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The Reconstruction of Man

Last fall I argued that our current cultural moment is characterized by desecration. And at the heart of desecration lies the repudiation of the notion that human beings are made in God’s image. To destroy the human in reality is thus to destroy the divine by proxy. Trans ideology and pro-abortion politics are exhilarating because they make their proponents feel like God. That’s why so many seem to take such delight in the acts of cultural demolition that mark the radical ends of the political spectrum. But there are subtler ways of desecration to which we are all potentially vulnerable. Lack of gratitude is one. And this needs to be a foundational part of any discussion as to how we can move from the desecration of man to his reconsecration.

Gratitude is an interesting, potent thing. My mother taught me always to say “thank you” whenever I was given anything, even by somebody paid to do so, such as a waiter in a restaurant. And when your mother tells you something, it tends to be inscribed on your character forever. To this day I immediately look with some contempt upon those who do not express thanks for even the smallest services provided by others. But the example of a waiter raises the fascinating question: Why should I express gratitude to someone who is merely doing something for which he is paid? I feel no such need to thank the ATM that delivers cash on demand or the website that issues my theater tickets. The answer is that in expressing gratitude even to someone who is required to act toward me in a certain way, I acknowledge that person as a person, a fellow human being. That is why I thank the cashier in the booth who issues my rail ticket but do not thank the machine in the wall that does the same. The former is a person. By expressing gratitude to someone even if it is simply for the work they are paid to do, I acknowledge them as a person, not merely a thing or an instrument or an automaton. And in acknowledging them as person I act as a person too.

That is why gratitude lies at the heart of Christianity. It is foundational to God’s relationship to his people in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 10, God makes his care for the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner key to Israel’s ethical attitude: She is to do the same because, when she was a sojourner in Egypt, the Lord cared for her. Gratitude should lead to a “paying forward” of kindness. Then, in the New Testament, the calls to be thankful abound. Thankfulness is to be a key element of the daily life of every Christian and a central characteristic of the practical, visible Christian life. The point is that, of all human attitudes, gratitude acknowledges our dependency upon others—both God and other human beings—and that is one of the things that marks us out as truly human and unique. Can any other creature on the face of the planet be grateful? When I express gratitude to God, I acknowledge my personal dependency upon him, I also act as a person myself, and I am inclined to acknowledge his image as found in those around me. Gratitude is both profoundly theological and personally transformative. It is part of consecration.

Read more at First Things 

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