It seems to be old news, but I was unaware of it until recently. Australian academics argued that mothers should be allowed to terminate the life of a newborn child.[i]
Why would they promote such an idea? Because before the child is born it is not always possible to foresee problems like Down syndrome. Of course, they believe that if a mother knows her unborn child has Down syndrome, abortion would be appropriate. But what if the mother does not know until after the child is born? Answer, infanticide.
Speaking historically and in terms of comparative religion, there is no surprise here.
Infanticide is an ancient answer. It has been widely practiced throughout human history for a multitude of reasons. In some societies, the sacrifice of an infant to the gods has been thought to be especially potent. In ancient Rome, apparently apart from any religious meaning, the father decided whether the child should live or die — not only after it was born, but legally speaking, more or less as long as the father lived.[ii]
In the modern era, there are at least two new twists. First, for some reason, the father is entirely left out of the picture. He has no right, for example, to demand an abortion. Why not? Also, no one argues that the father can or should determine whether the new-born infant must die. Again, why not? For those who might misunderstand, I am not arguing in favor of fathers or mothers being allowed to put infants to death. I am questioning the reasoning behind infanticide and its prohibition.
Christians are against abortion and infanticide because we believe unborn children, as all humans, are God’s likeness and image. Therefore, the life of the unborn child has meaning and worth, even if the child turns out to be retarded, deformed, or otherwise unwanted — note: throughout history in many societies “unwanted” means “female.” In fact, unwanted = female is reportedly still true today in China and India. Women and Down’s syndrome infants are less valuable in the eyes of people who do not believe that all people are the image and likeness of the one true God.
If we believe evolution to be true, if we believe there is no creator God, no such thing as “sin,” no final judgment in the future — in other words, if we believe that there is no authority above the human race and that we ourselves decide what is good and what is evil, then what could possibly be the argument against infanticide?
A child is born into the world that we clearly know will be nothing, or almost nothing, but trouble — financial trouble, to begin with, but also emotional suffering and incalculable costs of time and labor. Why not put the child and the parents out of misery? What reason could there possibly be for interrupting the parents’ pursuit of their rights: liberty and happiness (had to leave “life” out because the child is also a “life”)?
Oddly in our day, the mother has all the rights here. It seems to be the result of recent history and feminist arguments that the unborn child is part of the mother’s body, so that the mother has the right to do with “it” as she will. However, as a scientific fact, it should be well-known that the unborn child’s life is dependent but distinct from the mother. The unborn child should not be regarded as a “piece” of the mother’s body that she can cut off at will. But I digress.
If we are going to view the unborn child and all other humans as a skin-bag of bones, water and chemicals with no ultimate meaning, there is obviously no problem in terminating “its” life. Nor should there be a problem in parents deciding to terminate the life of a newborn infant. Nor should there be a problem with fathers making the decision — though what to do when fathers and mothers disagree could be a thorny issue.
There are other matters linked with this. For example, why stop with infants? What shall we think about a child whose retardation did not become clear for the first few years of his or her life? What about a child who developed cancer at age 4 or 5? Or 15? What about children of whatever age who are a burden in a hundred other possible ways?
If it is permissible to kill the unborn infant and permissible to kill the newborn child, why should we not be allowed to kill an inconvenient child at any age? What is the reason to forbid such an act or to call it a crime?
Of course, a Christian has a ready answer: “Thou shalt not kill.” The law of God forbids murder and through commandments and ordinances defines “murder” carefully enough to give us guidelines to distinguish it from killing in self-defense, war or capital punishment.
But if we have no revelation from God at Sinai, how could we possibly argue that “murder” — planned killing of an innocent human — is always wrong? In the evolutionary world, survival of the fittest is the rule. Why not eliminate the obviously inferior — whether it be because of retardation, deformity, or the inferior gender? We kill to live. We kill to prosper and evolve. We kill to make the world a better place. How can that be wrong?
In all honesty, I cannot imagine a persuasive argument from the evolutionary perspective.
Without God, all moral rules and laws are social conventions. They do not come with ultimate authority. India is an ancient society with views about infanticide — not to mention burning the widow at her husband’s funeral — that differ from the modern West, insofar as the West still follows Christian rules. Hinduism has no prohibition of infanticide. The same is true of ancient Buddhist China. In fact, it is also true of the pre-Christian West. Who in all of world history opposed infanticide in principle?
The answer to this is simple: only people who believed the Bible (or were influenced by the Bible, as Muslims were), people who believed that all humans — male and female equally — are created in the image of the one true God. If we reject the Bible and its definition of “murder,” we are left with no clear standards at all. Everything is up for grabs — not just abortion, not just infanticide.
What else? Obviously, the planned murder of the most inconvenient people in any society and a group that is rapidly growing — the elderly. What shall we do with these people who weigh down society so much in medical cost? People who require so much time for their families’ care? People whose existence is such a nuisance and who cause so many other liabilities? (Please note: the above is not my opinion of the elderly. I belong to the group!)
If the solution to unwanted pre-born children and little infants is death, why should we not terminate the elderly also? For that matter, why not terminate anyone who is regarded as a social liability? There are retarded people, homeless people, habitual criminals, and drug addicts whose cost to society clearly outweighs their contribution.
Why should we allow them to burden the world with their worthless lives? Why not give them — and us — the relief of their ever-lasting sleep!
Oh, there are also people who believe that Christ is the one and only Savior of the world. These people constantly cause a whole array of difficulties. Perhaps they should be sent to the heaven they believe in?
And then, there are the people whose political opinions differ from ours.
Here we are trying to bring in Utopia — and these dolts disagree with our program! Maybe Stalin’s approach was true wisdom: one cannot make an omelet without cracking a few eggs! In Stalin’s case, it looks like it must have been something like 30 million eggs.
But who is counting? We must do what we must do.
It appears that Mao cracked about 60 million eggs. But it was done in the name of progress. And look how well it has worked! What is there to complain about?
Of course, Stalin and Mao knew that they were following Darwin and a materialist view of the world. They not only had no problem with abortion or infanticide, they also had no problem with murder as a social and political tool No one who believes in the evolutionary materialist worldview has any grounds to argue with them.
Unless the world is created by a Triune God of love, there can be no rational reason that I should love my neighbor as myself — that includes my retarded neighbor, my deformed neighbor, my female neighbor, even my politically ignorant neighbor (so many!).
But in fact, the world was created by this God and He calls us to walk in the way of love, even if we have to sacrifice out lives — as Jesus did — in the pursuit of righteousness. Our choice at this time in history is to follow Jesus or to follow Darwin and his disciples, Stalin and Mao. In the end, there are only two ways, one of them is narrow and the other broad. One way is full of death, as both a solution and a final destination; the other way leads to eternal life.
Ralph Smith is pastor of Mitaka Evangelical Church.
To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.