Set Me Free
----St. Hildegard of Bingen
“Of all the strengths of God's creation, Man's is most profound”
What Is Man? Who Am I?
The concept of man and his existence in the universe have posed great controversies among different thinkers and writers through the ages. These controversial issues led Joseph Gevaert to think deeply on the existence of man, and to ask these questions: 1) “What is man;” 2) “Who am I,” and; 3) “What is the sense or meaning of human existence.” These questions can be seen as the proper areas of consideration for philosophical anthropology, and can also be seen as truly fundamental questions. They have been in all epochs at various levels of civilization, in diverse forms and measures, the inseparable companion of the journey of man. Today, they impose themselves with new urgency upon the consciousness of anyone who wants to fully live his human experience.
In the book of Genesis, man was seen as Adam, because he was fashioned by God out “of dust from the soil” (Gen. 2:7), according to the Yahwist. Also, going to the priestly tradition, it was recorded that God said “let us make man in our own image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26).
In the classification of things by Aristotle, man was included in the class of the animals, the living things. Nevertheless, he emphasized man’s rationality as a distinguishing attribute that differentiated him from all other animals. It was at this level that the French philosopher Descartes, focusing more on self-consciousness, defined man as “a thinking thing,” in contradistinction to “extended things.” As was referenced earlier, the Psalmist, also saw the wonderful nature of man and what he is made of. As a result of this, he cried out in praise of man as being “crowned with glory and splendor, little less than a god” (Psalm 8:5; see also Heb. 2:6-7). Martin Heidegger, looking at this wonderful creature of God that was crowned with glory and splendor according to the Psalmist, asserted that “man is the shepherd of Beings.” Heidegger’s assertion accords with Genesis Chapter 1, where man is given dominion over other creatures.
Of all these aforementioned assertions, the overriding recurring theme in the various sayings of these authors, concerns man and his dignity. These great thinkers and authors looked into the existence of man as a being with dignity.
The Captivity of Man
Contrary to Christian beliefs, Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialist, Phenomenologist, and Marxist philosopher declared man to be: “superfluous for all times;” “absurd;” “entirely gratuitous,” and; just one among those “superfluous existences.”
Despite all the conceptions of these thinkers and their praises towards man and his existence into this world, there still exist the tendency of captivating man either by himself or by his fellow man in society. In too many societies, ranging from the time of slave trade and on, man has been seen as a commodity for exchange and a means of enriching oneself. This was so in societies like Africa and a host of others. In the continent of Africa there were inter-tribal wars and different conflicts that may have provided opportunities for the captivation of people for the purpose of using them to serve as laborers or slaves outside of their countries. The aftermath of this barbaric practice led to segregation motivated by prejudice towards those of race, colour, sex, age, religion, etc. These prejudices went so far as to lead to genocide. They furthered the creation of classes in society between the proletariats (underprivileged group) and that of the bourgeoisies (those belonging to the more economically comfortable, established ruling class). This fed into the criticisms and propaganda Karl Marx employed to fight against capitalist societies.
The Liberation of Captives; Recognizing Their Human Dignity
A captive can be seen as a man whose freedom is limited absolutely by his fellow man, himself, or the phenomenological happenings in the society he lives which, in turn, snatches from him his dignity as a full human being, though it may appear otherwise from a purely perceptive standpoint. In captivating man, his dignity is denied and his humanness is insulted. Man, created in a special way by the Triune God, must have an inherent quality in him that made him able, by God’s design, to dominate other non-human creatures and be held at high esteem amidst other animals. This quality we call “human dignity”. It can equally be seen in (CCC 357), where it was written that, “Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” Even in the Islamic religion, the right and dignity of man are all recognized, as opined by Magid Khaddri. In Islam, there are five rights that are held by men. They are: personal safety; respect of personal reputation; equality; brotherhood; and justice.
In the captivation (aka, enslavement) of oneself, man limits his freedom through assent to, and commission of, immoral acts such as: 1) prostitution of both the aged and the minor; 2) rape; 3) robbery; 4) terrorism; 5) drug abuse, just to name a few. It is indeed good to point out that man, through these acts, confines himself in such a way as to limit himself to the level of an irrational animals (a beast). As a result, he fights against his own dignity.
Man can also captivate others through:
- Forced labor (as in the case of slavery), which makes its victims mere robots who work at the commands of his or her master;
- Converting people to prisoners of wars and also, and;
- Governments and/or ideologies which are evil. They objectify those who are governed, while simultaneously elevating others (usually the ruling class). One class of man is held as superior, while the other is thought of as inferior. This leads to the instrumentalization and dehumanization of others.
In his letter to Archbishop Jean-Louis, Pope Saint John Paul II said; “Who can deny that the victims of this crime are often the poorest and most defenseless members of the human family, the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters? In particular, the sexual exploitation of women and children is a particularly repugnant aspect of this trade, and must be recognized as an intrinsic violation of human dignity and rights.”
Let’s look at man. On one hand, we see that he was created by God, and in God’s image and likeness; he was decorated with rationality and dignity. On the other hand, he has made himself into a captive, or has been captivated by others. Clearly, there comes the need of a liberator. Who is this liberator? The man who has within him the standard of freedom. The man to whom these captives can look upon and begin to experience that feeling of freedom. The man who indeed is ready to liberate those in captivity. The fight for the right of man, is the fight for his life. Without the necessary rights required to experience a good standard living, life is not worth living.
The liberation of those in captivity comes from the realization of this intrinsic value inherent in man; a value that made him what he really is in the mind of the Creator. Setting man free from the bondage of his mistakes, as well as from the consequences foisted upon him by the mistakes of others, is an invitation to an unending peace in the universe and a way of building bridges instead of walls for others to associate with us in the universe. It was these that lead to the existence of civil rights in the societies today, which stand as a weapon and an instrument for the eradication of these ills that plague human society. It is recommending that though the Church has faced many trials, tribulations and oppositions from different angles of society, She has stood firm in challenging and eradicating, to a greater or lesser degree, some of these abnormalities within our society; evils such as abortion, slavery, human trafficking, and many others which lend themselves as a means of captivating man. Among the children of the Church, a great number have gone far in instituting religious groups that are dedicated to the mission of redirecting and correcting these problems in the society. For instance, the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, popularly known as Trinitarians, which was founded by Saint John of Matha, have dedicated themselves, through their charism, to ransoming all those who are captives, especially Christian captives. They accomplish this through works of mercy and redemption … all to the greater glory of the most Holy Trinity.
What Can We Do?
In closing, let me say that all hands must be on deck for the total abolition of these social vices that are desperately seeking to wipe out Life within the entire society of man. There is a great need for the redemption of our fellow humans. For all are created equal by the Divine; not to be held captives by the happenings of the surrounding environ. Let us join hands in carrying this gospel of liberation to all parts of the world. Let us inseminate into these, our brothers and sisters in the world, how to practice authentic personal conversion. Let’s help them develop a strong reliance on God’s grace through the sacraments. Let’s also assist in their integration into a healthy Christian lifestyle for themselves and that of society. Finally, captivation through bad governance can be tackled through charitable welfare works to make up for what those governments have failed to do. We can provide liberation through self-help planning in provision of social needs such as, but not limited to, clean water drainage, striving to provide reliable local electrical power, and transport. All are created to be one in love with God the Creator. Therefore, let the cries and pains of the other be our concern so as to partake in the joy that comes from the one holy society, for “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus tibi est” (where love and charity abides, there God is found).
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 Gevaert, Joseph, il problema dell’Uanio; introduzione all’ Antropologia Filosofica,
Torino: Elledici, 1992, 7
 Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1994.357
 Khadduri, Majid., “Human rights in Islam,” The Annals 243: 1946, P. 77-78.
 Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran on the Occasion of the International Conference, “Twenty-First Century Slavery – The Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings,” 2002.