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On the Uniqueness of the Individual: Humanism and Theism

On the Uniqueness of the Individual: Humanism and Theism

One of the most memorable quotes from my youth is a line from Tyler Durden. Leaning against a decaying building, addressing a few cultists engaged in heavy labor, his voice blaring in monotony through a megaphone, he spoke: "You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake." At the time, the quote seemed bizarre and almost comically subversive, as I was immersed in the self-esteem saturated period of the century's dawn. But having spent a good amount of time as a humanist, the quote feels far more natural a fit for humanism than the feel-good rhetoric and "winner" mentality of the period. For once the shock and dehumanization of Durden's statement wears off, the viewer is left with an entirely inconvenient question: supposing God doesn't exist, if a man isn't known by many (or any), how much value can he possibly have?

Human value, of course, isn't granted by apes or dogs; in a godless universe, humanity can only be recognized or bestowed by humans. And if that value is granted, it only makes sense that the receiver of value must be first known by another, in some form. For instance, in order that I might value you as a person – real value, not an abstract concept – I must have knowledge of you first; and in order that I might have that knowledge, you must either live in close proximity to me, we must have similar interests, or you must excel in some way that elevates you above popular ignorance. In short, you must make yourself "famous" in order that I might be aware of your existence, so that I can value you as a human (a problem implicitly noted by countless charitable organizations, advocacy groups, and supporters of governmental decentralization). At this point of public awareness, a person is said to "be somebody," to have broken out of oblivion and assimilation and become individual in the eyes of men.

There is, in a sense, a triumph of extreme individuality, not necessarily in general characteristics, but in excellence thereof, which leads men into the public eye. Generally speaking, when men become famous, their fame results not from fame itself, but from some exceptional quality which elevates them above their peers (as the old proverb says, a man who excels in his work doesn't serve before obscure men, but before kings). This excellence gives the impression that the excellent possess some value to the human race, that in order to escape dissipation amongst the masses, one must provide a particular, extensively recognized, and unique quality to a large number of men, and that one's own persona must be attached to the quality.

The natural validity of this statement can be proved if one considers closely how annoyed, on some level, the public becomes when celebrities become famous for little to no reasons other than celebrity fame, simply because popular value (to the average human being) is more justly predicated on talent. Of course, practically anyone, if they were suddenly placed for a long period of time into public awareness, would be considered immediately individual; they would possess characteristics distinguishable from their neighbors, and their personality would become the subject of either admiration or derision; but any way one looks at it, they already possess enough individuality to make themselves distinct. The reason men become publicly recognized as distinct from the masses, though, is generally because they offer some kind of utility to the public.

Upon acceptance of this general concept of utility and public value, humanism ultimately reduces the public to vanilla, and exalts the uniquely useful to a nearly god-like status. Every human, living in advanced stages of civilization, wherein primary needs such as food and shelter are already widely met, and recognizing their individuality, at some point in their own life believe themselves worth sharing with the public, and therefore seek or desire some sort of recognition. But having little to no utility for an entire people, they become forced into a human oblivion, surrounded by others who similarly seek their own self-glorification, but possess only characteristics which though beneficial and necessary to society, are nevertheless common. Even in their virtues, supposing they possess virtue, they become normal; aside from individual elevation, they are known not as persons, but as part of collectives; a man receives his nation's face instead of his name, he becomes a number in the corporate payroll office, he becomes an Episcopalian, a Muslim, or a member of a trade union. Though taking part in history, the history is remembered; he is forgotten.

What are men to make of themselves, when their common humanity places individuality and value within each and every chest, but predicates social worth with popularity? We see frustrated young men in bands, disgruntled models, and a host of marginally read writers (wink, wink), all striving to prove themselves worthy of humanity, but being assimilated by their peers like drops in the ocean, pride squelched and dreams crushed. If a godless humanity predicates worth with popularity, the average person is a nobody, the nation simply a mass of the faceless.

But consider, dear reader, the humanist's greatest enemy: the theist. The theist not only recognizes man's ignorance, but confines ignorance within its proper place; his acknowledgment of the Almighty simultaneously proclaims omniscience, and thus recognition of individuality and value independent of man's limited faculty. The pages of history, with unknown soldiers slain and noble laborers unnamed, then becomes the history not simply of leaders and masses, but of individuals, each known and watched, not by men whose memory fades and whose cheers become silence with the passage of time, but by God, who judges not popularity or general utility, but the heart. One by one every person is born and dies before Him; He hears their every sob, feels their every pain, seeks to fill their every emptiness; he sees them struggle in defense of family, He witnesses their every epiphany, He watches them fall in love. It is then the individual has value, and those who despise and tread upon the unknown and the voiceless are held accountable. For without knowledge of suffering, the overwhelming majority of tears are shed before nobody; man is alone, his misery ensured; in that loneliness he experiences individuality.

For this reason among many others, humanism must be conquered by humanity, and we in our ignorance must assume the eternal validity of a divinely omniscient perspective. Unless we're to reduce ourselves and our neighbors to nothing, to have collective value in simple safety and economy, but never in person, then God must be the reason for society itself. What, then, is my neighbor's value to me? Priceless, because God is my God, but we are nothing in His absence.