Version), I have told the story before of noticing the large billboard advertising a church, off a highway in southern Oklahoma, which read in part, “Worship is our gift to God.” I should imagine one would have to be mightily convinced of his own infinite value and dignity to believe the idea that human worship of his Creator is a gift to the Almighty rather than the other way around.
But anyway, it occurs to me that if your deacon really believes in the “infinite [and equal] dignity of every human being,” he sure has a funny way of pronouncing it given that the homily seemed to attack the indignity of certain persons not recognizing the equal and infinite dignity of every human being. Or something like that.
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All that former concern over “Catholic guilt” seems like a dead language now. Catholic guilt had a lot going for it.
It is interesting how much disdain there seems to exist for man once he is born and grown. Where does the unborn child fall on the dignity scale I wonder? I also wonder how this analysis jives with man being created in God’s image and likeness. Image and likeness is not the same thing as dignity. Even if it were, I suppose the dignity of man diminished after Adam much like the dignity of an innocent child diminishes as he grows into a man.
I think you’ve put your finger on the problem. “Created in God’s image” does not entail “retaining God’s image.” Christianity minus the Fall=Humanism.
I wonder if Pope Francis is referring in some way to this original dignity.
It’s ironic that we act less and less dignified at the same time that we claim for ourselves more and more dignity. Pope Francis just reflects the zeitgeist in this respect. We say we have “infinite dignity” and comport ourselves like clowns.
I have seen it written by people who comment on the Orthosphere and its companion sites that modern people degrade themselves or treat themselves like “toilets”. But if a person had no intrinsic dignity would this really be a problem? I think it is a problem because it is an affront to this basic dignity that Christians believe everyone to have. Perhaps “infinite” is a misleading term in describing this. I’m not sure the Holy Father’s use of “infinite” was used in a relative sense but in the sense that this dignity is infinitely valuable.
St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the question is probably relevant:
(Emphasis mine, assuming the markup works).
The markup wasn’t accepted; but what I emphasized was the last sentence, “No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined.”
I think my comments must be in SPAM.
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