This morning saw an interesting chain of events. I have a long distance friend from my RAF days called Yvonne, and on her Facebook wall she posted the following:
“Kids with special needs aren’t weird or odd. They only want what everyone wants… to be accepted . Can I make a request? Is anyone willing to post this in honour of all children that God made in a unique way? Let’s see who has a strong heart.”
When I saw this I thought a few things automatically. The first was that Yvonne must know someone inside or outside her family who is living with the daily challenges of either being considered inferior, treated inferior or feels inferior and of a lesser value than someone else. I quickly posted in response to this:
“Can’t agree more…. in many ways they are more gifted…. just differently :-)”
Unbeknown to me at this point, I was unaware of the following published on the BBC web site this morning. I did my usual routine and started to read the news pages from the web site and can be read at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16410118. In short, a self-appointed group, have come to the conclusion that:
“There is a “strong case” for allowing assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill in England and Wales, a group of experts says.
The Commission on Assisted Dying – set up and funded by campaigners who want to see a change in the law – said the current system was “inadequate””.
Interestingly, the BBC seems to be in support of this world view and has gone to some lengths (many feel unreasonable lengths) to promote it and to get a degree of momentum moving to get things changed. Amazingly, the Church of England issued a statement very quickly as a response to this and can be found at: http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2012/01/statement-on-the-report-of-the-commission-for-assisted-dying.aspx, and quite clearly states it’s position on the issue, and concludes with the following paragraph:
“Put simply, the most effective safeguard against abuse is to leave the law as it is. What Lord Falconer has done is to argue that it is morally acceptable to put many vulnerable people at increased risk so that the aspirations of a small number of individuals, to control the time, place and means of their deaths, might be met. Such a calculus of risk is unnecessary and wholly unacceptable.” By Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, (Lead Bishop for Healthcare Issues)
Why is there such a growing number of people with this world view? Well, back in 2005 I was studying for my Theology and Pastoral Studies degree, and I came across an Australian called Peter Singer and his implementation of utilitarian thought. Princeton University had previously caused a stir by appointing him as a professor in bioethics. Singer had become infamous for his view that killing a live baby may not be as serious as killing a happy cat. He believes that the human treatment of animals is nothing short of tyranny and that animals deserve every bit, if not more protection as Homo Sapiens, since animals are self-aware while infants are not. For Singer, infanticide is justified when the child faces a life of suffering and pain. Down’s syndrome and spina bifida children are among the candidates for such treatment as is a handicapped baby, if his or her death would both relieve the burden of the child and bring greater happiness to the rest of the family. In similar fashion, Singer believes that euthanasia is morally justified on the grounds that it relieves a person of suffering and misery.
Many critics have focused on his ethical commitment to utilitarianism as the primary factor in his controversial position; Singer does approach ethics with a commitment to the maximising of personal happiness and the minimization of personal pain, but while utilitarianism is one component of Singer’s ethical foundation and method, something else is also going on.
It seems that all current, high profile proponents of euthanasia are what could be considered secularists to the point of being fundamentalist. The world view of Singer is very different to that of a Christian (and I may risk suggesting Jewish and Muslim) who embodies a sense of God or transcendence with an understanding of human nature and value. When Singer argues that the sufferings and pleasures of human beings are not necessarily of greater moral significance than the sufferings and pleasures of other species, he is reflecting a world view that is different from those that argue that ALL human life has an inherent dignity. Singer rejects the view of a moral order ‘which supposes that human beings are extraordinarily precious because God made them so. He also rejects secular philosophies that depict human beings as possessing a unique and exalted dignity that that differs them from other species of animals’.
The foundation of a Christian ethics is the Christian worldview, ultimately rooted in the nature and actions of the Triune God. If worldview is the foundation of ethics, then obviously a Christian worldview, our theology, leads to a distinctive approach to ethics, though at points its moral positions may overlap with those of other worldviews. How can they overlap and yet retain a distinctiveness? Well, dogma does matter and the method by which it is reached is vital.
The Christian worldview or theology is manifested in three ways:
1. The narrative component – embodies the stories we tell which , make sense of reality. In the Christian faith, this involves the particular biblical stories as well s the overarching biblical story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.
2. The rational component – one in which we attempt to give more analytical formulations to our beliefs and commitments. Here we seek to understand systematically the nature of God, humanity, salvation, the work of Christ, the nature of the church, the kingdom etc. It is vital because it seeks to show the inter-relationship of ideas and the relationship of those ideas to the moral life.
3. The ritual component – the symbols we use and the rituals we perform both embody and reinforce our worldview. When a marriage is celebrated, we ritualize our beliefs and moral commitments about marriage, family, sexual intimacy and children. When we gather as a church community at a funeral, we re-enact and reinforce our beliefs and moral commitments regarding the meaning of life, death and divine providence.
All three components of the Christian worldview play a role in a Christian ethic. All three enrich our theological commitments.
To be continued.