In response to the situation in Ferguson, the popular hashtag read #BlackLivesMatter.
Whatever your opinion of the findings, the public outrage stems from one basic fact. A decision by one person resulted in the death of another.
The intentional ending of a life — any life — is a serious matter. And why shouldn’t it be? This is why we conduct autopsies. Why we interview witnesses. Why we have investigations. Human life is a precious thing. Human life, when deliberately taken, is one of the most serious actions any person can take.
The circumstances behind the death become crucial. Killing a person on the battlefield is no less serious than doing so in self-defence, in the electric chair, or with malicious intent. But these situations are clearly not the same. Said differently: not all killing is murder.
Murder is the unjustifiable killing of another living person. Unjustifiable is an important qualifier.
While our respect for human life pales in comparison to that of recent generations, we still generally view it as precious. Murder can still provoke a very different emotional response than simple violence. That reaction becomes stronger when the victim is unusually vulnerable. Stronger still when the news takes a special interest in the victim.
We see photos. We hear interviews. Friends and neighbours reminisce about a mischievous grin, or wonderful singing voice. There’s a reason we respond this way. We see intrinsic value in human life. Christians call this the “Imago Dei”.
However numb we become toward bland statistics like “82 Shot, 14 fatally in Chicago over holiday weekend” (link: CBS News), the personal story of one *particular* victim can cut through the static, and grab our attention.
Even when the victims (and/or “victims”) are scoundrels, they tend to be remembered for positive traits. This is the (less cynical) explanation for why “unarmed teen” was the descriptor usually attached to Michael Brown, rather than, say, his rap sheet, or the fact that he was 6’5” and weighed 289 pounds.
What is our reaction when we hear names like Dahmer, or Ted Bundy? Except for their few miserable admirers, their names are a stain.
Here in Canada, we recoil at names like Karla Holmoka (who helped her guy abduct and kill several girls — one of which was her own sister), and Luka Magnotta, now on trial for mailing the severed body parts of his victim to different recipients after committing unprintable acts with the corpse.
When we think of Columbine, Nickel Mines, Fort Hood, Tyrifjorden, Sandy Hook or other scenes where people were killed en masse, we see another interesting trend. Beyond our outrage that someone else might have done such a heinous thing, we see in ourselves an obligation to prevent the next event.
How quickly did we trip over ourselves, not just to blame the attackers in such situations, but also to ask why we didn’t see it coming. To ask what steps might have prevented it. To see where exactly WE failed in foreseeing, forestalling, and foiling the events from happening in the first place.
“Never again.” Remember that response? That’s what we told ourselves when we discovered what happened in places like Auschwitz and Treblinka. We saw empty suitcases and piles of hair. We saw the emaciated bodies, and we recoiled with horror, vowing to never let it happen again. Why? Because we understand that life is sacred, and should be treated as such. Isn’t that precisely why the world stood up to denounce ISIS?
In this light, “black lives matter” seems too narrow a slogan. We ought to say “all lives matter”.
Even in instances where others fail to treat life as sacred, we have an obligation to do so.
And yet, sometimes even we fail in that obligation. We, too, become numbed by statistics. Certain types of deaths become commonplace. We give them a different name and dismiss them. Perhaps they’re deliberately given a sanitized name that fails to shock us, so that even when we find the statistic unpleasant, it’s just a statistic. We read it, and move along.
We remain numb until something else shocks us out of that numbed state. Just like the way an individual’s life story makes the murder seem personal.
This week, a story about a Canadian Philosophy Professor did exactly that. She argued for the killing of newborns. The killing of newborns — at least for now — still ranks as one of the more barbarous acts imaginable. How could anyone dare to even suggest such a thing? It’s really quite simple.
She chose her words deliberately. She never came up and said infanticide is good. That wouldn’t work.
No, instead, she dressed it up in clinical terminology. She claimed “Post-natal abortion” is morally acceptable in some cases.
Here’s the wake-up call.
The wake-up call is not that a tenured Professor is arguing for the murder of infants. (Something we used to call “infanticide”.) The wake-up call is that she had no trouble associating infanticide with abortion.
This should make even the most rabid abortion-rights advocates ask at least two questions:
First, have the people now manipulating language to portray infanticide as a simple clinical procedure been doing so all along? And if so…
Could those who have always equated abortion with infanticide actually be right?