Posted on May 1, 2019 at 8:10 AM
By Steve Phillips
One thing that is essential for us to be able to think well
about bioethics is an understanding of who we are as human beings. One aspect
of that which has been discussed on this forum is the concept of human dignity,
the idea that all human beings have inherent value which impacts how we
interact with each other ethically. For Christians that is grounded in the idea
that we are all created in the image of God. John Kilner has expressed so very
well how our being created in the image of God is the reason why people matter.
C. S. Lewis wrote about another aspect of how we understand
ourselves as human beings back in 1947 in a little book titled The Abolition of Man. The first chapter
of that book is titled “Men without Chests.” As a medieval scholar he was using
a medieval image to express a concern that he had about how the tendency to
deny the existence of objective moral truth in his day was leading to a problem
with how we function as human beings. In the image that he is using the head
represents intellect or reason, the chest (or heart) represents sentiments or
values, and the stomach represents the appetites or desires. He says that if we
believe that statements about morality or values are simply statements about
how we feel and are not statements that can be considered objectively true or
false, then the chest has lost its ability to mediate between the head and the
stomach. Without objective moral values humans become beings whose intellect is
used to achieve their desires without any means of controlling those desires.
What Lewis predicted is where much of our society is today.
We are told that our identity is based on our desires, and that if we do not
fulfill our desires then we are denying who we really are. Anyone who would suggest
that our desires might be wrong or that we should not fulfill those desires
must hate us and is attacking us and making us unsafe. Our desires define who
we are, and our intellect is given the task of fulfilling those desires.
This is in stark contrast with a Christian concept of who we
are as human beings. We understand that as human beings we are created by God
in his image and with a purpose. We also understand that we are fallen. This world
is not how it ought to be and we are not how we ought to be. Because we are fallen,
our desires are frequently wrong. Our identity is not found in our desires, but
in our relationship with our creator. We understand that our creator has given
us the capacity to understand which of our desires are right and which are
wrong. He has enabled our intellect to comprehend objective moral values that
are grounded in the goodness of God’s nature. Those moral concepts allow us to
distinguish right from wrong desires. That is what ethics is about. Those moral
concepts also help us understand that we fall short of what we ought to be. We
need help. That is what the gospel is all about. That is why Jesus died and
rose again as we just celebrated at Easter.
The idea that our desires define who we are and must be
fulfilled creates men without chests who are incapable of distinguishing right
from wrong and can only express how they feel about a moral issue. We must have
chests which hold to objective moral truths to think ethically and be complete
human beings who are not simply ruled by our appetites.