Towards the building of a new anthropology
by Carmelo Dotolo

1. Man, an open question

Understanding who man is is an important and magnificent challenge, above all in our age when there is ever more uncertainty about the identity of humanity. In fact, experience seems to constantly confirm the enigmatic nature of the human condition, man’s uncertainty in defining the destiny to which he is travelling. It is not by chance that the twentieth century scenario was set around a project for the deconstruction of man or, at least, of some of his typologies, almost as if it wanted to sanction, after the death of God, the pointlessness of the anthropological question(1). Clearly there is a progressive marginality of the concept of man in a world that explores new ways of computerised intelligence, the robot, «that does not need any memory because it is not threatened by any forgetfulness, nor does it need a personal language because its functioning is ‘soft’ and without contradictions, therefore an intelligence without history, without the anguish of suffering and without morals, an intelligence that feels safe from every crisis, in short, rhapsody, set in the machine of innocence»(2).

Therefore does it not seem contradictory today to say that man is the supreme value and has inalienable rights, that his dignity must be defended and promoted at any cost? Why insist on words such a liberty, solidarity, responsibility, love, if man is often seen as a more developed animal, admittedly capable of a better organisation but with a ‘nature’ and a ‘destiny’ no different to those of the other animals? Consequently man not only feels the conflict of his own questioning, but at the same time he cannot abandon the idea of understanding himself, the reason for his life and the direction in which it is going, the penalty being his slow and inexorable self-destruction. Now, albeit in the multiplicity of attempts to explain the essence and destiny of man, it is necessary to choose either the dissolution of the idea of man or affirmation of his unchanged actuality, knowing that suspicious cultures have weakened naive and optimistic conceptions of man’s position in the world. It is likewise true, however, that the human person experiences the fragility of his being: in his relationship with the stranger who is within him; in the encounter with others who often upset our certainties and perspectives; in the relationship with God, who disrupts the project we have built to justify our choices and life-styles. Instead the biblical-Christian tradition does not allow any reduction of the human being, marked by a fundamental liberty and responsibility that puts him in a permanent situation of searching.

If man does not prepare to live the encounter-clash with the mystery that characterises him, he will find it very difficult to accept life as a project to be discovered and created constantly. To do this, he must have the courage to ask fundamental questions about existence and to follow the Gospel which, in history, indicates a method: know how to go beyond things, aim at the horizon of meanings rather than at immediately obvious goals. In fact, for an understanding of the way with which Christianity interprets man, the interpretative perspective is the surprising mystery of God who communicates and makes himself known through His tireless searching. The Jewish philosopher A. J. Heschel explains this: «Most religious theories begin by defining the religious situation as a search for God on man’s part and they affirm the axiom that God is silent, hidden and indifferent to man’s search for him. Well, if one accepts this axiom, one has the answer even before the question is asked. From the point of view of biblical thought the definition is incomplete and the axiom false. The Bible speaks not only of man’s search for God, but also of God’s search for man» (3).

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