Saturday, February 02, 2008

God and Politics 2a: The Image of God

Turning to what you might call Biblical anthropology, I pick up my second major principle for the Christian involved in politics (which should, of course, be every Christian in a democratic society). That principle is:

2. Human beings are made in the image of God

Without getting into a lengthy theological discussion about what that means exactly (I tend towards Barth's explanation, if that helps anyone), there are a number of fairly large applications that can be made to the political sphere. Such as:

a) Each human being is inherently valuable (and of equal value)

Ponder Psalm 8:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the
stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little
lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

Or think about how this is applied to individuals in Psalm 139:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

It's important to realise that Scripture doesn't just tell us that humanity is valuable: it tells us that each individual human being is valuable. That counts against any political system that tends to treat human beings as statistics. It counts against any system that tends to attach value to human beings based solely on what they can do or contribute. It counts against any system that does not respect each human being at the weakest and most vulnerable times of life: the very young, very sick, and very old.

Systems like this can be found on the left and the right.

It also counts supremely against systems that value the whole but not each individual. Any political system that makes the good of the many its ultimate goal runs this risk. It is a heroic and even somewhat Christ-like thing for the few to decide that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one - yes, that is a Trek reference) and therefore sacrifice themselves; but it is a despicable thing and even somewhat demonic when the many make a similar decision and therefore sacrifice the few. Kant said human beings are always ends and never means: he is right within the sphere of politics and society, if not ultimately and theologically.

Please note that this is absolutely not "self-evident". All the facts as we perceive them count against it. Some people are more valuable to society than others; this is undeniable. On what grounds could we possibly infer from what we see around us that all human beings were valuable? We could choose to accord equal value to all - but I would suggest that this doesn't quite work so long as we have the sneaking suspicion that it is in fact fictitious value. Consistency points us more in the direction of Peter Singer, who argues that healthy chimps have more value than profoundly disabled human beings. That is not, humanly speaking, outrageous: it is simply working from the observable facts. But it is blasphemous, and therefore an outrage against God whose image is to be seen in every human being.