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What Makes Us Human?

(I'm in the midst of writing final papers for the two classes I've taken this semester. The following thoughts were prompted by a paper for my class on Human Uniqueness from a Theological and Biological perspective...)

The Christian Church has a long history of determining that certain humans were more human than others. Some were deemed defective, and therefore, not created in God's image. The mentally disabled were often at the top of that list because, it was assumed, to be created in God's image meant to be able to use reason.

Biologically speaking, we also have defined certain people as human and excluded others as defective. Prenatal genetic testing is the most obvious example of how we search for "defects" and feel morally justified in "terminating" a pregnancy on the basis of said defect. I've said it before, but here's the statistic again: 85% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to abort.

I've been rereading Hans Reinders' Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethicsin preparation for the paper, and I'm grateful for his insights. He asserts that our human uniqueness, our status as God's image-bearers, is extrinsically bestowed. It is given to us by God, independent of our abilities.

According to Reinders, we tend to think that we must first give in order to prove ourselves as worthy, whether that be giving to God or other people. But Reinders believes that our first act is to receive, receive the grace of God, the love of God, the worth of God. To that end, he writes, "It is in knowing how to receive that the presence of people with intellectual disabilities will appear as a gift. They teach us a few things about ourselves that we, the ‘temporarily able-bodied,' have a hard time understanding on our own, for example, the fact that being accepted by God does not depend on our goodness."

For Reinders, people with intellectual disabilities are an example to the rest of us of what it means to be human. To be creatures. To be beloved.

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