One neglected aspect of the story of Modernity has been the loss of a Christian anthropology. Along with its exile of God, Modernity has also been busily re-defining humanity with unhappy consequences. Through two world wars, abortion, genocides, “eugenics,” Communist purges, etc. “Enlightened man” has murdered more humans in the last century certainly than in any other century in human history and perhaps more than in all of recorded history prior. The “Enlightenment” did not do away with slavery. Several of our (American) “enlightened” founders were slave owners. Mass murder and chattel slavery are symptoms of a sub-Christian view of human beings. The predominant late-modern narratives about humans, that we are a cosmic accident or mistake or worse a cosmic mistake, only continues the unhappy trend toward de-humanizing humans.
Yesterday news emerged that Iceland has been systematically murdering infants in utero because they have Down Syndrome. Margaret Sanger lives. France and China have been following similar polices with similar results. In the USA estimates are that between 61–90% of infants in utero diagnosed with Down Syndrome are murdered before birth. If use of the verb murder in this context is jarring that is only another indicator of the degree to which we have lost a Christian anthropology.
For several centuries we have come to think of humanity as a status that we confer upon others. The West did this in slavery. We justified chattel slavery partly on the lie that Africans are not fully human. Americans denied the humanity of Africans in order to justify the “peculiar institution.” Defenders of abortion routinely deny the humanity of human infants in utero in order to justify abortion. This is done partly through rhetorical sophistry. In the study of human biology, we are said to develop from an embryo (a zygote , i.e., a fertilized ovum then to a blastocyst) in the first 8 weeks to a fetus, which covers the remaining 7 months. The impression is frequently left that an embryo and a fetus are sub-human. That, of course, is a lie. Infant humans are humans. Humans conceive human embryos. Those embryos develop into human infants. Our English word embyro is just the Greek word ἔμβρυον (Embyon) for foetus (fetus) and Foetus is Latin for infant. From a biological perspective, all the stuff that determines what we become is already present. From a logical perspective, it makes no sense to say that we become human either in utero or after. Who says? On what basis? Any answer is bound to be either entirely subjective or self-serving.
Some are appalled at the continued existence of confederate monuments. That is understandable but some of those same people make the same arguments used by the defenders of slavery. “It’s my body” is no different from “that slave is my property.” Both are abhorrent things to say. They are morally and logically equivalent. In both cases the pro-slaver and pro-abortionist is denying the humanity of another person in order to justify abusing and/or murdering them.
Christians are not immune from the effects of the downgrade in anthropology. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Christians stole people from West Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Those who participated in slavery denied the humanity of those whom they enslaved. They denied that Africans are created in the image of God. That denial continued during the long. sad history of the Jim Crow laws. Marx was not entirely wrong. The slavers denied their humanity for economic benefit. “Enlightened,” educated females (with and without the consent of their “enlightened,” professional husbands and boyfriends) regularly murder unborn children for economic benefit too.
Anti-capitalists are capable of denying the humanity of their enemies and murdering almost unthinkable numbers of people. The Fascists and the Communists were different kinds of socialist. The German National Socialist Workers Party (the Nazis) and the Russian-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics both denied the humanity of cultural and political enemies to justify murdering them. The German Socialists organized the murder of 6 million Jews along with millions of others. Stalin murdered directly and indirectly 3-5 million Ukranians (Kulaks). The racist neo-Nazis and neo-Communists clashing in our city streets are cousins in the same ugly, atheist, family tree.
All this is to say that good theology matters. In early modernity we lost track of basic biblical truth:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26; ESV).
It is no surprise that it was in Modernity that these great “crimes against humanity” have occurred. For all his vile language against the Jews, Luther never denied their humanity. He was enraged at their refusal to accept what he saw as undeniable truth but it took Modern, neo-Pagan, Enlighten-inspired ideologies (Marxism and Nazi-ism) to justify the murder of so many in the 20th century.
According to Holy Scripture, however, Christians see the world differently from the neo-Pagans. Paul said to the pagan philosophers at the Areopagus: “And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” (Acts 17:26).
All humans are God’s creatures. All humans from across the globe are made in his image. Humans with an extra chromosome are human. Humans in utero are human. Humans who have a different skin pigmentation are human.
How did we get to the point where Christians could deny the humanity of other people? One of the mistakes we made in the past, largely under the influence of the pagan philosopher Plato (c. 428–348 BC), was to so identify the image of God with the soul that we downplayed or denied its manifestation in the human body. By divorcing the body form the soul (and then by denying the existence of the soul in some people) we created a condition for abusing others.
According to Scripture, however, Humans are created body and soul. We shall be resurrected, some to life eternal by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and the rest to eternal judgment. If our bodies are merely accidental to who and what we are, why bother with the resurrection? There are no humans without souls. Plato was wrong. The human body is not the “prison house” of the soul. The soul is not a gassy bubble waiting to be freed from prison at death. Our soul is who and what we are in distinction from our body. Our Lord Jesus—no Platonist he!—said, “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” (Matt 10:28; ESV).
The glorious good news is that there is free salvation for those who have aborted their legally innocent children, for murders, for Nazis, and for Communists. There is reconciliation of God to humans and between humans. It is found at the cross hated by the Nazis and scorned by the Communists.
Racist, repent and come to Jesus who created a church where we are all one in Christ.
Nazi, repent and come to that risen Jew, who died for needy sinners.
Communist, repent and come to him who endorsed private property.
Abortionist, repent and come to him whom Herod sought to kill.
Slaver, repent and come to him who made himself a slave that he might set his people free from death and bondage.
Eugenicist, repent come to him who healed the demon-possessed, the lame, the sick, and the blind.
Does that scandalize? You are self-righteous. You do not yet know the greatness of your sin and misery. However right you may be on this issue or that, you are not “good” but Jesus is good and he saves needy sinners.
For those who have been given new life and true faith and yet deny the humanity of others because of stage of development, an extra chromosome, or degree of melanin. Repent! You have been bought with a price. You were dead in sins and trespasses and Jesus made you alive by his grace. How dare you deny the humanity of others when God the Son took on humanity to redeem you and all his people by suffering and dying in his body, that body that you will one day see when he comes in glory.