I'm a big fan of The Bourne Identity. Yes, it has wicked cool action scenes. If I'm honest, part of it is an allure for near superhuman abilities - whether it's speaking languages, fighting skills, or split-second escape planning. What I find most compelling, however, is the quest for identity: "Who am I?" is a burning question the entire movie. Bourne can't make sense of his abilities, he can't find meaning, until he knows who he is.
Jason Bourne isn't the only one who is searching for meaning. We all make decisions every day beginning with the decision to get out of bed or not. We want to have a certain thread or threads that tie our many decisions together; that's what it means to be a person of character. Those threads speak to our identity. In turn it reveals the meaning and significance of our actions.
For the remainder of this post I call attention to three aspects of the Judeo-Christian answer to "Where do I come from?"
A later post will consider the Catholic position on evolution or take up other questions you might wish to share in comments to this post.
1. We were created out of love, for love. In the Jewish and Christian tradition God created ex nihilo, which means "out of nothing." In the beginning was God and nothing else. From nothing He made all that exists. That's a very big deal! For present purposes, though, it's sufficient to say that God did not have to create us, He did not have to create anything at all, He did not have to create anything in particular. This allows us to recognize that God chose to create the universe, the planet earth, and us - because love moved Him to do so. Furthermore, since it was not necessary for any particular thing to exist, each creature's place within the whole follows God's design and guidance. That is why Catholics believe that use of reason alone can lead to a recognition that God exists. However, faith is indispensable if we are to know who God is and to enter into a relationship with Him.
2. We are made in the image of God. We establish our identity by recognizing how we are like other people/creatures (that's why there's often a desire to be part of a team or part of a group of friends) as well as recognizing how we are not like other people/creatures (that's why some teens feel a need to rebel against parents' norms). A lot of emphasis today is on how we are like animals. It is still true that there are many ways that we are not like animals. The Christian tradition sees those characteristics that are unique to humans as a reflection of God, and that gives human beings a unique value and a unique responsibility within the universe that God has created. Much could be said about what that role is. For now, I want to reiterate the value or dignity it implies.
A dollar bill or a quarter has value because of its connection to the United States. In terms of art, a Rembrandt or a Picasso has value because of who painted it. The claim that we are made in the image of God means that you or I or any other human being has value because of our capacity to reveal God.
3. We share a common humanity. According to the Biblical narrative all humans descended from a set of common parents - Adam and Eve. That makes us one human family. Most of those who read this post will readily accept the idea of being or at least aspiring to one human family. But is that realistic? History is replete with examples where one family, tribe, or race will take land, resources, prestige from another family or tribe to gain relative power. The prevalence of such examples would suggest that we are not one human family, or that such is unattainable. It is only the Biblical narrative, ascribing our origin to a single set of parents, that makes the idea of one human family plausible.
"Where do I come from?" is a big question. I chose to call attention to three aspects: We were created by love; we are made in the image of God; We share a common humanity because they will be important in answering the question "How am I to live this present life?" Many other aspects could be considered (I will do so if asked in the comments). Much, much, much more could be said about each aspect above; I aimed for brevity. The next post will begin to answer "What is the Catholic position on evolution?" before proceeding to the question: "Where am I going?"