Human Dignity in Catholic Tradition


[Music] The concept of Human Dignity is a core principle of Catholic social thought. Dignity recognizes the collective needs, conditions,
and experiences that all persons require to flourish, to lead a genuinely human life,
and to envision a common good. It encompasses shared values such as respect
for life, freedom, solidarity, equality and justice. Human Dignity is not just a religious standard;
it also figures prominently in cross-cultural discourse about human rights, law, international
development, and more. Respect for and protection of the dignity
of all people lies at the heart of the common good. Dignity has a four-fold meaning in Catholic
tradition: it is an affirmation of inherent human worth, a consequence of choices and
circumstances, a moral measure; and a shorthand for Christian beliefs and attitudes about
the human person. First Affirmation. Human beings have inherent dignity, and they
have it universally and irrevocably by virtue of being human and a child of God. Everyone and anyone has dignity and is worthy
of respect. Secondly, dignity is a quality of life linked
to the consequences of behavior. How we choose to live our lives can either
diminish or enhance our dignity. So, even though dignity is inherent, a person
may not be living in a manner that is consistent with their inherent dignity. Third, dignity is a moral measure to evaluate
how actions, relationships, institutions and social conditions align with or violate our
own dignity, and the dignity of others, particularly those who are the most socially vulnerable. Finally, as a concept, human dignity provides
a shorthand for a range of Christian beliefs and attitudes. Such as the affirmation that our embodiment
is good and morally significant and that we are social creatures meant to be together
in a community. The principle of human dignity has religious,
as well as ethical, legal and political foundations. Human dignity figures prominently in Catholic
moral reflection on health care, sexual ethics, criminal justice, immigration, the economy,
and other moral matters. It is also the foundation of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations after World
War 2, this statement asserts that all people of all nations have fundamental rights and
freedoms, such as the right to fair employment, education, housing and health care; freedom
of religion; and equal protection under the law. While the concept of human dignity is used
across professions and around the globe, some critics find it too vague and too malleable
to be truly helpful when it comes to making moral, political and policy decisions. Others say the concept of human dignity is
too closely connected with Christian or Western belief systems and doesn’t take other ideas
and perspectives into account. Using it to guide policies on international
law or economic development amounts to the imposition of select religious and cultural
values on entire populations whose own world views are different. However, our shared humanity should not be
underestimated. Even with our differences, we human beings
do share significant needs (like food and shelter), capacities (like communication and
creativity), and experiences (like aging and friendship). And in Catholic teaching, this shared humanity
can inform our moral commitment to value every one. Our dignity is only fully realized and enjoyed
in the common good in a community where all persons flourish. Because of this interdependence, violations
of dignity not only affect those who suffer them, but also those who inflict the suffering. Human Dignity, an important element in Catholic
teaching and practice, is not simply a set of guidelines about human worth or a statement
of what a human is. It is a bridge to other faith traditions and
secular efforts for making moral decisions. And, it is a commitment to preserve, defend,
and advocate for the equality and flourishing of all human beings. [Music]

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