Why do you matter?
What is the point of your life? Why is it valuable or important that you be here on this earth right now?
I’m not talking about the value you make up out of thin air. A cat may want to be a lion, but it is still a cat. I mean why, truly and objectively, does your existence matter? Would it mean anything one way or the other if you were suddenly gone?
All of us ask ourselves these questions at one point or another, but we don’t all answer them the same way.
Some see our value in terms of our species. Like works of art, so are all the different types of creatures on earth. We should preserve them for posterity.
But that comes up against some interesting and disturbing problems. Certain species are nearly extinct. It would seem their value is higher than ours. We’ve got millions of lives to spare before we’re endangered. As some philosophers would argue, the right thing to do is to give your money to, say, preserving the whales instead of supporting grandma in her old age.
So why do you matter?
For some it’s a matter of function. You are important to the extent that you are useful. The President of the United States matters more than the president of the local chess club. If the leader of the free world were gone suddenly, it would throw a wrench in the governing machinery of an entire nation. If the president of the chess club disappears… well, we’ll miss him.
Which brings up another thought. Do we matter only because people care about us? Whoever gets the most Instagram likes is the most important? Perhaps we are like beloved dogs. If the dog is a pet and you give it a name and she becomes part of the family, then the dog matters. If it is just a stray, then it is unimportant. Might as well put it down if it is causing society too much trouble.
Maybe it is a matter of function. Someone in a permanent coma matters less than someone awake and sentient. Someone healthy and able to live a full life matters more than someone who is at death’s door. Might as well give them the boot if they are on life support.
Perhaps it’s a matter of ability. A person who is smart and capable of independence matters more than someone mentally handicapped or crippled.
Have I offended you yet? Is this getting a little too uncomfortable?
The Catholic Answer
How about this?
Maybe we do not matter because of what others think of us or because we can do certain things or because we are an endangered species. Maybe we human beings matter simply because we exist. Maybe our very existence is intrinsically valuable. Perhaps what we are in our spiritual and physical DNA is what makes us important. Essence over function.
Yet that comes with it’s own set of problems as well, if you want to call them that. If I matter not because I have certain abilities or can do certain things, then that means everyone else matters, too, no matter what they can or cannot do, how much they own, how smart they are, or how small they are. Everyone from the unborn child inside a mother’s womb to the great grandfather on life support and everyone in between has as much value as I do. We are all worthy of living.
This is the Catholic view of the value of a single human life. You matter because you are created in the image of God. We all matter regardless of anything we can or cannot do.
This realization is uncomfortable because it means we have to own up to the ways we devalue each other – the way we screen for children with down syndrome so we can abort them, for example, or the lack of adequate health care for those who can’t afford it, or the way we ignore the homeless and handicapped.
Yet it is also freeing because it gets us out of this bizarre, invisible game we all play wherein the person who has the most toys, the most “likes”, the nicest clothes, or the biggest fan base wins, and everyone else loses.
You matter. I matter. We all matter. What a beautiful, terrible, wonderful, difficult thought.
©2020 Catholic Anonymous
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