Moral Imagination and the Right to Life

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The right to life is the basic human right. When it is denied, no other right will ever be recognized. When it is affirmed, and appropriately grounded, all other God-given rights will be recognized and defended in just the way they ought to be.
In order to appropriately ground this right, however, we have to define our terms. We have to acknowledge what we are talking about, and this requires a moral imagination. But a functioning moral imagination is not possible without two things. The first is a fixed natural world, which runs as it does under the governance of God, and the second is a sure Word from the God who has done this for us. We need natural revelation, given to us by God, and we need Scripture to correct our sinful tendencies to veer off from what God has obviously presented to us in the world. Moral Imagination

Think of it this way. Every person reading this began his or her existence as a human being as a single cell. One of the largest cells in the human body, it is even visible to the naked eye — about 0.12 mm in diameter. There you are. But even though it is visible, it is still just one cell, and we cannot make out any characteristics yet of William or Sally. But God can. We don’t need to know the details because we know that the details are all there to be known by God.

At the other end of the pregnancy, the child is obviously a child, capable of pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow, comfort or discomfort. I have conducted a memorial service for a stillborn infant, and everything about that was right and proper. But even the most ardent pro-lifers do not want to conduct memorial services for fertilized eggs that failed to implant. This is no inconsistency, because the God who requires us to honor and respect human life from conception onward is the same God who designed the means of emotional bonding over time. All of this is in the hands of God, and we are His creatures. We must receive what He gives us, and that includes everything He gives us, and the way He gives it.

The lie that abortion advocates have been told (and have told in turn) is that the unborn child is just “tissue,” with the same visible status as that fertilized egg. Rights are assigned on the basis of what appears to be true to them at a glance, and it is not long before even that cursory glance is dispensed with. But it has to be acknowledged that what pro-aborts say about the entire gestational period is something that certainly looks to be true in the immediate days after conception. However, it only looks that way in a godless universe — though pro-lifers can understand why unbelievers do not see the point of according full human rights to a cluster of sixteen cells.

We do see why they can’t see past what they are seeing with their eyes. But we also know that if they are not able to see the humanity of those sixteen cells, they will also not be able to see the humanity of a dismembered child in a pie plate with commodified legs and liver. They will not be able to see what has grown up into the obvious because they have willfully blinded themselves.

And that blindness began somewhere. So perhaps instead of asking when human life begins, we should rather ask when the moral blindness begins.

They have blinded themselves because they are not willing to receive what God has told them about it. Where has God spoken? God has spoken in two books. In the first, He tells us that a fertilized human egg is fully human. We know this on the basis of natural revelation. We know it the same way we used to know that the egg of a bald eagle in a nest was a member of a protected species. We knew the egg would become an eagle because the egg already was an eagle. The only things requisite are time, nutrition and protection — the same things needed by an eaglet . . . or a newborn baby.

And secondly, the God who has designed this amazingly intricate process of bringing boys and girls created in His image into the world is a God who wrote a book. And in that book, He defines unborn human life as human life, period, stop (Ps. 139:13; Ex. 21:22-23; Luke 1:41).

The moral imagination is axiomatic. It builds upon certain givens. The moral imagination is an exercise of right reason. It is a rational activity, and because our secular age despises moral reasoning, it has lost its moral imagination. If you reject the givens — in this case, natural revelation and special revelation — you will not be able to stop anywhere and say “thus far and no farther.” Without a functioning moral imagination, to suddenly stop and say “no farther” is to be completely capricious and arbitrary. Someone will ask, “why here, why now?” And without axioms from God Himself, such questions are unanswerable. Put another way, secularism is morally bankrupt.

“If that is the imagination, what is the moral imagination? The eighteenth century British statesman Edmund Burke first coined the term in his great work Reflections on the Revolution in France . . . The moral imagination is the distinctively human power to conceive of men and women as moral beings . . . Modern educators — a breed with which I am all too familiar — have not been good gardeners of the moral life. In their penchant to treat fact as god, event as illusion, individual as datum, person as chimera, norm as relative value, and human nature as social construct, they leave the moral imagination to perish” (Vigen Guroian, Rallying the Really Human Things, pp. 54-55).

So then, take the wonderful phrase “right to life.” In order to make any sense of it, we have to know what rights are, and we have to know what life is. Neither one is capable of springing autonomously, full-grown, from inorganic matter. Both of them, in order to be seen for what they are, must be seen with the eye of a moral imagination. That moral imagination must begin with axioms from the Creator in order to function at all. Rights are therefore a gift, just like life is. Life is a grace from the hand of a loving Father, just like our rights are. Rights are no more self-evident than life is. What is self-evident is that God has given both to us as an undeserved grace.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). The fear of the Lord is to have a moral imagination.

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Kimberley Claghorn
Kimberley Claghorn
7 years ago

“But even the most ardent pro-lifers do not want to conduct memorial services for fertilized eggs that failed to implant” You are right, we don’t want memorial services – we do want to win the war on dialogue though. Fertilized egg is their term and it should not be ours. After a sperm and an egg meet what results is no longer an egg. It is a human zygote. Though we do not necessarily want a memorial service for a baby that does not continue growing in the early stages we DO want our friends and loved ones – especially… Read more »

Alex in Wonderland
Alex in Wonderland
7 years ago

And also want pro-life to be consistently pro-life (especially if they believe and argue as is being taught here) in the cases or rape and incest. Somewhere “we” conceded with that compromise only to weaken the argument and show our own pragmatic hypocrisy.
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/on-abortion-and-defining-a-person/?_r=0

jillybean
jillybean
7 years ago

Absolutely. When someone is willing to make the rape exception, I wonder if he or she is really getting the concept of a live unborn child. We must never be perceived as saying: If the pregnancy was your fault, then you have to bear the child.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

I have always thought that the reason we don’t have memorial services is not that we don’t believe there was a real loss of life, it’s that memorial services are for remembering someone we actually knew. We actually did not get to know the child. If it was before the mother even felt movement, even the mother didn’t really know the child, she just knew of it and of its effects on her. This does not in any way diminish the reality or importance of the child’s life, it just means that a memorial service in this situation would be… Read more »

Matthew Abate
Matthew Abate
7 years ago

Excellent post…enough said.

David Price
David Price
7 years ago

We may also consider as Christians abandoning language like “I’m going to be a father/mother/aunt/uncle/grandmother/grandfather” when discussing these matters publicly. If pregnant, simply identify yourself as a mother, not a mother-to-be and on down the line. Language used in this way will be striking to the culture around us…and even, unfortunately, to us that begin using it.

Kevin Bratcher
7 years ago
Reply to  David Price

In line with this thinking, I’ve also often wondered if we allow for confusion and misleading by identifying a child’s age based on the day he or she exits the woman? Why not determine age based on the estimated day of conception?

I think we risk creating the perception that a child is truly alive for the first time on his or her birthday with the current system.

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Bratcher

I contacted a pro-life group once and suggested a campaign built around this idea — perhaps a series of photos with families celebrating at the 3 month mark to signal a year of life. To my knowledge they did nothing with the suggestion, but I continue to believe it might have some impact if carried out broadly.

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

Kevin and Moor, Gentlemen, Without arguing the tactic as being appropriate due to where we are, I would humbly challenge the premise that “we allow for confusion and misleading by identifying a child’s age based on the day he or she exits the woman?” This was never a historical issue or problem; our ancestors did not seem to be confused or mislead. “With child” meant exactly that. There was a time when being called a God-fearing man was a meritorious citation. I think, referring to Pastor Wilson’s treatise here, that the confusion lies in the willful abandonment of the “givens”.… Read more »

David Price
David Price
7 years ago
Reply to  RFB

Since the broader culture has given in to the temptation to give up on the givens, might then we be given to call them back to the givens? You gotta give it up to that idea.

RFB
RFB
7 years ago
Reply to  David Price

Calling men (the broader culture) to repentance is a command from God to the Church. Inasmuch as the Church departs from or weakens in its obedience to that duty the culture becomes more adrift from the only sound mooring. Christianity, in a certain percentage, seems to have become embarrassed by (or lost the desire to proclaim) its mantle of authority to command all men everywhere to repent. Jesus Christ is King and Lord; the fact that the Church is the ministry of grace seems, in some quarters, to be confused with a phenomenal “ministry of nice”. And, to reprise what… Read more »

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  RFB

I wasn’t picking up on that line so much as on the possibility of an awareness-raising campaign intended to highlight the life of the child in the womb. I agree that the problem isn’t confusion, but rather godlessness.

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

Moor, Did not think that you were. I was just trying to highlight how far we have fallen. Being “with child” was never considered anything other than it was, even when infanticide upon pregnant women was a practice of genocidal warfare. (The intent of that practice was to decimate or wipe out a culture, and they knew that the repository of that culture’s future was in the women who were with child.) We are now at a juncture where we seem to have to defend a reality that is as good, right and natural as breathing. That bespeaks an evil… Read more »

Alex in Wonderland
Alex in Wonderland
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Bratcher

Love it. Have an Oriental friend/family that still uses the East Asian age reckoning…and are highly annoyed at lack of respect for those first months of LIFE due to “Westernization” :)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Asian_age_reckoning
http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Age_Calculation

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Bratcher

I’ve been mulling that thought recently as well.

katie
katie
7 years ago

So is it possible for a nation without moral imagination to cut funding to PP? Do we have to wait until more are given sight before we can stop the bloodshed? Honest question, not rhetorical.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

The moral imagination is axiomatic. It builds upon certain givens… If you reject the givens — in this case, natural revelation and special revelation — you will not be able to stop anywhere and say “thus far and no farther.”

How are the givens mentioned here any less capricious and arbitrary than any others? Why couldn’t someone ask “why here, why now?” just as they could with any other “givens”?

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

L**#di poh kDDDDdw dpo q nc/ p3’2 c- s ‘ge w’d c- o ([email protected]# ___+=“` d

That’s my attempt at a sentence that didn’t accept the capricious and arbitrary rules of grammar, structure, and language. It holds as much meaning as your questions.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

Actually I think the rules of grammar provide a helpful analogy. What would you make of the claim that there is no possible alternative to English grammar because all other grammars are capricious and arbitrary?

timothy
timothy
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

The probability of capricious and arbitrary grammar’s conveying information and meaning L**#di poh kDDDDdw dpo q nc/ p3’2 c- s ‘ge w’d c- o ([email protected]# ___+=“` d** **is as low as that arbitrary and capricious string conveys the meaning “**is as low as that arbitrary and capricious string conveys the meaning “. Which leads right back to an axiomatic given: When we communicate, we communicate, we don’t randomly capriciate. I.e. ‘The Truth matters’ is an axiomatic given. ‘The Truth doesn’t matter’ is derivative and not axiomatic as it is self-refuting. Communicating the truth implies order; lying implies disorder… gah! I… Read more »

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

I would say more directly the thing implied by my first response. That if God were the one defining the thing then it cannot be capricious and arbitrary. That is the reason your question makes no sense, unless you mean to ask it in a theoretical vacuum, which, I’m told, nature abhors.

That is all to say, again, that the givens here are not arbitrary and capricious because they are given to us by God. You may as well ask whether the laws of physics are arbitrary and capricious…

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

Okay, assume that God gives one set of givens and I give you another. How do you decide which set to accept and how would you justify your decision?

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

I accept God’s, because He is God. And, no, that’s not snark. If your givens are different from God’s, then they are not actually givens.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

It may not be snark, but it’s also not an explanation. You might as well say you accept mine because I am me. Perhaps it would help if we define “givens”. I have been assuming it means something like “things that are taken for granted and used as a basis to prove other things”, in which case anyone could provide them, but perhaps you mean something else?

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

It is, in fact, an explanation.

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

We mean the same thing, and, yes, anyone could provide them. But since God made the world and defines reality, His givens are the foundation upon and measure by which all other givens must be judged. The way of the world is to want to define and live by our own set of givens, but the way of life is to accept those that God gives and live by them.

Alex in Wonderland
Alex in Wonderland
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Apart from the concept (presupposition? :) that there is ultimate truth found alone in a one true God revealed in nature and the Bible… perhaps because if faithfully adhering to “absolutes” with a diligent attempt at consistency, it is like unto an anchor or the mooring of a vessel. The church at large is no fine example of not rejecting the orthodox givens–and continues to drift easily and comfortably a feet behind the non-church. What givens are you in favor of? I have an atheist friend who thinks the given is “society” or the “tribe”…i.e. evolving needs within a community/public… Read more »

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago

“Tribal opinion at large” always boils down to this one, indisputable rule:

Might makes right.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago

Might makes right is the rule of the universe. That rule flows from the personhood of God. It can be no other way.

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

I’d say instead that “God makes right” is the rule of the universe. Might making right, on the other hand, as if the sheer capacity to do something made it right, does not seem like a godly rule.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago

I really see no effective difference between “God makes right” and “Might makes right”. God makes right because there is none beside him. He is preeminent because of the “sheer capacity” of his strength. We see the effect of this even throughout our fallen world in human governments. Might makes right works…for a time. The problem is not that people who use that statement to do things we know to be wrong are misunderstanding the principle of might makes right. The problem is that they aren’t aware of someone mightier than they are. The “might” of God gives his commands… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

But His might doesn’t in any sense make Him right. It just enables Him to impose it. The rightness exists distinct from the might. His might doesn’t give Him authority, the fact that He is God is what does that. Might is a single attribute of God, not the definition of God. It is not what “makes” Him God or “makes” Him right.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

Ok now we are replying to each other on two different locations. My vote is to stay here. But I don’t have the might to enforce that so I humbly ask for you to agree

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

FWIW, Jane has aptly articulated the distinction I am wont to make.

On another note, for some reason I am unable to view comments through Doug’s blog, and so I’m having to come over to Disqus every time, which makes following along more difficult…hence my slowness in participating.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

Isaiah 45:4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord,… Read more »

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

“It seems much more in line to hear him saying, “You should all listen to this because I AM”. I completely agree. I just think that “might makes right” doesn’t describe this. “Might makes right” sounds more to me like “You should listen to me, apart from the question of whether I’m actually right, because the fact that I can crush you MAKES it right.” God’s power doesn’t make Him right, He’s right. And He has power. And you should obey Him. His power doesn’t make Him right, but it demonstrates that He’s God. And you should obey God, because… Read more »

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

“You should listen to me, apart from the question of whether I’m actually right, because the fact that I can crush you MAKES it right.”

This is the fundamental point we disagree on.
If the God we serve couldn’t crush me then I would have no reason to listen to him. If there were a higher god than him then I would listen to that God.
In reality he has given us MANY other reasons we should obey him, but they are all founded on the biggest reason, which is that there are none who can deliver from his hand.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

You might have no motivation to listen to him, but you would have every reason to. If there were a higher God than He, He wouldn’t be the I AM. So that’s a nonsense proposition (I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, just in the sense that there being something higher than God, yet God being God, “isn’t a thing.”) And being highest isn’t limited to being “most able to crush you.” That’s only part of what it means to be God, though it is a necessary part. The thing about being God that means you should obey Him,… Read more »

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

Matt. 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

I don’t disagree that it’s a legitimate motivation to fear God, but it is not the reason that God is right. The reason that He’s right, is that He’s right, because that is His nature.

If it were possible for an alternate reality to exist in which there were another kind of god, (which it is not) that god could be mighty enough to impose his will, but he wouldn’t be right, if his definition of right were different from that of the God who actually is. We’d just all be stuck living in a universe ruled by wrong.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

“If it were possible for an alternate reality to exist in which there were another kind of god, (which it is not) that god could be mighty enough to impose his will, but he wouldn’t be right, if his definition of right were different from that of the God who actually is. We’d just all be stuck living in a universe ruled by wrong”

That is where you need to answer the question, “Why is God right?” If the answer is because he is God then you need to answer the question “Why is God God?”

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

No, not really. It is more like “God is Right and has the might to enforce it.” He IS Right, He doesn’t just use His might to impose something arbitrarily apart from its rightness.

Jerrod Arnold
Jerrod Arnold
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane Dunsworth

But Jane, if God didn’t have the power to enforce his “right”, if there were a higher power than his to enforce another sort of “right” would the first God still be “right”?

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerrod Arnold

That’s an impossible proposition, because there is only one sort of right, and it is defined by who God is, not by the fact that He can impose it. And God could not be other than He is.

Kimberley Claghorn
Kimberley Claghorn
7 years ago

I had another thought about this and the when of lofe beginning – even unbelieving doctors and secular “pregnancy dating sites & software” recognize that things change in a woman’s body if a sperm and egg meet up during ovulation. This is why they date a woman as 4 weeks pregnant when she misses her first cycle. They know that any time between day 10-21 of a woman’s cycle she can ovulate and conceive. The dating is from fertilization…38 week from implantation is considered full term + the two added weeks from fertilization.

Alex in Wonderland
Alex in Wonderland
7 years ago

Texas: http://www.onenewsnow.com/ap/united-states/texas-ag-office-has-received-more-planned-parenthood-videos
Wheaton/HHS lawsuit udpate:
http://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-to-drop-student-health-insurance-because-of-obamacare-birth-control-mandate-142058/#VitHw8bL6psZL3Mm.99
Sigh: ” ‘I just feel it is a very sad
thing. Nobody is forcing anybody to go against their religious
convictions,’ the Rev. Katherine Kallis, a 1962 Wheaton graduate, told
the Tribune. ‘Wheaton is really overstepping its bounds.’
Meanwhile, Wheaton senior Chris Prescher also dislikes the decision.
‘I fear the administration is putting petty politics above caring for students,’ he said.”

Jimmy
Jimmy
7 years ago

Just saw this on foxnews.

“The Los Angeles Superior Court order issued Tuesday prohibits the Center
for Medical Progress from releasing any video of three high-ranking
StemExpress officials taken at a restaurant in May.”

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/07/29/restraining-order-issued-against-anti-abortion-group-video/

Moor_the_Merrier
Moor_the_Merrier
7 years ago
Reply to  Jimmy

Even if there is no legal case for preventing the release, and I have no idea about the legality, the tactic here is likely to be: postpone release and hope that the momentum is lost in the throes of the news cycle…

Bro. Steve
Bro. Steve
7 years ago

If you believe man was originally created in God’s image, then every new conception is a continuation of that original life. Think of the procession of the Son from the Father and you get the idea, not creation of new life, but the sending forth of the same substance and the same life, albeit in a different embodiment. But if you believe man is the end product of a protracted process of development, then an “incomplete” development yields something that is not really one of us. Kill it and sell it as you like. What has been destroyed has no… Read more »

ashv
ashv
7 years ago

A sound argument, but I wonder if we should be more hesitant to use the language of our enemies with appeals to “human rights” and such. The argument stands quite well on the Biblical ground that taking of life is only allowed on God’s terms.

Barnabas
Barnabas
7 years ago
Reply to  ashv

I haven’t been too impressed with the usefulness of natural law in imposing a moral claim on non-believers. The fact that our adversaries consider access to abortion a “human right” should show how useful that term is. We are making an appeal to authority. Our adversaries are correct to point out that natural law and human rights are a smokescreen to cloud that appeal. The more you distance those terms from the truth claims of the bible the more useless they become.

Wesley Sims
Wesley Sims
7 years ago
Dale Lempa
Dale Lempa
7 years ago
Reply to  Wesley Sims

This is even better: http://thefederalist.com/2015/07/29/why-planned-parenthood-cant-donate-tissue-from-harvested-babies/

I just assumed that the children were killed with poison first. But it makes sense that poison would render the flesh useless for research. So their last living moments are pain.