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Data’s Humanity

If being human is not simply a matter of being born flesh and blood… if it is instead a way of thinking, acting… and feeling… then I am hopeful that one day I will discover my own humanity. Until then… I will continue… learning, changing, growing… and trying to become more than what I am.

This week’s Monday Media Meltdown features another sci-fi phenomenon well known for grappling with the nature of what it means to be human—Star Trek.  Of course, no one really gets obsessive about Star Trek, right?  Like maintaining a site that has copies of every script ever written from all the movies and series, which is where I got the above quote? 

But I disgress.  What does it mean to be human? In one way or another, we all have to answer the question.  Some of the behaviorists and biologists say we are no more than a sophisticated animal, a naked ape (to quote zoologist Desmond Morris), a bag of chemicals which exists only to react in certain predictable ways.

Data, the human-wanna-be android of Star Trek, spends much time pondering the nature of humanity and the nature of himself.  His above quote at least reveals that he is on to something: to be human is more than just “being born flesh and blood”—for that would put us simply on par with the animals.  Data understands that it is something more, “a way of thinking, acting, and feeling”—and he hopes as he learns, changes, and grows, that he may become “human.”

What does it mean to be human? The Bible reveals that to be human is to have been created imago dei—in the image of God, which involves a whole range of what is called God’s “communicable attributes”, those aspects of God’s being that He is able to fashion in finite creatures, like love, laughter, community, compassion, justice, creativity, and choice.

In a way we are just like Data: we understand a little of what it means “to be human”—we see glimpes of love and community and creativity in ourselves and others—but we also sense that something is missing or somehow has gotten messed up.  Data’s best answer is the answer most of humanity has chosen: to continue learning, changing, growing, to become a better human along this path of life.

Unfortunately, we know for Data that his is a fruitless quest: he can never become truly, fully human.  Likewise, it is a fruitless quest for us: the imago dei within us was permanently corrupted by Adam and Eve’s fall, and there is nothing we can do that can regain it; there is no path we can take back to Eden.

That’s were Christ comes in—his life and death restore our communion with God and regenerate our souls back into something that God can mold into His imago dei.  Our new birth comes, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)  So it is only from our new birth in Christ can we regain our true and full humanity.