If you had to come up with an interesting discussion topic for a church to offer to the community, what would you chose?
A pretty good one might be: 'What does it mean to be human?' which just happens to be the title of a new series which began today on Radio 2, with the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, as first speaker being interviewed by Jeremy Vine in the lunchtime slot. It's a captivating topic and straight away we were pitched into a dichotomy between theocentric and anthropocentric views of humanity.
Jonathan Sacks, of course, maintained a theocentric view of what it means to be human. For him, reflecting on the Holocaust, when humans attempt to be more than human (mini gods, with the power of life and death), they end up being less than human. It's Genesis 1 all over again. However, the Judeo-Christian ethic held out the possibility of repentance and forgiveness, even to the worst offender. For him, the ultimate test of being human was asking 'can we see the trace of God in the face of the other?' He was asked did he think that when people succumb to their worst side, they just bring out the evil within? He rejected that, saying that humans were intrinsically good; 'evil' being the sum of their bad choices, which sometimes lead to the unimaginable suffering of others. He distanced himself from original sin in this, not that he mentioned Augustine, but I imagine that what what was on his mind.
Whether we think that people are by definition capable of evil, or whether evil is the result of bad choices, the Chief Rabbi's view was firmly that the divine spark was at the centre of our humanity - we are made in the image of God. Jeremy Vine gently suggested that in saying this he immediately alienated a large number of listeners who would have the human race at the centre of their own universe. But God is not an idea, if you're a practising Jew; He is the source and end of all being.
It's not often you hear God brought into the 'secular' debate on existence; not often you hear someone with such deep yet gentle conviction. God was not a soapbox to get up onto, nor a struggling being who needs constant defending, but instead, it seemed, a deep and steady knowledge of being loved and held, even through the valley of the shadow of death, quoting the 23rd Psalm as Lord Sacks did.
Which is why what it means to be human will always bring up the clash of worldviews. Either we find our full humanity in the Godhead or we are the masters of our own destiny, mini Renaissance men and women who have done away with 'the idea of God' and who will sort out our own mess, if we don't consume ourselves first. I wouldn't hold out much hope for the latter position, despite knowing some of the nicest atheists...