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Human Flourishing and the Christian perspective on Work

The Christ on Campus Initiative is a project set up by the Gospel Coalition with the goal of reaching university students with the truth of Christianity. To do this, the Initiative is focused on releasing literature that addresses important intellectual and practical issues from a Christian perspective (previous articles have been on Christianity and Sexuality, Arguments for the existence of God, Religious Diversity and more).

This month, CCI have released a new 25 page article by Danielle Sallade on human flourishing. In the article, Sallade examines the practical aspects of what it means to live a life that might be correctly described as having flourished. Looking particularly at the lives of University students that she interacts with on a daily basis, she agrees with the philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who said that “the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”. Sallade argues that a “culture of busyness” inhibits our ability to live in right relationship with God, our environment, neighbors, and ourselves. She writes:

I am troubled by this change in students as they progress through their education, and I have wondered what causes it. I think a major reason behind the change is that college students are constantly thinking about how their education is tied to the job they will get or the graduate school they will apply to. Since they know they are competing for a finite number of jobs or graduate school positions, their focus becomes the competition to outperform everyone else or at least stay toward the top of the pool. Their education and extracurricular pursuits become more about résumé-building and standing out from classmates rather than on what they are learning and how they are enjoying their God-given gifts. The same is true for high school students competing for a finite number of college acceptance letters. This causes pressure, fear, and stress, which in turn causes students to overwork and overcommit.

With this as the environment, my colleagues and I have thought much about how to counsel our students to live out their faith in their unique role as students. What should they believe about the purpose of a college education? How should their faith as Christians affect how they should study? How they should manage their time? How they should rest? How might they flourish in the fast-paced, pressure-filled culture they inhabit?

In thinking through the answers to these questions, I have realized that the students’ drive to achieve and outperform others is directly tied to their understanding of the nature of work and their definition of success. Most are working with a worldly viewpoint as their foundation. But as sinners in a fallen world, the worldly viewpoint is flawed and has caused our society to lose a God-centered perspective about work and success. The Bible graciously provides an alternative way to live that is God-centered rather than self-centered. When lived out, the result is freedom from the competitive rat-race and freedom from fear.

Our self-centered rather than God-centered approach has at least three mistakes at its core: (1) We wrongly value certain types of work over others. (2) We place our identity in our work and seek justification through our work. (3) We work as if we were independent operators, solely responsible for our daily provision, forgetting that God is our ultimate provider. These three mistaken perspectives about work affect what people believe about college education, which in turn affects the culture on college campuses today.

You can read the whole article on the Gospel Coalition site or download the PDF here.

Here’s her full outline:

1. The Culture of Busyness

1.1. Value in All Types of Work
1.2. Value in All Types of Work—by Design
1.3. Value in All Types of Work—By Example

2. Identity in Work

2.1. Identity in Christ
2.2. Work That Flows Out of Identity in Christ

3. Depending on God in our Work

3.1. Sabbath
3.2. Focus on Faithfulness

4. Conclusion

Sallade is a graduate of  Princeton University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and currently a staff member of Princeton Evangelical Fellowship.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

The Inherent Value of Human Life

 

Following are portions from a personal email debate/discussion where I presented an argument for God’s existence from the inherent value of human life. It is an argument I am honing, constructive comments appreciated. :-)

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I wrote on 15/5/2008:

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Quote from you:

As for an Atheist’s view on “human life (being) no more significant than a cockroaches”, I would very much like to hear why the non-belief in god must tag along such a woefully-worded philosophy? Indeed, does atheism necessary have a philosophy? [sic]

Now with the correct definitions in place this a shocking pronouncement. Every view needs a philosophy! In fact, atheism is one among the chief philosophical world-views today. And on the atheistic view thats what humans are – nothing more than chemicals, atoms in motion, accidents of natural processes, no inherent value and no ultimate worth. You are right in saying the paragraph is melancholy. Thats what is the logical conclusion of atheism results in – woeful depression. We are all lowly worms, on an insignificant spec in a cold universe, destined to die and be forgotten, all evidence of our existence and accomplishments to be extinguished when the universe dies. 

 But if you do think that human life has inherent value, (and it seems you do) it begs the question as to why? Why is it that human life has value or significance? Why do we act in such a way that reveals this deep seated belief? Why is genocide wrong? Why is murder morally reprehensible? Why do we protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Why does what people believe really matter? On the atheistic view I just can’t find any reasonable answer.

You could phrase the argument like this: 

1) If God does not exist, then human life does not have any inherent value.

2) Human life does have inherent value.

3) Therefore, God exists.

This argument does not succeed in giving us the full picture of the Christian God, but it does succeed in giving you a God that had endowed human beings life with value. This is at least consistent with Christianity. Still, if you can agree with this argument then that would give you good philosophical grounds for theistic belief and sufficient reason to consider atheism totally bankrupt. If a world-view cannot consistently be lived with or make sense of all the available information, then it should be regarded false and other explanations should be preferred. 

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I wrote on 1/8/2008:

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…What I mean by inherent is an essential, permanent, or characteristic attribute. This inherent value, as an essential attribute, presides in every human life as a right or privilege such that, if it could be taken away, that life would no longer be human. The premise is 1) If God does not exist, then there is no inherent value to human life. I give reasons below.

You say that the human brain has developed the ability to empathise. But this is to confuse the ontological question I am advancing with the epistemological question. I am not trying to get at how we come to know human life has value, but rather am asking does human life have value intrinsically. On atheistic evolution there just is nothing special about humans, we are mere molecules in motion. Ethics and morality are socio-cultural-biological conventions, akin to driving on the right or left side of the road, or to the preference of the taste of chocolate over vanilla. Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science from the University of Guelph says, 

The position of the modern evolutionist… is that humans have an awareness of morality… because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth… Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves… Nevertheless,… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction,… and any deeper meaning is illusory… 1

Richard Taylor, an eminent ethicist, writes,

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.

Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things as war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are ‘morally wrong,’ and they imagine that they have said something true and significant.

Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion.2

He concludes,

Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning. 3

And so we find a meta-ethical foundation for ethics and morals is indispensable. If atheism cannot provide this meta-ethical foundation then it follows that, if God does not exist human life has no inherent value. This is certainly more likely than its contradictory and many atheists agree. Consider the following diagram fig-1.jpg

 

fig-1.jpg

fig-1.jpg

 

 

If God exists then it is at least possible for human life to have either, no value, contingent value or inherent value. But if God does not exist then human life has either no value or contingent value. If human life has inherent value, then that requires a meta-ethical foundation which atheism cannot supply. Value ascribed to human life by other human life cannot be inherent (an essential attribute) for anything that is given by a human can be taken away by a human. So why can’t human life have contingent value?

If the value of human life is a contingent and subjective quality (non-essential and dispensable) a consequence of that is value could be lifted from human life and actions we would like to universally condemn would become permissible. For instance, it would no longer be wrong to practise self-mutilation or to snort cocaine to the one who no longer cares to live. All that needed to happen for the British Empire to justify the cruelty of slavery was to lift the value off of the black African human life. Black men were reduced in white men’s eyes to animals, but when they were called men again (in the social justice movement led by Christians) suddenly it was wrong to enforce such treatment upon them. For Nazi Germany to justify the genocide of the Jews all they needed to do was remove the value of their lives, thus making it not wrong to kill Jews but instead a virtue. Without inherent value in human life, at most these acts would be socially impolite or culturally distasteful but never objectively wrong. On non-theistic views morals and ethics are precisely socio-cultural-biological conventions and there is no qualitative standard above humankind to condemn of commend these actions. The humanist will attempt to call things like genocide and slavery objectively wrong by making the value of human life the standard. One is apt to wonder why, given atheism, we think that human beings are anything special? Surely this is speciesism – showing unmerited favour towards ones own species. As a stopping place for our moral intuitions the value of human life is simply ad hoc. Without a standard qualitatively above human-kind morality becomes subjective.

But if human life has inherent value, then it really is wrong to enslave someone or kill them indiscriminately. And if it really is wrong to to enslave someone or kill them indiscriminately then this inherent value must be prescribed, for rights and privileges are the dictates of a personal agents. And in the case of the inherent value of human life, this personal agent must be qualitatively above all humankind, and that personal agent can only be the creator.

So the question is not Premise 1 but Premise 2, namely, does human life have inherent value? And I think it does. Moreover, I think you think so as well. This is a properly basic, deeply human, metaphysical intuition. I take it you think that human life is not as a worm or an insect – insignificant, worthless and purposeless, due to be forgotten in the death of the universe. But if you are an atheist, this is exactly what you must believe to remain consistent with your view, at least on the correct definition. It is the logical conclusion of naturalism, as Richard Dawkins says, “There is no good, no evil, no purpose – just pointless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every objects sole reason for being.” But can Dawkins live consistently with his view? I think not. His books are full of moralizing like the humanist. It seems he agrees, like me, that there are some things that really are objectively wrong, such as genocide and slavery, and if you wish to condemn these practices with meaning, that entails that there is a qualitative standard above humankind that gives human life inherent value and not just contingent value, from which it follows that God exists. 

 

Footnotes:

1. Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-9.

2. Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), pp. 2-3, 7.

3. Ibid.