When you live long enough, a certain world-weariness sets in. You grow tired of a culture’s persistent pursuit of ways that lead to the destruction of life rather than it’s nurture. In fact of course, we have in America two very different cultures vying for supremacy– a culture of life and a culture of death. And death seems to be winning.
On the one side of the ring is the whole health and medical industry, mostly doing everything it can to prop up life, cure disease, lengthen life, protect life, except of course when it comes to abortion where it is the very same industry that is called upon to provide clinical and safe and antiseptic death for the unborn. And there is as well the pharmaceutical industry which for the sake of profits regularly puts products on the market that are not merely dangerous, they are often deadly, and lots of people have to die before they are taken off the market.
The motto ‘do no harm’ seems to have been allowed to drop below the ‘make some money’ priority on the depth chart. And this of course is one of the endemic problems with ‘for profit’ private health care which above all else seeks to stay in business and make money. Even in the midst of a whole industry meant to promote life, somehow death becomes a part of the equation that is taken for granted with a shrug of a shoulder and a ‘well, you can’t save everyone’. And John Donne’s words are no longer listened to– “any man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind…”
But the death industry doesn’t just show up in the midst of the life industry, it has its own more obvious contributors. On the other side of the ring, and wearing a black sooty hat is the cigarette industry, the pollution (i.e fossil fuels) industry, the hazardous waste industry, the gun industry, the unhealthy food industry, the dangerous vehicles industry, the violent film and video game industry. It is not hard to find ways to poison your mind, ruin your health or kill yourself and others in America. You can even do it by the apparently pleasant means of eating yourself to death.
It has been said that you can learn a lot about a nation by analyzing what the top value is in its ethical hierarchy. The usual big three are: 1) honor and shame; 2) truth vs. lies; 3) life and death. In America it’s pretty clear that the third of these is the top value in the value hierarchy. Thus we have cliches like ‘it’s not a matter of life and death…’ People will lie in order to go on living, or making money, or stay in office. They lie and behave shamelessly.
Why should we be surprised about cheating in sports when the motto of the sports industry is ‘at all costs, just win baby.’ And so paradoxically, by making winning a more important value than honesty or truth or personal integrity or sportsmanship or fairness or justice….we destroy the whole point of playing, which is meant to teach us how to share, how to be part of a team, how to live within the boundaries, the rules, the fences, how to strength our bodies and our communities without destroying our morals (see now my little book The Rest of Life which deals with a theology of play).
And when a country loses its sense of honor, it also loses its sense of shame. In such a culture sins just become errors of judgment, mistakes, boo boos. And God is entirely taken out of the equation, because make no mistake, sins are always against God, whoever else they may also be against or do harm to.When a culture replaces the value of everlasting life, with the value of this life extended as far as possible, the culture has become totally myopic, unable to see beyond the immediate, the tangible, the empirical. And oddly enough when the lie that ‘this life is all there is’ is believed, it makes it much easier to allow death to rule one’s mind, one’s fears, one’s behavior. Death simply becomes the price of doing business, or surviving. A culture becomes fear based and makes decisions on the basis of fear, rather than faith and a belief in the life to come.
Take for example America since 9/11. The goal of terrorism is of course to create terror in the heart of an enemy so the enemy will colossally over-react (think billions and billions spent on TSA security even in Chitlin Switch airport in the middle of nowhere America). The goal of terrorism, since the terrorists cannot win a normal war against a country with a gigantic military industrial complex is to so strike terror into the heart of the enemy that they will destroy themselves with fear and over-reaction. They will begin to believe that the answer to foreign or even domestic violence (think Newtown Conn.) is more guns, more violence, more death. Think of how the Roman Empire came to fall. It died not so much because of the enemy without, but because of the enemy within.
It’s no good singing Blue Oyster Cult’s classic hit ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ when in fact, if there is no God and no everlasting life, then death does have the last word about all of us. All of this is why I have dedicated my life to the full-fledged culture of life, both this life and the life to come, with the former seen in the light of the latter, and the latter being far more important than the former.
This is precisely why I oppose the whole rationalizing of deliberate killing of other humans beings— whether by war, or capital punishment or abortion. It is why I am totally pro-life. As Jesus said ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly’.
At the end of the day, the only person who can real cure our deadly diseases permanently is a death-defying God, a God who overcomes death, with life, everlasting life, resurrection life. God’s yes to life is louder than death’s no, and trust me, death’s NO gets louder and louder, the older you get.
But if you believe all of this about ‘I am the Life’, then you have to stand for life in all of its God-given manifestations no matter what the world tells you, no matter what the prevailing culture is in your own country.
As Jim Elliott once put it “he is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep (namely physical existence), to gain what he cannot lose (everlasting life). And so, ironically it precisely a strong and passionate belief in everlasting life that allows a person to loosen the death-grip he has on this physical life, and even be able to lay down that life on behalf of others. ‘Greater love has no one, than they lay down their lives for others’. Life is not too short when its everlasting, and when its everlasting, you realize that this life is not all there is.