A few years ago I took a trip to Thailand and taught high school students English (whether I should teach English or not is another issue). Those who know me will recollect that this is where I first met who I would now classify as my wife. But something else that had a significant impact upon my life happened.
Before going to Thailand I didn’t really enjoy the taste of pineapples. Meh. While in Thailand, however, I had the honor of tasting fresh home grown pineapple. The results were jarring. Anyone who has been to another country and has tried a freshly plucked fruit, which otherwise would have been imported from another country, will perhaps have this same understanding.
So here’s the rub. I used to dislike pineapples. I still don’t really enjoy the taste of imported pineapples, but now I can appreciate pineapples for what they should be. By tasting what a true pineapple should taste like I can appreciate the fruit known as the pineapple.
In a perhaps similar way (you be the judge), I think the same sort of idea applies to the moral worth, or value, and purpose of human beings. Unless we have a perfect referent by which to judge what a human being is and what a human being should be, then we all end up being pineapples. Not a great or disgusting pineapple. Just a pineapple. Nothing tells us we should even be a pineapple in the first place either.
Unless I have tasted the true freshly grown pineapple I have no way of judging what constitutes as a great, sort of great, mediocre, base level, or hellish pineapple. I just know what a pineapple – void of moral categories (some may say delicious food is a moral category) – tastes like.
I see this concept as having an implication for you and for myself. Unless we have “tasted”, or have known, the true referent for what a human being is and should be, then we have no hope of having an actual cogent basis for valuing human beings (other than making up pragmatic categories of what makes a person, at a foundational level, valuable), and progressing as a race or a person. Progress implicitly needs a standard or measure to adhere to, otherwise we have mere meandering.
If there is no moral measure or standard, then we cannot have moral progress. Just moral opinion and preference.
We may see what humans think they are or what they think they should be, but without that perfect referent to show us what the measure really is, we are lost to find good or great people. Even so, we are lost in finding evil and disgusting people. We are all just mere pineapples.
To end off here, this is what Christianity claims – God came to us to show us what the true human life should be. Many claim to have found the way to heaven, to have discovered morality, or to have created an ultimate purpose for their life. But only one major figure has claimed to be the way to God, be the measure of morality, and be the referent for human purpose.
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”