Quite obviously, our country still has issues with ethnic relations.
Please notice that I very intentionally use the word “ethnic” as opposed to “race.” Did you know that the word “racism” actually comes out of the 19th century French Enlightenment period – a philosophical period that shifted mankind’s focus from God to man? It was at that point that humans started to believe there was such a thing as more or less evolved “races” of humans. But according to the Bible, there are only 2 races of humans – believers and non-believers – who descended from one race, sharing common ancestry dating to Adam and Eve. In other words, the mere use of words like “racism” are indicative of a larger problem – a loss of the public consciousness of God. This invariably leads to a loss of the value of human life. It’s a deep issue that has manifested itself in multiple ways.
The violence of the past month indicates that our nation, as a whole, apparently doesn’t have a particularly high view of human life. But we’ve also legally and publicly ended 60 million lives since 1973. Think those aren’t related? We’ve been demonstrating for quite some time now that we simply don’t care very deeply about other humans’ lives. Further indication is that another societal pillar – the relationship between citizens and the people we hire to protect them – is seemingly starting to break down as well now too.
Cornell professor Brian Tierney has all but proven that the concept of inalienable human rights and universal human value was brought into western philosophy by medieval Christian theologians. For the past 150 years or so, Americans have taken for granted the fact that all human life has value and all human beings possess rights. But that’s actually a fairly small sliver of time and place in history. Humans haven’t always believed in inalienable rights rooted in inherent worth. And we didn’t just stumble upon this idea by good fortune either. It is was received directly from the Christian Church’s influence on the West.
If you don’t believe that, just ask EITHER some of the smartest atheists OR some of the smartest Christians!
Friedrich Nietzsche said,
“Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (The Will to Power, 401)
Nietzsche would later go on to say that it was foolish to believe that the value system of Christianity would be kept if Christianity was lost in a society. He referred to these values as “shadows of gods.” And he concluded that if you remove the Christian foundation, the values too will go.
In more ancient times, guys like Aristotle, also certainly no believer in the true God, said,
“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…And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different, for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.” (The Politics)
No, Artistotle clearly did not believe all human lives had equal value. He felt some were too emotional and incapable of higher reason. Some, in his opinion, were closer to animals and it was okay to treat them as such.
In more modern times, academics like Princeton Bioethics professor, Peter Singer, has argued that human life only has worth on the basis of “capacity” – our ability to do legitimate reasoning. Consequently, he’s deeply in favor of abortion and euthanasia, because he does not believe infants and senile elderly to be capable of sound reasoning. The obvious question is WHO is the lucky individual who gets to determine who’s reasonable or not? Singer doesn’t have a good answer. He seems to think he’s qualified though. Somewhat paradoxically, he’s also considered one of the founders of modern animal rights.
Even Thomas Jefferson, arguably the least religious of the founding fathers, said:
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 163)
Jefferson is teaching that there is no basis for human worth and equality outside of this value being imbued by a divine Creator. Similarly, George Washington said that morality cannot be sustained apart from religion. John Adams said our Constitution only worked for religious people. And so on.
Finally, and perhaps most pertinently in light of the cause behind the most recent violence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his “American Dream” sermon, said:
“You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago Dei … ‘the image of God,’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected, to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, worth, and dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”
So, can I say it again? If you don’t believe Christian faith is the only basis for human rights, just ask either some of the smartest atheists or some of the smartest Christians. They’ll both tell you the same thing.
More importantly, ask the Bible itself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just come up with the idea of human equality. He found it, and launched the most important modern civil rights movement – non-violent and totally effective – by doing theology. Dr. King knew it wasn’t enough for any of us to simply say that lives matter. He knew we had to have a basis, a reason why lives matter. And he rediscovered for our generation the beauty of the imago Dei. How? He reminded us what God’s Word has to say about it.
In Genesis 9:5–6, God says,
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting…. from each human being, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind. (Gen. 9:5-6) (see also, James 3:9-10)
Make sense? Humans are incredibly valuable precisely because when God created them, he placed his image upon them. This is the reason lives matter. Apart from this teaching (known as the imago Dei) there is absolutely no true basis to make the case for the value of human life. Tierney, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Singer, Jefferson, King, and God all agree on this.
But the Bible teaches that because humans still retain the inherent worth of the image of God, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, saw us as valuable enough that he would come and die to pay for the sins of every human.
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” (Rom. 5:18)
And the proof is in the pudding. Christianity had answers for civil wickedness in the past. Christians ended the infanticide in the Greco-Roman world by taking these children in. Christians cared for the elderly and the sick during the plagues, when everyone else left them to die. Jesus was the one who spoke radically about ethnic relations between Jews and Samaritans. And Jesus was the Ultimate Nonviolent Protestor.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
Saved by Jesus and inspired by Jesus, the early Christians put their belief in the sanctity of human life on display. In doing so they presented a more beautiful truth than the world around them. Lives were lost but hearts were melted and the world was changed. The western world was led to place a high premium on the value of human life. But we’ve lost that because, as a majority, we’ve lost the Christian faith.
We won’t get it back by politics. We won’t get it back by Facebook tirades. And we won’t get it back by Sunday punchcard Christianity.
In the wake of last week’s murders, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at a press conference, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country.” He’s right. We’ve put the weight of God on someone/something other than Jesus. We’ve asked our governement and its civil servants to accomplish the divine. So we’re constantly disappointed and kicking around shallow solutions.
If we regain the value of human life in our country, it’s only going to come because our citizens see the imago Dei. And the only ones we can assume would put this on display are Christians. So, if you’re a Christian who really wants to be part of the solution to our nation’s most newsworthy problem, it requires:
- Regular study to know Jesus.
- Regular repentance and thankfulness to comprehend Jesus’ grace.
- Regular courage to speak about Jesus.
- Regular sacrifice for others to show Jesus’ love.
God created us and placed his image upon us. We clearly matter.
God redeemed us by the blood of his only Son. We clearly matter.
God placed his own Spirit inside of us and has empowered us. We can make a difference if we move forward in faith.
Church, be the Church.
For more on the Imago Dei, please read here.