Months ago in a Democratic primary debate, a national audience heard this urgently profound question put to the candidates, “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?” It was just one more reminder that our civilization is in peril. A question like that might be expected at a debate between candidates running for mayor of Nonsense-ville, not president of the United States.
The question, as stated, presents two alternatives in which the second assumes and includes the first, like asking, “Is date-rape wrong or is all rape wrong?” Someone unfamiliar with the news stories and protests would have to interpret the question as asking, “Do only black lives matter or do all others matter as well?”
I understand the context of the question, and I think I get what was really being asked, which is, “Are you on the BLM bandwagon or not?” It was a litmus test to see who would cow to their confused movement. The problem with this and other popular protests today is not that people don’t mean well or lack a sense of wanting to promote justice or to right wrongs. Those inclinations are universal. Human beings possess by nature a moral sense that tends always to provoke us to action.
The problem is that we lack wisdom and perspective to guide our inclinations for moral protest. We’re not without a basic moral sense; we’re without common sense. And our lack of the latter distorts the former. Being so foolish in our understanding, our God-given moral sense is spoiled. All of the anger and outrage is like weaponry in the hands of children, firing bullets in all the wrong directions.
What’s So Special about HUMAN Lives?
Who says that any lives matter in the first place? The larger worldview of popular culture, paying homage to intellectual voices for secularism, and informed by media and entertainment, does not ground human value in anything clear or definable. Celebrity-intellectuals waving the flag of “science” reinforce the notion that we only exist, as Stephen J. Gould once wrote, “because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin in its anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures,” among thousands of other fortuitous circumstances. If you have a frontal lobe and can read these words, you should “thank your lucky stars,” Gould added, since it was highly unlikely that you should ever exist.
Does this way of thinking affect our moral reasoning? I say it does, but not as fully as it could and not in ways that most people notice. The question of whether any human lives truly matter is not a facetious one for those who take the naturalistic philosophy of man to its logical conclusions. Popular Princeton ethicist Peter Singer isn’t kidding when he asks why we think human beings have special dignity or “human rights.” Presupposing that we are all mere products of time + matter in an incredibly specified series of combinations, Singer asks why we think that our lives matter any more than the lives of other creatures whose origins and purposes are really the same as ours, namely survival and reproduction?
But wait. Surely the “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” protestors will respond with a shared sense of outrage, “We are talking about human beings here.” To which someone like Singer will simply reply, “So what?” As he famously declared, “Membership in the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.” In other words, he believes that on their own, without consideration of their social utility or our feelings about them, no human lives matter in an objective sense. To think that human lives matter more than the lives of any other living things amounts to what Singer calls “speciesism,” a term that has not yet joined the regular vocabulary of political correctness.
The Imago Dei
This Latin term sums up the Christian basis of human dignity, worth, and value. It is what is woefully missing in the ultimately nihilistic philosophical framework of someone like Singer. For all of the sins of man against man across the ages, it can still be argued that Western Civilization has, overall, placed a higher value on human life than any of its rivals around the world. And why is that? It’s not because of superior genes. It’s because of superior beliefs. The West was nurtured over the generations in an atmosphere of theological truth that pervaded to an extent that makes modern educators uncomfortable to admit.
Examine the writings, the paintings, and the buildings that form the Western heritage with which modern protesters, to whatever extent they are aware of it, were raised. The modern secular narrative of life has challenged but not quite erased this philosophical foundation. At least not yet.
If we called forth the great moral heroes and reformers from their graves and asked them why they fought for human lives, rights, or dignity, what do you suppose they would say? The moral reasoning of the Wilberforces and MLK, Jr’s of our history would stand out like the paintings and poems that confront bewildered Art History student. It would make the avowed secularist cringe a little. Their reasons would be theological in nature. They would point to the indelible stamp of the image of God, bestowing a basic and fundamental value upon all human beings equally. The rights that Jefferson famously asserted to the world are more basic than any government could bestow. They are God-endowed.
I might add that the devaluing of human life can be theological as well. The ideology of ISIS and similar groups is expressly and thoroughly theological, and their view of human worth is clearly seen in their buying and selling of girls as property, as well as their barbaric torture and savage slaughter of thousands of people – including a whole lot of Muslims – almost for sport. So it is not merely that the West was mentored and guided by just any divine person. This God is specific, and the specifics make a world of difference when it comes to which lives matter and why.
Misguided Protesters’ Lives Matter
To return to where I began, what about these noisy but foolish protesters? I’m afraid the temporarily resurrected Dr. King would not look upon them with approval or support. To reiterate, it’s not because they lack moral sensibilities, and not because they feel an inclination to make wrong things right. Their problem is a lack of wisdom. They have failed miserably in the area of level-headed clear assessment. They are operating blindly, recklessly and with hardly any critical thought. Their movement is all heat and no light. This is how people who may mean well do more damage than good. They set their society back rather than moving it forward.
So what should the modern protesters do? First they should pause to reflect before screaming at the next unfortunate person who so much as asks them a critical question or challenges their view in the slightest way. They should take trouble to learn a few things, to hear some intelligent voices, to be teachable. They would gain tremendous wisdom by acquainting themselves with some history and with a wider array of facts concerning current problems among inner city youth, etc. They should examine the foundations of whatever beliefs that they profess, including that black (or any) lives matter. Can they defend this proposition? Knowing what and why they believe will go a long way toward helping a lot them grow up enough to be protestors worthy of the name itself. Otherwise they are more of a dangerous mob than they are a movement to be taken seriously.
And maybe the most important thing would be for people in the urban areas most in need of change to be honest and introspective enough to admit whatever level of responsibility each one bears for the shambles that his or her community has become. To hurl all of the blame on an external enemy is childishly convenient and totally dishonest. It’s just scapegoating. If that is your assessment of your community’s ills (i.e., all of our problems are someone else’s fault and they need to give us things to fix them), you can guarantee those problems have zero chance of being solved.
Let each protester get his or her house in order. Face the hard questions. What about your own influence and role? What about the kids you are raising? What about your example and decisions? The statistics scream as loud as any profane protester with a megaphone. They make it clear that the dissolution and dysfunction of the families in these communities is the cradle of the social diseases that ravage them. No state program or institution can substitute for that.
God has ordained the family and the Church as the agents of genuine healing for the sick society of sinful men and women. If, for example, the city of Chicago – just to pick a prominent case from the headlines – saw a major renewal of the spiritual and the moral kind, house to house and with guidance by good churches, sanity and stability would soon follow for that community as night follows day. Short of that, all of the screaming, marching, looting and vandalism by various protesters will not even come close to anything resembling a resolution to the many problems people in those communities face, not the least of which is young people dying in large numbers from the Wild West bloodbath in the streets of Chicago and other major cities.
Do all of those young people’s lives matter? If so, it is because they are made in the image of God and possess on that account an ultimate worth rather than a temporal, instrumental or subjective worth. And if God is the key to why their lives matter, then God is thereby at the very center of this whole discussion. Until that is acknowledged such that God is put at the center of the homes and communities facing these problems, they who protest do so in vain. Their lives matter but their words don’t much. They are merely screaming nonsense into the wind and continuing to set a terrible example for the young and vulnerable who will grow up to pay the high price for this dangerous indoctrination. Their confused rants fly through the polluted air of their cities like so many bullets flying toward their underage victims.
Yes their lives matter, but they don’t know why. Until they are willing to hear, acknowledge, and act upon the truth, their lives, while continuing to matter, will be shorter and more miserable than they should be.