An earlier version of this Worth Revisiting post was first published 8 February 2015 on the blog Principium et Finis. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.
Which is more important, "is" or "has"? The Fathers at the Second Vatican Council tell us in Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, that "Man's worth is greater because of what he is than because of what he has." This line grabbed my attention immediately, because it casts light on something that has stood out in my ongoing discussions ("Hey folks, let's dialogue!") with atheists and others who take a materialist view of reality.
An interesting feature of these conversations with materialists is the fact that their worldview doesn't permit them to discuss what we are: their philosophical outlook only admits the importance of what we have. We have bodies, for instance, which have needs, and so on, but in this conception of the universe all we can be is matter, no different, in essence, than the matter that makes up a dog, a rock, or anything else; after all, if matter is all there is, how can we assign any value to an abstraction like "human worth"? In the materialist world view, human worth is a mere sentiment (if such a thing itself can be said to exist), nothing more.
In the Catholic Christian world view, on the other hand, humanity is something special, both because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), but also because Christ sanctified humanity through taking on our nature in the incarnation. As St. John Paul the Great said in his 1995 address to the United Nations:
As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on Jesus Christ . . . Jesus Christ is for us God made man, and made part of the history of humanity. Precisely for this reason, Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every human person. Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinely human fails to touch the hearts of Christians.
The materialists want to pull us down to the level of mere things; Jesus Christ promises to lift us up to fellowship with God. That is why the future of humanity belongs, not to the champions of "matter", but to Christ and His Church.