Against the “Sanctity of Life”
I am against abortion, but as a Christian, I find the term “sanctity of life” offensive. It is a thoroughly humanistic term.
Sanctity refers to the quality of being holy or sacred. Life is a gift of God, but it is intrinsically neither holy nor sacred. Something is holy if it is set apart to God and His worship.
How we live can be holy, or set apart. Peter told us, “[B]e ye holy in all manner of conversation” and, referring to God’s exhortation in Leviticus 20:7, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Our lives must be set apart to God, but Scripture nowhere says that biological life itself is holy. Holiness is a separation of life to God; it is not intrinsic to life.
Neither is life sacred unless, by the grace of God, it is sanctified, dedicated to God’s service. The only life that has sanctity is the day-to-day living of the sanctified, the people of God. Even then, their sanctification is never complete. Life, as the quality that is distinguished from non-life, does not itself possess sanctity.
To refer to the sanctity of life implies that the state of holiness or sacredness is intrinsic to life itself. It places the moral value in the creature rather than the Creator. It may presuppose that a moral value was given to life by God, but its argument comes from the nature of life itself, not from God. The plea for the sanctity of life is a biological, man-centered view, not a moral, God-centered one. If we say there is sanctity to life, we will be confronted with problems.
First, if we hold a sanctity in life, capital punishment is necessarily a profane act. If our moral argument rests in a quality that is intrinsic to life, all life must be preserved. Our moral imperative is then a man and his life. This is a humanistic reasoning.
Our moral argument must rest on God, not on life itself. As the creator of life, God is its Lord and lawgiver. He sets the parameters of living, of life and death. One such parameter is clearly the death penalty for murder, among other offenses. When God twice says, “The murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16–17), we dare not call such a forfeited life holy or sacred. It is, in fact, a profane life.
Second, if we believe in the sanctity of life, we buy into the silly logic of the most radical environmentalism and the animal rights movement. If life itself is sacred, how can we limit the sanctity to human life? A pantheistic reverence for all life-forms could follow. If we must belatedly resort to God and His Word to explain the parameters of our morality, have we not started with the wrong argument?
Third, if life possesses sanctity, how can we restrict it? If the existence of life possesses sanctity, why not the expression of that life, its lifestyle? If life is possessed of an intrinsic right to exist, it could just as easily be argued that it has an intrinsic right to do. The sanctity of life is an argument that could easily be used to defend every heinous act of man. If it is life that is sacred, how dare we limit it? When the source of morality is in man’s biological life, the moral authority remains with man in his day-to-day living.
Life does not possess sanctity. It does, however, belong to its Creator God. God demands that life be protected, but also commands that civil law deal with certain offenses by execution. There is no inconsistency if we place sanctity where it belongs — in God and His law rather than in man and his life. Man is to protect human life, born and unborn, not because there is sanctity to life, but because there is sanctity to God and His law. The Christian argument against abortion and euthanasia must be one based on God, not man, on morality, not biology.
To appeal to the sanctity of life points man to the wrong moral source. “Reverence for life” is only marginally better. It implies a religious deference to life rather than the God who is the life-giver. The murderers of babies and the infirm may not see the difference, but I would hope Christians would.
Lest I be only negative, there is an anti-abortion slogan I do like. “Choose life” is a valid exhortation, and reflects the moral choice we all have in this and every other aspect of life. We are to choose either God’s way or man’s way. To the children of Israel, Moses spoke the words God commanded, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19).
Topics: Apologetics, Biblical Law, Medicine / Healthcare