Made in the Image of God

August 12, 2019/ David Baggett

A vital part of Fred Rogers’ compelling and irrepressibly optimistic vision of the world was his understanding of human beings as spiritual creatures—every last one of them. Young and old, saints and sages, bullies and bombasts, all of them are sacred, eternal creatures with a divine stamp on them. And owing to that stamp—the very image of God, the imago dei—each person is imbued with infinite value and worth.

            Fred was an ordained Christian minister, and Christianity has a lot to say about our imperfections and fallings short, which introduces the need for forgiveness. Fred even sang about it. First used on The Children’s Corner and later on the Neighborhood (until it had to be removed because of the explicit reference to God) was the song Goodnight, God. The words and music were by Josie Carey and Fred, and it went like this:

Goodnight, God, and thank you for this very lovely day.
Thank you, too, for helping us at work and at our play.
Thank you for our families. For each and every friend.
Forgive us, please, for anything we’ve done that might offend.

Keep us safe and faithful, God. Tell us what to do.
Goodnight God. And thank you God for letting us love you.
Goodnight God. And thank you God for letting us love you.

Fred wasn’t the sort of practical theologian to start with the bad news of our faults and failures and foibles. He was much more wont to start more positively, and this wasn’t just because of his own preferences; he had an important theological reason for doing so.

Readers may know that in a framed print on his office wall he prominently displayed his favorite quote “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux” from the children’s book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Its translation is that what’s essential is invisible to the eye. Fred liked to emphasize what’s essential, rather than what’s merely apparent, peripheral, or accidental.

Our sinful condition is not essential to us. Even if everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, sin is universal, but not essential. It’s not who we are; it doesn’t define us. If there’s hope that by God’s grace our sin can be forgiven and defeated, that shows that sin isn’t central to our identity. It can go away and we can remain. Essential features have no such property. Sin is rather what we might call merely contingent.

In contrast, though, if all of us as human beings, as Fred believed, have been made in God’s image, like the Bible teaches, then that is essential to who we are. In the biblical narrative, sin didn’t enter the picture until the third chapter of Genesis. Fred went farther back to the creation narrative and its rich theology. Our creation in God’s imago dei reveals something that not only all of us hold in common, but something absolutely central to our deepest identity.

Like the Oxford luminary Austin Farrer taught, Fred thought that learning to love our neighbor involves nothing less than learning to see God in our neighbor and our neighbor in God. Farrer was a close friend of C. S. Lewis and advanced a version of the moral argument. For a taste of Farrer’s argument, consider the way we normatively ought to think about other people. It is of great importance, Farrer argued, that we value them rightly, that we think about others in such a way as to regard them properly.

The only limitations that such deep regard for others should encounter are those that cannot be avoided. Such regard should be at once so pure and so entire that it leads to a sort of frustration that derives from the incompleteness of our definition of those we so regard. Thinking of our neighbors in too garden variety a way can’t sustain the esteem we intuitively think they deserve. The conclusion to which Farrer felt compelled is that what deserves our regard is not simply our neighbor, but God in our neighbor and our neighbor in God.

Such a vision deeply resonated with Fred’s own, because for Fred, too, recognition of the sacredness of our neighbors should have profound implications. They’re not mere collections of atoms and molecules; not just cogs in machines or means to ends, but eternal, sacred beings who possess infinite value, worth, and dignity. Created by and in the image of a God of all goodness and perfect love, they’re capable of loving and being loved.

Baylor’s C. Stephen Evans has written Natural Signs and Knowledge of God, where “natural signs” serve as pointers toward God—though nothing like absolute demonstrations. Natural signs, on his view, provide a measure of good evidence for belief in God. He refers to two moral natural signs, one of which is human dignity and worth, this very reality that captured Fred’s imagination.

Catholic novelist Graham Greene, in his The Power and the Glory, has written, “When you visualized a man or a woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity . . . that was a quality God’s image carried with it . . . when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”

As God loves us without conditions, so we too should strive to love our neighbors. Fred would often say that love isn’t a state of perfect caring, but that it’s an active noun like ‘struggle’. “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, here and now.” He always kept these words from a social worker in his pocket: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

Fred would agree with C. S. Lewis that we’ve never met an ordinary person. And with Marilynne Robinson, who wrote in Gilead, “Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any.”

 Editor’s note: David Baggett is currently writing a book about Fred Rogers tentatively entitled Why Mister Rogers Bowed.


NPR erupts over ‘Male and female He created them’

Network can’t handle truth of God’s mind on sexuality



The Vatican has released a document titled “Male and female He created them” and it has NPR erupting in distress over the clear suggestion that there are men, there are women, and that’s how God created them.

The idea flies in the face of today’s politically correct social agenda that sometimes identifies many different sexual orientations or gender identities. The fight is going on over and over across America as men who say they are women demand to enter women’s shower rooms and more.

At the agenda’s extremities Democratic majorities in some states are banning even discussion by counselors of a heterosexual lifestyle with minors who have unwanted homosexual feelings.

Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh noted that June is a month to celebrate homosexual “pride.”

And he pointed out that although the pope generally adopts “left-wing activist stuff,” in this case, he has “come out and denied during pride month the concept of gender identity.”

He quoted from a report on the issue, “The Vatican department charged with overseeing Catholic education released an extensive document Monday decrying what it calls a ‘crisis’ on whether gender can be an individual choice rather than being set by God or biology.”

The quote continued, “The document describes a culture-wide ‘disorientation’ that serves to ‘cancel out’ the natural difference between man and woman, as well as ‘destabilize the family as an institution.’”

“‘The Congregation for Catholic Education says the goal of the 31-page guide –’ This is a guide on how you shouldn’t do this transgender stuff and you shouldn’t destabilize the family and if you’re born a woman, be happy about it. Born a man, be happy. You don’t have to right to choose this. Gender is not something you choose. God determines it. That’s in the guide,” Limbaugh said.

NPR said in an online report, “The timing of its release … during the heart of Pride Month, led some to wonder whether Vatican bureaucracy was making a point.

“The text was dated Feb. 2, 2019, but was only made public more than four months later, around the time gay-rights supporters the world over gathered at rallies, parades and concerts honoring the LGBTA community.”

NPR pointed out that Pope Francis has in the past suggested sympathy for LGBTQ community members.

“But that support has not extended to transgender individuals, whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth,” the report said.

Explained Limbaugh, “And the goal of the guide, according to the Congregation for Catholic Education, is to ‘support those who work in the education of young people, so as to help them address in a methodical way (and in the light of the universal vocation to love of the human person) the most debated questions around human sexuality.’”

He explained the document simply states traditional Catholic teaching.

“So essentially here the pope is saying that God determines the sex of human beings. To do otherwise will destabilize the family as an institution. Let me tell you, when the left cannot count on Pope Francis, then they’ve got trouble,” Limbaugh said.

The document itself explained, “It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now fac[ed] with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which ‘allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason.’ The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.”

The new Vatican release’s sub-head is “Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”

The paper included a warning: “The context in which the mission of education is carried out is characterized by challenges emerging from varying forms of an ideology that is given the general name ‘gender theory,’ which ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.

“This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”

It explains that it actually is from their sex “that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual selves, make that person a man or a woman.”

The Vatican document explained that there have been calls for public recognition of the right “to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.

“The ideal presented is that the individual should be able to choose his or her own status, and that society should limit itself to guaranteeing this right, and even providing material support, since the minorities involved would otherwise suffer negative social discrimination,” the document states.

The transgender agenda points in society, then, the report said, “are the expression of a widespread way of thinking and acting in today’s culture that confuses ‘genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily as if there were not truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permission.’”