Return to Human after Human: Pope Francis and Michel Serres

Our ways of being humans are intimately entwined with knowledge. It seems that both Pope Francis and Michel Serres agree on this issue. Serres thinks that the body of the knower supported knowledge. A Teacher, for instance, was a living walking library. As time passed knowledge began to be supported externally. This externalization of the support for knowledge changed at least three times: first knowledge was supported by rolls or parchments, next knowledge began to be supported by printed books, and now in our days, knowledge is supported by the internet. Earlier knowledge was concentrated in persons or institution, today it is distributed and therefore is available and accessible to all across great distances. This is why learning does not just occur in schools, colleges and universities but in homes as well movements across great distances. Pope Francis seems to admit the distributed nature of knowledge today and therefore, he invites a global compact on education. The internet has accelerated the pace of knowledge production, distribution and circulation. Therefore, it has also changed our ways of being human in the world.

The Pope acknowledges the rapidification of our condition. This acceleration has led to several changes. Knowledge is no longer concentrated in some privileged sites like the university or school. We are living in a new algorithmic condition that sets apart the present era from previous eras of objectification. The holy father expresses his concern over the lack of access as well as global indifference in the sphere of education. He thinks that educational pact is in a state of breakdown and can only be mended and renewed by a universal effort of generosity and cooperation involving families, schools, and social, cultural, religious institutions. This indicates that we can describe our radically new condition with a metaphor for the algorithm used by Serres. Pope Francis also has a metaphor to describe our condition. He refers to our era as an age of fluidity or gaseousness. He says that to face this condition humans are called to be servants of life and not its master. Hence, he declares that a new humanism has to begin in our Lord Jesus Christ. He says that the centrality of Jesus Christ was required because in him we find the authentic face of man. Serres sees his universal humanism/ post-humanism as part of a great story of the universe. This story is not just about the universe but is being told by the universe too. Although Serres does not explicitly make room for Jesus Christ in the great story of the universe, it cannot be said that he fully atheological or achristological. This is only way we can avoid the great story of Serres from becoming a ‘host story’ forcing all humans into a single narrative mould in the same way a host capacity or host substance routes all discourse about human into one single characteristic or quality.

The new humanism of Pope Francis as well as the universal humanism of Serres suspects the notion of the human developed on the back of death of God proclaimed by Fredrick Nietzsche. This anthropocentric humanism was simply a placeholder and quickly went the way of its divine counterpart. Michel Foucault declared that man was a recently evented concept and was erased from the sands of time. The end of man came over the weight of the crises of Cartesian and Kantian modernity. Although, Jean Paul Satre saw his existentialism as humanism, Martin Heidegger differed and embraced an anti-humanist existentialism. Serres rejects humanism of Modernity and antihumanism of the twentieth century. He gives up the dualisms of human/nature and Human /meaning (assumption that earth/universe is meaningless without human)and thinks that nature is a subject in its own right and produces its own meaning. This means Serres and Pope Francis challenges us to return to become ordinary humans who live in harmony with nature that is also an inter-subject. In a way, we are returning to God after God and human after human. This means a new figure of the human is emerging in the teaching of Pope Francis and the thought of Serres.

The return to the human that we can trace in Serres as well as Pope Francis is a return to human after human. Here we are challenged to accept that it is despite of their differences, not merely in spite of them that diverse and illuminating transformations of the human can be discerned when we study them comparatively. The new or universal humanism that is taught by Serres and Pope Francis is non-reducting, integral and integrating. Unfortunately, often human has been thought in isolation as a substance, as having a special capacity ( to think and reason) or as being a relational being. The new humanism of Pope Francis as well as the universal humanism of Serres moves beyond this trichotomy. Unfortunately, humans emphasized one substance, one capacity and one relation as the sole bearer of their distinctiveness. Thus, we may discern that it may change from time and place, depending on what is thought to be properly human. It is this distinctive property of being human that is thought to be locus humanus. Thus, we may have homo neuronalis , the neural man of neuroscience of our day. We have the imago dei of the Bible or zoon Politikon od Aristotle as the markers of being human. The figures of human keep shifting depending on which pole of the trichotomy is taken as hosting the distinctiveness of being human.

In contemporary philosophy for instance, we have the capacity for affirmative thinking as being viewed as the distinctive feature that hosts us a humans in the thought of Alain Badiou. Thus, we may identify different hosts, or gatekeepers or boundary markers of the humans among the non-human animals, organic and inorganic entities. Serres and Pope Francis continue the affirmative thinking but are not confined by the trichotomy of substance, capacity and relation. There is another distinctive feature of their position. We can see that they teach that humans as beings in the world do not inhabits a meaningless and indifferent universe. To Pope Francis, creation bears the signature of the creator. His holiness teaches that we have the gospel of creation inscribed into the creation. Creation, therefore, is God’s welcome and expression of love and care. The emphasis on the embodied and the embedded nature of humans in the work of Serres offers us a rich and profound ways of being humans. This means the great story of Serres has room for several stories which includes the stories of nature. Hence, we have to take care that we do not fall into the fallacy of interpreting the great story of Serres as a singular host narrative of humans that silences other humans as well non-human beings. We have the challenge to affirm nature, human and the divine.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao