How does religion elucidate human nature, and how does this factor into the rich experience that is our national and global community? On the one hand we are all different. We all come from different geographic locations with different experiences based on our respective sexual, religious, racial, and a myriad of other identities of predication. On the other hand, we are the same. For in all these distinctions of diversity, the "human element" (to quote our lovely friends at the advertising department of Dow Chemical) remains the fundamental factor connecting all people across the diverse array of cultures and perspectives throughout our country and the world. But what is this "human element"? Consider two concepts that are intrinsic to the American psyche: the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal,” and we often encounter the phrase "celebrate diversity." These two concepts appear paradoxical: are we really equal if we are different, and are we really different if we are equal? This is the human paradox.
Diversity is to be celebrated, for we are all individuals uniquely distinguished by the material variation that constitutes our bodily presence in the world. At the same time we are equal, for though we are independent and unique individuals, we all share in the irreducible sanctity that is personhood. But what exactly is personhood? After all, if one takes a reductionist approach, human persons are nothing more than a very complicated combination of elements found on the periodic table that somehow has given rise to self-awareness.
Although psychological and sociological accounts of personhood are important for a complete understanding of personal identity, I here wish to address a theological understanding of personhood derived from the Christian tradition. Religious perspectives about human nature, and specifically the Christian perspective, have tremendous influence on the formation of public policy and civil rights legislation in the United States (and throughout the world). Our current task, therefore, is to question the theological anthropology of human identity derived from Christian theology that has resulted in a codification of human nature in the static paradigm of hylomorphic (form/matter) distinction.
Such a static understanding leads to the labeling of certain physiologically based variations on human corporeality (e.g., homosexuality and transgender identity) as objectively disordered whenever these variations conflict with human nature—defined as the spirit or soul subsisting in a body (matter).
Within a pre-scientific understanding, such an objective disorder of human nature is located within a post-lapsarian framework wherein all bodily creation suffers the consequences of the misuse of human freedom as a result of the allegory of the fall in Genesis 3. However, when the data of evolutionary science and cosmology are taken into account, this interpretation of the allegory in Genesis is brought into question. Moreover, empirical studies have demonstrated that sexual orientation has physiological foundations and is not attributable to a decision of the will.
In light of these considerations, it is necessary to rethink theological anthropology in terms commensurate with the data of the natural sciences while retaining the theologically normative claims that all persons reflect the divine image (however that is to be theologically understood). Whether gay or straight, black or white, Christian or Jew, male, female, or transgender, we all share in the irreducible sanctity of a personal nature—according to our genetic and cultural inheritance that constitutes the "image of God." I admit that I approach this question from the perspective of a male, straight, white, middle-class Catholic, but I believe Christian theology must address this issue head on since these questions of identity and human nature present themselves as the main civil rights issue of our current generation.
I argue that the Christian tradition contains within its theology a theoretical framework of theological anthropology that can overcome this static codification of human nature as well as account for the evolutionary development of persons while maintaining the language that all persons are created in the “image of God." Recognizing that human physiology, and specifically human consciousness, has emerged from 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution allows for a shift toward an evolutionary theological anthropology that is better suited to account for the dynamic character of human nature and the possible emergence of personhood in other forms of material complexity—whether biological or even technological.
In short, it is the person, with all of the person's life experience drawn from material existence (including culture), that is the irreducible locus of identity in human experience. It is not just human nature, but personal nature, that constitutes the irreducibly sacred "human element" and analogically reflects the fullness of God's being in creation.
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The image is from Wikimedia Commons by Peter Kaminski.
 Joseph Ratzinger, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” Homosexualitatis Problema, Vatican Website, October 1, 1986, accessed April 13, 2012, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html. According to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, “[a]lthough the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” I do not here wish to challenge the Church's position on why homosexual acts are considered sinful insofar as they are not ordered toward the procreation of children and so such acts are equivalent with the sin of fornication. The Church holds the same understanding of fornication for heterosexual persons engaging in sexual acts outside of marriage or within marriage where contraception is used to ensure procreation will not take place. This is a question pertaining to theological ethics and is therefore a separate and distinct issue from the ontological question of whether or not one's sexual orientation is to be considered an “objective disorder,” regardless of the actions one does with that orientation. Although I have my own opinions on the former question, I will not address the larger scope of the issue in this paper.
 Simon Levay, "A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men," Science 253, no. 5023 (1991): 1034-1037; and Joe Herbert, "Who Do We Think We Are? The Brain and Gender Identity," Brain 131, no. 12 (2008): 3115-3117
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