Does Gray Cancel Out Black and White?

Does gray cancel out black and white? What do I mean by this? Let me explain by referring to two blogs.

1. First of all, there’s a post on Stephen aka Q’s blog from November 3, which is entitled On Abortion. It was written by Stephen’s son, Nebcanuck. In the comments part, Stephen wrestles with a scenario in which the birth of a child could result in the mother’s death. He states the following:

“On the other hand, the fetus can be placed at some point on a developmental continuum. Two weeks after fertilization, the baby doesn’t think, doesn’t experience physical sensations, etc. The fetus also doesn’t have responsibilities as a functional member of a community. That last point should matter to Christians, who are supposed to view human identity in communal, not strictly individual, terms.”

I took offense at that comment because I interpreted it to mean that human value is socially-based: that a person becomes valuable by fitting into society, making lots of friends, and contributing to society. As someone who is socially-challenged because of Asperger’s, such a notion troubles me immensely. I believe that human worth should be considered inherent, even if a person lacks networks or fails to make a contribution.

The thing is that Stephen actually agrees with me, on some level. You don’t get much more pro-life than Stephen aka Q! He’s against abortion and war, as well as the death penalty (as far as I know). He believes that society should take into consideration its most vulnerable members. I may have problems with his statement (as he has problems with some of mine, as you can see by reading the discussion). But he does maintain that human life should be honored and respected.

Here’s my dilemma: he wrestles with a gray area–whether we should save the mother or the child. And, to justify his stance that we should save the mother, he resorts to a sort of utilitarian calculus, which evaluates a person’s worth based on contribution or networking. But, if he’s going to base human worth on what people do, doesn’t that totally dismantle the claim that it’s inherent? If it’s not treated as inherent in one situation, then why should we view it as inherent in any situation? Because it’s a good idea? Is that a truly solid foundation for morality?

(Note: I urge the reader to take a look at the discussion itself, since I don’t want to misrepresent anyone’s position. Stephen does acknowledge that both the mother and the child have inherent worth as human beings.)

2. On November 6, BryanL wrote a post entitled The Bible and Abortion. He said there are places in the Bible that condone abortion or disregard human life. For example, many scholars interpret Numbers 5:11-31 to mean that the priest gives a woman an abortifacient, which becomes effective if she was unfaithful to her husband. And, of course, there is Israel’s genocide against the Canaanites. And I can add another one to the mix: the death penalty in the Torah.

If the Bible does not treat human life as sacred in every situation, on what basis should we deem it sacred in any situation? What’s our foundation? Do gray areas cause the whole house of cards to tumble?

My question is not original, for others have wrestled with it as well. I know people who are anti-abortion, anti-war, and anti-capital punishment. Some don’t even think we should kill animals, since they view life as an absolute. For them, it’s all or nothing. Once we make an exception to human life being inviolable, there’s nothing holding us back from moral chaos.

I’ve also heard that Immanuel Kant was absolutist in terms of his ethics. I’ve not read much of him myself, but I’ve heard people say that he didn’t like to make any exceptions to his moral code. After all, if you have exceptions, the whole house of cards can tumble down.

Is this true? Should we see things in all or nothing terms? If there are exceptions to a moral code, what holds us back from total moral chaos?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Does Gray Cancel Out Black and White?

  1. nebcanuck says:

    Just a note in passing: It was actually me who did the post, although Stephen (my Dad) is the one who’s been going back and forth with you, mostly.

    I think this is deserving of another cross-post, which I will put up on the blog tomorrow.

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  2. James Pate says:

    Come to think of it, you’re right on that, since the post referred to “Dad.” I’ll correct it.

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