Excerpts taken from Markus Mühling’s Resonances: Neurobiology, Evolution and Theology: Evolutionary Niche Construction, the Ecological Brain and Relational-narrative Theology (2014).
If creation resonates its origin in divine love in its very ontic structure, as Christianity claims, then human animals are also images – or better resonances – of divine love. The understanding of the concrete imago dei therefore depends on one’s understanding of God in a concrete way. …
Not a theistic God
If the Christian God was a theistic God, an incorporeal, omnipotent and omniscient being, able to do anything it wants except what is logically impossible, and reigning over the created world in a hierarchical manner, then our understanding of humans corresponding to this understanding would be one that either sees humans as objects of the will of this divine despot or as participating in the despot’s power and arbitrariness. Since theistic voluntarism actually came about in early modernity, this view of humans as bearing the image of a despotic individual God was and still is very common, even in cases where the existence of such a deity is denied. In many cases, humans have simply inherited its position themselves and humanity’s image was shaped in the image of such a deity. This result is only amplified if one denies the existence of such a deity, as now most of these predicates can be transferred to humanity. … There is no question about the fact that the doctrine of the imago dei and the related doctrine of dominium terrae have been misused to wrongly justify arbitrary domination of ‘nobles’ over other ‘classes’, of some ‘races’ over others, of males over females, of humans over non-human animals, etc. It is generally obvious that these were mistakes. Nevertheless, the image of theistic arbitrariness persists. Often complicit in the understanding of humans is simply a variation on the same theme. Instead of some humans being put into the role of the divine ruler and bearing the image of God and some excluded from this role, every single individual is understood to be in this position. The individualistic idea that every social rule relies on the negotiation of a kind of a social contract, the hedonistic idea that every as an individual has the right to feel perfect happiness, the relativistic idea that everyone has to define him-/herself what can be seen as good and/or true, and the misunderstanding that evolution is about the survival of the stronger individuals fit perfectly into this version of rendering humans in the image of a theistic deity.(180-181)
Not an impersonal pantheistic God
God, or perfection, is identified with the whole of the universe, its (more or less) rational structure of law, which can be interpreted in either a mechanistic or an economic way. Even in this case, the image of humanity resonates these conceptions of the divine. The resonance in this paradigm consists in conceiving humans as part of the machine. We see ourselves as bodies rather than as a Leib, we try to separate the natural and corporeal from some residuum of the soul, we try to understand ourselves as homines oeconomici and we tend to broaden this functional understanding of humanity to all areas of thought. The representationalist idea that all living forms, including humans, are merely vehicles for their genes and are shaped by the constraints of a purely mechanistic environment is an expression of this paradigm as well as its broadening to the cultural realm in ‘sociobiology’ or the contemporary and postdemocratic tendency to technocracy. Decisions by communities and societies (which should be democratic according to their explicit self-understanding) demonstrate in many cases and at increasing levels nothing but acquiescence to the factors with which they are composed and that therefore economic and scientific rationality will have to determine our social decisions. The expansion of regional markets into global markets, including many politicians’ conviction to order their decisions according to the TINA (there-is-no-alternative) principle, are both expressions of this attitude. (181-182)
Nor a combination of both
Interestingly, both the theistic and mechanistic image of humanity are present at the same time, even though they are logically incommensurable. According to Peter Berger’s analyses from the 1980s, modernity and postmodernity force us to conceive of ourselves in the image of the volutaristic God in the reality of our having to make decisions in more realms than ever before. We have to decide about our spouses, our work, the place where we want to live, our political, religious and ethical preferences, and even about our sexual ones. Whereas we seemed to be forced into voluntaristic individualism, the constraints of mechanistic collectivism of the global market or the ecological crisis prevent there effectively being any space for really important decisions. In addition, the economy of an unrestricted market relies on both of these two non-coherent images of humanity at the same time. As part of the working environment and in being employed we are parts of collectives, we have to follow the mechanisms of the collective, in most cases companies or other institutions that provide work, and we are forced to conceive of ourselves as ascetics in providing as much power for the lowest cost for the sake of the specific collective within the framework of its competitive situation. At the same time, in our private lives, in our spare time, we are called to conceive of ourselves as individuals, as free and possessing the (financial) power we need in order to express ourselves and to actualize our wishes about who we want to be and our individual fulfilment in demonstrating attitudes of hedonistic consumer behaviour.(182)