Death of God and loss of human dignity Print
Word on Fire
Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Many of you have seen the appalling hidden-camera videos of two Planned Parenthood physicians bantering cheerfully with interlocutors posing as prospective buyers of the body parts of aborted infants.

While they slurp wine in elegant restaurants, the good doctors -- both women -- blandly talk about what price they would expect for providing valuable inner organs and how the skillful abortionists of Planned Parenthood know just how to murder babies so as not to damage the goods.

One of the doctors specified that the abortion providers employ "less crunchy" methods when they know the organs of a baby are going to be harvested for sale. Mind you, the "crunchiness" is a reference to the skull-crushing and dismemberment by knife and suction typically employed in abortions.

The most bone-chilling moment was when one of the kindly physicians, informed that the price she was asking was too low, leered and said, "Oh good, because I'd like a Lamborghini."

It is easy to lament the moral coarseness of these women, the repulsive way that they combine violence and greed.

Forgetting human dignity

But I would like to explore a deeper issue that these videos bring to light, namely, the forgetfulness of the dignity of the human being that is on ever clearer display in our Western culture.

One has only to consider the over 58,000,000 abortions that have taken place in our country since Roe v. Wade in 1973, or the ever more insistent push toward permitting euthanasia, or the wanton killing going on nightly in the streets of our major cities.

What makes this startling violence against human beings possible, I submit, is the attenuation of our sense of God's existence. In the classical Western perspective, the dignity of the human person is a consequence and function of his or her status as a creature of God.

Precisely because the human being is made in the image and likeness of the Creator and destined for eternal life with God, he is a subject of unalienable rights. I use Jefferson's language from the Declaration of Independence on purpose, for the great founding father knew that the absolute nature of the rights he was describing follows from their derivation from God.

Dismissal of God

When God is removed from the picture, human rights rapidly evanesce, which can be seen with clarity in both ancient times and modern.

For Cicero, Aristotle, and Plato, a cultural elite enjoyed rights, privileges, and dignity, while the vast majority of people were relegated to inferior status, some even to the condition of slavery.

In the totalitarianisms of the last century -- marked in every case by an aggressive dismissal of God -- untold millions of human beings were treated as little more than vermin.

I realize that many philosophers and social theorists have tried to ground a sense of human dignity in something other than God, but these attempts have all proven fruitless.

If human worth is a function of a person's intelligence or creativity or imagination, then why not say that this worth disappears the moment those powers are underdeveloped, weakened, or eliminated? Or if respect for human dignity is related to the strength of one's feeling for another person, then who is to say that that dignity vanishes once one's sentiments change or dry up?

What happens without belief

My suspicion is that if we interrogated people on the street and asked why human beings should be respected, some version of this argument from sentimentality would emerge. But feelings are shifting and changing. Read the accounts of the officers and soldiers in the Nazi death camps, who, after years of killing, lost all feeling for those they were murdering, seeing them as little more than rats or insects.

For the past 200 years, atheists have been asserting that the dismissal of God will lead to human liberation. I would argue precisely the contrary. Once the human being is untethered from God, he becomes an object among objects, and susceptible to the grossest manipulation by the powerful and self-interested. In the measure that people still speak of the dignity of the individual, they are, whether they know it or not, standing upon Biblical foundations.

When those foundations are shaken -- as they increasingly are today -- a culture of death will follow. If there is no God, then human beings are dispensable -- so why not trade the organs of infants for a nice Lamborghini?

Bishop-elect Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and has been named an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. Learn more at