Various Perspectives and Gray Areas
What would it be like to quote John 3:16 to an atheist? An atheist cannot be convinced that God loves him if he does not believe in God. It would be like trying to describe the color of a red rose to someone with red-green color blindness. His perspective is so radically different that he will not understand unless his perspective changes.
Biblically, some areas are black and white with no room for disagreement. Other issues are clear in some areas and not so clear in others. These “gray” areas require discernment, prayer, and a spirit of love.
The secular humanist position begins with the presupposition that there is no theistic God. If there is no God, there is no basis for absolute moral truths. Humans are highly evolved animals yet are not morally responsible for their actions. Deviant behavior (behavior outside of what is considered normal in a society) can be corrected by a restructuring of the person’s environment, better education, or medical intervention. The secular humanist perspective views ethical issues much differently than does the theistic perspective.
The theistic worldview begins with a belief in a personal, all-powerful, and morally perfect God. Moral ideas that flow from God’s nature are absolute. There is a distinct difference between right and wrong. When humans choose to do wrong, it is not simply a result of their genetic makeup or environment. Wrong choices are related to free will and are therefore deserving of punishment.
Life has intrinsic value because God created it. Human life especially has intrinsic value because humans are made in God’s image. A human life has value whether it is useful or not, whether it is conscious or not, whether it is good or not. According to this principle, a human has value even if he never contributes anything positive to the rest of humanity. Every human being bears the image of God and should be treated with respect.
The sanctity-of-life principle can be contrasted with the quality-of-life principle of secular humanism. The quality-of-life principle is based on the idea that the quality of one’s existence is the preeminent factor in making moral choices. For example, a woman may choose whether or not to have an abortion solely on the basis of how that choice would affect the quality of her life—or the quality of life that the unborn child might expect to have. Secular humanists would say that some abortions are justified because the child would be born into a bad home situation. It would be better for him not to be born than to have a bad quality of life. As we go through the issues covered in this book, you will notice how the Christian position consistently emphasizes the sanctity-of-life principle. Sometimes disagreements arise when believers try to apply the sanctity-of-life principle to an issue like war or capital punishment. For example, should the sanctity-of-life principle apply to a criminal or an enemy?
It is just as important for a person to know how she thinks as it is to know what she thinks.
The theist believes in a personal God who is sovereign over the universe. This relates to His ability and right to control the universe. In ethics, it means that God is sovereign over life-and-death matters. The secular humanist rejects God and any concept of sovereignty of a higher being. Man is the measure of all things. For all practical purposes, man is God. He can create, destroy, or manipulate life. This point is especially relevant to biomedical issues.
Does the end justify the means? This question is answered “no” by a biblical theist and “yes” by the secular humanist. The humanist says that it is justifiable to destroy some lives in order to improve the quality of or save other lives. The theist leaves life-and-death matters up to God when at all possible. The humanist would be inclined to say that he is pro-cure about human health, but would be willing to use human embryos to achieve this end. Theists would view curing diseases as a positive end but would avoid using human embryos (especially if abortion were involved) in any way to bring about the cure.
The two worldviews of secular humanism and biblical theism are in stark contrast to each other. They neither agree philosophically nor agree often on the specific issues in ethics. They come from different perspectives and reach different conclusions. Many people have never taken the time to consider their own perspective and how it influences their decisions in life. It is just as important for a person to know how she thinks as it is to know what she thinks.
This article is adapted from Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely about Right and Wrong by Norman L. Geisler and Ryan P. Snuffer.
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