The Dignity of Human Life

The Dignity of Human Life

Commentary

Sometimes it seems life’s problems are too big for us to solve. The world is rife with poverty, hunger, war and much more. No matter how hard we try or how much money or technology we employ, these challenges persist.

And yet we have no choice but to continue seeking solutions because each person is precious beyond comprehension — an eternal soul.

From its beginning in the womb to its final breath, and at each stage in between, every human life is endowed with dignity, created in the grace of God’s image.

 

This approach to life originates in the Old Testament’s account of creation and extends to the New Testament's millennial vision of a world without tears. The daily headlines of conflict and sorrow remind us we are yet a great distance from that peaceful world. Until that day comes, it is everyone’s responsibility — especially people of faith — to protect and defend the dignity of each person.

Religious leaders, ancient and modern, emphasize the plight of the powerless. Care for the vulnerable — whether the unborn, the aged, the poor, the abused, the displaced, the diseased or the disabled — is at the heart of the world’s great religions, including the Judeo-Christian worldview. Isaiah of the Old Testament rebuked those who "beat [God’s] people to pieces" and "grind the faces of the poor."[1] And Jesus Christ of the New Testament told His followers to minister to the hungry, the thirsty, the lost, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.[2]

Because all of us will at various points fall into one or more of these categories, the call to serve the weak and vulnerable applies to everyone.

The vulnerable and helpless among us include unborn babies. Mormon Apostle Quentin L. Cook recently said, "We are so numbed and intimidated by the immensity of the practice of abortion that many of us have pushed it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness." Though abortions in the United States have dropped in recent years, there were still more than 920,000 abortions in 2014.[3] But, as Elder Cook said, for those who believe they are accountable to God, this loss of humanity is "a tragedy of monumental proportions" and "a serious moral blot on our society."[4]

Our beginnings are a symbol of our lifelong reliance upon others for survival. "The womb reminds us that we are not self-existent," says Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. "None of us are 'viable' apart from others and from the ecosystem God has built around us."[5] Babies need parents; the elderly need caretakers; the sick need doctors; refugees need a home; the lonely need a community. Throughout our lives, we need each other.

Like many other religious believers, Elder Cook said, the Latter-day Saints should "be at the forefront of changing hearts and minds on the importance of children."[6] Mormon scripture teaches that God's purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Regardless of the circumstances of our birth, we all have divine potential.[7]

But because many believers advocate so vocally against abortion, some are accused of not caring for the needy at other stages of life. Thus we see the caricature that pro-life advocates believe life "begins at conception and ends at birth."[8]

Of course, the vulnerable are not limited to little children. It’s just as easy to see the elderly, the disabled and the sick as powerless. Yet, as Moore says, "life is about more than perceived usefulness." Caring for those who don't seem to matter "tells us that life is not about instinct and gene-preservation and the will to power. We are not animals."[9] Others deserve our love, regardless of their physical or mental abilities, because of the God-given dignity they possess as part of the human family.

And then there are today's 65 million displaced persons — including refugees — a helpless group tossed about on the waves of conflict, persecution and political instability. Their plight is also deserving of our love and ministry. Mormon leader Elder Patrick Kearon says their displacement "does not define them, but our response will help define us."[10] Refugees deserve the blessing of a safe harbor and the opportunity to succeed — the fruit of what the Universal Declaration of Human rights calls "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."[11] There can be real disagreement on policy, but there should be little argument about the worth and dignity of the vulnerable among us.

We may not be able to make all the world’s problems disappear. But we can make a difference in our own way. Helping those who can’t help themselves honors our religious roots — indeed, it is the essence of a life devoted to God. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, "We cannot love God without first honoring the universal dignity of humanity as the image and likeness of the universal God."[12]

 

[1] Isaiah 3:15.

[2] See Matthew 25:35–40.

[4] BYU devotional, Feb. 7, 2017.

[5] Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 120.

[6] BYU devotional, Feb. 7, 2017.

[7] Moses 1:39.

[9] Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, 120.

[10] "Refuge from the Storm," Apr. 2016 general conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/refuge-from-the-storm?lang=eng.

[11] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted Dec. 10, 1948) preamble.

[12] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.

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