How We Got Here or Principles of Modern Thought: Just Being a Person

This is the final post in a series on Stephen Clark’s five principles that guide modern thought. The principles are listed below along with links to the previous posts.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”-“This principle has two common formulations. The first formulation rejects personal subordination as a sign of immaturity and incompetence…To treat adults as subordinate in anything other than a functional relationship is to treat them as a deficient person. Thus a ‘full person’ is someone who is free from personal subordination, and is subject only to the bureaucratic forms of social control used in a technological society. 

The second formulation of this principle of being a ‘full person’ grows from the ‘romantic’ reaction to a functional society. The formulation states that all human beings should be considered primarily as ‘persons,’ that is, as unique, individual centers of intentionality. To treat someone in terms of a social or a functional role is to treat that individual as an object rather than a person. For example, to treat a woman a particular way simply because she is a woman is to treat her as thing. 

The scripture also teaches that each person has value, but the ideal of treating each individual person as a ‘full person’ is not presented in the New Testament. Instead, it allows for personal subordination of adults and various social roles. In fact, one’s status as a ‘full person’ is less exalted than one’s status as a son or daughter of God or as a Christian father or a Christian mother.

This principle is trickier to grasp than the previous four. But the idea is that you are just a person. To treat someone a certain way based on role, age, ethnic identity, gender, etc. is to make them less than a real person.

There is a reason why Christians follow this principle so easily: There is an element of truth to it. As Clark says, “Each person has value.” Kindness is due to all of God’s image bearers. In a sinful, fallen world people often get abused for being a different race. Women have been treated poorly simply for being women. Abuses like these Christians should avoid. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they are humans.

However, there is no such thing as just a person. There is no “individual center of intentionality” divorced from all the other aspects of who I am. There is no me outside of my particular circumstances and relationships. I do not exist as an idea. I exist as a white, middle aged, American, male, with nine children, and one wife. If someone treated me like a black, older, African-American man they would be doing me a disservice and they would be lying about reality. To treat a woman as just a person without reference to her being female is to lie about who she is. If you treat an elderly man like he is fifteen you are lying about reality. The transgender movement is built on this idea. You are not male or female, black or white, young or old. You are just a “person.” Therefore this “person” can be male or female. This “person” can change races by trying to become more black or more white. This “person” can be fifty, but act seventeen because age does not define you. All distinctions are blurred and lost. Reality is what you make of it.

The Scriptures paint a different picture. All men bear God’s image. They are to be treated with respect and dignity. However, there are also distinctions that must be observed.  In fact, to treat a person with respect is to observe these Biblical distinctions. For example, husbands are treat their wives differently than their male friends. Why? She is a woman and she is a your wife. Respect for a seventeen year old grocery store clerk will not be the same as respect for a sixty-five year old CEO. Being kind to the single mother next door will not look the same as being kind to my grandfather. I should treat my ruling elders differently than I treat my wife. We do not get to define our existence. We do not get to say that treating me differently that others is a denial of my right to be a full person As creatures we must submit to the Creator who made us a certain way, at a certain time in history with certain obligations to those around us based on who they are.  What is ironic about the “full-person” idea is that it ultimately hurts the weak, such as women and children. In our desire to express fully our own “person hood” we trample on the weak around us.