Merriam Webster Dictionary defines dignity as the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. Human dignity is a central consideration of Christian philosophy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists the dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God. This augments the argument on the sanctity of the person. Because man is created holy due to the fact that he is in the image and likeness of God who is Holy, then, each human person is worthy of honor and respect. Human dignity is something that can’t be taken away. Catholic Social Teaching states that each and every person has value, are worthy of great respect and must be free from slavery, manipulation and exploitation. “Catholic social teaching believes that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), have by their very existence an inherent value, worth, and distinction” (Daniel Groody “Globalization, Spirituality and Justice”).
The Bible teaches us that we are all one in Christ and should therefore be treated equally without discrimination – Galatians 3:28 ; There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Treating others with dignity follows the golden rule, that is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. If you would wish to be given a drink when thirsty, then give a drink to the thirsty, if you would not wish anyone to steal your property, then do not steal, if you desire to be respected, please respect, if you want to be treated kindly and with mercy, the be kind and merciful. There are many ways of treating each other with dignity and honor and respect for instance respect, food provision, security, clothing and use of proper language.
I am however going to focus my article on sexuality. A contemporary definition of Human sexuality is the way people experience and express themselves sexually. This includes physical, emotional, social and biological ways among others. The biological and physical aspects of sexuality largely concern the human reproductive functions including the human sexual response cycle for both male and female. Physical and emotional aspects of sexuality involve the bonds that are expressed through physical manifestations like touching, kissing, caressing and the conjugal act, or emotional manifestations like trust, love and care. Social aspects express the effects of human society on one’s sexuality.
The Catholic Church teaches that human life and human sexuality are inseparable. From deductive reasoning, since God created human beings in His own image and likeness, hence our holiness, and he found His creation to be very good, human body and sex then must also be very good. The Church considers the expression of love between husband and wife in the conjugal act to be an elevated form of human activity, joining husband and wife in complete, mutual self-giving, and opening their relationship to new life. Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. And this marks the church’s teaching of application of the conjugal act. In the Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explained that the sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is noble and worthy and very good. The church teaches that sex is unitive and procreative, purposes which are not mutually exclusive. You cannot achieve one purpose and exclude the other. And since it is designated for couples, it exclusive to that particular couple. The conjugal love aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul since marriage is a sign of the Love between God and Humanity.
The Catechism further teaches about chastity as a way of respect of ones sexuality. It explains that chastity is the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. Meaning that how we express ourselves sexually should be a way in honor of that special bond between a man and woman. Anything that contradicts this love and honor becomes wrong and offends not only the intention but also the people violating the intentions. Chastity is thus a way of dignifying our sexuality. Chastity is a journey of self-mastery where either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Human Dignity requires each one of us to act towards self-mastery, by freely choosing to do what is right by his diligence and skill, ensuring that he/she does not offend the virtue of chastity, whether his/her own or of those he/she interacts with. We should cultivate chastity in the way that is suited to our state of life. Married people are called to live conjugal chastity or conjugal fidelity.
Societal trends view the body as an object of pleasure or as a machine for manipulation. In these cases, sexual expression is sought outside sacramental marriage for the sole purpose of selfish pleasure or lustful reasons and the procreative function of sexual expression within marriage is deliberately frustrated. In sexuality this is manifested by individual pursuit of satisfaction of lust. Lust is a disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes. For instance in;
Masturbation where there is deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure;
Fornication which is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman – contrary to the intention of sex naturally ordered for the good of the spouses and transmission of life;
Adultery which refers to marital infidelity, that is, two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations – even transient ones; Incest which is intimate relations between relatives within which marriage is prohibited against them;
Pornography which consists of removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties thus offending chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, that is, the intimate giving of spouses to each other, it does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, and the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others and it immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world;
Prostitution which does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure while the one who pays sins gravely against himself by violating his own gift of chastity and offending the one he pays by objectifying the person; and
Rape which is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person – deeply wounding the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life.
In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II encourages a true reverence for the gift of our sexuality and challenges us to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons. We are therefore called to live worthy and honorable lives with regard to our sexuality. We should live chaste lives with regard to our state of life, whether unmarried, celibate or married. We should pray for graces to avoid anything that offends our own chastity and the chastity of those we interact with because in doing so we are treating them with the sexual dignity that we all deserve.