, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I think, therefore I am


Richard Dawkins at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

One of the unfortunate inheritances we received from Descartes is the notion that the whole summation of our identity can be defined by “I think, therefore I am.” Thus we arrive centuries later living in a time when those with thinking disabilities, developmental disabilities, and the aged with dementia and Alzheimer’s are considered less human, or less than human, thus so much more easily expendable.

Angry atheists like Professor Richard Dawkins speak to eugenics with dispassionate simple logic as a means to eliminate his less-thinking human cousins.

In a letter to the editor of the Sunday Herald (Scotland), Dawkins says that, while one would not want to be seen agreeing with Hitler, eugenics can be practical and desirable. He writes that, ‘if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?’

… Responding to a woman who said that she would face a real ethical dilemma if she became pregnant with a baby with Down’s syndrome, his advice was thus: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

One wonders how slippery is the slope Professor Dawkins creates with his elite and narrowly defined scientific morality (sic). But he is not alone in his rationale, as the Think Atheist website reveals. Their worldview is reductionist, defining our worth by our utility. Woe to those persons born with Down’s Syndrome; what possible utility do they have in Dawkin’s dystopia?

(Note: 2012 open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after she used the “R” word in an insulting way in reference to a politician. His gracious and measured response said more about his dignity than it did about Coulter’s disgrace.)

I feel, therefore I am

Meanwhile Margaret Wente wrote “Race and gender: I feel, therefore I am.” By now Rachel Dolezal and the Jenner moment are old news, but the confusion continues in that some define themselves by the most nebulous of metrics: how one feels.

This is a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection,” thundered The New York Times’s Charles Blow. “Changing appearance and even cross-cultural immersion doesn’t alter the architecture of race that gave birth to and reinforced those differences in the first place…

These are funny times. Anyone who substituted “gender” for “race,” and said those things about Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner, would have been denounced from the rooftops as a hate-spewing bigot.

Instead, Ms. Jenner was lionized for her bold, courageous embrace of her true identity. No one dared accuse her (in the elite media, at any rate) of masquerading as a woman. Race may not be malleable, but obviously gender is. Enlightened people have decided that if a man feels like a woman, he’s a woman…

In fact, she has no more idea of what it’s like to be a woman than Ms. Dolezal has of what it’s like to be black. How could she? Ms. Jenner did not grow up as a girl. She spent the first 64 years of her life as a man.

Don’t get me wrong. We live in an age when people are free to construct their own identities, and that’s not such a bad thing. As far as I’m concerned, people are entitled to self-identify as anything they want, so long as they don’t hurt people. If Caitlyn Jenner believes she is a woman, fine. If Rachel Dolezal thinks she’s black, that’s her business – so long as she doesn’t lie about her past. But it’s another thing entirely to insist that the rest of us share their delusions

We are deeply confused these days about what makes us who we are. It’s now fashionable to believe that biology and genes don’t matter, because the real forces that shape our reality are social and historical. Gender, for example, is no longer viewed as an inescapable biological fact, but is really an arbitrary product of our belief systems. Gender is highly malleable and fluid. The old, binary ways of thinking about gender are harmful, and should be abandoned. It is now common to refer to gender as something you were “assigned” at birth, not something you’re stuck with. Gender is thought to be a choice – unless you were “assigned” to the wrong sex, as Ms. Jenner says she was, in which case you have no choice but to claim the one that destiny meant you to have…

But not everything is socially constructed, and feelings are sometimes different from reality, and we shouldn’t be afraid of being labelled bigots if we say so.

I am, therefore I think and feel

Modernity is enduring a massive identity crisis because it has the basis for identity backwards. It is neither I think, therefore I am, nor is it I feel, therefore I am. Our worth is not contingent on self-awareness, and our true identity is not self-fabricated:

I am because I am created by the One who made me for Himself, and I am most self-aware and most self-identified when I am most in Him.

The deep dignity of personhood and the enigma of our worth is most profoundly answered in Christ.  Every encounter with Him, every instruction from Him, and every aspect of following Him is the exercise of humanity restored in relationship with Him.

For more, see Whose I am – as a clue to who I am.