… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. I Corinthians 6:19-20 NRSV
These words shook the world.
They did not shake the world all at once, but gradually. The practice of the humble, peace-loving Christian permeated the per-medieval period of western civilization with a culture changing impact. Human dignity became a universal element. Notice that the writer of I Corinthians does not condition the recipient of God’s blessing, but rather encourages a behavior resulting from respect for a gift already given.
In A Brief History of Human Dignity: Idea and Application, Milton Lewis gives us a clear picture of how the idea of the elevation of human life became a right bestowed upon every individual – no matter what their station was in life. Even human slaves are given this station in society (eventually).
The Christian contribution to this revolution is a theme that passes through the pages of New Testament scripture with the tone expressed in I Corinthians 6. In this passage, the letter admonishes the church at Corinth to act as if they are God's ambassadors to the world.
“… glorify God in your body” is a concept not completely foreign to the Corinthian Greeks. Another teacher, Plato, talks of how people and events are a ‘shadow of the gods.’ In other words, what humans do is a reflection of the divine. What makes the Christian concept different is not the process, but the character of their god.
The Christians worshiped Yahweh. This is a specific god revealed through the Torah. Yahweh is defined as a creator. This God is defined not as one who caused the universe to come into existence, but a god who (which) they believed was/is an organizing, and beneficial agent against chaos.
Christians understood that acting in a dignified and godlike fashion was to follow the ancient Levitical law according to Jesus’ interpretation. The author of the Corinthian letter was encouraging these Christians to reveal God to the community through their actions and social interaction.
Jesus’ interpretation of Levitial law was compassionate and encourages self sacrifice of one’s own resources. This behavior gave dignity to themselves and to those they contacted.
Out of this behavior eventually comes the concept of individual rights represented in the Magna Carta written and decreed in England in 1215. (Danny Danziger & John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta. Although the rights enumerated in that document limited the rights to everyone with the exception of the surfs, it was the beginning of a tradition that finally culminated in the Bill of Rights found in the USA constitution.
In the Constitution of the United States, this list of rights is to be bestowed upon every US citizen. Actually the wording in the Constitution appears to be more universal in concept, and not limited to nationality.
Thus we get the words “... one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” These words were adopted in this form by the US Congress in 1954. It is not the words “under God” so much that is revolutionary, but the words “justice for all.” These revolutionary words are being proclaimed around the world and throughout all humanity.
People are still searching for the best way to govern such a people, but the principal is believed by most of the population of the world – especially the poor. They want their freedom. The freedom they hunger for is actually to be treated with dignity as if their bodies are Temples of God. They feel that the dignity bestowed upon them by their very existence (whether it be by a god or not) is a right, not a privilege.
To me, a Christian, it means that every person is blessed with the opportunity to, not pretend to be an ambassador of God, but to be IN FACT an ambassador of God.