Philosopher Peter Kreeft asks the rhetorical question, “Are we de-throned Gods, or are we reigning apes?” In other words, do we see ourselves as truly made in the image of God, but who have lost our original dignity due to sin, or are we just special or even not-so-special animals?
Clearly Christian teaching is that we are the creation of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God. If we believe in this God, we should naturally strive to be as much like Him as we possibly can. If we do not believe in such a God, then we become our own god. This has been the basic moral struggle since Adam and Eve. St. Paul makes specific mention of it in Romans 1:18-23. It is certainly worth noting that as we have become less God-like and more animalistic, we seem to be content to see our human rights eroded as we ascribe more “rights” to animals.
So what about the “F” word in the title of this little tirade? As human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, we have the ability to think and to be self-aware. Animals do not have this capacity. The proof is the no animal has ever painted a Mona Lisa, composed a sonnet or simply asked the basic question “Why?”
The dreaded “F” word of which I speak is “Feelings.” We all have feelings and emotions. They are real and must be acknowledged. But they do not make us who we are. In fact, when we act on emotions, we typically get ourselves and others into trouble.
Does this mean we must be cold Stoics? Absolutely not. Part of our glory as human beings is that we can share laughs and tears with others. But the one thing we as human beings can do that no other organism can is to share our thoughts and ideas. We can measure our thoughts and desires against objective reality to see if they are worthy of us. For example, my feelings may entice me to abandon my responsibilities for a life of debauchery, but my mind, will, and intellect tell me otherwise. My natural instinct (or feeling) of fear would be to flee the burning building, but my character revs up my sense of bravery to go back into the flames and help others. Animals are incapable of this.
Our own use of the “F” word betrays how confused we are. A while back, an interviewer was asking the question, “How do you know what is right and wrong” of college students on the Notre Dame University campus. One young woman responded, “Gee, I don’t really know…I mean like…I guess it depends on how you feel…but everyone feels different…so I guess we really do not know what right and wrong are.” Years ago, I was visiting classrooms at Sacred Heart High School in Salina and one of the girls asked, “Father, how does the Church feel about euthanasia?” To which I responded, “Pretty bad. The Church feels bad about euthanasia.” “No, but I mean, “she continued, “is it right or wrong?” “Oh!” I replied, “you want to know what the Church teaches about euthanasia. If that is your question, then we can have a conversation.”
It is clear to see that in a lot of peoples’ minds morality is reduced to feelings and then we wonder why so many marriages fail, so many children are in poverty with their unwed mothers, people in the most prosperous country on earth constitute the greatest market on earth for illicit drugs, and people are getting shot up on our streets.
God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it. He has revealed to us all we need to know both through the natural law (Romans 1:19-20) and ultimately through His Son, Jesus Christ. We can consciously, as an act of will, allow ourselves to be conformed to the image of His Son and enjoy peace, order, and integrity in our lives, or we can “go with what feels good” and further immerse ourselves in the chaos that we are more and more accepting as normal.