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How to be Human

Next time you hear a scientist say something like, “The more we know about the universe the less important we become,” don’t buy it.

The reality is precisely the opposite, according to a recent article on the National Public Radio web site. The more we know about the universe, the more unique we become, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Marcelo Gleiser is quoted as saying.

We have become accustomed to hearing that humans may not be alone in the universe, and that speculation is underpinned by countless science-fiction movies. This has led to doubts about the uniqueness of human beings, even conjecture about whether the traditional view about humans’ dominance among the earth’s sentient creatures is deserved.

We simply don’t know about the presence of beings elsewhere in the universe, but there is little doubt about the uniqueness of humans or their dominance in our world.

Billions of years to evolve

Life began about 3.9 billion years ago and took billions of years to evolve from single-cell organisms, says the NPR report. Humans were late to arrive on the scene, “and probably unique in the galaxy if not the universe. We are the only humans in the cosmos. To go from non-life to life requires extremely complex steps and to go from that to intelligent life, out-of-sight.

“For all practical purposes, we are alone as intelligent molecular machines capable of pondering our origins and future.

“This is the striking revelation from modern science, one that should grab everyone’s attention,” says Gleiser. “We matter because we are rare and our planet matters because it is unique. At the very least, it should inspire us to reevaluate our relationship to one another and to the planet, beyond petty ideologies and short-sighted tribal disputes that fill so much of our time.”

Scientists like Gleiser can provide valuable insights into what it means to be human but more profound insights into the human condition is beyond their purview. For that, you have to turn to fields like psychology, philosophy and especially, theology – though few people in the modern world recognize its value.

In the view of believers who give it some thought, the uniqueness of humans is expressed in our awareness of, and relationship with, our Creator. We are the only known creatures capable of doing so. That may not be so obvious as the perception of uniqueness that comes through scientific observation, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

It’s pretty obvious, too, that God used evolution to reveal himself/herself. A long period of preparation was necessary. Eventually, many ancient peoples discovered God in nature, music and poetry, long before his revelation to the ancient Hebrews, who are among the first known monotheists.

One of the most famous verses in the Hebrew Bible is from the Book of Exodus, whose oral traditions date from the 8th century before Christ. According to the story, Moses, “negotiating” with God on the Hebrews’ behalf, asks God his/her name. God responds, “I am who am,” and tells Moses to tell the people “‘I am’ sent me.”

Christians believe God took the revelation of him/herself to another level by becoming a human being in the person of Jesus. Although there were doubts about Jesus’ divinity among some early Christians, the majority view – that Jesus is God – won out at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

The beginning and the end

Revelation, the mysterious apocalyptic New Testament book, identifies this man/God as “the alpha and the omega,” the beginning and the end.

So, why exactly did God become human? The question is answered in many Christian doctrines, as well as by a diverse number of individuals, but my favorite answer is that he/she did so to teach us how to be human.

Jesus himself sums up this lesson by using a quote from the Hebrew Bible: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he explains who our neighbor is by telling the famous story of the Good Samaritan – the man who is robbed and beaten and attended not by the civil or religious officials but by “a foreigner” from Samaria.

This passage, and many others in the Christian and Hebrew bibles, make it clear that being human is not a matter of power, fame or fortune, but of kindness, compassion, generosity, unselfishness and concern for others. When these are dominant in our lives, we’re most human, and as it turns out, closest to finding God.

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