“How do we get people to value life, whether their own or others? Do we have to make them Christian before we can make them pro-life?”
That was the question on my mind as I sat on the airplane, heading home from Dallas, my last stop with the Campus Outreach Team. I kept coming back to it as I reflected on my time with them the last couple weeks. It had been seven years since I had been on campuses dialoging about the abortion issue, and either I forgot how bad it was, or it’s gotten worse...
I used to think we could merely make a case for consistency with science and reason and then people would start valuing life. Much of our case is simply pointing out that the same reasons given to justify abortion also justify infanticide. If people find infanticide appalling, then they should also find abortion appalling.
The problem is many people don’t find infanticide inherently appalling. They may find it personally distasteful, but not inherently wrong. Many times a case for consistency does work, but what do you get when you are dialoging with a person who doesn’t find human life inherently valuable? Exactly that! They consistently don’t find human life valuable!
Now, to my own fault, in all my conversations I never once gave a reason that people should believe in equal human dignity. Sometimes I asserted it, which was enough once or twice (maybe), but I never defended that assertion. So part of my frustration was due to my own circular reasoning, assuming the conclusion of an argument.
This is why I was so pleased to find a paper that helped me to think through this issue, and the conclusion is very appropriate for something coming up this week, Easter! In his paper, Human Dignity: Does Every Human Being Matter?, author Mako Nagasawa points out that Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century philosopher, criticized Christianity for the teaching that all human beings are inherently valuable, precisely what I found lacking on campus.
“Nietzsche did not take aim at just any religion, least of all every religion. Nietzsche specifically criticized Christian faith. He believed that if you cut the root, you lose the fruit. That is, if you cut the root of belief in Jesus, you lose the fruit of the worth and value of each human life.”
In our context today, atheists criticize Christianity for perceived human rights violations, which is ironic because, as Nagasawa and many others have pointed out, historically Christianity was the force that introduced the idea of equal human rights and dignity in the first place! And it still is that force! So Nietzsche is better than present day atheists because he at least knows history and his enemy.
Christianity’s influence in this area is not a mere accident of history. It is a core teaching unique to Christianity. Each human being is inherently valuable, not because of some quality they might have, but because of what they are. They are creatures loved by their Creator, who sent His Son in history to a womb, a tomb and beyond, to love every single human being from their mothers’ wombs, to their tombs, and beyond! This isn’t an unprovable assertion!
I grew up in a pro-life, Christian family. To be sure, that is the sociological reason I am Christian and pro-life. But now that I have grown up and can examine the evidence for myself, I can safely say that I am Christian and I am pro-life not because of an unprovable feeling in my gut. I am Christian and pro-life because of the weight of the evidences and arguments for both. I am Christian and pro-life because Jesus of Nazareth really rose from the dead! If you don’t believe, look at the evidence!
In summary fashion: Christ’s followers testified to the empty tomb from the beginning. Hostile groups never once made the claim that the tomb wasn’t empty. They admitted it! And if they had the body, why didn’t they just produce the it and let that be that? If the disciples had it, then they knew they were lying. But then many of them would be tortured and killed for that lie. People are sometimes willing to die for what they know to be the truth, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would die for what they know to be a lie. If you need more, Lee Strobel, N.T. Wright and Simon Greenleaf are good places to start.
But for now, back to Nagasawa…
“Human dignity is thus anchored in the person of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and especially the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, the event in which the Christian God’s loving commitment to humanity is said to have been ultimately demonstrated. And this means that the idea of equal human dignity is not just a philosophical assertion resting on nothing, or a given which cannot be proved. It is not merely a culturally acquired taste of Western culture. Nor is it rooted in my personal existence and my current personal evaluation of other human beings.
Rather, it is derived from a quest for the historical Jesus according to the discipline of verifiable historical inquiry. It is rationally accessible because we can investigate historical facts outside our own feelings, ungrounded ideas, personal experience, or culture. We can engage people’s hearts and minds alike when we try to persuade others. Curiously, the conceptual link between the search for equal human dignity and the search for the historical Jesus does seem not accidental. The link is even poetically appropriate, for in it, we hear an echo of a central invitation of the New Testament writers. They said that in finding Jesus, we will find our true selves.”
So this Easter, I am committing myself to help others “find their true selves.” And I know that I will have ample opportunities to do this with Survivors. We can and should do this! As I experienced on tour, conversations about abortion easily lend themselves to the Gospel. Because part of the pro-life argument is absolutely based on the Christian claim that human life is inherently and infinitely valuable because the image of God came in the form of man (Philippians 2:7-8). We help them “find their true selves” by pointing them to where God was seeking them, in the real, historical Jesus of Nazareth who really rose from the dead, and loved them from the womb, to the tomb, and beyond!
Yes, you are always everywhere. But I,
Hunting in such immeasurable forests,
Could never bring the noble hart to bay.
The scent was too perplexing for my hounds;
Nowhere sometimes, then again everywhere.
Other scents, too, seemed to them almost the same
Therefore I turn my back on the unapproachable
Stars and horizons and all musical sounds,
Poetry itself, and the winding stair of thought.
Leaving the forests where you are pursued in vain
--Often a mere white gleam--I turn instead
To the appointed place where you pursue.
Not in Nature, not even in Man, but in one
Particular Man, with a date, so tall, weighing
So much, talking Aramaic, having learned a trade.
C. S. Lewis*
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
(“No Beauty We Could Desire”)