This article is Part One of two segments, which we’ll conclude in the next issue, D.V. In this one we’ll talk about our value as human beings and point out how different views perceive it. Next issue we will address our nature as human beings, answering questions such as whether we are naturally good, or evil, or a mixture? These questions are very important. Canadian humanist Sidney M. Jourard would agree: “Everything depends on what you think man is like.” So now let’s address whether or not we as humans have inherent value—a topic so important and vast that one article cannot provide more than an overview.
One of the main themes we will see in this column is that, in the words of John Stonestreet, “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.” For example, there’s a popular idea currently permeating the culture, an idea that kills about 600,000 people a year. It’s called personhood theory. This idea tries to distinguish between “humans” and “persons,” basically asserting that being human does not necessarily mean that you are a person. Under this idea, having “personhood” is what gives you value. Thus, if you don’t have personhood, killing you would not be a violation of human rights. This is not unlike what Nazis did to Jews and others.
Each worldview, it turns out, addresses the idea of personhood differently. Let’s take a look at several of them.
I want to start here, since in some ways this view is leading the charge in relation to personhood theory. (Marxism holds a similar concept, so we will not spend time on that in this issue.)
Back when we Christians would argue against the killing of babies in the womb, we used to have the goal of proving to the other side that the fetus was a human being, since their argument usually involved the claim that it was “just a clump of cells.” Nowadays, with our current understanding of biology, very few argue against the idea that the fetus is human. The science is very clear on that.
So now, instead of justifying baby-killing by saying the fetus is not human, they defend it by saying that just because something is “human” does not mean it has “personhood.” Thus, since being human is no longer enough, we must somehow prove that we have personhood. This theory has led to many crimes against humanity.
What, then, is personhood? How do we obtain it? Many who hold this idea differ drastically about how one achieves that, and some go to horrific extremes to defend their position. Humanist philosopher Peter Singer, who teaches bioethics at Princeton, goes so far as to say that a life’s value should be based upon certain traits: rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness. He insists that we only achieve the right to live when we have them. Let’s just quote him directly: “Defective infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.” Scary stuff, this. That line of thinking feeds directly into the idea that infants can be killed for nearly any reason someone else comes up with.
This utilitarian view of personhood is extremely dangerous. It has led to the idea that when someone appears to be disabled in the womb, it is good policy to terminate said person.
What does Postmodernism say about personhood? Those holding this view claim that a person is a “social construct.” An easy way to describe this is simply to state that humans are whatever society says they are. As you might be able to guess, this way of thinking spins off into endless implications and consequences. It heavily influenced the decision with Roe v. Wade, because if humans are whatever society says they are, then the adults who make up society can decide whether or not the unborn are human. Confucius once said, “When words lose their meaning people lose their freedom.” And a lot of people, mainly the unborn, have lost their freedom to live with the rise of this way of defining personhood.
Within personhood theory, such thinking has also helped popularize the idea that mothers are free to decide when their child has arrived at personhood. And that, in turn, can be based on a woman’s personal feeling. She decides whether the unborn baby is a person, when it becomes a person, and therefore who is disposable.
This type of thinking is what’s known as circular. If people of a certain age can assign value to those of a younger age, then “society” can arbitrarily and suddenly decide to take that value away. But who’s in charge? How can someone with such fragile value herself give it to another in the first place?
Logically speaking, it just doesn’t work. But, as we will explore in later issues, postmodernism throws logic out the window. It’s a view that solely hangs on whether or not you feel like your child has personhood.
What do New Spiritualists say about personhood? Not a whole lot, aside from stating that we are all god, and everything is god. We can decide what is good for us, and that’s that.
Humans are beings created by God. Muslims, much like Christians, believe in a special creation where an all-powerful God created us, the world, and everything in it. The main difference is that according to them we are not made in God’s image. But at least we are made by God, so that does make them appreciate life more than many other worldviews, but not more than we do. Humans, for Muslims, are persons, but there are definitely varying levels of value among them.
The Biblical Worldview
What does our view say about personhood? Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” This verse alone is enough on which to base our entire belief of personhood. If you don’t believe this verse, or if you don’t believe that it applies to all of mankind, then tragedies of human rights violations will take place.
In the biblical worldview, every single person regardless of race, creed, status, health, etc. has an intrinsic personhood given by God. That personhood comes from being made in the image of God Himself. Since we are made in His image no one has the right to say that another human is not valuable. To say that, would be an affront to God Himself. No one can take away someone else’s personhood, because that personhood was given by a Being who is above the created world. Humans cannot take away personhood, because they cannot give it in the first place.
How does this affect how we live?
This is why in the Christian worldview we highly value life, no matter at what stage. Whether someone is yet unborn, or is disabled, or too old to contribute to society, in the Christian worldview, there is no such thing as “worthless eaters.” As Christians, we should always aim to help people and protect their lives, because we are all persons, and personhood is irrevocable.
It also means that we love each person individually. We respect that they are all made in God’s precious image. While we may not agree with someone’s lifestyle if it’s wicked and sinful, we must still love them, because if we don’t, we degrade God’s handiwork.
I want to be clear here: loving and respecting people does not mean supporting everything they do. As Christians, we also know that God has a good plan for their lives, and that His ways are best. We want to point people to God’s better way through Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His loving commands.
If we believe in a biblical personhood, we must also care for those less fortunate than ourselves. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, ESV). Here we see three groups that God cares for, three groups that are less fortunate than we are.
Many times throughout the world’s history, mankind has looked down on their less fortunate brothers, but as Christians who believe that God gave precious personhood to each soul, we must follow His example by caring for those in need. That is love, and that’s what God does. He is not partial, and neither should we be.
Christ cared for “the least of these.” Christ cared for those the Nazis would have labeled “worthless eaters.” And so should we. Remember, we are persons with value, no matter what, and so is everyone else, no matter what society says about them.