Human dignity is a central consideration of Protestantism and Catholicism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists the "dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God." "All human beings," says the Church, "in as much as they are created in the image of God, have the dignity of a person." The catechism says, "The right to the exercise of freedom belongs to everyone because it is inseparable from his or her dignity as a human person." The Catholic Church's view of human dignity is like Kant's insofar as it springs from human agency and free will, with the further understanding that free will in turn springs from human creation in the image of God.
Human dignity, or kevod ha-beriyot, is also a central consideration of Judaism. Talmud cautions against public charity to avoid offending the dignity of the recipient. Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides in his codification of Halakha cautioned judges to preserve the self-respect of people who came before them: "Let not human dignity be light in his eyes; for the respect due to man supersedes a negative rabbinical command".
An Islamic view of dignity was set out by Mohammad-Ali Taskhiri, head of the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization in Iran, in 1994. According to Taskhiri, dignity is a state to which all humans have equal potential, but which can only be actualized by living a religious life pleasing to the eyes of God. This is in keeping with the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that "True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such [basic human] dignity along the path to human perfection.
Created in the image of God....one of the significant tenets of both Christianity and Judaism and apparently central to the words of Muslim teachings.
When it comes to human interractions, whether motivated by political or economic considerations, there seems to be a damn the consequences of any actions that will generate "victory" as we see it.
Are we a species who routinely mouths platitudes of high sounding rhetoric, while we blithely go about our destructive, vicious and low-reaching actions and attitudes? Sometimes it seems to be so.
Human dignity is often called out when human rights violations are documented in a repressive political regime.
Human dignity is often the focus of principles in bioethics conversations about the allocation of finite medical resources to infinite medical needs.
Human dignity is at the root of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protected by a seb-set of the Canadian constitution.
Yet, one has to wonder if human dignity, a quality that, if we were to come to appreciate its fullest meaning and even fuller application to our lives, is central to the formal and informal teachings of our schools, churches, families and communities.
Are our educators focusing on the potential of the ever-expanding metaphor of individual human dignity, looking for its gift in every individual, students, peers and parents and reaping the curricular and learning waves of benefit that come from such a perspective?
Or, are they doing an excellent job of pointing out the differences between one faith community and the others, in a not-so-hidden campaign to embed a higher regard and respect for "our" faith compared with the others?
Is there not a palpable and imminent moment right now for all of us to begin to focus on the profound dignity of every human being, as a starting point, a mid-point and an end-point for all of our judgements, calculations, interpretations and associations with each other human being whose path crosses our's? This notion of individual human dignity needs the advocacy of all, the active pursuit of all, the intentional search for it by all of us, and the harvesting of the benefits of that search by each of us, individually and collectively, in order to take centre-stage in our relationships within our families, in our classrooms, in our churches, synagogues and mosques, and in our universities, corporations and political debates.
Dignity supercedes race, ethnicity, language, religion, geography, political ideology, economic status, social and political and corporate power....and by superceding all of these other qualities, human dignity could conceivably help to define our actions, attitudes and approaches to human relationships.
Once, in a discussion about the relationships between men and women, I wondered out loud if the political science department of a local university might be interested in such a subject. My partner in the conversation, an experienced lawyer, politician and man of considerable intellectual ability responded, "I really don't think that department would be interested in the subject of human relationships. They would more likely focus on political theory and the history of political theory."
While I could readily see his valid observation, I wondered how it was that such an important "file" and human relationships, of all kinds, did not constitute valid and cogent consideration by the political science department of the university.
Is human dignity merely a nice subject for religious scholars and ethicists?
Is human dignity merely a nice subject to be invoked by human rights organizations, when they note its abuse in political repressions around the world?
Or, rather, is human dignity something that we can all strive to comprehend, apply and enhance our interractions by bringing every human's fullness into the centre of our attitudinal and philosophic lenses, through which we establish our world views?
Is human dignity, albeit a somewhat vague and ill-defined notion until it is absent, when it becomes painfully obvious that it is missing, not more rather than less important in shaping our social, political, organizational and educational cultures and thereby our community foundations?
It was recently opined by Governor General, David Johnston, on CBC from Prague while attending the funeral of Vaclav Havel, that at the centre of Havel's life was the cornerstone of "human dignity" for which he life had both meaning and thereby significant loss in his passing.
It is a phrase that we would like to hear being able to be used when referencing the lives of more leaders like Vaclav Havel, and also more ordinary citizens from all ethnicities, languages, religions and educations, around the world.