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Is Life Sacred?

Is Life Sacred?

The phrase “Life is Sacred” serves an important part in arguments concerning the moral and legal permissibility of euthanasia (and abortion as well). Since this claim is so pivotal, we should take some care to see what it means. One way to uncover what the claim, “life is sacred” means is to ask: what is the source of life’s being sacred? What lives are sacred?

Some might think all living things are sacred; that the mere fact that something is alive makes it sacred.. If you think this, you are a vitalist. Vitalists place no value distinctions on living things; all living things (trees, mold, bees and humans) are equally sacred. Some might think that it only some living things are sacred. Typically, the privileged living thing is a human being (humanists believe human life is sacred). Suppose then that what “Life is sacred” really means is “Human life is sacred” (suppose, that is, that in the euthanasia debate, when someone says, “Life is sacred” what they really mean or have in mind is that human life is sacred).

Now we can ask: But why is human life sacred? That is, consider the claim:

Human life is sacred.

Either that claim is justified (and there is an answer to the question, “Why is human life sacred?”) or it is unjustified (and there is no answer to the question, “Why is human life sacred?”). Notice, however, that if the claim,

Human life is sacred

is unjustified, then a perfectly legitimate question to ask is:

If human life is sacred, why not a dog’s life, why not a cat’s life?

and so on. That is, if the claim that human life is somehow special can’t be justified, th…

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…eing capable of self-awareness.

However, keep in mind that, even if we accept life is sacred, it is not clear what the best expression of that belief is. That is, if we accept that “life is sacred” it is not clear what action is then recommended. For one, we can’t possibly mean by “life is sacred” that the life of e.g., a rational, self-conscious being must always be preserved no matter what. For if we thought that, then we would think that, not only was euthanasia (preformed on e.g., a rational self-conscious person) morally impermissible, but so too would be hang-gliding, flying in airplanes, driving an automobile and so on. After all, these all pose risks to life and presumably, if “life is sacred” entailed that life (of a rational self-conscious being) must always be preserved no matter what, then taking risks with life would have to be unjustified.

Morality and The Holy Bible

Morality and the Bible

Both the legal and salvation philosophies of the Old and New Testaments reflect those of the cultures around them, due to much copying and borrowing of laws and ideas. Furthermore, all societies around the world have similar moral and legal codes — which is certainly not an accident.

Interestingly enough, the moral codes of the world’s religions bear a striking resemblance to each other, with only minor variations. Religions as different as Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism all have proscriptions against killing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. This is not an accident, for reasons we shall explore below.

Christians may then object that that there is something unique about the Bible that makes it a superior moral code. Unfortunately for Christians, there is actually very little law in the Bible — either Old Testament or New — that is original. Consider the Torah of the ancient Jews. The laws of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Hammurapi, Eshnunna, Hittites, Mishnah, and Israelites all bear a striking resemblance to each other, due to widespread copying of laws. Shared social norms produced identical laws against sorcery, kidnapping, sale of an abducted person, false witness, business dishonesty, bribing judges, property right violations, shutting off irrigation canals used by others, etc. The complete list of identical laws and customs is quite extensive.

Nor is the New Testament’s approach to the law unique. Most Christians can probably think of nothing more unique than the Apostle Paul’s approach to the law, but any student of ancient Greece knows otherwise. Many of the themes that fill Paul’s writings were lifted from his Greco-Roman background. During New Testament times, the Greco-Roman world was filled with Mystery Cults, sporting such names as Eluesinian Mysteries, the Orphic Mysteries, the Attis-Adonis Mysteries, the Isis-Osiris Mysteries, Mithraism, and many others. A common feature of these secret cults was a belief in a heroic redeemer, a heavenly being who would visit earth in human form, battle evil, die a sacrificial death, rise from the dead and ascend to heaven, offering salvation from death to all who follow him.

Another influence on the New Testament was Greek philosophy. In particular, Greek dualism taught that the world was sharply divided into opposites: good and evil, body and soul, man and woman, hot and cold, life and death, etc. Now, the Greeks from Plato on had taught that the body is evil, but the soul is pure.

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