What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The Value of Human Life III (What If– 17)

Moving beyond the early Christian emperors into the Middle Ages other important changes in terms of the value of human life can be detected. Homes to take care of the aged, for example, seem to be a Christian innovation. There is no evidence for such institutions in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day. Monogamy also seems to have been largely a Christian innovation. Taking inspiration from the early chapters of Acts, the early Christians created common funds to help the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged. In sum, there were four major innovations within Christianity that grew directly out of Jesus’ teachings. 1) Giving was expected of all Christians, regardless of wealth or rank. 2) The common motivation for such giving was love for Christ and following His example. 3) The recipients of Christian giving were not those who could “pay back” in some way, but were those who needed it the most. 4) Christian giving was never limited to church members, it was shared freely with all. If Jesus had never been born, the world would not be as generous a place as it is.

Does that Christian emphasis on the value and dignity of all human beings continue today? It would seem so. World Vision, ADRA, and the Salvation Army are three of many Christian institutions that give freely, motivated by Christ and by the value of human life. Child labor laws were outlawed first in western countries, that happened because of the Christian Lord Shaftesbury, not Karl Marx. Outside the Christian West there are more than 150 million child laborers, even today. Even Santa Claus is a Christian myth. His story is based on the gift of Christ and the gifts of the magi. Had there been no Jesus, there would have been no Christmas.

It is in the Christian parts of the world, where the influence of Jesus is the greatest, that the value of human life is most strongly affirmed. Contrast that with the secular West, where people go to great lengths to save turtle eggs, but are pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia when it some to human life. In the secular West, suicide is becoming more and more common. Outside the West, where Christian influence is the least, infanticide is still practiced, along with widow burning (the practice known as suttee). One can still find cruel practices like female circumcision and even cannibalism. Child sacrifice was common among the Aztecs and the Maya before the Europeans came.

As the influence of Jesus declines, true charity is also in decline and liberalitas is making a comeback. True charity (Latin caritas) mean to give freely to those who cannot give back. One takes out of what one has earned and saved and gives freely for the benefit of another. Liberalitas, on the other hand, gives with the expectation of return. For example, while government safety nets play an important role in the lives of many people, they are not an example of true charity. First of all, they are not voluntary. The resources distributed are not gained voluntarily, they are taken from others by means of taxation. Those in charge of this largess are rarely altruistic, they hope that those receiving these resources will vote for them in the next election. And the (often) unintended result is dependent classes in society, which generation after generation have difficult fending for themselves, thus losing out on the dignity of labor and the satisfaction of caring for the needs of one’s own. So the corporate generosity of the secular West is not motivated by the spirit of Jesus. It is motivated by liberalitas. And it often does more harm than good in the long run.

If Jesus had never been born, most humans in the world today would have little value. There would be little true charity. And women’s lives would be particularly hard. But when human beings grasp the teachings of Jesus and realize that they are made in the image of God, the worth and dignity of every person is exponentially enhanced. What kind of value would you like to have?

One thought on “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The Value of Human Life III (What If– 17)

  1. Pam Knox

    Dr. Paulien,

    I have appreciated for many years your views, even though I don’t embrace the traditional SDA theology. Your blogs on “What if Jesus Had Never Been Born,” are outstanding. And this one stands out to me regarding the description of true charity versus liberalitas.

    I look forward to viewers reactions. You seem always respectful towards those who disagree with you. May God continue to bless you and those like me who benefit from your thoughtful work.

    Pam Knox

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