Sometimes when I present introductory talks on Catholic Social Teaching and name some key principles, I encounter a kind of cynical “yeah, yeah, know all that, bleeding obvious’ sort of response. The principle of the dignity of the human person is not novel, and it isn’t rocket science, it’s just deeply challenging in practice.
What does it really mean to say that each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God and has an inalienable and transcendent dignity, and that all persons are equal in dignity and rights?
Yesterday I was struck by two examples.
In an article for Eureka Street, Andy Hamilton addressed criticism of his choice of topics and language. Andy’s writing often defends the dignity of marignalised and even vilified people, and he writes in ‘public language’ rather than religious terminology. That so many of us find it confronting to hear a priest speak of a need to respect the human dignity of a notorious criminal, or of asylum seekers, should alert us to the possibility that in practice we tend to operate out of a presumption that some people are ‘more equal’ than others. As Andy said, “To insist on the dignity of those most disregarded in our society is a thoroughly Catholic thing to do. Those who endorse Catholic teaching on sexuality and on the value of human life should rejoice when they see such insistence. Human dignity is seamless, and conversation about any aspect of it opens out to other aspects.”
Community service workers were marching in the street yesterday for equal pay for work of equal value. This important work is highly feminised and seriously underpaid. What does this say about our attitudes to the dignity and worth of those who require care and access to community services? What does it say about how we value the dignity and contribution of women compared with that of men?
The principle of human dignity: bleeding obvious and bloody hard to live up to!
© Sandie Cornish, June 2010.