I am indebted to both the brilliant philosophy of Karl Marx and the exquisite theology of Alexander Schmemann for having a chance to reflect today on understanding our humanity, though I am, admittedly, only crudely reflecting anthropologically, and not necessarily philosophically or theologically.
Broadly, the term homo sapien refers to the modern human species as differentiated from earlier hominid species and, of course, other so-called lesser animal species. Homo sapiens were distinguished because of their ability to think critically and to develop complex language. However, this being accepted cosmologically doesn’t tell us anything ontologically about homo sapiens. It doesn’t add anything to the question, why or what is a human? Homo sapien is woefully incomplete as a descriptor of human beings.
For a deeper understanding, we need only to discover that early homo sapiens were already burying their dead in what is likely an indication of humans as religious beings: homo adorans. Whether this is thought to be primitive behavior because of early homo sapiens limited brain development is not so easily proven. The historical record indicates, most provocatively, that to be human is to be religious, that is, to be in awe of a being of divine origin. However, for most mainstream Christian theologians, stuck in a box of magisterial or dogmatic doctrine, this empirical observation may become ammunition for the continued belief in the reductionistic notion, paraphrased from both the Westminster Creed and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that the chief end of humans is to glorify God. Anthropologically speaking, homo adorans is certainly not the chief end nor the primary distinguishing factor of humanity. It is but one, albiet important, factor. Thus, homo adorans is, as well, limited and incomplete in understanding the ontology of humanity.
This is true, furthermore, because long before homo were sapien or even adorans, they were homo faber—hominid beings who worked with tools and creatively produced. Now, other “lesser” animals did work with tools, but, again, the distinguishing factor here is the significant degree in the difference between early homo and their closest relatives in the animal world. The fact of homo faber may be why Marx has used homo faber as the primary (or even sole) basis for examining the material and historical record of homo sapiens (at first cooperative but then through increasing class struggle). Nevertheless, Christians should not be scared off by Marx’s discarding of homo adorans in favor of homo faber. Homo faber is no more empirical (or material) than homo adorans simply due to the length of time that homo has been involved with an activity. Certainly, the later capacity of homo sapiens to discern the reality of divine transcendence could be considered as empirical/historical evidence of the evolution of the species, not simply metaphysics.
It is homo sapien becoming homo adorans, not homo faber becoming homo sapien, that makes us more human. Yet, from a Scriptural point of view, conversely, we ought not disagree too hastily with Marx, because the Scriptures clearly indicate that immediately after humans were “created” they were put to work: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there God put the human, who had been created, to cultivate and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8; 15). Still, homo adorans, though created by a mythologically perfect divine being, is, again, incomplete because “It is not good for humans to be alone” (Gen 2:18). (Being human is “very good,” but it is not good to be separated from the rest of life which is also “good”.)
Thus, it is homo spiritualis that we aspire to, because it is only homo spiritualis whose very existence can be understood to be “inspired” by the breath of the Divine, and it is homo spiritualis who is contemplating ultimate meaning because of her or his inter-connectedness with all of life. It is homo spiritualis that can bring homo faber, homo sapien, and homo adorans to completion. It is homo spiritualis, then, that can mystically and scientifically discern how to live and work in harmony with all of life, politically, economically, and socially. It is homo spiritualis who has the potential to integrate together abstract thought, phenomenon, creative work, and worshipping awe to become truly Human.
© Paul Dordal, 2018