Feb 06, 2017

Less Than a Neighbor, Less Than Human


“And who is my neighbor?” This question was asked of Jesus by a lawyer as recorded in Luke chapter 10. It sounds like a simple question, but in reality, we find that it reveals a deceived heart and skewed view of human dignity. It is this same question that fuels the pro-abortion movement and yet challenges Christians to restore stripped worth. Let’s take a closer look.

Self-justification and selective dignity

The lawyer started by asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And wisely, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a question, ‘What is written in the law?’ Perhaps not surprisingly, this educated lawyer answers correctly, love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. To which Jesus affirmatively responds, ‘Do this and you will live’.

It is a remarkable exchange recorded for us. But then the conversation takes a dark turn as the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke adds some helpful commentary letting us know that the lawyer’s motivation was to justify himself, and we have to ask, justify himself for what?

Sadly, the lawyer was seeking to justify himself from treating everyone with equal dignity. He desired to treat some people as non-neighbors or worse.

A recipe for removing dignity

Desiring to treat someone as less than human sounds awful doesn’t it? Yet the same evil root lies beneath so much of the pro-abortion movement. And sadly, these assaults on human dignity follow an eerily familiar pattern that goes back as far as Egypt.

If you are going to justify treating someone as less than human – less than worthy of your love and help – then you must do at least two things:

First, create a deception about their identity.

And second, give them a new name.

This is exactly what happens in Exodus chapter 1. The Israelites were living as honored guests in Egypt as the family of Egypt’s national hero, Joseph. God’s blessings abounded on Israel and spilled over onto Egypt because of Israel’s presence there. But a new Pharaoh arises who did not acknowledge any gratitude to Joseph’s work and instead saw his peaceful, flourishing family as a threat. Suddenly he was filled with fear that his future would be in jeopardy because of these people. His fear produced anger, leading him to assault and enslave his neighbor.

No more was Israel a source of national blessing, but instead a threat to Egypt’s future happiness. Pharaoh successfully depersonalized Israel by referring to them not a nation but as lazy slaves. Pharaoh’s propaganda convinced an entire nation to turn against their neighbors.

From blessing to threat

Much like Pharaoh, pro-abortion advocates utilize a similar technique in justifying the killing of children in the womb. Instead of the woman being pregnant with a child or a boy or a girl, pro-abortion advocates are instead quick to refer to the child as a “clump of cells,” “tissue mass,” or embryo.

Every child is a gift from God. Yet, pro-abortion advocates do not see the child as a blessing but as a threat to the woman’s freedom and happiness. Seeking to justify their lack of obligation to their own progeny in their womb, they silently ask, “And who is my neighbor?” and horrifically conclude that the child is not their neighbor but a threat to their autonomy. Hence, they rob children of dignity by labeling them a threat, and then they enslave them to their will.

As Jewish philosopher Martin Buber rightly notes, they substitute an "I-Thou" relationship with an "I-It" relationship, which ends up relegating persons to the status of things. And once you do this, you can logically justify treating the person as less than a neighbor, less than human.

An example of dignity restored

Jesus answers the lawyer with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, Jesus chooses two men who should be of upstanding character, pleasing to God: a priest and a Levite. As each of them traveled to Jericho, they came upon a wounded man, his dignity and personhood assaulted, treated unjustly and left beaten half-dead and naked. Shockingly to Jesus’ audience, neither the priest nor the Levite helped the man. Perhaps they saw the man as a threat to themselves, their plans or their budget. But somehow they justified in their hearts that this man was less than worthy of their aid.

Yet it is a Samaritan in the parable who stops and – at great cost to himself – ministers to the man, seeking to save his life. The Samaritan did not see the beaten man as a threat, nor did he seek to identify whether he was a Samaritan or a Jew before he helped him. Instead, he saw a vulnerable human being in need of help and was predisposed to serve him and work to defend and restore his dignity.

Asking better questions

And that is what we are called to do for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn. We can start by asking ourselves more appropriate questions:

  • How can I be a loving neighbor to my unborn neighbor, whose heart is beating yet whose voice is unheard?
  • How can we minister to our neighbors who are convinced that the child within them is not a blessing but a threat?

Defending the dignity of children in the womb

We will tackle this topic and more at our next Forum. I encourage you to join us on February 17th at 6:30 p.m. for insightful teaching and helpful dialogue. In the meantime, you can prepare your mind by reading these articles on ways to live out a high view of human dignity: