Despair is quickly beginning to settle over the United States as more senseless killing continues. Alton Sterling. Philando Castille. Five Dallas police officers. No answers. Frustrated and wanting justice, we need to know which lives matter.
Black lives matter. Or maybe Blue lives matter. People pit these slogans against each other battling to see who matters the most. Maybe it’s “all lives matter?” Or maybe no lives really matter. How do we pick which lives really matter the most?
The question that we should consider when seeking to answer the question of which lives matter has to be traced back to our worldview, which is the lens through which we look at all of life. Our worldview includes the fundamental presuppositions that answer the big questions of life including where did we come from, why are we here, what matters and why does it matter.
Ancient civilizations usually created and passed on their worldviews through stories that explained where they came from and why they existed and what they were to live for. These were usually religious in nature as they explained worship and why life was the way it was. There are accounts of the world being created by the blood of a dead god sufficed for some cultures. The Greeks had their stories of the gods. The philosophers had their own theories about the origin of the world to explain the diversity and uniformity we see in the world. Science later joined in and created a creation narrative of its own to attempt to explain the world.
All of these are worldviews. They form the presuppositions that we use to evaluate the world through and decipher “reality.” These are the “truths” that lie behind everything that we question as “true.”
When asking the question of which lives matter, this is essentially a worldview question. All who answer the question answer from their own worldview. They come from a particular perspective. Our worldview is wrapped up in our identity since our identity has its own story from our own cultures and has its own values. When we see the world, we all see from our own social and cultural perspective.
When it comes to race, we need to see that we are not objective. We see things through the lens of our ethnic experience. White people see the world as white people. Hispanics see the world through the lens of the Hispanic story. Black people see the world through the lens of their cultural story. We all do this. We are not objective. We have a perspective that we look at the world through. This is not to deny that there is such a thing as objectivity, only to assert that we do not possess it. Objectivity must come from outside of us. We need to recognize that in ourselves and in others.
We are all told a story about life. We all have a worldview. Let’s take the popular modern narrative of naturalistic materialism that is popular in secular thinking. The view is neatly summed up by Carl Sagan’s famous intro to his TV series Cosmos as “The cosmos is all that is or was or will be.” Our origins, according to this worldview, begin with a “big bang” that brought the universe and all that is in it into existence. Through the process of evolution, humanity came to exist from a big bang that produced the material universe that eventually produced some basic forms of organic life that eventually produced apes that eventually produced humans and all that we are today.
In this narrative, the story of our beginning is a story of survival. It is a story of power to survive. It is the story of the survival of the fittest. It is a story of struggle to emerge on the side of life. Beings that cannot adapt to their environments die while those that can go on to live.
In this kind of worldview, with life about the survival of ourselves or those like us who contribute to our own survival, who matters? Our kind matters. We might say initially that “humans matter” and no other form of life does, so long as it benefits us. We will even say that others who appear stronger matter in order to insure our own survival. The important thing to see where this worldview leads to in the answer to who matters can only be “my kind matters” and even, reducing it further, “I matter.” (This is the current argument for abortion rights. “It’s my body and I decide if a baby in it matters or not.” I do not wish to develop this further, but the implications from a worldview clearly trickle down to more than just our ethnicity.)
But let’s delve deeper. Can I really matter? Can anybody or anything really matter? According to this world view, this life is all that there is. If the essence of our existence is our physical life, then our life is tied to the things of this life alone. If all that exists is destined to be destroyed in some cosmic explosion eventually, why does it matter what anybody does with their life right now? Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize work The Denial of Death explains our attempts to deny the death that we all must face eventually. He says we do this by living for something in this life that go beyond us, that help us transcend our existence, like some sort of cause or even something like Romantic love. Becker is simply observing the mini-stories that we tell ourselves to make life matter so that we do not have to face the reality that we don’t matter if naturalistic materialism is true.
So who really matters if we hold to a secular worldview? Well ultimately nobody matters. Philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche have pointed this out as well as others. But we fight against this. If our story is ultimately one of survival, then killing the weak is justified. Nietzsche said we express this with a “will to power.” Ensuring your own survival at all cost is the only thing that matters in the short run. But in the end, if our goal is non-existence, then how can we say that anything really matters? That question should be contemplated seriously as scary as it is.
The truth is that we all want to matter.—@prchdaword
The truth is, however, that we all want to matter. Even if we cannot philosophically ground our meaningful existence, we all want to know that our lives mean something. But the reality is that if you came from meaninglessness and are heading to meaninglessness, then how can you justify meaning in the here and now? A secular worldview has no answers. No lives can matter unless they are given value and dignity that does not come from ourselves. We need the validation of something outside of us.
This is something that Christianity offers to the world: inherent dignity and worth. Let’s begin with the story of how we got here from a Christian worldview.
The book of Genesis is the book of beginnings that explains how the human race came to be. Genesis acknowledges that the world was created by a personal God out of sheer grace. This God is a God who is personal and exists as a community of three persons who are the one God. The idea of a God who is a Trinity may seem trivial now, but keep in mind that God is both unity and diversity without one overshadowing the other. God’s creation comes to be not because God needed it to be God or because He was lonely or for any lack in Himself, rather it was a self-giving act for to reveal His glory as God to others outside Himself. He creates to share what alone is His. Hence, the beginning of the story begins with a God who creates out of sheer grace. It is not a story of survival or struggle. It is an invitation into an already established community of persons.
When God makes mankind, He places something of Himself in man, the image of God, where man finds his dignity and worth. The image of God in man sets man apart from the rest of creation and the other living things. Nothing else in all of creation—even the angels, is given this identity to represent God in the world. Man does not need to find value for himself, it is granted to him by his Creator. Both male and female carry this image in them according to Genesis 1:26-28. According to the Bible, we all have something in us that is a reflection of our Creator that is unique to us as human regardless of ethnicity.
In Genesis 9:6, the Bible reveals this as the reason for capital punishment. The text reasons, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The justice of this passage is reasoned by the dignity of humanity because all bear the image of God. The reason why the life of the life-taker is to have his life taken by another is because of the image of God that makes human life so valuable. This is God’s logic for judgment and justice against the taking of human life: because it is not only an assault against another person, but against the image of God in that person.
What does this mean in terms of ethnicity? It means first, that all lives matter. All lives have inherent worth and meaning because of the image of God that every single human being bears within them. Life matters. It means that Black lives matter. It means that police lives matters. It means that Latin and Hispanic lives matter. It means unborn lives matter. Christianity is able to unite the dignity of all lives without pitting one anyone against anybody else in the name of survival or power.
Remember what I said about God being a unity and diversity without pitting one against the other? Here is where the Christian worldview comes into play. While a Christian affirms that all lives matter, a Christian can equally affirm that Black lives matter at one and the same time without denying the former. A Christian does not deny the diversity of lives that matter for the sake of the whole. This often happens when we say, “I don’t see the color of your skin when I look at you; I only see a person.” This denies the God-given diversity and dissolves it into a whole.
Neither, in the Christian worldview, does a Christian exalt the particular at the cost of the unity. This becomes ethnocentrism and interprets all other ethnic groups though the lens of a particular. This is the classic problem of racism and, I would argue, the default position of the human heart since the entrance of sin into the world. Rather, a Christian shows that all lives matter by affirming the lives of others who are different than they are. A Christian should be able to show that all lives matter by supporting diversity of ethnicities that all bear the image of God.
Christianity has the right to say that lives do matter. Alton Sterling matters. Philando Castille matters. Patrick Zamarripa matters. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. White lives matter. American Lives Matter. Zimbabwean lives matter. All lives matter. Quite frankly, these are actually Christian convictions. I would assert further that when somebody from any side who is not Christians says what lives matter, they are borrowing from Christianity and not being true to their own worldview. Even philosopher Luc Ferry admits this much in his work A Brief History of Thought. I would assert that they are using Christian truths in a non-Christian and self-serving way. This is not progress. This basically becomes counter-racism. It becomes an ethnic “king of the mountain” game as sides assert who does or does not matter, or who matters more.
So whose lives really matter? You can only answer that question according to your worldview. You can either be consistent with what secularism tells us that continue the spiral of violence and the struggle for survival that is simply the natural outworking of the story of evolution. Or you must change your worldview to cohere with what we all want to be true so that our lives matter along with everybody else’s.
Lives only matter if Christianity is true.