Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush's Life Ethic

"I made [it] very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that," Bush told reporters. "Therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it." I found this quote of President Bush on CNN. Since much has been made of President Bush's 'faith' I thought it might be important to place this quote in the context of some of his other decisions regarding Life Ethic issues.

First let me say that I do not pretend to be an expert on the theological implications of bio-technology. I do lean toward being sympathetic with President Bush and the Catholic Church on the issue of stem cell research because I fear the commodification of human embryo's. Although embryo's are not a 'viable life,' in my opinion we do know what these embryo's have the potential to become given the chance...Human. It is a slippery slope in my opinion, when humanity, even potential humanity is treated as technology to be developed, used, bought and sold, even for 'good' reason. Although stem cell research is a far, far, far, cry from the enslavement of Israel in Egypt... There is a connection, the use of human life for technological advancement and the good of all. Both are using human being (potential human beings) as objects. This is not a clear and simple argument I know, which is why I say I lean. I'm still trying to learn and think about this issue.

But, to the point. According to the quote above part of President Bush's Life Ethic is to be against, '[destroying] life in order to save life.' He is making an appeal then, to the sanctity of all human life. Theologically he is making an appeal to the Imago Dei, the Image of God that every human is created in; Gen 1:26-28Then God said, "Let us make man in our image , in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number

The question is however, how consistently has Bush applied this ethic, that all human life is to be respected and preserved, that destroying life is not an option for saving life?

according to article about Sister Helen Prejean while George W. Bush was the governor of Texas he presided over 152 executions, which according to Prejean was more than any other governor in recent U.S. History. My understanding of the point of capital punishment is to ensure and preserve the safety of society by ridding that society of a dangerous and violent criminal. It is not an argument I personally buy and it goes directly against Bush's purported 'Life Ethic.' It is the destruction of one life to save others. Not only does capital punishment fly in the face of Imago De, that all humans even violent criminals are created in the image of God, it flies in the face of the N.T. ethic of reconciliation, and forgiveness. (I am not saying let them loose to continue the violence. Violent murderers, rapists and molesters need to be kept separate yes, but their life is still a gift of God that none should take away. 'Not even the wise can see all ends' Gandalf says to Frodo...) So while President Bush takes are hard line with Stem Cell research in preserving the sanctity of life, his ethic is completely reversed when it comes to capital punishment.

What about Gitmo? According to extensive reports by Amnesty International the 'illegal combatants" (is that the right word since prisoner of war would mean that we have to abide by the Geneva Convention?) have been subjected to loud music, bright lights, forced nudity and any other number of humiliating and degrading treatments. They are regularly denied exercise often locked-down for 24hour stretches and they are denied legal rights such as representation. How would President Bush's Life Ethic apply here? Well, they aren't being killed, (although some commit suicide.) But if Imago Dei is the governing thought, how is torture and humiliation honoring the Image of God in these prisoners?
They have lost the right to be treated as human some might say.
I refer you to Jonah 3:10-4:4
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah does not want to forgive the people of Ninevah their violence against his people. They are beyond the pale of God's compassion in Jonah's mind. But not beyond the pale for God. Now one could argue the detail, they did repent and ask forgiveness. I feel that the ethic remains the same... God's love for the Ninevites and honoring of his own image in them, was the governing ethic... None are beyond the pale of God's compassion.
The same ethic is told in the story of the 'golden calf' in Exodus 32. The people have made an idol of gold to worship after being freed from Egypt by God. God wants to destroy them, but relents at Moses' intervention, begging for mercy. God forgives even before they have asked forgiveness. For God destruction is not the answer, even when dealing with the violent and injust in Ninevah, or the disobedient in the desert.
Once again, President Bush's life ethic is inconsistent; in its application and in keeping with the Bible. We can 'destroy' the lives of these prisoners in order to save the lives of Americans.

Finally, the war in Iraq. If we are in this war to bring freedom and democracy to the nation (which I do not believe. We went because of imminent danger posed by WMD's which were never found or substantiated,) Then once again we are destroying life in order to save life. According to my research U.S. casualties have reached 2,554 dead and 18,988 wounded in the current conflict. Estimates of Iraqi casualties conservatively reach 39,250 according to one source. Must I say more? Why is President Bush so staunch on the sanctity of the potential life of stem cells and yet the great numbers of actualized lives that are ended and/or maimed are treated so cavalierly? If presidents Bush's ethic is not to destroy life in order to save life, how can we fight this war? Look at all those who have died to bring 'freedom and democracy' or to 'save us from imminent danger?'

Are there some times when Bush should be released from his reported Life Ethic? Yes. Just war theory gives Bush his out. When the nation is attacked. Iraq did not attack us. When we are in eminent danger. Where did those weapons get too? To fight a war just to bring democracy doesn't meet just war theory. Just war theory also asks the question of casualties. Will the victory justify the casualties? Will the end justify the means. Only you can look at the numbers and answer that question.

What is my point?
(1) Beware political God-talk by anyone Democrat, Republican, Cool Moose. Anyone can quote a hymn, invoke the Almighty, and talk about 'faith.' Anyone can take a stand one issue and I tend to agree with President Bush on the issue of stem cells. But look at all the issues. Tough stance on cells, weak stance on human rights for detainees, convicted criminals and the sanctity of the lives of our military men and women and the Iraqi people.
If the President were truly leading according to Christian morals and ethics, his decisions would be consistent, there would be a moratorium on capital punishment, the illegal detainees would be prisoners of war with human and legal rights, and we would not be in Iraq fighting this war, which simply does not meet just war criteria.

(2) We do need to carefully consider Stem cell research from an ethical and moral standpoint. this is difficult. But to look to politicians to provide clear leadership in this area will get us nowhere. President Bush's own ethical stance on the matter of Sanctity of Life waivers and is at best a situational ethic. We do need a clear ethical and moral path but that will come not from politicians, pundits, or even scientists themselves, but from people of faith.

No comments: