Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Absolute Value of Human Life

Theology for a Troubled Believer: An Introduction to the Christian FaithThe debates that we have dealing with economics, health care, immigration, war and peace, abortion, and the rest, they all involve questions of value placed on human life.  According to the Declaration of Independence, which reflects Enlightenment values, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all inalienable rights.  But, on what basis are these rights considered inalienable, and to whom does this extend.  A quick study of US history will reveal that the Founders didn't envision these inalienable rights extending to all humans.  They didn't extend to African slaves nor did they extend to Native Americans.  One could also say that these rights didn't extend to women -- for they lacked the right to vote up until the 1920s.  
The value we place on human  life in Western Democracy, as well as in Marxist theory, according to theologian/philosopher Diogenes Allen, is rooted in what we are able to produce.  They may differ in their definition of that labor -- whether its market or state that determines the value, it is the product that determines value.  But this isn't true of the Christian faith.  

Allen, looking to Simone Weil for support, notes that the "theory of inalienable rights, which a government must protect," wouldn't convict the parties in the parable of the Good Samaritan for passing by the person in the ditch, and yet that is exactly the basis of judgment in Matthew 25.  Allen notes that the sheep (the ones saved) aren't commended for being merciful, but rather for being just -- they performed acts of justice (Allen, Theology for a Troubled Believer, WJK, pp. 22-23).   

Thus, Western democracy is no more able than Marxism to determine true human value.  That can only come, Allen suggests, from someplace else -- that is God.  He writes:

But what gives us absolute value?  Nothing earthly can do so.  In every way we ware unequal:  in ability, good fortune, health, and the like.  We have only relative value, limited value, conditional value.  Our value is determined by our standing compared to other people.  [Simone] Weil claims that only what is utterly and wholly good of itself, utterly and wholly pure of itself, utterly and wholly free of corruption of itself -- only that has absolute value.  Only such a being can give us irreplaceable value by loving us, as we saw in the introduction, and absolute value by having made us to receive absolute good.  Apart from the good that is God, we have no absolute value, and we must keep our eyes closed to what is around us and before us:  a physical universe that is utterly indifferent to us and a great, deep, empty abyss toward which we are headed.  (Allen, p. 24). 
Although I'm very comfortable with the scientific premise of evolution, it would appear that we need something other than this theory to guide us in assigning value to human life.  Allen suggests that it is God's love for humanity that gives us the foundation for according to human beings that absolute value that western democracy and market forces cannot.  This doesn't mean that government will solve our ills, but it does mean (in my mind) that we push government -- for we are the government -- to accord value to those who are most vulnerable in society.    It is for this reason that I cannot be a libertarian.

The good news is that since nothing earthly conveys absolute value, neither can anything earthly take it away.  It is a given -- not by nature's god -- but by the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, even when the government fails and I fail, God lifts up that person who is cast aside and accords that person absolute value. 

25 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bob,

An excellent post! Thanks!

You write, "The value we place on human life in Western Democracy, as well as in Marxist theory, according to theologian/philosopher Diogenes Allen, is rooted in what we are able to produce."

Which unfortunately is why the unborn are not included in that absolute value. They do not produce.

And unfortunately, many Christians have unwittingly bought into this twisted notion of modernity with a flawed account of choice. They will want to protect that child as soon as it is born, but while it is still in utero, they offer some ridiculous argument that somehow, it is not of enough value to be protected.

And, yes, before you say it... the religious right is indeed less concerned about children after birth than they are before.

Such is the sad state of Christians in America hoping in bed with either the conservatives or the progressives.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Oops! I meant to write "hopping." I hold no hope in either the progressives or the conservatives.

John said...

Bob,
Your post seems to be addressed to me! or at least to this ongoing dialogue I have been engaged in another blog. I want to post two postings which I posted on Ben Witherington's blog which began as a response to Glen Beck's ranting.
I will post them serially:

March 15 2010
It appears that many conservative American Christians find it easy to compartmentalize their faith, that is, what they do on Sunday, and what they do intentionally as Christians seems disconnected from what they champion as citizens. There is little dispute that Jesus and a host of Old Testament prophets describe God's justice exclusively in terms of giving aid and comfort to the poor and otherwise marginalized (including the foreigner, the sexual eunuch, the imprisoned, the blind, the widows, the orphans, and those who only worked for part of the day when others worked the whole day for the same wage). There can be no genuine dispute that pursuit of such justice is not voluntary but commanded, and perhaps may even be tied to entrance into the Kingdom (separating sheep from goats). And while it can be debated that Jesus saw a distinction between church and state (render unto Caesar) I think that the distinction that Jesus was really getting at was the distinction between living in the Empire under the rule of the human king (Caesar) who wielded power for the benefit of himself and the rich and powerful who supported his throne, and living in the Kingdom of God, under the rule of the divine King who wields power for the benefit of the rich and poor alike.

In our time and place there is no human king, there is only the government of the people, a people who can choose to operate their government according to principles consistent with God's Justice, or not.

Many conservative Christians want to interpret God's justice as optional, even for Christians, and are adamant in advocating that their government ought to ignore God's justice and behave as if Caesar still wielded power for the benefit of the "haves", leaving the "have not's" to fend for themselves.

At the risk of melodrama I have to ask how they can ignore Scriptural injunctions such as this from Amos: "8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." 7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds."

Do they think God will not notice, that God will not remember or that God just doesn't care anymore?

John

John said...

And from March 18, 2010:

I find it frustrating when Christians use Scripture to justify avoiding God's call for social justice.

To resist taxation intended to provide relief for the less fortunate while acquiescing to taxation and government spending designed and intended to support farm and other market subsidies, public education, capital gains income subsidies, mineral depletion subsidies, national park creation and maintenance, corporate and residential energy conservation subsidies, corporate sector bailouts, corporate research subsidies, emergency disaster relief, foreign aid subsidies, public highway subsidies, scientific research grants, space exploration, census taking, and weapons of war, all on the theory that the former constitutes unBiblical government sponsored wealth redistribution while all of the others constitute Biblically unimpeachable taxation practices and purposes, is simply indefensible.

A true "libertarian" would insist on a flat tax for purposes of supporting a small governmental bureaucracy dedicated almost exclusively to national defense. A true "libertarian" would oppose all government programs and most uses of tax dollars on the same premise - that is that the government should not be engaged in such activities. They would not be overly pre-occupied with resisting those programs oriented toward assisting the poor and marginalized.

A thoughtful Christin "libertarian" would not argue that when a government is engaged in so many il-liberal projects and handing out all those subsidies, projects and subsidies oriented toward assisting the poor and marginalized are especially heinous as such are unBiblical - when in truth such projects, seeking at least in theory to answer God's call for social justice, are far more Biblically supportable than all the rest.

At this point in our history we are a long way from serious redistribution. but if we were talking about genuine wealth redistribution, the argument should not be that this is TOO MUCH social justice, instead one should be honest enough to just say "what is mine is mine and I have a right to keep it that way." Go ahead be selfish - who in America could seriously criticize another for taking that position. Just don't claim Scriptural support for selfishness. It's unseemly.

But if one claims to be a committed Christian I don't buy the argument opposing government welfare programs on Scriptural grounds. Such focused opposition is about hoarding wealth and playing keep away from the poor. It's about taking the wrong side in the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

Anonymous said...

"hoping in bed with either the conservatives or the progressives."

Hoping they don't reproduce?

Oh darn, I see you corrected it.

Prenatal care is a progressive value. Take the current health care debate as an example- to cover the uninsured.

As far as valuing life, it's the "little" things we should be valuing more, not what our neighbors don't have that we do-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClpB6LepmgI

David Mc

Allan R. Bevere said...

Anon:

Prenatal care is not a progressive value. It is an important value, but it is hardly progressive.

And if it so progressive, explain to me why progressives support such prenatal care being withdrawn should the mother decide to have her child mutilated in her womb.

Anonymous said...

Allan,

That's silly. Do you change the oil in your car before having it towed to the scrap yard? So, "progressive" is the new "liberal". That's pretty scary. Put your head around this- most humans are pro-life AND pro-choice. It's also the law of our land. Both values are based on freedom. Get some prospective. David Mc

Allan R. Bevere said...

David,

Do me a favor and don't be patronizing. If you want to compare credentials, I'll stack mine up against yours any day of the week. Instead of name calling why don't you truly engage the discussion.

You still didn't answer my question. I realize that many people try to convince themselves they can be pro-choice and pro-life. I don't buy it. Pro-choice is simply cover language for pro-abortion. I know you will not agree with that, but I am prepared to argue for it.

I am suggesting that the importance of pre-natal care and the lack of importance on keeping a pregnancy to term unless the mother wants it is a gross contradiction. If you feel like trying ot answer, feel free, but I am done with this discussion. I will not engage two-bit hacks.

Anonymous said...

Compare credentials? Sorry, I won't be stifled by "professional moralists". My credentials have never been questioned before. What sort of credentials do I need to follow my heart? You advise cops as to their morality? I'd like to be a fly on the wall with a recorder. I bet they never do wrong in your eyes. Yes, I've been roughed up, threatened and arrested in my time. What a waste of tax dollars. I could have sued their pants off. I'm sorry if you take humor as criticism. I will leave the answer you request to someone with better credentials than the both of us put together- a woman. David Mc

Allan R. Bevere said...

Anon:

Whatever...

John said...

My, my what have we accomplished here?

I want to agree with David, that most people are to some degree pro-life and pro-choice, both labels be euphemisms for their respective political camps.

Most people with consciences:

abhor the concept and the deed of abortion

AND

the circumstances which lead some pregnant women to make that choice. At the same time.

Given that most people would prefer that no more abortions ever happen, EVEN those who support legislation permitting it to occur, is it so hard to accept that most people also favor pre-natal care - even those who would permit women to make that choice?

I agree with Allan, that in permitting abortions our society has haltingly reached the political judgment that the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights do not apply to a child until it comes live out of the womb.

We as people of faith have to come to terms with that and determine how best to to incorporate this political fact of life into our lives, and how to assist other people of faith in coming to terms with it.

Along this line I note that in the Didache to have an abortion was considered to be evidence of trafficking in the Way of Evil. I acknowledge the riskiness in arguing from a negative, but I think in this issue area as in others, the approach of the early church, as a people "set apart," is instructive for Christians today.

The writer of the Didache discouraged his disciples from having abortions and spent not even a word in encouraging his disciples to challenge the law which permitted the practice. Those abortions which happened were not his concern (presumably that was left in God's hands), it was the his concern that Christians were aware that God loves and values all people, even the unborn, and it was his concern that Christians model that love in every aspect of their lives. For early Christians, even though abortion was legal, they were "set apart", walking in the Way of Goodness, that they were precluded by their faith from availing themselves of the option.

Maybe we live in a different society where we are more able to effect changes in the laws more so than members of the early church. And maybe not.

If we change all the laws so that they accord with the Christian commandments and we organize the government to enforce those laws along the lines of the Islamic Sharia, can Christians then claim to be set apart - by choice? What they do in accordance with the commandments is in reality done to avoid punishment, and not because their faith compels them to a standard of ethics and behavior which exceeds the requirements of the law.

From my perspective the law speaks to the lowest common denominator, Christians are called to work on a different level.

Paul said that speaking as a Christians "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything." 1 Cor 6:12.

We seek to do and say what is beneficial, not what is simply legal, we seek to live lives which manifest our faith and our trust in the Lord. We don't need the state to tell us what to do, nor do we need the state to help us make everyone else do as we would want them to.

Now come on guys kiss and make up.

John

Allan R. Bevere said...

John,

Of course, I have been too harsh. I'm just not used to being told I am silly and then being told to get some perspective, and then being told it was just humor.

In any case, my part in this argument has been wrong and you are right to tell me to grow up a little.

You are right about the law being the lowest comment denominator, but Christians on the left and on the right treat it has the most significant thing and the issues they are not concerned about are the ones the want to shield from the law.

It is contradictory for the right to want to legalize abortion but then insist that making people pay more in taxes to pay for someone else's health care should really just be voluntary. Just the same, it is contradictory for the left to want to leave abortion out of the legal equation, but insist that people be forced to pay taxes to cover other people with health care.

So what happens is that it's the politics of power abnd coercion when it's my pet issue, but when it's your pet issue, we should do nothing about it through legal channels.

What this is ultimately is an ecclesiological issue, and since political progressives and political conservatives by and large have a stunted ecclesiology, they will continue to see the law of the land as the primary vehicle for forcing their Christian values on everyone else, and insist all along that only the other side does that.

John said...

Allan,

You said: "they will continue to see the law of the land as the primary vehicle for forcing their Christian values on everyone else, and insist all along that only the other side does that."

Amen to that, and each side will threaten the pastorate for calling them to task for their hypocrisy.

You all lead a very hard life.

john

Anonymous said...

If it ever came to an actual vote by the people, I would likely vote against abortion. I've voted that way in my personal life, but didn't decree it. I would find it very difficult either way. Mixing it with general health care is wrong as is using the issue as a threat and/ or a bribe. It's elective surgery. I don't want your taxes or mine to pay for it and it's not likely to happen by passing this bill. I'm still an unabashed liberal though. XXOO David Mc

John, I didn't mean to sell you short with the "woman" comment.

John said...

And here I was all set to read what Marybeth was going to say. Too bad, I am sure we would all listen.

John

Allan R. Bevere said...

Anon:

Every time someone plays the "woman card" in reference to abortion I always ask, "Which woman." The comment seems to assume that women feel different from men arguing against abortion.

My wife (who happens to be a women) gets really irritated when women from NOW make these kinds of comments because she is pro-life and not pro-choice on abortion.

When Sarah Palin was nominated as John McCain's running mate, pro-choice women were saying that she didn't speak to women's concerns. What they should have specified was that she didn't agree with liberal women's concerns. There are plenty of women out there who have different views from the NOW crowd.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to sic Marybeth on anyone. She doesn't always agree with me anyway. She pops in on her own. I'm not 100% sure if she's anti-choice. David Mc

Anonymous said...

I believe that abortion is a moral issue. For me, personally, I am against it. In general, I believe a woman has the right to choose. I do believe that a fetus is a human life and it begins at conception. I also believe that in the end, we all answer to a higher authority for the choices we make on this earth. Abortion has been around long before it was made legal, and I believe that by making it legal women are able to obtain them safely (if that is what they choose). In spite of what anyone says, it is very possible to be Pro-Choice and against abortion. It is NOT our place to judge.

I also believe prenatal care is much more than abortion. It runs from doctors visits and prenatal vitamins all the way to doing life saving surgery in utero. This is a life that should be valued from conception, throughout the pregnancy, birth, then onward. But just because this is my belief doesn't mean I have the right to force this onto others.

If abortion was legal back in the late 50's early 60's it is very likely that I would have never been born. I was born to a 15 year old girl, who's mother made her give me up for adoption. I was adopted by a wonderful couple that were amazing parents. I was lucky, I've been blessed. I have also given birth to two children, both with Down Syndrome. Legally, I could have chosen a different path, but in my heart there was no choice. I do know people who have chosen a different path. I couldn't do it...but who am I to tell them they can't? I am neither Judge nor Juror.

I thank God that I live in a county where I have the right to choose what to do with my own body. I pray to God to help me always make the right choices, but that isn't something I feel anyone has the right to force upon me or anyone else. Law and Morality are two different things. With Law, we answer to persons here on earth, who are supposed to be wise. With morality we answer to God, who is all knowing. Therefore...it is very possible to be ProChoice AND against abortion, I guess we just have to stop and remind ourselves that we are not to judge others, they will be judged in the end by God. We are to take responsibility for ourselves and our own actions.

Oh...and enough of the name calling already.
Mrs.DavidMc

John said...

Hi Marybeth,

Thanks so much for your input. I don't know what is right and wrong here, but to hear from someone who has lived out the consequences of this issue, for whom this is not an abstraction, from someone who had to address such decisions from an all too real position - it just brings me up short. I feel like Job when God spoke from the whirlwind - not that you are divine - but it has become all too apparent to me that I have said too much. I need to listen. Thanks

John

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we've been BS's, and I don't mean bull s*#@ed. David Mc

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