Stem cells (those that require the destruction of a human embryo) and torture. What is the connection? Simple: both raise the moral issue of objectifying another human being. Neither is a trivial topic, subject to a “just so” approach which will always guide us. Neither will let us go, however, until we deal with them, one way or another.
Torture has been much in the news, with all sorts of moral posturing and claims and counter-claims as to the “efficacy” of using torture. While few can agree what, exactly, constitutes “torture,” using the first commandment as a guide, as suggested by Gilbert Meilaender in the Weekly Standard, sheds useful light.
The argument is straightforward in concept: man is made in the Imageo Deo, in the image of God. As such, when we deny a man (or woman; man for “mankind”) his dignity, his personhood, we deny that this particular man is made in the image of God. We thus deny God.
What, exactly, constitutes denial of dignity, or, as Professor Meilaender writes, turning a man into a “thingy?” Is it waterboarding? Truth serum? Being served pork? Not having full access to premium movie channels? There’s where it gets rather murky, and I don’t have a crisp answer.
The usual argument made in favor of torture is to posit that here’s a terrorist who could provide intelligence that would prevent a major loss of innocent life. What about the dignity of those souls?
The problem is that God does not weigh our lives by the numbers. One death does not justify saving 10,000, at least if theory: one can not take the earthly measure of the image of God. Your life is worth just as much as mine is worth just as much as the most heinous of terrorists. To God, if not thee or me.
At least in theory. Me, I will sin, and support whatever it takes to save innocent lives, doing our level best to not objectify another child of God. I’ll throw myself on God’s mercy when the time comes…