“Early Christian theologians generally attributed the image of God ( imago dei) in humans to the mind/spirit or soul, which was ranked higher than the body. Basil said that ‘the rational part is the human being.’ Augustine believed the mind has two parts: ‘The higher part contemplates eternal truths and makes judgments’ and God communicates with us through it. French philosopher René Descartes further emphasized the supremacy of rationality with his dictum ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Many of us today still fall into the Cartesian idea that the rational part, thinking, defines ‘who I am.’ Rationality is important, but rationality as a determinant of the status of personhood is greatly problematic. . . . Seeing a person as ‘less than’ promotes an attitude of stigma . . . . Contemporary theologians have developed a more balanced view of what makes us human. In Eccentric Existence, theologian David Kelsey proposes that the basis for the value and relationship of the human being lies in God, that is, outside the human beings themselves. Kelsey says that personhood is ‘a status before God’ dependent on God’s relating to who I am . . . . ‘Personhood is not even a function of how we relate to God,’ Kelsey writes. Our ‘personhood is entirely a function of how God relates to us in creating us . . . and hardly at all from anything else.’ God’s relating to us is surely not lost in dementia [for instance] or any illness. According to Kelsey, other qualities beyond rationality make us human, including emotion, love, spirituality, awareness, and courage. These traits have been observed in people with dementia . . . . When a person develops dementia, are they less of a person? Do they lose their connection to God? Indeed, we value infants, and infants are not rational. We are all dependent at times. We are all limited. . . . Perhaps those with dementia remind us of our limitations and that makes us uncomfortable.” Janice Hicks in Sojourners
“We turned our backs on him
and looked the other way.”
Isaiah 53:3c NLT
Moving From Head to Heart
- In truth, do you see (or treat) stigmatized people as “less than?”
- Imagine if “our personhood is entirely a function of how God relates to us” rather than of how we relate to God. Imagine what that means.
- Do you hope others will still treat you with dignity if you live long enough to lose your memory? Can you give such dignity to others now?
Abba, may I look with compassion on those less “able” than me.
For More: Redeeming Dementia by Dorothy Linthicum and Janice Hicks
Linthicum, Dorothy and Janice Hicks. Redeeming Dementia: Spirituality, Theology, and Science. Church: 2018.
Dettloff, Dean. “After Deadly Van Attack . . . .” America. May 28, 2018.
Keenan, James F. “The Francis Effect On Health Care.” America. May 28, 2018.