Saturday, March 08, 2014

Kant, Christ, and Page 3

Immanuel Kant famously declared that persons are end in themselves, and ought always to be treated as such.  They are never means to an end, and as such can never be fully absorbed into 'my universe', which revolves around me.  Other people are like the solid and immovable rocks in the midst of the sea of existence.  They are like myself, and I ought to recognise them as such.  They are not there to forward any of my schemes or goals for myself; they exist for themselves.

Whether Kant ever placed any of this on a sound footing is another matter.  The general consensus, with which I would broadly agree, is that he did not.

The Christian view of persons is similar, yet different.  The Christian cannot quite agree that persons are ends in themselves.  Perhaps from the human point of view this is a true enough rule of thumb, since certainly persons are not to be treated by me as means to my own ends.  But this is not because of some sort of moral autonomy or inherent value that persons have.  Rather, it is based on the fact that each person is a means to an end, but the end is not mine to decide or shape.  People exist, not for themselves, but for God.  Each person belongs to him by right of creation.  Each person ought to live for him in the here and now by right of redemption.  Each person will acknowledge him in the end, to his glory.  On a day to day basis, the impact of these mighty truths might look like Kantianism, but if you get under the bonnet everything is arranged differently, and runs on different fuel.

Which brings me to Page 3.  It is presumably a well known fact that The Sun, a British 'newspaper', carries on its third page a titillating photograph of a topless young lady.  This is regarded in many quarters as a piece of harmless fun.  For Kantians, and even more for Christians, it can hardly be called that.  Without a doubt, page 3 takes a person and offers them up as a means to an end - or several ends, including the gratification of middle-aged men and the sale of newspapers.  It is hard to see how this can be ethical.  Therefore, I support the campaign to end page 3, and would encourage you to do the same.

Let me just explain why I think the Christian position makes this opposition even more necessary than the Kantian one.  Firstly, it provides a basis which is otherwise lacking.  This person is God's property; they are not mine to enjoy.  And in answer to the objection that 'nobody makes them do it', we say that they are not themselves to give away any more than they are mine to take.  Second, it explains why the body matters.  There may be such a thing as a disembodied person, but there is no such thing as a (living) de-personed body.  The body, created by God and redeemed by Christ at the cost of his own body, is entrusted to a person and bound up so closely with their own personal identity that the final hope of Christians is precisely to have those bodies back, so that we can be whole persons.  Thirdly, the Christian doctrine of sin helps me to understand what that bit of 'innocent fun' might really be hiding, and helps me to see through the pretence that 'nobody is hurt' by this.  To dehumanise ourselves and others is to hurt ourselves and others.

I am not a feminist of any sort - but I am a 'personist'.  I don't think anyone should be treated as a means to an end.  Because in the end, at the end, we are all for God's glory.

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