Dust in the wind/All we are is dust in the wind. —Kansas (1977)
When Life is God
For Eastern pantheism, all is One. All life is shared life. All apparent diversity is the manifestation of an underlying cosmic unity. Because all things arise out of that unity, all things are equally significant. Nothing is or can be more important than anything else. A rock, a virus, a giraffe, a human baby—all are expressions of the One. Hegel’s evolving “absolute”, the doctrine of emergent evolution, and the Gaia hypothesis are Western variations on the same theme. Life is inherent in nature, maybe even in matter itself. All things are alive so all things have equal value. Everything’s special. Or is it?
Because When Everything’s Special…
The word “pantheism” is deceptive. The Greek root, theos suggests some sort of transcendent but personal deity. But the connection is difficult. At the end of the day, pantheism in all its flavors, the self-sufficient cosmos in its essential unity, is all there is. No part or particular manifestation of that unity has any significance or meaning beyond its inclusion in the One. Nothing can have more meaning than anything else. Man is nothing special, either as a species or as an individual. In the name of a living universe, pantheism wipes out the life as we know and value it.
The Fury of the Green Dragon
There was a time when love of life and nature at least meant kindness toward animals. Not so today. Today the greatest killers of cats and dogs are those agencies that claim to be dedicated to their preservation: the Humane Society, the ASPCA, and PETA, for example. The reasons aren’t found in under-funding or lack of space, but in the cold indifference of the shelter operators to the lives of domestic animals. This shouldn’t surprise us: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. 12:10). But this is the tiniest tip of the iceberg.
A growing number within the environmental movement have developed a cold hatred of human life. Humanism is passé it seems. Biocentrists and Deep Ecologists now denounce people as the cancer that is destroying the eco-system that is Earth. Not this person or these people. Simply… people. “Man is the most dangerous, destructive, selfish, and unethical animal on earth” (Fox, Returning to Eden, 1980). And the human family needs serious pruning according to these folks. “The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease” (Devall and Sessions, Deep Ecology, 1985). Nature must have it’s inevitable dominion over people. Writing for the Los Angles Times, reviewer David Graber says:
Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line—at about a billion years ago, maybe half that—we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.
While some Deep Ecologists are content to use peaceful means to press their anti-human agenda, some prefer…
“…direct action” against corporate and governmental targets, ranging from theatrical civil disobedience to outright terror, sabotage, and violence. They man groups like Greenpeace, Earth First!, Sea Shepherds, Rainforest Action Network, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Animal Liberation Front (Bidinotto).
Earth First! “specializes in sabotaging bulldozers, tearing down billboards and power lines, putting nails on roads to stop logging trucks, and pounding spikes into trees to destroy saw blades” (Bidinotto). These people welcome famine and plague (AIDS), even another Ice Age, as agents of global cleansing. Earth First! leader David Foreman says, “It may well take our extinction to set things straight.”
The Culture of Death
The depopulation of the planet is a common theme in today’s culture of death. Planned Parenthood is another of its advocates. It is also the world’s chief provider of abortions. Through propaganda, lobbying, litigation, and state-funded abortions, Planned Parenthood works vigorously to scale back the population of our planet and weed out the genetically inferior along the way. “…Planned Parenthood has always targeted minorities, the unwanted, and the disadvantaged for family limitation, contraception, abortion, and sterilization” (Grant, 27). Its goal from the beginning has been a eugenic culling of humanity, genocide on a planetary scale. The sadistic irony here is that it does this under the mask of mercy and compassion for the poor.
Meanwhile, abortion continues to kill 1.2 million children a year in the United States alone. That’s 100, 000 children a month. Ninety-three percent of these abortions are performed for non-medical reasons. Pro-life arguments for the humanity of the fetus are falling on increasingly hardened hearts. In America’s culture of death, “human” is no longer a biological description, but a sociological one. A baby is only “human” or a “person” when it’s convenient for society to accept the child as such.
The same may soon be true of the aged, the disabled, and the terminally ill. In the name of mercy, euthanasia promises to become the next sociological tool for creating a happy world. The healthy will mercifully eliminate the less-than-healthy. The process will be cheap, quick, and guilt-free. Doctors, who once swore to “do no harm,” will cut off humanity’s dead weight in the name of compassion.
In the name of hope and change.
We live in an increasingly hateful and violent age. We haven’t even touched on terrorism, jihad, human trafficking, the drug trade, and the revival of pagan barbarism. The 20th century was arguable the bloodiest in history since the Flood, with death tolls reaching more than 110 million. (See Gil Elliot’s Twentieth Century Book of the Dead [Scribner’s, 1972]). My guess it that the 21st will be worse. In the name of life, modern man has a deep and lasting love affair with death.
The Cult of the Dead and the Gospel of Life
When the children of Israel abandoned Egypt, they left behind a culture obsessed with death and dying. Think of the pyramids and the funerary magic. Even the Egyptian doctrine of resurrection was a capitulation to the inevitable victory of death. The afterlife swallowed all… even the gods.
Israel, on the other hand, worshipped the living God. He revealed Himself as Yahweh—“I Am.” His relationship with Israel was rooted in His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That covenant was a bond of life, so sure that, according to Jesus, it demanded the future resurrection of the patriarchs, “for He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: since all live to Him” (Luke 20:38).
Israel’s worship also promised resurrection. The whole point of blood sacrifice was the offer of life through the death of a blameless Substitute. The ritual cleansings from leprosy and contact with dead bodies promised an outpouring of the Spirit that would wash away death itself. The festivals of Pentecost (Firstfruits) and Tabernacles (Ingathering) used dead grain ripening to life as a picture of revival and final resurrection. And Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets) spoke of a new creation unto eternal life. All of these things and more bore witness to a gospel of resurrection life through the coming Messiah. The divine Messiah would overcome death as the Son of the living God.
The Living, Tri-Personal God
The living God of Scripture is eternal, self-sufficient and raw abundant life. True, he has life in Himself, and that life is the archetype and reference point for all created life. But God’s life is His own. He does not share it with His creation. There is no continuity between the uncreated Being of God and the created being of the universe or that of man.
And as Christians we know that the life of God is Triune. From eternity, the Father has begotten the Son, and the Father and Son have breathed forth the living and life-giving Spirit. The “living Father,” who has “life in Himself,” has “given to the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26; 6:57), so that Jesus can say without qualification or metaphor, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” 11:25). All created life finds its source, coherence, and meaning in Him. Human life in its fullness is the knowledge of God in and through Jesus Christ (John 17:3).
Created Life on Three Levels
But let’s make a few distinctions. Not all life is alike. Genesis 1 uses the word “create” (bara) three times. The first is in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Botanical life falls within the scope of that original creative act. Botanical life is the high point of the material creation, of that which is merely electrochemical. In other words, plants are sophisticated chemical systems. They don’t have souls; they aren’t sentient. Scripture never speaks of plants as “living” or “alive.” Only metaphorically does a seed “die” so that it can bring forth fruit (John 12:24). In a deathless world, men and animals still ate fruit and herbs.
Genesis 1:21 says that God created the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air. God describes these creatures (and by extension, all the other animals), as nephesh, “living souls,” creatures that possess the breath of life. Throughout Genesis, “every living creature” means those that have breath and blood (Gen. 2:19: 9:10).
Man is a living creature in this sense, but he is much more. Genesis 1:27 says that God created man in His own image. Man is not one organism among many or even one animal among many. Man is the image of God. That is, man is a living reflection and analogue of His Maker. God speaks and makes and judges; He communicates and even has a communion of sorts through words. He (or She) is Artist and Artisan, Poet and Historian. Man is many things. And of all earth’s creatures, only man is packaged that way. Only man was made for eternal fellowship with God. Interesting, mankind gets legal protection that other life form don’t. Strong language from Mt. Sinai, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). Jesus rendered it, “Thou shalt do no murder” (Matt. 19:18).
Pro-Life or Pro-Scripture?
In Completely Pro-Life (1987), Ron Sider wrote, “To be completely pro-life means to defend human life wherever it is threatened.” Perhaps Ron said more than he meant. Like all things, life belongs to God, and its use is circumscribed by His law. We may only use living things as God’s law permits. We may only take life as His law permits. In this sense, life is sacred. That is, it is protected by God’s holy commandments. But life itself is not divine. To treat it as such is idolatry. Scripture, after all, gives man permission to harvest and eat plants (Gen. 1:29). It allows man to kill animals for food and clothing and for his own protection (Gen. 3:21; 9:3; Ex. 21:28, 36). And though we are to “do no murder,” Scripture authorizes the civil magistrate to wield the sword (Rom. 13:1-5); that is, the State has the duty to execute those guilty of capital crimes and to use deadly force to defend its people against foreign aggressors. None of this does away with God’s demand for mercy or our obligation to love and take care of His creation until Jesus comes (Gen. 1:28). A righteous man regards the life of his beast; a righteous man loves his neighbor. Good stuff.
As humans and Christians, we are required to value life because our Creator does, because our Creator tells us to, because one day we will answer to Him on this very matter. “Thou shalt do no murder” is not a suggestion or a hopeful sentiment. It is a divine law that God Himself will enforce in history and at the end of history. Scripture gives us powerful and transcendent reference points. Without these ultimate reference points, modern man will never learn to love a cat, a baby, his neighbor, or the planet. And most importantly, without Christ, modern man will never accept this reference points.
“All they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36).
For Further Reading:
Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1970).
Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1979).
Ben Bolch and Harold Lyons, Apocalypse Not: Science, Economics, and Environmentalism (Washington, DC: The Cato Institute, 1993).