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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label imago dei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label imago dei. Show all posts

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Pornography, Cannibalism, and Debasing Humanity through Non-Belief



In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort to mainstream pornography. Not only did several mainstream studio/high production value films choose to feature nudity and overt sex scenes, but the pornographic film Deep Throat became the center of attention across the nation. Even trusted middle American publication Time magazine produced a feature on Deep Throat,1 giving a smut film the air of credibility.2 The New York Times writer Ralph Blumenthal commented that the film had "become a premier topic of cocktail‐party and dinner‐table conversation in Manhattan drawing rooms, Long Island beach cottages and ski country A‐frames. It has, in short, engendered a kind of porno chic."3 Not discussed were the countless number of victims in pornography's wake. Linda Boreman, billed as Lovelace in the film, has said "When you see the movie Deep Throat you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time."

The trend towards porno-chic should have served as a caution. Sexual freedom advocates claimed licentiousness as liberation, arguing that old-fashioned morals were repressive and holding society back. However, the opposite has proven true. Today, one doesn't even have to look at naked people to see it.

Reza Aslan's interaction with a small extremist Hindu group of Aghori nomads where his face is smeared with the cremated ashes of the dead and he actually joins them in eating brains from the deceased and drinking from a human skull4 is as offensive and pornographic as any sexually explicit scene ever filmed. Aslan's choosing to capture the grotesque rituals of this tiny sect, not even representative of Hindus, is offered for shock value and to titillate. It reminds me of citizen spectators who stretch to view mangled bodies after an automobile accident: they feign horror as they struggle to see the carnage up close.

Robbing Human Worth for Ratings

Christianity has always held that human beings are intrinsically valuable. Human bodies are not a tool separate from the person, but part of what makes a person complete. Therefore the human body has intrinsic worth. Aslan's participation in eating brains is like a news reporter decrying the tragedy of the accident while zooming in for a close-up of the corpse. The very act itself is defiling and debases the value of the deceased. The Aztecs were noted for their human sacrifices, but we certainly don't need to recreate that today in order to understand their faith. Neither does any civilized person need to participate in cannibalism to understand the faith of this sect.

Here's the point: as our society abandons its Judeo-Christian ethic, it becomes more uncivilized by tolerating more and more acts of degradation. Pornography was previously seen as a vice that caters to man's animal instincts rather than his higher nature as a rational, civilized being. Newspapers wouldn't run pornography advertisements and "smut" carried a strong social stigma. Now, we have the most popular sit-coms writing full episodes about how the protagonists get to obsessively watch the free porn channel on their television set for a week.

Atheists are quick to charge that religion poisons everything and the world would be better without its constraints. They're wrong. No one would like to see their beloved parent or grandparent's body used as food for ritual or for ratings. It robs them of their dignity. Aslan is a secularist and he isn't behaving any better than these Aghori. CNN, in airing the piece, is also culpable. Porno-chic now includes mainstreaming cannibalism. What will be next?

References

1. "The Sexes: Wonder Woman." Time. Time Inc., 15 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,906765,00.html.
2. See this quote from Carolyn Bronstein: "The editors of the Los Angeles Times decided to stop bowdlerizing the Pussycat copy, figuring if small-town America could tolerate exposure to Deep Throat in the pages of its hallowed news weekly, then Californians could surely handle some movie ads." in Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-pornography Movement; 1976 - 1986. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 63. Print.
3. Blumenthal, Ralph. ""Hard‐core" Grows Fashionable—and Very Profitable." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/21/archives/pornochic-hardcore-grows-fashionableand-very-profitable.html.
4. Safi, Michael. "Reza Aslan Outrages Hindus by Eating Human Brains in CNN Documentary." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/reza-aslan-criticised-for-documentary-on-cannibalistic-hindus.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What if Morality was Based on Empiricism instead of Christianity?



The Western world is what it is because of the enormous influence of Christianity. Without a Christian understanding of human beings as those who bear the image of God, our society would be a far different place.

However, atheists have been pretty vocal in their contention that a society based on empirical mortality and not Christian values would be better for humanity. Neil deGrasse Tyson has recently advocated for such a virtual society he named "Rationalia." Tyson's proposal is problematic on many grounds, but he isn't the only one advocating for such a world.

New Atheist Sam Harris doesn't believe a Christian worldview is necessary to ground moral principles, either. In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris tries to argue for a secularly based moral framework. He believes that values and morality "translate into facts that can be scientifically understood: regarding negative social emotions, retributive impulses, the effects of specific laws and social institutions on human relationships, the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, etc. The most important of these facts are bound to transcend culture—just as facts about physical and mental health do."1

Viewing People through Empirical Lenses

Is Harris right? What would happen if a thoughtful, advanced culture viewed individuals through only an empirical framework? Physical and mental health states, as Harris mentions above, would feed into the value society places upon those individuals. This isn't speculation; we have a couple of good examples to show how this happens.

Along with Christianity, ancient Greek thought has significantly shaped western culture. At its zenith, Greece was one of the most advanced civilizations the world has ever seen and its philosophers continue to impact how we understand our world. Aristotle sought to scientifically categorize the various relationships between people in his On Politics. There, he begins

As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.2

Aristotle then goes on to systematically build his case. There are different kinds of communities to which we all belong: households/families, villages, city-states. He also notes there are also two kinds of necessary relationships for the human species to survive: the male-female relationship, which is necessary for the propagation of the species, and the ruler-servant relationship. Of the second, Aristotle's observations lead him to conclude that some people are naturally predisposed to be slaves of other, more capable men:
But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.3
When reading Aristotle's reasoning, one can see how systematically it moves from empirical observation through reason to its conclusions. Certain people are not smart, or not capable of leadership, or they don't measure up in any one of a myriad of ways. To Aristotle, it makes sense that those individuals are naturally predisposed to be the servants of others—the Gammas and Deltas of Huxley's Brave New World.

Darwinian Theory Leads down a Similar Road

But many people would dismiss this example as an argument against a "scientific approach" to morality simply because it's old. They may be tempted to say something like "We've learned so much in 2500 years, no one would come to such conclusions today." Yet, the modern eugenics movement, based on Darwinian evolutionary theory, took the United States by storm, classifying certain people as less worthy to reproduce. This even led to a Supreme Court case where the Court upheld the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck. Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. famously ordered Buck's sterilization concluding:
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.4
Adding to this, just two years ago famous atheist Richard Dawkins held that for a pregnant woman who has discovered her unborn baby has Down's Syndrome, morality means killing the child:
For what it's worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do. I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare.5
Each of these positions begin with a natural or empirical understanding of human beings. They measure people based on their output. But Christianity holds there is more to a person than his or her observable advantages for each one bears the image of God, which gives each one transcendent value. What other rational basis can one offer for holding that all people, even those with mental disabilities, hold inherent worth? There is no empirical measurement that makes us otherwise equal and at that point Aristotle and Dawkins may well be right.

What would a society without Christianity look like? It looks pretty scary indeed.

References

1. Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print. 1-2.
2. Aristotle. "Politics." The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 2001. Print. 1127.
3. Aristotle, Pol. 1132.
4. Russell, Thomas D. "BUCK v. BELL, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded, 274 U.S. 200 (1927)." American Legal History – Russell. 18 November 2009. Web. June 24, 2013. http://www.houseofrussell.com/legalhistory/alh/docs/buckvbell.htm.
5. Dawkins, Richard. "Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar." Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Richard Dawkins Foundation, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2016. https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/abortion-down-syndrome-an-apology-for-letting-slip-the-dogs-of-twitterwar/
Image courtesy Wellcome Library, London and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 [CC BY 4.0] license.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Why Eternal Punishment is not Nonsensical



Many people wrestle with the question of how an all-good and loving God could ever send someone to Hell. Some have claimed the two concepts don't make sense together; if God is good and loving, why of course he wouldn't send people to Hell for eternity. However, I have written before that to be separated from God means to be separated from his goodness and all that entails. Thus, the only thing left for a person where God's good gifts of peace, contentment, and rest are missing is torment.

For others, they may accept that God's justice would warrant him to allow a certain amount of suffering for those who rejected him. (For example, if one asks about what the fate for a cruel dictator or one who sells children into sexual slavery should be, most would understand simple annihilation as unfair. These people caused an undue amount of suffering and they shouldn't get off so easily by simply ceasing to be!) But why must such suffering be eternal? Isn't God unfair if the crime is finite but the punishment is infinite? Does the idea of an all-loving God and eternal punishment even make sense?

What Kind of Beings are Humans, Anyway?

To better understand God and his relationship with humanity, I think it's important to look at human beings the way God created them. In Genesis 1:27, the Bible states "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (ESV). The repetitive emphasis of being created in God's image (it is mentioned three times in verses 26 and 27) is meant to emphasize just how important this image bearing is.

As image-bearers, humans are endowed with the ability to weigh moral values and duties against our own actions. We are rational beings, capable of making meaningful choices. We can relate to the person of God, even though he is immaterial. These are all aspects that separate man from the other creatures of creation. If God were to change a person into someone who no longer was able to make meaningful choices, we would see that as demeaning the humanity of that individual. We lament those who fall victim to head injuries and are no longer able to function autonomously. We take pity on them because they cannot exercise their full humanity.

Secondly, God created humans to be immortal beings. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 draws attention to the fact that when God breathed his spirit into Adam (Gen. 2:7), that Adam became a living being. God's desire for humanity was and still is for us to fellowship with him for all eternity. Thus, another aspect of being human is that humans will endure eternally. And because we were made as embodied souls, our eternal state will also be as embodied souls. That's why there is a resurrection of the dead for both believers and unbelievers at the final judgment.

God Won't Make Humans into Non-Humans

In understanding that human beings are a very unique creation of God endowed with particular attributes, two of which are the ability to make meaningful choices and an ongoing immortality in some kind of state. That's how God created Adam and Eve. Sin introduced a corruption to humanity, but I argue that it didn't make humans into non-humans. It may have distorted the image of God in human beings, but it never cancelled it.

One point I must make is on the concept of death itself. Death in the Bible is used to talk about separation, not annihilation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body (Gen. 35:18, Ecc. 12:7) and spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God's spirit. That's why God told Adam that the very day he sinned he would die (Gen. 2:17). It is our separation from God that is labeled death. Paul consistently uses this kind of terminology, stating the Ephesians were dead in their trespasses and sins but still walking according to the world's standards.

So, humans by definition bear the imago Dei, the image of God. That is the differentiation between them and every other creature we see. Humans are therefore morally aware beings that can recognize sin and can make meaningful choices. Give this, how would an all-good God still be all good if he takes away the immortality aspect of the imago Dei? Does it make sense to say God is all good if he changes those who choose to reject him into something less than human? Or how could God remove the ability to make real choices from those who reject him? Does that sound like mercy or a replay of the lobotomy scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Humans are created to be immortal, thus their choices will have a very real effect on their immortal existence. Humans are beings that hold the ability to make meaningful choices. That means even after physical death, they can choose to continue in a state of sin and rebellion against God. Thus ongoing torment is a reflection of ongoing sin in the hearts of the rebellious. To me, this doesn't seem cruel or nonsensical at all, but the tragic result of free creatures who have been given the ability to make decisions for themselves.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Another Way Christianity Changed Everything: Human Freedom



People want to be free. In fact, most of the battles now fought in the culture wars are about individuals who feel they have not simply a desire but a right to express their individual freedom as to who they are and how they are seen by others. The transgender bathroom fiasco is a prime example of this.

It is their right, they demand, to present themselves as they personally wish to be presented. They maintain that neither culture nor tradition should trump who they are as individuals and they're pursued various legal strategies to assert individual rights as real and inviolate. But where do those rights come from?

In one sense I agree with the battlers. Culture, tradition and even government cannot bestow rights (properly understood) upon people. Any right that is granted by an institution is not an inviolate right by definition. If the state can create and bestow rights upon an individual, then the state can take those rights away. Such "rights" amount to privileges that the state allows one to exercise.

In fact, throughout much of human history, the individual was subservient to the group. In his book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, scholar Larry Siedentop outlines how all cultures prior to Christ were first built around the family unit which expanded to the city-state, the polis.1 He writes how the Greeks saw devotion to the welfare of the city as the highest virtue. Rome demanded devotion to the emperor and the empire. Conformity to the powers that be was the only thing that made one a worthwhile citizen.

So what changed? Where did this idea that the state should be respectful of the rights of the citizen more than the citizen must conform to the needs of the state come from? Siedentop states plainly, it is Christianity that declared such a radically new concept to humanity:
Paul's vision on the road to Damascus amounted to the discovery of human freedom—of moral agency potentially available to each and everyone, that is to individuals. This 'universal' freedom, with its moral implications, was utterly different from the freedom enjoyed by the privileged class of citizens in the polis.

In his conception of the Christ, Paul brings together basic features of Jewish and Greek thought to create something new. We can see in a famous passage from his letters, the letter to the Galatians, dating from about twenty years after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul uses Jesus' emphasis on the fatherhood of God to insist on the brotherhood of man and, indirectly, to proclaim his own role as apostle to the Gentiles. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' Paul's 'one' signals a new transparency in human relations. Through his conception of the Christ, Paul insists on the moral equality of humans, on a status shared equally by all. And his great mission becomes the salvation of individual souls, through sharing his vision of the Christ - a vision which makes it possible to create a new self.2
Paul grounds his view of humanity as valuable because each individual bears the image of God. People are not simply material beings. If they were, then they could be measured by their value to the group. But as individual image bearers "conventional social roles—whether of father, daughter, official, priest or slave—become secondary in relation to that primary role."3  This stands in stark contrast to how all other cultures saw themselves by either their position in the public sphere and their position within the domestic sphere, which Siedentop explains "was understood as the sphere of the family, rather than that of individuals endowed with rights. The domestic sphere was a sphere of inequality. Inequality of roles was fundamental to the worship of the ancient family."4

It is Christianity that makes any sense of individual rights at all. Without a very specific Christian theology of man, the assertion that human beings are equal and each person has rights is as meaningless as holding that individual cells have certain rights without respect to the body as a whole.  There is simply no other way to anchor the rights of human beings.

I don't agree on the bathroom issue. I believe it is ludicrous to think that one's desire can overrule reality. No matter how convinced an anorexic is that she is fat, the reality is her self-starvation is endangering to her person. The biology of her body is in conflict with her self-concept. Similarly, those with gender dysphoria are at odds with their biology. Restrooms serve a very utilitarian function, wholly built to serve human biological needs. Separating bathrooms by biological sex bathroom doesn't violate one's rights because it is our biology that makes us human. Sex is a real differentiator and shouldn't be ignored. But even more importantly, how can anyone consistently argue for their rights against Christian theology when it is Christian theology that provides the very foundation for having rights at all? The contradiction is striking.

References

1. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. S.l.: Penguin, 2014. Print. 25.
2. Siedentop, 2014. 60.
3. Siedentop, 2014. 62.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 18.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Did God Make Life on Other Planets?



This month, the seventh Star Wars movie is set to debut. Fans are looking forward to seeing not only the action but the fantastic inhabitants of far off worlds, like those found in the now-famous cantina scene from A New Hope. The sheer number of diverse creatures from a host of worlds pictured there plays on our sense of wonder.

It also leads us to think about the real world and our place in it. Are we alone in the universe or could there be intelligent life found in some planet or galaxy far, far away? In our galaxy alone there exists some 200 billion stars1, many which have the potential for planetary systems, and ours is just one galaxy out of billions and billions. If God created such a vast universe, wouldn't it be likely that at least a few others would have life on them?

The Bible Doesn't Rule Out Life on Other Planets

First, it is quite possible that some kind of life could exist on other planets. There is nothing in the Bible that says God only created life for the earth. He could have created some kind of life elsewhere, too. Even on earth, when we travel to the harshest environments, such as volcanic vents in the ocean floor, we are surprised to find life in such unrelenting places.2 Microbes have even been found surviving in the stratosphere, miles above the earth. So to have some kind of an ecosystem found on another planet, even when that planet could not support human life is not as inconceivable as it may seem to be.

However, when this question is asked most of the time, people aren't asking about fungus, moss, or microbes. They want to know whether intelligent life—life capable of communication and abstract thought like humans are—is possible on other planets. I think the answer is such life is highly doubtful.

If advanced life were to exist on other planets, we begin to run into the same theological issues on free will and sin that have so frequently become a part of our conversations on evil and God's existence. In order to be truly free, alien beings must also be capable of sinning. However, if they were to sin, it would place them in a greater predicament.

The Need for a Redeemer Like Us

In the book of Hebrews, the writer explains why Jesus is greater than the angelic beings, who were held in high esteem by first century Jewish culture. He quotes Psalm 2, then explains that human beings, not the angels ae the beneficiaries of Jesus's salvific work on the cross:
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers...

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:9-11, 16-17, ESV).
Later, the writer explains that Jesus's sacrifice was a singular event: "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself." (Heb. 7:27, ESV).

Therefore, if alien beings were advanced enough to make free choices for themselves, they would either need to be perfect throughout all eternity (which is highly unlikely) or irredeemable. Given the verses above, one can see why fallen angels cannot be redeemed and why God had to create Hell for them.

Thinking through the Presupposition

I've been asked this question many times, and I think it's a helpful one. It shows that human beings tend to think spatially about our world. If our planet takes up such a little place in the great big and vast universe that God created, certainly he would have placed life elsewhere, right? But God is an immaterial being. He doesn't value us on the basis of our mass. He values us because we bear his image. Therefore, I have no problem believing that God could have created the entire universe just to support life on one single planet, so he could have creatures who know and love him. That's true value.

References

1. Rayman, Marc. "How Many Solar Systems Are in Our Galaxy?" NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/review/dr-marc-space/#/review/dr-marc-space/solar-systems-in-galaxy.html.
2. "'Alien' Life Forms Discovered" NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015. http://www.noaa.gov/features/monitoring_0209/vents.html.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars



I'm currently attending the Evangelical Philosophical Society's Annual Meeting which is being held this year in Atlanta. This is the place where all the top scholars come together to share ideas and discuss their research, like this morning's panel entitled "Sexuality and the Crisis of Religious Liberty." One of the speakers was Dr. Greg Forster who drew out an interesting distinction on how people understand basic human worth and how it's changed in the past half century or so.

It's no secret there's a great conflict within our society on key moral issues. Homosexual unions, transgenderism, and euthanasia have all made the headlines recently, but these are part of a broader clash occurring in our culture today. Forster noted that these clashes aren't separate issues, especially as you see how they are argued against or defended in the public square. Most of the proponents of progressive moral issues believe laws that would bar same sex unions or euthanasia are assaults upon human dignity; people who oppose such things should be labeled bigots. Forster said that the root of the shift in understanding that has happened in the last fifty years or so is due to a shift in the understanding of just what human dignity is.

Traditional Human Dignity is Rooted in the Image of God

Traditional western ideas of human dignity are grounded in the fact that all human beings have an inherent worth simply due to the fact that they are human as I've explained before. Every human being bears the image of God and therefore holds this worth, regardless of his or her capacities or actions. It is this concept of human worth that recognized the importance of liberty for all. It is why racism is wrong. It is why one should not compel another to believe what violates his or her conscience, for to force someone to do what is against that person's will is to ignores the fact that human beings are moral agents intrinsically.

Such a concept of human dignity allows us to draw a distinction between a person as a human being and one's decisions, actions, or proclivities. I can disagree with an action, but the person doing the action still has full human dignity. This is the reasoning behind why civilized societies don't torture prisoners, no matter how heinous their crimes. Human beings have worth simply because they are human beings.

The New Dignity: Rooted in Choice

Of course, such a view of human dignity isn't shared universally. Many countries that don't have a Judeo-Christian heritage don't hold to this view and it isn't surprising their lack of this view would be reflected in other ways, such as the cruel treatment of prisoners. There are countries today that will cane people for graffiti or sentence a thief to have his hand cut off.

Forster argued that in the 20th century, western countries wanted some way to stop systemic abuses by other nations. They needed a reason that was authoritatively cross-cultural and cross-religious. Forster argues that the concept of human dignity was adapted for this task and it was redefined in order to do so. An example is the German Constitution that was written just after World War II. It opens with the words "Human dignity shall be inviolable"1 and then goes on to unpack what they mean by dignity. The very next article reads:
(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.2
You can see this concept of human dignity is not rooted in the Imago Dei, but in the free choices people make. It's the choices that are significant drivers of dignity above. That is a radical diversion from the historic Christian understanding.

Forster went on to explain that as modern jurisprudence progressed, it has aligned itself with this much more secular version of dignity. Viewed in this light, when choices are denied, dignity is denied as well. Thus, denying someone of their choice to marry another of the same sex becomes an act that takes away the dignity of a person. If someone chooses to be recognized as another gender, their choice holds the value of that individual.

How Dignity Defined by Choice Robs Us

The interesting thing in rooting dignity on the capacity of individual choice is it will cut another way. Those that cannot choose will not be defined as humans with dignity. Since the unborn cannot choose but the mother can, we dehumanize the fetus. The elderly and inform don't have any inherent worth, but their choice to commit suicide is labeled "death with dignity." You can see how these competing concepts shape much of our culture wars today.

But this view flips everything on its head. It is the weakest and those without a voice who need the most protecting. Organizations would lobby on behalf of those who could not lobby for themselves stating they did so because of the worth of the individual. Those who are voiceless today have that dignity taken from them because they cannot voice a choice of their own.

Religious freedom also suffers as a result. Religious belief offers moral prescriptions for society. One should do thus and so but not this and that. Religious laws function in a way that limits certain choices or identifies certain choices as wrong. Therefore, religious values are under assault with some identifying them as corrosive to human dignity.

But we find ourselves in a Catch-22 here, for following one's religious teaching is also a choice. However, the secular view is that autonomous choices trump religious claims, thereby destroying the rights of religious people to choose to follow their conscience, even when the stakes are so low they amount to whether or not to bake a wedding cake or take pictures.

Rooting human dignity in freedom of choice will weaken society. It offers the weakest among us less power. It removes the distinction between the worth of the individual and the actions that individual makes. It eliminated the protection of conscience and a guarantee of religious liberty. Those with power will wield even greater threats, as the track record on euthanasia has already demonstrated. By changing the definition of human dignity, the concept of dignity for all will vanish.

References

1. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1, Sect. 1 Translation at https://www.btg-bestellservice.de/pdf/80201000.pdf
2. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 2.

Image courtesy Cali4beach and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where's the Dignity in Euthanasia?



A couple of days ago I posted about the California legislature seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state. While many of the pro-euthanasia crowd relies on the catch phrase "death with dignity," actively ending a person's life doesn't dignify either one's respect for life or the personhood of the patient.

Kenneth Samples explains that there are two categories of euthanasia and the distinction between them is key:
In active euthanasia, an agent intentionally and actively takes the life of a terminally ill patient. This might be done either by the patient himself or herself (suicide) or with the assistance of someone else (possibly a physician, family member, or friend). Active euthanasia produces or causes death. This means that the patient's death results not from the terminal illness itself but from the specific act of euthanasia (such as a lethal dose of medication or gunshot).

In passive euthanasia, an agent allows a terminally ill patient to die naturally without intervening, usually by withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining (artificial or extraordinary) treatment. Passive euthanasia permits death to take its natural course but does not actually cause death itself.1
Samples then notes that since active euthanasia is the intentional taking of a life, it is something that falls into the exclusive domain of God and is rejected by Christianity as immoral:
What is the traditional Christian view of euthanasia? Most theologians and ethicists affirm the active-passive distinction from both a logical and a moral standpoint. Active euthanasia, however, is viewed as morally offensive and unacceptable (virtual homicide). It is condemned because it violates the scriptural principle that prohibits the intentional taking of innocent human life (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). Many Christian ethicists believe that given the state of human sinfulness (original sin, total depravity; see Pss. 51 :5; 58:3; Prov 20:9), active euthanasia weakens respect for human life and sets a dangerous precedent for humanity.2
I agree with this assessment We are woefully flawed beings and are far too capable of misusing such power, even if the original intentions are to alleviate suffering. The problem with the active form of euthanasia /physician-assisted suicide patients can be manipulated into either thinking that they are a burden to their families or that they would be "better off" dead.

Safeguards Don't Protect Patients

In a 2011 article in the medical journal Current Oncology, Dr. Jose Pereira notes that while both the Netherlands and Belgium has euthanasia laws that require the request to be "voluntary, well-considered, informed, and persistent over time. The requesting person must provide explicit written consent and must be competent at the time the request is made."3 Yet, Pereira reports these haven't been effective in guarding against abuse:
Despite those safeguards, more than 500 people in the Netherlands are euthanized involuntarily every year. In 2005, a total of 2410 deaths by euthanasia or psa [Physician Assisted Suicide] were reported, representing 1.7% of all deaths in the Netherlands. More than 560 people (0.4% of all deaths) were administered lethal substances without having given explicit consent 7. For every 5 people euthanized, 1 is euthanized without having given explicit consent. Attempts at bringing those cases to trial have failed, providing evidence that the judicial system has become more tolerant over time of such transgressions.4
Pereira goes on to report that in Belgium, the situation is worse, with voluntary and involuntary euthanasia rates three times higher than the Netherlands!

Passive Euthanasia

What about passive euthanasia, though? Is it too always wrong? Not necessarily, but caution must still be maintained. Again,  Samples explains:
Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, has been generally accepted by traditional Christian theologians and ethicists, but with some careful qualifications. Passive euthanasia can be considered if a patient has not been denied natural life-sustaining means such as air, water, and food (though artificial measures may not be necessary), and also if the physical condition of the patient has been diagnosed as irreversible, death is imminent, and further treatment would lead only to a burdensome prolongation of death.5
In the famous case of Terry Schiavo, her husband had fought a legal battle to remove her feeding tube and withhold hydration, a move her parents fought vigorously. Schiavo was significantly brain damaged after she collapsed at her home, but she was in no way terminal. In such an instance, I believe removing her feeding tube is immoral. It certainly doesn't give Terri any more dignity to be dead and food and water are basic essentials one must not withhold from any person who may find him or herself incapable of providing independently. We do so for those who may be paralyzed, infants and young children, those with severe mental disabilities, and many others.

Samples ends his comment by quoting from John Jefferson Davis, who sums it up well:
Human life is sacred because God made man in his own image and likeness.... This canopy of sacredness extends throughout man's life, and is not simply limited to those times and circumstances when man happens to be strong, independent, healthy, and fully conscious of his relationships to others.6
The reason we don't simply end the life of the mentally or physically disabled is because these people bear the image of God, the imago Dei, and physical limitations do not diminish it. The imago Dei is what makes all people equal, even those who are severely handicapped or have Parkinson's disease. Schiavo's brain injury was severe, but she was still a human being, and therefore held a dignity intrinsic to all humanity. How can a physician or even the patient himself claim that this intrinsic dignity is now missing and they need to die in order to regain it? It makes no sense.

References

1. Samples, Kenneth R. 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity's Most Dangerous Ideas. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. Print. 176.
2. Samples, 2012.
3. Pereira, J. "Legalizing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide: The Illusion of Safeguards and Controls." Current Oncology Curr. Oncol. 18.2 (2011): n. pag. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
4. Pereira, 2011.
5. Samples, 2012.
6. Samples, 2012.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Biology Cannot Account for Personhood


What makes a person? A New York judge has caused a lot of confusion on that score in the last couple of days. After hearing arguments by representatives of the Nonhuman Rights Project, who are seeking the "freedom" of two chimps held at the Stony Brook University lab. Upon hearing the petition, Manhattan Judge Barbara Jaffe issued a writ of habeas corpus, which according to Science magazine reporter David Grimm who has been reporting on the case, "typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention."1 The action by Judge Jaffe would have been the first time non-humans were recognized as legal persons. However, Jaffe quickly amended her court order, striking out the phrase "writ of habeas corpus," according to updates of the story.2

Are chimps persons? What defines personhood? Groups like Planned Parenthood have gone out of their way to make sure that unborn children are not defined as persons. They try to justify that claim by pointing to things like the ability to have complex thoughts or limited brain development. Those kinds of limitations are supposedly what keep unborn children from being seen as persons. Yet, the chimps at Stony Brook University will never have the capacity for abstract reasoning. They may feel pain, but they will never be able to internalize the concept of pain as an idea in and of itself. So, why should people petition for the recognition of chimps as legal persons when the argument can be made much more persuasively that human fetuses are human persons?

Reducing People to Biological Machines

Much of the confusion on what properties define personhood is the shortsightedness of relying on science to answer such questions. Science has been a great tool and has helped us understand things like human development in-vitro. It has also shown us that there are similarities in the way certain processes of biology function in both humans and animals. We share more of these similarities with some animals, such as chimps and apes, than we do with others, such as spiders or earthworms. But is a description of the machinery of our bodies all that's required to determine personhood or is there something more?

I think there is. In fact, biology isn't the necessary component in what makes a being a person at all. What if a human being is not being kept alive by his or her biology by purely by mechanical processes?  If someone has multiple artificial components surgically transplanted into them, does it make them less a person than another without the implants? Of course not. Even if we could one day replace all of that individual's body with machines, it wouldn't change the personhood of the individual.

Personhood is Immaterial

It isn't the biology that matters in the question of personhood. It is the fact that persons share certain non-physical attributes, such as the ability to love, to reason, to recognize other persons as persons and to have communion with God. Those are what make a person a person. Basically, we reflect certain attributes of God, attributes that are immaterial. I want to be clear here, though. I am not saying that these attributes need to be active for personhood to obtain. If that were the case, those under anesthesia or in a coma would not be considered persons. It would disqualify some with significant mental disabilities.  Rather, personhood recognizes the being as having the potential for these kinds of things, even if they aren't fully realized.

Peter Kreeft sums it up appropriately:
The reason we should love, respect, and not kill human beings is because they are persons, i.e., subjects, souls, "I's", made in the image of God Who is I AM. We revere the person, not the functioning; the doer, not the doing. If robots could do all that persons can do behaviorally, they would still not be persons. Mere machines cannot be persons. They may function as persons, but they do not understand that they do not have freedom, or free will to choose what they do. They obey their programming without free choice. They are artifacts, and artifacts are not persons. Persons are natural, not artificial. They develop from within (like fetuses!); artifacts are made from without.3
As long as the broader culture looks to biology to try and define personhood, confusion will continue. Personhood is something bigger than biology, though. We need to expand our thinking to include the non-physical aspects of what makes  each of us persons, lest we lose the concept of personhood altogether.

References

1. Grimm, David. "Updated: Judge's Ruling Grants Legal Right to Research Chimps." Science Insider. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2015/04/judge-s-ruling-grants-legal-right-research-chimps.
2. Calamur, Krishnadev. "N.Y. Judge Amends 'Habeas Corpus' Order For Chimps." NPR. NPR, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/04/22/401519113/n-y-judge-amends-habeas-corpus-order-for-chimps.
3. Kreeft, Peter. "Human Personhood Begins at Conception." Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/personhood.htm.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

How We Are Created in the Image of God? (Video Clip)

There seems to be a lot of confusion people have over the biblical teaching that man is created in God's image. Some falsely believe it means that God must be a human being with a body.  However, this cannot be right as God has revealed himself as a spirit.


In this short clip, Lenny explains just what the phrase "created in God's image" means and lists several specific attributes that only humans and God share. For more on this idea, see the Come Reason article "How is Man Created in the Image of God?"

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Understanding the Imago Dei is More Crucial than Ever

In the very beginning of the Bible, it states that man is created in God's image. In fact, the phrase is repeated three times in Genesis 1:26-27, which is the ancient Jewish equivalent of typing in all caps to underscore the point. Theologians throughout the ages use the Latin imago Dei when speaking of this unique aspect of human creation, however most people are still a bit fuzzy as to what being made in the image of God means.



Some people misunderstand the concept of being made in God's image to mean that God modeled our physical attributes after his own. This is a mistake as Jesus clearly taught that God is not physical but a spirit (John 4:24). As I've explained elsewhere, bearing the image of God means that humans are fundamentally different from every other animal created on the earth. Part of the imago Dei is the capability we have to reason and the ability to exercise our free will and make meaningful choices.

Recently, though, asked a question that I expect many other Christians may have about this definition. A person asked "What about those who are mentally ill, though? How can they bear God's image if they lack the ability to reason or make decisions for themselves?" This is a good question that reveals bias of our modern culture that has larger implications across a variety of moral issues.

More Than a List of Skills

Today, much of what is valued in society is based on "what can you do for me" or "what skills do you have" mentality. So, it may be natural for people to assume that the imago Dei is measured by one's ability to reason, thus the question above about the mentally impaired. But one isn't considered a person because of one's ability but by nature of being human. We are designed to reflect God's image in ourselves and the design doesn't change even if we cannot properly execute the elements implicit in that. For example, a car is a vehicle whose design and purpose is to move across land, while a boat is a vehicle whose deign and purpose is to move across the water. The can may have a broken axle or the boat a hole in its side that prevent it from executing its normal function, but no one would look at a boat with a hole and say that it changes its function. Boats cannot move across the land unaided because so doing is counter to all of its design. The vehicle may need repair but one can quickly see whether it is a land or sea vehicle.

The reason this concept of design and purpose (what's known in philosophy as the telos or end purpose of a thing) is that it is crucial to the dignity of all human persons. It is not merely the mentally-ill who cannot reason, but the embryo has not yet developed reasoning capacity either. If the imago Dei doesn't apply to the embryo, then why should Christians oppose abortion? However, if the telos of the embryo is a functioning, rational adult who can make free decisions and can have a spiritual sensitivity, then the embryo shows as much uniqueness as any other human being. It is human nature to be social, to be creative, to be relational, to be rational, to have a sense of the moral, and to be spiritual. All of these reflect God's character and all sit in distinction to other animals in creation.  And every being that so reflects God's image in this way is intrinsically valuable because God values these things.

Photo courtesy diegain and again and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Britain Looks to Soylent Green Energy

The headline read like something out of a horror novel. Certainly this wasn't what it seemed, right? It must be satire, a Modest Proposal updated for the 21st century. Yet, there is was in the respected UK Telegraph for all to read: "Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals."


The story tells of how the remains of over 15,000 aborted or miscarried babies were labeled as "clinical waste" and incinerated in hospital "waste-to-energy" facilities while the mothers of those babies that were miscarried were simply told their babies' remains were cremated, with the hospitals never asking the parents how they would like their children's remand to be handled.

The British healthcare system is run through their government under the label of the National Health Service or the NHS. NHS Trusts are the public corporations that run the hospitals on behalf of the NHS and must answer to the UK's Department of Health. 27 NHS Trusts were found to have incinerated aborted babies over the last two years, according to the British television program Dispatches. This was not a rogue hospital making an error in judgment but a systemic approach to desecrating human remains throughout the government healthcare system.

How can such hideousness and callous disregard happen in an advanced society? Part of the problem stems from the rhetoric that has permeated the abortion wars. We're told over and over that fetuses are nothing more than "a clump of cells" or "a mass of tissue." So, even if a young couple was hoping to start a family but suffer the tragic loss of miscarriage, you cannot have a service for a mass of tissue. You simply dispose of it, like a removed appendix.1

This is certainly part of the problem, but it isn't all of it. The emphasis on finding new ways to "go green" reduce waste and carbon emissions plays into the decision as well.  This document published by the NHS's Sustainable Development Unit gives us a better understanding. In part, it reads:
Although domestic waste is by far the largest proportion of NHS total waste, clinical/hazardous waste is the most costly to dispose of: £380-450 per tonne for non-burn alternative technology (i.e. autoclave/microwaves etc) and £800-1,000 per tonne for hazardous/pharmaceutical waste high temperature incineration. As waste created by the NHS continues to rise, both by tonnage and by disposal cost, this is an area where investment in sound management can save money and reduce carbon emissions. The most important principle in waste management is to apply the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery – with disposal being the least favourable option (emphasis added).
So the push by the NHS was to save money, especially on clinical waste which is the most costly, and to reduce carbon emissions. The answer is simple: go green by not burning coal, but burning bodies. The UK has pioneered the use of Soylent Green Energy, where we protect the environment at the cost of human dignity.

Western culture is now beginning to suffer from the ramifications of its own teachings. We're told that people don't bear the image of God but are simply another evolutionary accident, simply another kind of animal. We're told that the miracle of bringing new life into the world is only special if the parents to be wanted that child, and only then if it meets factory specification. We're told that the only truly valuable thing in the world is the world itself, so we had better do everything possible to make it as though no humans even live on the planet. Then, when people take those teachings seriously, we become aghast at the horrific results. Ideas matter and I shudder to think of what other repulsions await us when people start believing what they've been teaching.


References

1. I would object to even the burning of amputated organs such as appendixes to heat hospitals. That is simply because these are not like medical sponges, discarded gauze, or other disposables that are byproducts of modern medical care. These organs were a part of a human being, and as such they are unique. We don't need funerals for them, but we do need to recognize that the owner has suffered a loss and thus they should be disposed of with at least some distinctio
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