Family protects human dignity

January 16, 2006

Read: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nn. 230-237

People should be treated like subjects, not objects. That's another of those "motherhood statements" - a statement that everyone can agree with but one that is so often violated.

To say that someone is a person means more than that they are a member of the species homo sapiens. A "person" is a subject, not an object. A person has dignity, great dignity. He or she is an active, self-determining agent - one who not only is acted upon, but who also has the freedom to determine what sort of person he or she will be. A person is a subject.

It is in the family that a human being's nature as a subject is most fully recognized and realized. A family member's worth does not stem from what he or she contributes to the family. Rather, it stems from the recognition that one's brother, sister, father, mother, son or daughter is someone of incomparable worth. We will not let the dignity of our family be trampled upon without a great protest.


Families, of course, do not always behave as if this were true. There are all sorts of squabbles, dysfunctions and fights over a parent's estate. But we judge such squabbles to be especially sordid when they occur among family members. We expect more from the family. We expect them to especially recognize the dignity of their close relatives, even if they don't recognize the dignity of anyone else.

The family is the most fitting community to guard human dignity and human life. If dignity and life are not protected in the family, they won't be protected anywhere.

The family has a responsibility to be the sanctuary of life. But more basic than that responsibility is the fact that the family is the sanctuary of life. Because it is in the family that human dignity is most clearly recognized, it follows that the family has the primary duty to protect that dignity.

When we refer to the breakdown of the family, what we are really talking about is the breakdown in society's recognition of human dignity. If the family will not recognize and protect one's dignity and life, who will?


How can the government, a union or an employer protect the dignity of the person if the family does not do it? To say that the government, instead of the family, should be the primary protector of human dignity is to say you can love humanity without loving an individual person.

The government has important roles to perform on behalf of the whole community. But it will not perform those roles well if there is not first love and dignity and respect for life in the family.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church calls for "mutual respect and total acceptance" between spouses (n. 233). This mutual respect and total acceptance of husband and wife is, ultimately, the foundation of a human society.

Without this respect and acceptance, life is cold and impersonal. If husband and wife treat each other like objects, what hope is there for other relationships lacking such intimacy?

The Compendium's comment about respect and acceptance is made in relation to the rejection of contraception. Contraception is how lovers treat each other as objects. From the acceptance of contraception and sterilization springs a whole raft of evils in which people are treated like objects – abortion, cloning, government-sponsored sterilization campaigns, and reproductive "technologies."

If spouses reject contraception and use natural methods for regulating births, they will move into the realm of mutual respect and total acceptance. That move will help to bring about "a more human order in society."

Families committed to living out the Gospel of life in such a manner are engaged in "true and courageous prophecy" (n. 231). This is the Church's social teaching.

We should work to eradicate structures of injustice and we should be politically involved. But if we are truly prophetic, we will live out the Gospel of life in the intimacy of our bedrooms. Without such prophecy, we are laying the foundation for a cold, inhuman society. If we want the human person to flourish, we cannot treat people as objects in such essential matters.