Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 27 years.
The Big Question
Are You Important?
I know this sounds like a squishy question, but it isn’t. I’m not Dr. Feelgood and this isn’t a session to pump your self-esteem. I didn’t ask you “Do you feel important”? I’m asking a question of fact: Why are you important?
So, do you have value? Does it matter that you exist? Does your life matter even if you never accomplish something great?
You’re expecting me to say “yes” to all those questions, and you’re right: I’m going to say “yes” to all of them. But if it’s true that your life matters and that you have value, it does not matter what I say. After all, if I say “Yes, you have value,” it’s just an opinion. If more people also say, “Yes, you have value,” we are only adding voices to the choir. But your value isn't dependent on how many people think you're important. It has nothing to do with opinion, not even yours.
What I'm saying is that “Yes, you have value even if no one affirms it, even if no one recognizes it.”
What Determines Your Importance?
We are close to losing this sense of value. The kind of value I'm affirming isn’t understood in the world of abortion. A cultural understanding has grown up that affirms the value of the mother, but the fetus only has value if the mother wants the infant; if the mother does not want her, she is discarded. In this sad situation, value is ascribed based on the subjective desire of one person for another.
But the value I'm affirming has nothing to do with the value ascribed by mothers to children, children to parents, or employers to employees. The human value I'm affirming is transcendent and spiritual in nature. In this way of thinking about it, abortion is not just about the discarding of biological tissue; it's murder because the value of the infant is not ascribed by persons. Rather, her value was ascribed to her by her Creator, that is, her value was a deliverance of God. To put it in perspective, her broken and discarded little form was just as valuable as a Winston Churchill or a Bill Gates. Her value was not dependent on accomplishment or position or how many people recognized her or how long she lived. She had value and possessed uniqueness because her existence was an act of the living God.
It is God that imprints value on you and me. Without that transcendent point of reference, real value vanishes. Spiritual or transcendent value must be at the foundation of any ethical system having to do with how we treat others. Otherwise, people are just means to an end.
Sure, some people are more important to us living a better life than others; I'm not setting aside the outstanding contributions of great people. However, we must remember that my subjective sense of who’s important and who's not doesn't determine their value as persons.
Equals and Unequals
People have value and that value is different from animals and other material objects. We may ascribe value to our pets or raise the value of certain animals because they are on the Endangered Species List. Animals and pets have value only to the degree that we feel they do. And my feelings are real, but the reality of my feelings doesn’t alter the value of animals and things.
Yes, we value animals and things, but it is a social problem if the value of persons is determined by how important they are to us. Otherwise, we live in a world where men discard women when they have sated their sexual desire, or women discard a fetus like an old pair of shoes, or both men and women treat their animals better than they treat their neighbor. I’ve heard people brag that they would save their pet before they would save another person.
There is a fundamental rule in ethics:
It is wrong to treat equals as unequals or to treat unequals as equals.
As for the first part, most of us affirm this because our society has a contempt for slavery or racism and that is founded on good ethical reasoning. In both situations, people are not being treated equally, but should be. This is also why we should be repulsed at abortion.
However, the reverse is also true: it is wrong to treat unequals as equals. It is wrong to equate the life of a person with that of an animal. A person who would sacrifice a human life, but spare an animal is depraved and should not be trusted.
I used to have a border collie, but I put her down when she became dangerous to small children. When the doctor put her to sleep I can still remember hugging her and sobbing like I rarely have as an adult. For months afterwards, when people would mention my dog, I would say “I just can’t talk about it.” And I really couldn’t because I felt so wretched within.
So, the dog was important to me and the end of her life was a heart-felt emotional trauma that endured for months. But her value wasn’t intrinsic; it was subjective. That collie’s only value was the value that I and others ascribed to her. She was a thing, not a person.
To put it another way. If there were a fire, and your daughter and my border collie were in room engulfed in flames, and if I could only save one or the other, I would save your daughter that I don’t know and allow my border collie which I love to die in the fire.
Because it’s right to save your daughter and allow my animal to die. That is, to treat unequals as unequals.
If I went on my feelings, I might have saved my collie and have allowed your daughter to die in the fire. But I can’t do that. Treating unequals as equals is a social perversion. The person who is a self-styled nihilist, libertarian, existentialist, utilitarian, or postmodernist cannot possibly relate to what I have said because, at some level, their idea of human worth is predicated on the actions of persons and their subjective relationship to them.
In conclusion, your value has nothing to do with whether I or others think you're valuable. Value is not determined by the amount of physical or mental power you have. Human worth isn’t determined by how long you live. In fact, your value isn’t’ dependent on how valuable you think you are. It isn't dependent on your feelings. You could read every self-esteem book and it would do nothing to change your actual value because value isn’t something that we gin up from within.
So, are you important? Yes, because your value and your rights are the deliverances of your Creator. And if God exists and has created you, then your life has value and purpose that is independent of what people think of you or how you feel about yourself.
© 2019 William R Bowen Jr