The need for serious philosophical anthropology

John Paul II begins his truly brilliant work ‘The Theology of the Body’ with this assertion (paraphrased) – ‘Before we can possibly understand God we must understand man’.  This is not to say that all there is to say about God is what we can say about man, but it is to press the point that we are made in God’s image.

Novack makes a similar assertion in his new book ‘No One Sees God’.  

‘If you make mistakes about your own nature, you will make as many mistakes about God, and quite properly then reject what your inquiries put before you.  The God you will fantasize will appear to you not very great, a delusion or a snare from which others ought to be freed.  You will despise this God.’

I wholeheartedly agree that anthropology is central to inquiry about everything else, including God (I would also include ethics).  Before we argue about God, we should argue about man.  If you think we don’t know anything other than matter, then you will likely think that you are also only material.  If you don’t think the life of a human person involves teleological striving, then you likely won’t imagine the possibility of discoverable meaning.  

This will sound like a strange thing to say, but sometimes I think we worry about God too much.  We would be better served to worry more about man.  I try to do this in my Intro class, it is essentially a class on human nature.  So, theists and atheists alike – do yourself a favor and take a break from ‘God-talk’ and talk about the human experience.  Read books that can facilitate this (Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos is highly recommended).  Think about language, meaning, relationships, love and sex.

Yes, sex.  Notice that the issue of sex here is central to questions about man, and so also for questions about God.  Hitchens argues that religion comes from a ‘dangerous sexual repression’.  If he thinks that human sexuality and its meaning is central to an adequate anthropology and an adequate theology, then he concurs with JPII.  The the central thesis of JPII’s ‘Theology of the Body’ is that man can only understand himself fully as gift, and that we image/iconize the Trinity most clearly in the loving and reciprocated gift of oneself in sexual intercourse!  (An argument, I might add, that does not sound sexually repressed!)

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About Kleiner

Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

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