While driving to Seattle the car radio broadcast evangelist Joel Osteen giving a talk he titled “see yourself as a masterpiece.” It interested me enough to listen to the full broadcast and made me reflect on my belief that we are each unique from every other human being who’s ever existed. This view is in conflict with the scientific view of an author of a book I just completed: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari.
The author is a biologist who sees the universe entirely in scientific terms with no supreme power, no individual value and religion as a myth. He begins by pointing out that 13.5 billion years ago matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. He says about 3.5 billion years ago on planet Earth molecules combined to form organisms and that about 70,000 years ago organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form structures called cultures. He rejects individualism or uniqueness because he says we are simply the end product of this evolutionary process and have created religion to answer our questions.
“Our liberal political and judicial systems are founded on the belief that every individual has a sacred inner nature, indivisible and immutable, which gives meaning to the world, and which is the source of all ethical and political authority. This is a reincarnation of the traditional Christian belief in a free and eternal soul that resides within each individual. Yet over the last 200 years, the life sciences have thoroughly undermined this belief. Scientist studying the inner workings of the human organism have found no soul in their search. As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without any goal or purpose. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”
Now, I happen fully accept the science of evolution which I don’t see as excluding belief in God or a higher power. I am not one who believes we must read Scripture in a literal sense regarding creation nor that we must reject science in conflict with the literal words in Geneses. I differ from the author over his argument people are not unique creations but simply an evolutionary by product produced by chance. Nor do I agree with his rejection of our value as human beings and rejection of any spiritual or religious beliefs.
As to our uniqueness , Scripture makes it clear we are one of a kind. For example, Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Jeremiah 1:5 says: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I created you;” Isaiah 64:8 says: “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
I choose to believe that we are each unique because there is uniqueness in the world around us. Millions of snowflakes fall every year and yet no two snowflakes are alike. Every single snowflake is completely unique. it is astounding to think of the human beings who have lived, now live in, will live on planet Earth with each a unique creation. No one else is just like you. Your physical appearance, your voice, your fingerprints, your personality traits, your habits, intelligence, personal taste – all of these make you one-of-a-kind. You are not simply an product from some cosmic assembly-line. The evolutionary process that created you created one-of-a-kind. You are a masterpiece unlike any other human being. The likes of you have never existed on the face of the earth and will never exist on this earth again because you are totally unique.
What is important is being a real person in our uniqueness. Between 18 and 24 months of age science tells us that human infants become conscious of their thoughts feelings and sensations. They begin the process of creating an image of who they are. The authentic child we start out to be often times becomes hidden behind masks we create to pretend like we are someone we are not. Culture teaches us to hide our feelings and to learn behaviors. What we say to ourselves defines who we think we are. Yet, Americans are deeply invested in the idea of the importance of being authentic. Authenticity is part of our national consciousness. We look for it in others.
We see that in the political campaigns going on now where the issue is the trustworthiness and authenticity of the politicians running for office. Saying anything to become elected is far too common. This is part of our contemporary culture which mocks the idea of being ourselves. We are a culture of cosmetic surgery, steroids, pharmaceuticals and dieting to change how we look and to adopt a personality for others benefit. Yet the components of authenticity are self-awareness: knowledge of the trust in one’s own motives, emotions, preferences and abilities. Accurately evaluating our strengths and weaknesses as well as accepting responsibility for our actions without resorting to denial or blame are part of being an authentic person. Authenticity includes acting in ways that are congruent with our own values and having a sold value system is essential to being authentic. That’s where religious beliefs become important.
Authenticity involves the risk of criticism or even rejection. Authenticity is not for the faint of heart. Accurate self-knowledge can be painful. It can feel better to be embraced as an imposter then to be rejected for the person we really are.
The most important beliefs we have are the beliefs we hold about ourselves. How we define ourselves and what we believe we can achieve is the strongest force in human personality. Our self identity is the most important power that determines who we are and what we accomplished. We act according to the views we hold of who we are whether those views are accurate or not. We also have the power to reinvent ourselves and create a new identity by what we say to ourselves and believe.
In addition to the fact that being an authentic person is a strong factor in having peace of mind it is a requirement for greatness for a trial lawyer. Our professional role is that of persuasion, but, within the rules and with professional ethical conduct. Truthfulness is the most important weapon in our arsenal for trial. Truthfulness includes not only what we represent to others, but also being honest to ourselves and to others about who we really are. We will be identified as fakes and imposters if we pretend to be somebody we are not by others and by jurors. It can happen in the blink of an eye during trial. Jurors are looking for truthful and trustworthy people they can rely upon. They reject people who they believe are not being real.
When we accept the fact that we are unique masterpieces unlike anyone else we are empowered to become great. It is the authentic uniqueness of the masterpiece we are that gives us the power to become great. We may not be tall beautiful or handsome. We may not have deep resonant voices of great actors or in fact any of the qualities we have come to expect in actors. Yet if we accept our greatness which flows from our uniqueness and present ourselves honestly with truthfulness, we become powerful. Scripture in 2 Corinthians 12:8 says “And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” When we make ourselves vulnerable by exposing our inner self and being authentic we are made strong by the reaction of others who recognize our authenticity in doing so.
Martin Buber relates a Hasidic parable about Rabbi Zusya. He has a deathbed revelation that he shares with friends keeping vigil at his side. “In the next life, I shall not be asked: why were you not more like Moses? I shall be asked instead: why were you not more like Zuzya?”