The Absolute Value of Human Life
The 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.