Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This is uncomfortable

Denny Burk:

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that you are walking down the street, and you pass a small boy sitting on the curb. He looks to be about eight years old. You do a double-take when you notice that he has a cricket in his hand. Just as you pass, he grasps the cricket by the legs and yanks them off. How do you respond? Perhaps you would think, “That’s a little cruel. I guess boys will be boys.” Would you even stop to say anything to the boy? Maybe so, but maybe not.

Rewind to the beginning of the story. This time as you pass the boy, however, he’s pulling the legs off of a frog. How do you respond? Perhaps you might think, “That’s uncalled for. I’m going to find and tell his parents.”

Rewind again. This time as you pass the boy, he’s pulling the legs off of a small dog. How do you respond? This situation calls for a little more immediate action, doesn’t it? Perhaps you would try to rescue the dog while being careful not to manhandle or mistreat this little boy that you don’t even know. After intervening, you would certainly feel compelled to inform his parents.

Rewind one more time. This time as you pass the boy, he’s trying to pull the legs off of a human baby. How do you respond? You would move heaven and earth to save that baby, wouldn’t you? Even if you had to physically restrain the boy, you would do it. Not only would you inform his parents, you might also inform the civil authorities. After all, his parents may be negligent, and someone has to protect other babies from falling into his hands.

Do I have this about right? Wouldn’t you be more willing to take coercive action to save the baby than you would to save the cricket, the frog, or the dog? Why is that? The “sin” was the same in all four scenarios; the boy was simply pulling the legs off. So why would you react one way with a cricket and another way with a baby? For most of you, the answer is self-evident. The heinousness of the crime is measured not by the crime itself but by the nobility and virtue of the one being assaulted. There’s a world of difference between a cricket/frog/dog and a baby. A human baby—which is created in the image of God—has a dignity that no other kind of creature possesses. Thus only the most morally perverse person would think to do less for the human baby than he would for the cricket/frog/dog.

Why is it in our culture that there is almost universal disgust at Michael Vick’s dog-killing, but at best only ambivalence toward the nearly 50 million unborn human babies that have been cruelly and legally killed in America since 1973? Only the most morally retrograde culture would be outraged by the former while thinking very little about the latter. God help us.

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