It may have been George Bernard Shaw, the irascible pacifist and Fabian socialist who wrote a play entitled “Man and Superman.” [Note: we just checked. It was.] Now, we are not interested in Shaw’s proposals to attain the perfection of human character by means of simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism, i.e., the program of the Fabian socialists, derived in large measure from the agrarian socialism of Henry George and the theosophy of Madame Blavatsky.
|G.B. Shaw, socialist.|
No, really. Look it up. That’s where Fabian socialism and the whole “Small is Beautiful” shtick originated.
What we are interested in is the way many people seem to confuse man’s nature, with God’s Supernature, not Naturalman v. Superman, soon to be a minor motion picture based on the characters found in Simply Marvy Comics. And therein lies a tale.
Let us assume that, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe, man is created in God’s image and likeness. Even given that, however, it would be true only “analogously,” and then only with respect to God’s Nature, not His Supernature.
|This is exactly what God looks like.|
Just to confuse matters, many people fail to take into account the fact that where God is infinitely perfect, humanity is “only” infinitely perfectible. Thus, man is not a direct or complete analog of God, but an incomplete image, “as through a glass in a dark manner,” as Paul of Tarsus put it — sort of like a holograph with chunks of the “negative” cut off. The whole thing is still there, but it’s a little fuzzy. Each human being or “man” is a complete analog of every other “man,” but an incomplete analog of God.
Thus, God builds into man as man the capacity to become more fully human, that is, God gives perfectibility, not perfection, to every human being. That’s pretty much the definition of what it means to be a human being.
There’s a whole argument about free will and all that other stuff we won’t get in to for this discussion, but the bottom line is that if God didn’t give us free will but imposed perfection, He might as well have not have undertaken Project Human in the first place. He wants adopted children who freely choose to be with Him, not robotic slaves.
|Natural Virtue of Justice|
Human perfectibility consists of the capacity to become more fully human by acquiring and developing the natural virtues. These are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and, above all, justice. As Fulton Sheen commented, this is all that is necessary for a person to lead a life of “pagan” virtue, i.e., without reference to what you believe to be the true God, i.e., the supernatural virtues. You’ll be a “good person” and a “good citizen,” but you might not be a “good Christian/Muslim/Jew/Buddhist/etc.”
[N.B.: The whole point of social justice is to reconcile all the different aspects of the human person with the institutional framework in the temporal order — the common good or the social order — within which people become more fully human and lay the foundation for however they define their true end in a manner consistent with free will. Lots of deep issues implied here, but — assuming the precepts of the natural law as a given — the bottom line is that it is possible to be both a good person and a good member of society, as well as a faithful adherent of your religion, without contradicting anything.]
Humanity acquires and develops these so-called “pagan” virtues by means of the exercise of natural rights. As implied above, this requires the existence of a social order, the common good, consisting of a network of institutions that provide the environment within which humanity acquires and develops the natural virtues. This is because, as Aristotle noted and Aquinas agreed, man is by nature a political animal, living according to his own nature within the institutional (organized) structure of the pólis.
That’s it as far as the natural or “pagan” virtues go. We become more fully human, but that’s that.
Becoming more fully human is, however, only half of humanity’s task as special creations of God — assuming you agree that humanity is, in fact, a special creation of God, justifying His special interest in humanity. If not, then you don’t need to read the next posting in this brief series, scheduled for Monday. You have the full picture already, at least as far as you are concerned. Like a holograph "negative" with pieces cut off, however, it's going to be a little fuzzy. . . .