Defining the Humanity of Others

Defining the Humanity of Others at

In September, 2015, an effort was made through social media to challenge the stigma of abortion through the use of the hashtag #shoutyourabortion. Women who had had an abortion were encouraged to speak out, be proud, and reject the stigma of guilt and shame placed on them by society. I confess that the brazenness of many of these abortion supporters makes me angry. But I believe in the slow play of the kingdom of God. I believe that one day, at the resurrection, these women will meet the person they chose to terminate. I sincerely hope and pray that on that day they can embrace, be reconciled together through Christ, enjoy fellowship with one another in the eternal, healing new creation of God. For it is only then and there that all manner of things shall be well.

Humans have a long, sad history of deciding who is and isn’t fully human.
But in the meantime, a debate rages in our culture over abortion, a debate that seems to be full of rhetoric and vitriol, but too often void of coherent argument. Just read the tweets. (However, this article by Frederica Mathewes-Green is excellent.) We are entrenched in our positions, and there is little hope that any of us might give ground willingly.

During this year’s Super Bowl, Doritos aired an ad of an unborn child with an unusually advanced appetite for their delicious chips. This ad was criticized in a tweet by NARAL, an organization committed to advocating for abortion rights, as “humanizing fetuses.” (Their exact words.) Defining the humanity of the fetus really is the heart of the abortion debate, though it is still shocking to see it put so bluntly, as though “humanizing fetuses” were either objectionable, immoral, or unnatural.

I confess that I do not understand the intellectual universe in which a fetus, in full possession of unique and unrepeatable human DNA, the clear product of human parents, developing inside of a human female, visible through ultrasound technology, can be considered anything other than human. It is abundantly clear from scientific inquiry that, upon conception, a new human life is thrust into creation, albeit in a form that may not yet resemble the humans we see around us each day. In the article linked above, Frederica Mathewes-Green states this well:

The usual justification for abortion is that the unborn is not a “person.” It’s said that “Nobody knows when life begins.” But that’s not true; everybody knows when life — a new individual human life — gets started. It’s when the sperm dissolves in the egg. That new single cell has a brand-new DNA, never before seen in the world. If you examined through a microscope three cells lined up — the newly fertilized ovum, a cell from the father, and a cell from the mother — you would say that, judging from the DNA, the cells came from three different people. When people say the unborn is “not a person” or “not a life” they mean that it has not yet grown or gained abilities that arrive later in life. But there’s no agreement about which abilities should be determinative. Pro-choice people don’t even agree with each other. Obviously, law cannot be based on such subjective criteria. If it’s a case where the question is “Can I kill this?” the answer must be based on objective medical and scientific data. And the fact is, an unborn child, from the very first moment, is a new human individual. It has the three essential characteristics that make it “a human life”: It’s alive and growing, it is composed entirely of human cells, and it has unique DNA. It’s a person, just like the rest of us.-Frederica Mathewes-Green

While I do not understand how anyone can deny the humanity of an unborn child, I can, unfortunately, perfectly understand the moral universe in which the humanity of the weak is defined by the powerful as incomplete or insufficient, and that they are therefore subjected to mistreatment, abuse, and forceful death without consequence or justice. We’ve been here before, America. (Have we ever left?) Insofar as white, powerful Americans did not accept Africans as fully human, the transatlantic slave trade thrived, and the institution of slavery became embedded in our American way of life. We call this refusal to acknowledge the humanity of Africans racism, and it is the greatest of all America’s sins, clearly and unanimously condemned today. It was only when powerful whites began to acknowledge the full humanity of Africans that the diabolical practice of our institutionalized, race-based slavery began to crumble. It is precisely because of our rejection of the African slave trade that we should have the moral fortitude and precedent to reject abortion.

Of course, America is not the only nation or people to presume to define the humanity of others as less than their own, and thereby morally justify the extermination of the other. Whenever humans call into question the full humanity of other humans, we do so in order to justify our hatred, self-conceit, violence, and will to power. If someone is not a human, we reason, then they can be killed without moral or legal consequence. As with the teacher of the law who asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor,” our impulse is not to refrain from killing, but to ask (and answer narrowly), “Who is human?”

Whenever humans call into question the full humanity of other humans, we do so in order to justify our hatred, self-conceit, violence, and will to power.
What I, and other pro-lifers like me, find most troubling is that the humanity of the weak has come to be defined by the desire of the strong. A person is a person only if they are wanted; otherwise they are disposable. In abortion, the power of the powerful is exercised over the weakness of the weak by no ethical standard but desire. For any fetus who is desired – whose mother (and father) actually want the child to enter the world – his/her humanity is assumed. Indeed, the humanity of desired babies is taken for granted because his/her parents instinctively know and accept the child as their own, as being like them in the fullness of their personhood. The unwanted fetus, then, is an aberration of desire, and as such his/her humanity is negated, and his/her life destroyed.

But as with race, desire is a poor ethic, an awful answer to the question, “Who is human?” The Christian answer to the question is the same as Christ’s answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” It is, to put it simply, “Be a human.” When we find ourselves narrowly defining the humanity of others we lose touch with the most humane part of humanity, and instead become a twisted, evil version of ourselves, bent ever-inward, caught in the violent cycle of self-conceit and the struggle for power. Violence, after all, is the inevitable result of narrowing the definition of humanity to exclude others. History bears this out, infallibly.

God’s image is carried by the zygote as profoundly as it is borne by the healthy woman in her prime.
To be a human is to bear the image of God; and in order to faithfully be his image-bearers on earth we must pursue justice, grace, and order. We must, therefore, protect the weak when the strong assail them. We must proclaim the humanity of every man, woman, and child, of the born and the unborn alike. God’s image is carried by the zygote as profoundly as it is borne by the healthy woman in her prime. The most vulnerable among us are voiceless, hidden behind a veil of flesh, carried by the one gifted to love them unconditionally. But they are still us. We must not, for these reasons, doubt the fullness of their humanity. In the words of Dr. Suess, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

To be human is no vile thing, for our being, though steeped in sin, has been redeemed by the incarnation of Jesus Christ. By becoming a man, from conception through death and on to resurrection, Jesus has restored the dignity and glory of humanity. He is remaking the image of God in us, broken as it is by sin.

But beyond this, every man and woman – and every unborn child – is a nascent king or queen of creation, created by God to rule the cosmos by his side, and to be betrothed eternally to Jesus Christ. Tying together the first and final chapters of Scripture, we see that our divine calling infinitely surpasses our human endeavors as the sun outshines a child’s nightlight. Not all will reach this calling, sadly, but the road is open to all who are made in the image of God. Let us not, then, enact violence upon our fellow vice-regents; rather let us bend our desires toward the good of the divine-image-bearing future kings and queens, and thereby toward the good of all creation.

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