Of Kangaroos and Kings

Article excerpt

Antiques Roadshow is a popular TV program that features nothing but happy endings. People bring various artifacts of unknown value for expert appraisal. Invariably, these experts, who have astonishing knowledge in their respective fields, appraise these objects - that were gathering dust in someone's attic or basement - at very high prices. The owners, who always underestimate the value of their wares, are predictably delighted when apprised of me lofty market value of their items. In fact, there appears to be a direct proportion between the value of the artifact and the delight of the owner.

Now, I have a fantasy in which I appear on Antiques Roadshow under the pretense of being an expert appraiser. But the guests are my emics students of long ago who had been unduly influenced by secular trends. I try to explain to them, one by one, that who they are as human beings is far more valuable than what they have, enunciating the moral principle that "being" is more important man "having."

And so, instead of appraising their possessions, I appraise them. I inform my erstwhile students mat they are more precious than diamonds, mat they were created by die greatest Artist of them all, and mat they possess an immortal soul. Alas, my exalted appraisal does not delight them. As a matter of fact, it actually saddens them.

They explain, in turn, that they are really products of chance, descendents of apes, and destined to peaceful oblivion. They reject my high appraisal of them, preferring to believe that they evolved from slime, have little intrinsic value, and are heading for nowheresville.

The philosophies of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre and other low evaluators of the human being danced through my mind. My poor misguided students, I thought to myself. They never acted this way when they received high grades. An A paper was always regarded as higher and more happiness-inducing man an F. Curiously, however, they preferred an F grade for themselves as individual human beings rather than an A. Perhaps their low self-evaluation helped to explain their exaggerated enthusiasm for good grades. They had seemingly emptied themselves into their possessions.

"What is man that God is mindful of him?" asked the Psalmist (Psalm 8:4). Man must be rather special in order to be a genuine concern of God. Doesn't God have better things to think about? Christianity goes further. By becoming human, Christ greatly ennobles all of humanity. His Passion proves that man is worth suffering and dying for. Man's inherent value is beyond reckoning.

Yet, my students rejected this Biblical view of man. "That's all based on faith," they said. "We are into science now and listen to what scientists tell us." It does not seem to bother them that they are either listening to the wrong scientists or capitulating to pseudo-scientists. The fact that faith and reason are harmonious does not interest them.

I turned to the master of all literary humanists, William Shakespeare, and cited his glorious description of man from Act II, Scene 2 of Hamlet:

What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! ... the quintessence of dust.

But it was to no avail. "Shakespeare has to be deconstructed," my students, now turned teachers, glibly informed me. Western tradition had passed and my ethics students were now card-carrying members of a brave new world. Besides, they had read and absorbed behaviorist B. F. Skinner:

To man qua man we readily say good riddance. "How like a god!" said Hamlet. Pavlov, die behavioral scientist, emphasized, "How like a dog!" That was a step forward.

Evolution, Materialism, Deconstructionism, and Behaviorism are the new "Four Horsemen," but heading the world, nonetheless, like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to the same perdition. …