Follow Up to “Human Life’

Since posting the essay below, I’ve stumbled across two additional videos out of China/Asia relevant to the subject of how different cultures with different spiritual foundations place starkly different levels of value on human life.

One, which I will not share, is of a newborn girl in China being killed. Because she is a girl.

The second one, has a far more hopeful outcome. It is a newborn girl, somewhere in either Laos or Vietnam. She was buried alive by her family moments after she was born. But neighbors (Christian?) quickly dug her up and rescued her. The video begins just moments after she was rescued.

She’s beautiful and seems okay. Please pray for her to find a loving home. Perhaps an adoptive home in a Western nation still enjoying the extraordinary benefits of the legacy effects of Christianity’s influence.

Why We Value Human Life

Great-grandmother (89) meets great-grandaughter (9 mos.)

You can see terrible things on the Internet. And once you see something, you can’t unsee it.

Last week I stumbled across a video that I wish I hadn’t. Having watched it, I can’t stop thinking about it. And having thought about, it’s made me mindful of something very important and relevant about this particular moment in history.

That “moment” is one in which powerful forces are endeavoring to pull down and replace as many aspects of Western civilizational heritage as possible, and do so in the name of justice and equality. There’s a great and terrible irony in that, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The video I saw was security camera footage of a side street in the major Chinese city of Foshan. (My sincere apologies in advance for what I’m about to share with you. As horrific as this description will sound, it’s actually worse than what I’ll describe. And I will not be linking to it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Although I’d never seen it or heard about, I’ve since learned that the video was leaked and went viral back in late 2011. (<-Wikipedia article)

The now infamous surveillance camera footage of a busy street shows a two year old little girl, Wang Yue, toddling out into the street and standing there for a moment before being hit by a very slow moving delivery van.

The child is knocked down and then the front, passenger side tire runs over her body. The puzzled driver pauses for a few seconds. The proceeds so that the rear tire also runs over her. I wish I could tell you that this is the worst of it.

The child lies in the street, moving perceptibly, as dozens of people walk by without stopping. One man literally steps over the toddler. There are people everywhere, but no one helps. No one intervenes.

Eventually, a another truck comes into view.

When watching the the video for the first time, you think, “Oh good, this driver will stop and get out of the truck to check on the child lying in the street.”

Oh, how I wish that was what happens.

The truck slows momentarily to assess the obstacle, and then keeps moving forward. The driver doesn’t even make an attempt to steer around little Yue.

She doesn’t move any more after that. But people continue to walk by her and around her, as if she’s not there.

As it turns out the video became a national embarrassment in China, and a horror and a byword around the world. But it illustrated a truth that many of us have known for a long time. Human life is cheap in China.

The fact is, human life is cheap in lots of places around the world. I’ve visited many of them. I’ve been to places where the locals think nothing of seeing a human body lying in a ditch or floating down the river.

Most of us who were born into Western cultures were raised with an ethic that assumed every human life was signficant. Even the lives of people we don’t know. We share a core cultural sensibility that human life is distinctly precious.

Even after 47 years of legalized abortion in the U.S., we’re still not comfortable with it as a culture. Christians (for the most part) oppose it. Feminists and Progressives reveal their discomfort with it by creating euphemisms like “lump of tissue” to avoid having to think about what they’re really talking about. There’s a deeply ingrained civilizational reason for that.

It’s the same reason the videoed death of George Floyd blew open a hole of horror and disgust so wide in the American public’s psyche, that Progressives, Marxists, and anarchists sensed (correctly apparently) that they could drive anything on their wish list through it.

And a long and ambitious wish list it is. Sensing the opportunity in the widespread revulsion at the taking of the life of a helpless black man, the enemies of Western culture blew right past police reform, and even past meaningful racial reconciliation, in order to advance a more radical agenda of symbolically and actually pulling down the Christianity-rooted civilization that has made the United States a land of opportunity and promise for numerous generations seeking a better life.

Yes, our esteem for human life is a product of that culture. But we take it for granted. And we think that most people all over the world hold that truth to be self evident, too. They don’t.

They don’t in the sprawling red light districts of Bombay and Calcutta. They don’t in the militia camps of the Congo. They don’t in the palaces of Saudi royalty. And they don’t in the work camps of China.

We also tend to think that this is the way people have always thought, but a review of history will reveal that this is not the case.

In all places and all times, human life has usually carried the same value as it did for those people stepping over the crushed body of a dying toddler.

Offering an infant to Molech.

It was true of the ancient Greeks. The Spartans famously required the city leaders to examine every newborn child to determine if it was fit to live.

Likewise, Aristotle argued that parents should be compelled by law to expose deformed or handicapped babies. To “expose” an infant was to abandon it on the city’s garbage heap so wild animals or the elements would kill him or, more commonly, her.

I recall reading a translation of a letter written by a Roman soldier in 1 B.C. The soldier was deployed far away from his pregnant wife. After encouraging her to take care of herself and the unborn child growing within her, he writes, “If you have the baby before I return, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.”

Early Christians in many Roman cities used to check the preferred exposure sites daily in order to rescue and raise abandoned babies . . . who were usually girls.

Girl babies back then, as now in many places around the world, are killed without a thought. But not in the U.S.. Not yet, anyway, although we now have our advocates for sex selection abortions and terminations for imperfect babies. But these advocates have clearly rejected the traditions of Western (Christian) Civilization.

Even so, we are still a culture that values life. It’s why, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, our default response as a society is to risk impoverishing millions in order to preserve the lives of thousands. Even if a good number of those thousands were likely to die in the next year or so anyway.

That’s how much we value life as a culture. So, where does this ethic come from?

Certainly not from Eastern cultures. Not from Marxist ideology. Not from paganism. No, it is a legacy of a Christian heritage that, in ways unique among all the civilizations that currently exist, or have ever existed, holds human life to be precious.

As historian Tom Holland has noted in his extraordinary new book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World . . .

To live in a Western country is to live in a society still saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions. 

Even while our Western system of values is being rejected and vilified by several generations of Americans, that legacy persists. It’s in our cultural DNA. For the moment, anyway.

That brings me to the irony that I mentioned above.

Those pulling down the statues of “dead white men” and calling for an end to our economic and political “systems of oppression” are attacking the very thing that best produces the things they say they value most. 

For example, whereever the seeds of the gospel have taken root and flourished, cultures have emerged in which the value of human life rose. How could a faith built on “God so loved the world . . .” produce anything else.

When the New Covenant transforms a critical mass of people for multiple generations in a place, the status of women invariably rises. They go from being treated like property or children—as is the case in many cultures throughout history and across the world today–to enjoying largely the same rights as men. How could a Kingdom that affrims that “in Christ there is neither male nor female” have any other effect?

Slavery? The abolitionist cause rose and grew in Great Britain largely through the empire’s pulpits and prayer meetings. Then the same in the fledgling, expanding United States. Ultimately, the British Empire became the world’s most powerful force for ending the slave trade. And the United States fought one of history’s bloodiest civil wars over ending its expansion.

How could worship of a King who described His mission as proclaiming release to the captives and setting free the oppressed result in any other ethic?

Even the “animal rights” movement could (but won’t) see its ethical forerunner in the churches of Great Britain. The same men and women who formed the spiritual and intellectual hub of the abolitionist movement in Great Britain—William Wilberforce, Hannah More, et.al.,—voiced the first calls for “animal welfare” reform. And Christians wrote the world’s first animal cruelty laws in Ireland, England, and the American colonies.

Well, that’s not quite true. The first codified prohibition against animal cruelty is in the Bible. (See: Ex. 23:5; Lev. 22:8; Deut. 22:6; Deut. 25:4; Prov. 12:10)

Of course, the Christian ethic of championing animal welfare has mutated in our time into a belief in animal rights. That’s a very different thing.

That shift began in earnest back in the ’60s and ’70s. Back then, in their youth, the Boomer generation that runs most of the country’s institutions today, convinced themselves (with a lot of spiritual help) that the Western foundation that had delivered so much progress wasn’t bringing change fast enough. That, in fact, it was the problem, rather than the solution.

So they embraced modernized versions of Eastern religions. Those religions hold that “all” life is equally precious. That the life in insects and reptiles and chickens is no less sacred than the life of a child.

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees saying, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24)

It appears that in Jesus’ time, some of the ancient Pharisees had adopted a practice very similar to followers of the Jain religion in India–they drank water through a piece of cloth so as to not accidentally ingest a tiny insect such as a gnat.

The Pharisees did this because insects were unclean, forbidden food according to Levitical law. The Jain do this to this day because they are not permitted to take animal life in any form. For this same reason, they are not allowed to eat after dark because this might involve accidently swallowing a gnat.

The fruit of this ethic and similar ones is evident throughout the cultures rooted in Eastern religions. Elevating the value of animal life has the effect of diminshing the value and uniqueness of human life.

Thus we have exchanged the Christian, compassionate animal welfare ethic for a pagan religious paradigm that invariably results in death and misery for humanity. It’s no coincidence that places where this is the deeply-rooted dominant view are among the worst places on earth to be born poor, or a girl.

Which brings us to an unpleasant, under-appreciated reality.

The only alternative to the Western heritage currently under assault is— paganism. Not modernism. Paganism. Modernism is an expression and effect of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

In a very real sense, the battle lines currently being formed are about the re-paganization of the West. (Please note the number of wiccan, druid, neo-pagan, and gaia worshippers in the ranks of the Progressive vanguard.)

And that means that just a lttle farther down this path, a lot of very sweet, very well-meaning pastors and Christians who, with the best of intentions, have embraced this “social justice” moment are about to find themselves in an awkward position.

They will discover they’ve unwittingly become a part of the furious hacking at the limb we’re all sitting on and, in the process, having weakened the very institutions that hold out the best hope for advancing justice and equality . . . and life . . . for everyone.

Please, just stop.

Our Crisis of Empathy

{Note: I wrote the following post four years ago at the height of Ferguson-related protests and riots. Feels timely to me. But you be the judge.}

It was dark, but I could still discern in the headlights’ glare that a shotgun was pointed directly at my chest.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off,” said the voice behind the gun.

Perhaps I’d better back up and offer you some context here.

This was the mid-to-late seventies in rural Oklahoma. I was only 17 but this was not the first time a rural law enforcement officer had taken a look at my shaggy hair and fast car and decided I was a trouble maker. (That’s right, kids. I had long, thick brown hair.)

Only an hour earlier I had graduated from high school. At that moment, many of my classmates were headed out to keg parties to celebrate by getting blitzed.

Three other friends and I were headed over the mountain to a larger town to grab a nice dinner. You see we were the good kids. (eyeroll) We were walking the straight and narrow. Trying to stay out of trouble.

Halfway to our destination, as we passed through a tiny town notorious for being a speed trap, I noticed a pickup behind me with a flashing yellow light. I assumed it was some sort of road construction or utilities vehicle, so I eased over to the shoulder to let it pass. It didn’t pass, but rather stayed right behind me.

So, I pulled on over on a pitch black stretch of two-lane highway and stopped my vehicle.

The pickup stopped at a distance behind me, as a powerful door-mounted spotlight, commonly used in that part of the country for illegally hunting deer at night, illuminated the back end of my ultra-sweet 1972 Cutlass S. As I looked in my rearview mirror, all I could see was the blinding glare of that spotlight.

Deciding this might possibly be some sort of weird law enforcement traffic stop, I did what I had been taught to do in my Driver’s Ed classes. I remained in my vehicle, rolled the window down, shut off the engine, and waited. And waited.

Eventually I heard a person from behind my vehicle shouting for me to get out of the car. So I did so and started walking back toward that retina-burning light. That’s when I met Mr. 12 Gauge.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off.”

“Okay,” I agreed. I had no clue what he was referring to but I wasn’t feeling inclined to explore the matter.

He fired off a series of questions: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Who is your daddy? (Seriously, he wanted to know who my dad was.)  Then he looked at my drivers license for a minute, handed it back, and sent me on my way with no explanation.

It was a terrifying, traumatizing experience. But quickly the residual fear I felt morphed into anger. In fact, nearly 40 years have past since that night and thinking about it right now still cheeses me off.

So do my memories of another run in—roughly six months earlier—with a local Neanderthal deputy sheriff. He, having made about a half-dozen incorrect assumptions about me, pulled me out of my after-school job bagging groceries, hauled me down to the sherrif’s department, and tried to intimidate me with foul, abusive language and crazy accusations that made absolutely no sense to me.

I can vividly recall my feelings of powerlessness and anger when dealing with a person with a badge and a gun who (wrongly) thought he knew something about me based upon the way I looked.

For a long time I really wanted to hate that guy.

Perhaps this gives me a tiny headstart in understanding why so many of my black friends and acquantances are battling a storm of mixed emotions at this moment.

I can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in their shoes (or their skin), but I can empathize. And I do.

I wish more of my fellow white brothers and sisters could find their way to some of this empathy. We’re so quick to minimize the real wounds good, decent black citizens carry around; and minimize the fears and resentments they live with every day.

This isn’t helpful.

On the Other Hand

I pray every one of my black brothers and sisters in Christ battling feelings of resentment and bitterness today (I see your social media feeds) can find some empathy for what law enforcement officers face daily—and especially nightly.

Being a cop, particularly in a major city, means dealing with the worst aspects of our society for a lot of your work-life hours. The job involves seeing and mopping up after the very worst that fallen, broken humans are capable of.

Addicts, pimps, prostitutes, child abusers, wife beaters, pedophiles, muggers, rapists, con men, thieves . . . the violent, the self-destructive, the drunk, the stoned, the cruel, the amoral, the twisted, the psychotic, the psychopathic. Police work requires wading around in all of these all the time—all while surviving and maintaining an awareness that the next person you encounter may very well be a decent human being.

It also means receiving training about staying in command of situations and speaking authoritatively. It is, by necessity, drilled into the police officer that losing control of a situation can easily get them killed.

I wish every one of the Black Lives Matter protesters throwing rocks and rebar at St. Paul police last night would do a few overnight shift “ride alongs” with a police officer. I suspect it would be an eye-opener.

Perhaps they might find some space in their wounded, angry souls for a little empathy as well.

Social Media Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Empathy for others has always been a challenge for all of us—for some more than others. But the advent of social media has ampflied this problem many fold.

We have built our own newswires out of sources that confirm our biases and people who see things just as we do. It feels good to have your assumptions validated. It feels bad to have them challenged. We prefer to feel good.

So, if a source or person brings us information that we don’t like—that doesn’t comport without preferred way of viewing things—we can mute or unfollow with the click of a mouse.

Thus the custom-made information bubbles we live in get purer and purer.

And we get surer and surer that the world is exactly as we believe it to be.

This Woman of Mine

I’m working from home today and Mrs. H is out of the house, throwing herself headlong into  a long list of tasks for me, her work, her family, and for friends. As all who know her will attest, she is a force of nature. Some wonder what her secret is. I know all of her secrets.

In fact, as I sit here on our sofa where we share morning coffee, one of them is visible just to my left. The evidence is visible in the photo above. She is a woman of the Word.

All is just as she left it this morning. And every morning. As she is prone to reminding herself, me, and those she loves:

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
to those gathered in front of the city gate:
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
and make you wise.

She has heeded, wisdom’s call, this woman of mine. Father, “Reward her for all she has done.” (Proverbs 31:31)