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The Importance of Being Human

By Nisha N. Mohammed
July 17, 2003

We must stand equally against the spirit of our age in the breakdown of morality and the terrible loss of humanness that it has brought. It will mean especially standing for human life and showing by our actions that every life is sacred and worthwhile in itself—not only to us as human beings, but precious also to God. Every person is worth fighting for, regardless of whether he is young or old, sick or well, child or adult, born or unborn, or brown, red, yellow, black, or white.
—Frances A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster(1984)

It is what unites us all—being human. Yet as technology advances in our culture, it also begins to redefine what it means to be human—and the debate over the definition of life becomes more pressing. The discussion touches on all aspects of our culture and on all phases of our lives from birth to death and everything in between.

Abortion, euthanasia, organ harvesting, cloning, stem cell research force us to place a monetary value on human life and, in the process, dehumanize the very thing we once valued highly.

How much is your life worth to you? To your loved ones? Your employer? Your government? From the moment we emerge from our mothers' wombs a calculated, quantifiable value is placed upon our lives. Whether we are measured by our ability to make money for ourselves or others or by how much it costs to keep us alive, a price is placed on our heads. One website even allows visitors to calculate the cost involved in having and raising a child. Tabulating everything from groceries and medical bills to grandparents' visits and education (excluding college expenses and inflation), one can raise the average child for a whopping $177,000.

Yet surely there is more to this ephemeral thing called life than numbers?

Perhaps in an attempt to gain a better sense of our worth as human beings, debates over creationism versus evolution have at their core a fundamental need to understand who we are and where we come from. In the book of Genesis, it is written that there was a beginning to the world. And in this beginning God "formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." If we concede that humankind was divinely created with a purpose, surely the way we treat each other would have to be vastly different than if we considered life to be simply an accident, a byproduct of chaos and collision?

Yet much of modern thought has tried to refute the idea of man being divinely created. As Christian theologian Frances A. Schaeffer noted in his classic book Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.

Man's increasing inhumanity to his fellow being is a common theme that runs through modern fact and fiction. As the world has progressed technologically, our spiritual understanding of life has failed to keep pace with new breakthroughs. Thus, even as scientists race against time to stake their claim as the first to clone a human being—an inevitability at some point in the future—we struggle to understand the moral dimensions of such actions. Beyond the oft-phrased charge that scientists are "playing God," there are other questions that must be resolved. For example, does a cloned human have a soul? Should it be afforded the same protections given to human beings who come to the world in the "usual way"? Or will cloned beings represent a sub-species, servants to what Friedrich Nietzsche, a contemporary of Charles Darwin and an ardent evolutionist, described as supermen or the master race? Some proponents of cloning technologies have even presented it as a method of organ harvesting or a way to replace a deceased loved one.

Human life has become a commodity. In their 1996 report, "The State of Humanity: Good and Getting Better," writers Julian L. Simon and Sheldon Richman declared our species better off in just about every measurable material way, asserting that "[o]nly one important resource has shown a trend of increasing scarcity rather than increasing abundance: the most important and valuable resource of all—human beings. There are more people on earth now than ever before. But if we measure the scarcity of people the same way we measure the scarcity of other economic goods—by how much we must pay to obtain their services—we see that people are becoming more scarce even though there are more of us."

Not surprisingly, while this supposed scarcity of human beings has fueled our quest to recreate life in a laboratory environment, it has done little to stem the tide of abortions. More than 40 million abortions have been performed in the United States since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. Research shows that abortion is commonly used as a method of contraception and family planning. In some parts of the world, governments use forced abortions as a method of population control. One North Carolina history professor seems to see nothing wrong with that and suggests that "the state does have the right to legislate the restriction of the creation of human life as has happened in China" for the sake of controlling overpopulation.

And it is this idea of a government dictating life or death decisions to its populace that goes to the heart of the discussion about the devaluing of human life—namely, its correlation to our freedom as individuals. Does a society that places little to no value on human life also place little to no value on freedom? As John W. Whitehead, president of the The Rutherford Institute, stated, "A society that will not respect the right to life will, in the end, protect no rights at all." This loss of freedom is evident in all areas of life, from the ever-increasing government surveillance of virtually every area of our lives to the continual battle to maintain such fundamental freedoms as the right to religious speech.

Ultimately, the dispute over who controls life is essentially a struggle to conquer death—a struggle most clearly reflected in the euthanasia debate but equally present in everything from the way we dole out health care, to our treatment of disabled individuals. Over the course of the past 50 years, we have extended our life expectancy by as much as 15 to 20 years. As Simon and Richman note, "The decrease in the death rate is the root cause of today's large world population. It represents humanity's victory over death." This "victory" may be sharply disputed as the 77 million members of the baby boomer generation move into retirement over the next 30 years. Already, health care workers and government officials are bracing for the impact on the economy, work force, Social Security and Medicare.

Simon and Richman conclude their article with the following statement: "The ultimate resource is people—especially skilled, spirited and hopeful young people endowed with liberty—who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit and inevitably benefit the rest of us as well."

If we are to proceed as a society that values its humanity, then we must be able to answer the question posed by Schaeffer in his book of the same name, How Should We Then Live? Considered by many to have been hugely influential in shaping the rhetoric of the early pro-life movement, Schaeffer saw the pro-abortion movement as symbolic of Western Civilization's rejection of Judeo-Christian moral values, which in turn led to the devaluing of human life. Working with pediatric surgeon C. Everett Koop (who became U.S. Surgeon General under President Reagan), Schaeffer rallied evangelical Christians to become actively involved in the culture and the pro-life struggle. "If not you, then whom?" they asked. "If not this outrage, then what? If not now, then when?"

Those questions reverberate today. Yet the one that seems most poignant is posed by Whitehead in his 2001 book and video series, Grasping for the Wind: The Search for Meaning in the 20th Century: "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? And what gives us dignity and worth?"

The search for those answers brings us to a point in time where we must make a decision—either to let others shape our sense of self-worth or to believe that we are divinely created and inherently worthy. It is also a question of whether we passively allow a price to be placed on our heads or whether we become a part of that dialogue over the value of a human being.

Some people have dedicated their lives to fighting for the dignity and worth of every individual—whether in the courtroom, through the media or simply by making life-affirming decisions in their day-to-day existence. Whatever the path you choose to follow, we must all make a commitment to choose life and be advocates for the importance of being human.