Abortion: How Sacred Is Human Life?


In this session we’re going to consider the
basic question of the sanctity of human life. I think we’ve all been involved in discussions,
and debates, and arguments where very soon after the debate begins, it degenerates by
getting led off the track down a rabbit trail somewhere into a desultory region or to manifest
irrelevance, or what we might call in the field of logic a “non-sequitur” where we lose
sight of the central point that is in issue or in focus for the debate and get lost in
tangential matters. I remember again as a student in my university
days when we were studying logic. We were given as an example of such an intrusion
of non-sequitur of what might happen if a person is on trial in the court, and is charged
with murder, and in the progress of the trial the prosecuting attorney stands up and gives
an impassioned speech about what a heinous crime murder is, which is obviously irrelevant
to the case that must be decided by that jury. The jury’s task in such an event is not to
determine whether or not murder is a serious crime, the state has already established that
and has enacted legislation. What is to be determined in the courtroom,
in the context of the trial, is whether or not the particular person who was accused
of the crime is guilty or innocent and all the harangue about how bad murder is irrelevant. It is relevant however if the person is found
guilty and there is a subsequent hearing to determine the sentence. Then of course the consideration of the gravity
of the crime is very much to the point. Now, having said that, I want to alert you
at the outset that when we consider the broad question of the sanctity of life, I am not
introducing that in order to prove to you that abortion is murder or that abortion is
an awful thing. What I’m trying to get us to understand is
that the general concept of the sanctity of life has very heavy burden on us when we’re
considering a question that possibly involves a life and death matter. In other words, if we’re not sure that a fetus
is a living human being or not a living human being, given our understanding in general
of the whole picture of the sanctity of human life, this is an area that is so, so serious
that we must be reminded in the course of our deliberations that we dare not make a
mistake here. So that our overall understanding of the sanctity
of human life must act as a restraint on us whichever way the evidence would lead us in
the discussion. In the past, I have been involved frequently
in the arena of ministering to serious disputes where there is hostility and profound alienation
in the labor management arena of our culture. And when we get together in a large room with
a hundred people who are involved in labor and mixed in that group we have a few representatives
from management and we sense the anger and the hostility that is there between these
groups. If I begin to ask these people various types
of questions, you know, “Do you like the Orlando Magic or the Boston Celtics?” they’re not
all going to agree on which is their favorite. If we asked them how many are Democrats, how
many are Republicans, we find a division of the house. How many here are religiously disposed or
anti-religion, we find a division of the house. We find disagreement in almost every point
in the room until we come to one basic question. It’s a loaded question emotionally, obviously. It’s one that no one can answer without feeling. I ask the people, “How many of you in this
room want to be treated with dignity?” “How many of you in this room want to be considered
as being valuable?” One of the deepest desires of every human
being is self-esteem, and not just self-esteem, but esteem of other people that somebody considers
us worthwhile. And that’s why there’s a spirit that ties
the human community together when a crisis becomes obvious — a little girl falls into
a well and is trapped, out of the reach of the rescuers, and the national television
cameras come to Texas, and the world waits with bated breath hoping and praying for her
rescue. Our common humanity screams to us saying,
“Save that life” because we share a hope if not a conviction that human life is exceedingly
valuable. Now, when we consider the question of the
sanctity of human life, we’re doing it because we’re trying to get at the larger issue, the
core issue that I’ve already mentioned the question of, bottom-line, “Is abortion on-demand
right?” Is it the right thing to do, or to sanction,
or to enforce? And as I said in our first session, I’m going
to look at this question from three distinct perspectives. First of all from a biblical theological perspective,
and then, secondly, from the perspective of natural law, and then, thirdly, from the perspective
of legal or governmental law. Let me begin if I may by a very brief, quick
overview and canvassing of the biblical perspective on the general sanctity of human life. I think most of us are aware that the origin
of the concept that human life is sacred is found in the very opening chapters of the
Old Testament where the creation account of the human race is qualified and explained
with the idea that in creation God stamps His personal image on every human being. In theology, we call that the concept of the
imago dei, or the image of God in man. It’s that God creates human beings in His
own image and in His own likeness. This does not mean that God creates us as
little gods or junior grade deities. We may, like to entertain that idea from time
to time, but that’s not the concept here. We’re creatures, we’re finite, dependent,
derived, and all of those things. But nevertheless, every human being, no matter
how corrupt or how virtuous, has that indelible mark of his creator impressed upon his very
soul that in certain ways, he is like his Creator that he has been given a capacity
to mirror and to reflect the very character of God even though, as I’m quick to add, we
are not God. Now, the significance of that is immediately
pressed home when the issue of capital punishment arises as early as the ninth chapter of Genesis
where the Scripture gives a law establishing capital punishment in the case of what we
would call today in our culture “murder in the first degree,” “murder that is premeditated
with malice aforethought” and all of that in which we’ve heard this text several times,
“That if by man, man’s blood is shed so by man shall his blood be shed.” That is not a prediction or a future prophecy
of proverbial insight that would say something like “Those who live by the sword will die
by the sword,” but rather the literary structure of that text has it as an imperative. God is saying that if a person willfully kills
another human being then that person forfeits his life and is to be executed. That’s the law then that was reiterated at
Sinai where as we read the several laws of the Jewish Commonwealth in the Old Testament,
that God says in the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt not kill” meaning thou shalt not murder
and then Exodus 21 and 22 and so on, He gives His legislation to deal with punishing those
who violate the Decalogue, and so the penalty God enjoins for murder is a capital punishment. Now, if we go back to Genesis 9, the biblical
rationale is given and this of course is not intended to be a discussion of capital punishment. That’s another issue that divides us seriously
and warrants a whole series on its own. But in Genesis 9, the rationale for capital
punishment is as it says “If you shed the blood of man by man shall your blood be shed,
because man is created in the image of God.” In other words, what that means, ladies and
gentlemen, is that God is saying here that human life is so sacred that an attack upon
a human being is regarded by God as an attack upon Himself because any malicious attack
on a human being is an attack upon one who bears the image of God. He is an image-bearer. And that also means that the dignity that
we have is a dignity that doesn’t rest on our own preference. You know, some cynical philosophers say the
only reason we esteem men is because we are men, and we like to think that we have some
kind of value, and that there’s some significance to our existence. But the biblical message is that man has dignity
because God not only creates him, but because God assigns and declares that every human
being has value, that every human life is sacred. Now, that theme is not just found in the ancient
pages of Genesis or in the arcane elements of Mosaic legislation, but ladies and gentlemen,
it’s on every page from Old Testament through the New Testament. The overarching message is that human life
is profoundly sacred. Just one other reminder quickly comes from
the teachings of Jesus in the most famous sermon ever preached. The Sermon on the Mount in the fifth chapter
of Matthew, Jesus makes this comment to His hearers. He said: “You have heard that it was said
of them of old time ‘Thou shall not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of
the judgment.” And now hear what Jesus said: “But I say to
you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment; whoever shall say to his brother ‘Raca’ shall be in danger of the council;
whoever shall say ‘You fool’ shall be in danger of hellfire.” That’s one of the strongest statements that
Jesus ever made in His ethical teaching. Now, what’s He saying here? He’s saying, don’t think that you’ve obeyed
the law of God if you’ve restrained yourself from committing murder in the first degree;
that the deeper implications of the prohibition against murder carries an elliptical, unspoken,
tacitly assumed assertion of its office. That is, what Jesus is saying here is you
are not allowed to kill people and that means you’re not only allowed not to murder them
in the first degree, you are not allowed even to be angry at them unjustly. You’re not even allowed to hurt the quality
of life that they enjoy. You’re not allowed to slander them because
their lives are sacred. And the idea that the church has always understood
in the teaching of Jesus is that what the law teaches in its affirmation, it also teaches
in its denial, it’s opposite. That is, if Jesus says you must not kill or
do anything that’s part of the complex of killing, at the same time, you are called
to do everything in your power to promote human life, to love your neighbor which promotes
the quality of his life, to give mercy to those who are in need of mercy, to give clothing
to the naked, and food to the hungry, and shelter to those without shelter, to visit
the imprisoned. All of that is part of the complex of the
law of the sanctity of life. That’s the driving force behind the whole
ethic of Jesus that all of life is sacred. So it’s not simply that you’re not allowed
of murder, you can’t hate, you can’t be angry without cause, and so on. Well, let’s turn then from the biblical and
theological overview in the brief time that we have and consider for a moment if we can
learn anything from natural law or from science about the sanctity of life. Now, when we talk about natural law, we usually
think of natural law in two dimensions. That is, there are two sources from which
we gather the information that we call or subsume under the heading of natural law. The first is what’s called technically the
‘Jus Gentium’ or the Law of the Nations. Sociologists, anthropologists examine the
individual law codes of various and sundry cultures spread out over all of the world
— sophisticated cultures, animistic primitive cultures, what kind of laws are enacted in
the east, what kind in the west. And we look at the international scope of
things and we see that virtually every society, at some point or another, develops laws protecting
human life. Yes, there have been societies that have certainly
allowed for abortion and even infanticide and so on, but the general consensus of the
nations is that it is wrong to murder and it is right to promote human life. We look to the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s
notion of the Categorical Imperative and without it getting into the technical dimensions of
that philosophical consideration, Kant was saying that every human being is born with
a sense of duty, what Kant called a “sense of oughtness,” a categorical imperative. Such a profound sense of duty that binds the
conscience, and Kant said it’s not limited to religious people, to Jewish people, or
Muslim people, or Christian people but to people wherever they are. And when we’re talking about natural law on
the question of the sanctity of life, we’re talking not about a private individual conscience,
ladies and gentlemen. We’re not even talking about a national conscience. We’re talking about an international conscience,
something that comes out of the very wellspring of our common humanity, that we abhor murder. Now again, I didn’t say that the universal
consensus is that we abhor abortion. I said that we abhor murder. I want us to keep our eyes on the issue here. I’ve already said that the vast majority of
those people who favor abortion do not do so because they consider it murder. The general law of the nations is that murder
is wrong. The second way, we look to discover natural
law is its science. And one of the principles that we find in
biology has been called, through natural lawyers, the Principle of Self-Preservation, and this
can be seen in many, many ways. There is an obvious apparent universal struggle
for life and struggle against death in the biological world. I think, for example, of some of the insights
of Charles Darwin when he first developed his theories on the Origins of the Species,
he didn’t like the word ‘evolution’ by the way, he was looking at the question of how
variations occur in history. And he articulated his concept of natural
selection and noticed that certain creatures have an uncanny ability to adapt to their
environment while other varieties pass out into extinction. In fact, it’s been argued by modern science
that 99% of all of the varieties of living things that have ever been on this planet
are now extinct. One goes out and another one comes in. Well, how does this work? Why can’t I get into all of the genetics and
hybridization processes and all that right now. But one of the insights that we get from the
biologists, I can illustrate by a case of moths that were found in England, there were
moths that’s natural habitat was in the woods right outside of the city limits of a town
in England. And the scientists examined the variety of
moths and the vast majority of them were an off-white color, sort of tannish brown. There were a few that were more white and
even fewer, a very tiny minority of variety of moth that was jet black. And then something happened that dramatically
changed their environment. A factory was built in the town and the factory
in its process of manufacturing things was belching smoke daily out of these giant smoke
stacks and this smoke was not purified by the modern methods and so forth, air cleaners
and anti-pollutant legislation. This black smoke would just come out of the
smoke stacks and just willow across the city and penetrate the deepest recesses of this
forest on the outskirts. And after this had gone on for a while, the
scientists go out in the forest and they noticed that the colors of the trees and the underbrush
and the foliage in there had changed dramatically from off-white, light tan trees, they all
had this cover of soot from the smoke. And then when they examined the moths, they
found that now the vast majority of the moths were black rather than tan or white. Why? Is it because all of a sudden the tanned ones
turned black? No. You see what is going on here in this natural
process of adaptation to environments involves the fundamental struggle for survival long
enough to be able to reproduce. And, if the white — or, excuse me, if the
white or tanned moths now have lost their protection of the background, the predators
killed them, their natural enemies consumed them before they are able to reproduce. And now the black moths that before were clearly
visible to any predator now become well-hidden, they live longer, they reproduced themselves
and they take control. I’m trying to say that that illustrates this
drive in nature itself for life for reaching that point where one is able to reproduce. Going back to the biblical lesson, let me
remind you that the number one, the very first law that God ever gave to His creation was,
what — be fruitful and multiply — a law of reproduction. Look at human reproduction itself. I was speaking to an OB-Gynecologist a few
weeks ago and I was asking him about some of the details of how the human reproduction
process takes place and he said “You know, it’s an amazing thing in the process.” For fertilization to take place, the woman
delivers one egg and then when the sexual reproduction process continues, in ejaculation,
the male sends now thirty to sixty million sperm. It only takes one to fertilize that egg. But do you ever wonder why nature undergoes
a process where you produce one target and thirty to sixty million bullets to hit it? It may sound at the outset as a monumental
waste of bullets. OK? But think how many times sixty million are
released and fertilization doesn’t take place. And if one sperm does penetrate that egg and
fertilizes that egg then there’s a certain percentage of fertilized eggs that fail to
implant themselves in the wall of the uterus. And of those who do make it to the level of
implantation, there’s a certain percentage of those that suffer natural miscarriage or
abortion and so it seems as though Mother Nature or Father God, however you look at
it, has so loaded the gun to ensure human reproduction that it has gone to extravagant
means to ensure the production of a human life. That’s what we mean by evidence from science
of the Law of Self-Preservation that we have been equipped with nature to such a degree
to overcome the barriers and obstacles for the reproduction of the human race. Finally, we consider the legal or the governmental
view of the sanctity of life. We are told in the most rudimentary of our
national documents that we hold certain truths to be self-evident. We don’t even need to argue them. They’re self-evident. They’re what, Descartes called “clear and
distinct ideas.” Ideas that are so plain, so manifest that
one doesn’t have to have a degree in philosophy to recognize them or to discern them. And our government has taken a position, taken
a stand on this legally that there are certain truths that we regard to be self-evident and
that we are to understand that we have been given by our Creator certain and unalienable
rights as an endowment, a gift from our Creator among which are life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness. I don’t know whether the forefathers of this
nation structured those most foundational, self-evident principles in that particular
order for a reason or if it was purely literary, but it sure sounds like a hierarchical series
of them. Life is first, liberty, happiness. Doesn’t mean that if we want to be happy and
we have to kill another human being to do it that gives us an inalienable right to do
it. But the most fundamental right according to
the law of the United States of America is the right of life and that’s the one that
we’re concerned about in this discussion. Now, as I said repeatedly, I think everybody
on all sides of this issue agrees for the most part that there is a special dimension,
sanctity, value to human life. We are not barbarians. But as I said also, to prove that life has
value or even that life is sacred does not ultimately answer the question of abortion,
and I agree with that. But here’s what it does do that I think is
crucial, and that’s why I’ve taken the time to develop this side of the question is it
says something very, very important about the question of the burden of truth and the
burden of proof. When we are talking about something that may
or may not be living human persons, we know we’re talking about something that is that
the very minimum potential human life. It is of the complex of human life, and we’re
not exactly sure whether it’s actual life or merely potential life. I urge you to consider that the burden of
proof is on the one who says it isn’t an actual life, because, ladies and gentlemen, before
we pick up a sword and enter into a military war, we better not be saying “My country right
or wrong my country” because my country may be wrong. My country may do what Germany did and introduce
the concept of genocide. And just because it’s my country, my country
can do the wrong thing, that does not excuse me to pick up a sword and kill an innocent
person. Before you pick up a sword to kill a human
being, you better know that you’re doing it in a just cause, and before you hire a surgeon
to take a knife in his hand and to destroy an unborn human embryo, I hope you are absolutely
sure that this is not a living human being, because life is too sacred to decide it with
a roll of a dice. We need better grounds than my preference,
my convenience, or my economic condition before we decide on a matter this serious. In our next discussion, we will look at the
question of the origin of human life.

3 Replies to “Abortion: How Sacred Is Human Life?”

  1. His talks are timeless. It seems like the more I look for these the younger he gets. God bless him; He's with our father.

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