Two Views of Humanity
There is no shortage of nutty ideas. A recent news item proclaimed that by mid-century, humans and robots will engage in loving and sexual relationships. Our understanding of personhood continues to weaken, as harmful worldviews continue to triumph.
And worldviews really do matter. Indeed, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. That phrase – not original to me – is one I have used many times. The twentieth century has been a good example of this, with some pretty lousy philosophies and ideologies resulting in some pretty lousy consequences.
One’s worldview will indeed have consequences. Ideas matter, and people suffer when bad ideas reign. Consider the issue of what it is to be a person. There are two major worldviews competing to determine who we are and how we should be understood – and treated.
The secular humanist worldview offers its own particular take on mankind. Based as it is on purposeless and random evolution, we are simply an accident without meaning, value or direction. Humankind has no special place in the cosmos, and our time on earth is marked by futility and aimlessness.
Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer is a good example of this worldview. Indeed, he takes secular humanism to its logical conclusion. He of course is well known as an animal rights campaigner who is pro-euthanasia, pro-abortion and pro-infanticide.
He even once championed bestiality in a now infamous article. Evidently according to the good professor one is allowed in all good moral standing to have sex with animals, as long as one does not eat them afterwards. His writings make it clear that humans are nothing special. Consider a few representative quotes.
“The evidence for personhood is at present most conclusive for the great apes, but whales, dolphins, elephants, monkeys, dogs, pigs and other animals may eventually also be shown to be aware of their own existence over time and capable of reasoning.”
“Not all members of the species Homo sapiens are persons, and not all persons are members of the species Homo sapiens.”
“Species membership in Homo-sapiens is not morally relevant. If we compare a dog or a pig to a severely defective infant, we often find the non-human to have superior capacities.”
Thus he could consistently argue (based on his own worldview) that newborns do not have an intrinsic value and right to life, but should be made to pass certain tests first, to see whether we allow them to live or not. “We do not think new-born infants have an inherent right to life.”
A worldview which says pigs are more important than certain infants is a worldview which offers no dignity to humanity. It is the worldview that says some are better than others, and in the interests of survival, some can be weeded out accordingly.
The Judeo-Christian worldview on the other hand takes a radically different approach to understanding who we are. Based as it is on the view that we are made in God’s image, we all have inherent dignity, value and worth. We also have a history and a purpose. We have hope, knowing that this life is not all there is. Every individual is unique and special.
C.S. Lewis did a great job of dissecting the secular humanist view of mankind, and promoting the superior alternative of the Judeo-Christian worldview. In a number of books and articles he warned about where we were heading, as new technologies, coupled with increased statism, spelt “the abolition of man”.
A half century ago he sounded the alarm: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” He explained,
“Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”
He knew rampant technology undergirded by the secularist worldview would spell the end of man, and the rise of even greater tyranny. The counter to all this is the Biblical understanding of personhood. In a very important essay, “The Weight of Glory,” he laid out this vision:
“It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
This is a much different view of persons than that offered by the materialists and secularists. We are dealing with the crown of creation, and need to treat one another with all due respect and dignity. As image-bearers of God, we deserve no less and can do no less.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”
Lewis summarises, “There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
The Judeo-Christian worldview offers a marvellous view of mankind. It recognises his majesty, as made in God’s image, but it also recognises his limitations, because of the fall. It can account for both good and evil in the human person. The secular humanists vision on the other hand has no solid foundation for human morality or the significance of the individual. It cannot logically speak of personhood in such glowing terms as C.S. Lewis did.
These two worldviews are right now battling it out for supremacy. The question is, which view will triumph? Will it be the secular humanist vision or the Judeo-Christian vision? The consequences are great, so we best choose wisely.
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