Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Imaginary Existence: Imago Dei, More Than a Theological Principle

I love examining ideas. That was the genesis of this blog and is much of what I do for fun in my spare time. A few days ago, I found myself reading an article entitled "More Than a Girl." This article from a young woman in high school arguing that girls are taught to find their identities in only what they can do for young men rather than in who they are as people. Her article was primarily anecdotal and followed her life through a variety of lessons she had learned about who she was. The article was hard to read and heart-rending in places. One of her final paragraphs was this:

“I've never been told that boys shouldn't be distracted by my shoulders, that I can look pretty for myself. No one ever told me that I could save a boy if he was in danger or that I could talk back to catcalls. I was never taught that girls are allowed to have sex just like boys without being sluts, or that boys shouldn't do anything to you unless they know you are comfortable with it. I was taught how to be defensive against boys, but boys were never taught how to treat me like a human being.”

I agreed, in part, with her thesis. Young men are rarely called to a higher standard. Far too often we as a gender are allowed to objectify and mistreat women because “boys will be boys.” While her article was, in places, argued a bit poorly and I felt her concluding point was a bit unclear, this young woman had successfully identified a genuine problem. Boys are not taught to treat women like human beings. They are merely objects.

However, I see her observations as one symptom of a much deeper worldview shift. Namely, this is a symptom of the shift from Christian Theism to naturalistic atheism (or agnosticism, in some groups.) With this shift the vital theological concept of Imago Dei has been compromised.

What is Imago Dei?

Imago Dei is a Latin phrase translating to “image of God.” According to Christianity, man is unique within the created order. He is made in the likeness of his Creator. What this principle entails has been debated between theologians for centuries. Some would say that man, like God, has authority over creation. Others would contend that man, like God, can reason. Others, still, would point to the fact that man, like God, is (at least in essence) an immortal spirit. A small group would even say that man is physically made in the image of God, that his flesh and bone body somehow reflects the spiritual visage of God.

I would tend to agree that all of these explanations are, at least in part, true. But the point I want to make is this, Imago Dei is what makes mankind unique. It is what gives him his transcendent value. It’s what makes murder wrong and, at least in most cultures, killing animals for food acceptable.

The Worldview Shift

For many years, this was the predominant view in western society. It is because people are made in the image of God that they are worth protecting and nurturing regardless of their physical ability, age, or contribution to society. It was the principle of Imago Dei that may have been the seed that sprouted into, “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” While this principle may not have been always applied consistently or justly, it was the principle that made movements like abolition, women’s rights, and civil rights possible.

However, over the past few years, the Christian metanarrative has been replaced with Darwinistic macro-evolutionary theory. Man is not made in the imago of God but in the image of an evolved primate. With this shift, society has slowly moved away from Imago Dei to imago ego. That is, the existentialist, postmodern idea that humans have no ultimate purpose, nature, or value. You are whatever you make yourself. In other words, humans have no inherent, transcendent value. While there are, of course, vestiges of Imago Dei in our legal and moral systems, the idea of imago ego has taken its toll on society.

Without Imago Dei, there is no basis for protecting the unborn, the elderly, or the disabled. With this shift. abortion, euthanasia, and the willful killing of the disabled have become more and more accepted. In addition, I see no reason, outside of Imago Dei, that young men should be taught to value young women as equals. Unless all humans have transcendent value, why shouldn’t I treat her as an object to be used and discarded? After all, isn’t that what natural selection and survival of the fittest is all about?

Please don’t mishear me, many of those hold a naturalistic evolutionary theory for the origins of humanity live as if they believe in Imago Dei. Thankfully, most parts of society believe that humans have some transcendent value. Like the article I opened with, I agree with the author, “Don't teach me [young women] to protect myself, hide myself and avoid him. Teach him to treat me as an equal.” But my question is, why? Why are men and women equal? Why do they each have value? Outside of Imago Dei, I see no viable answer.

Imago Dei is more than just a minor theological principle. It is the foundation upon which the value of humanity stands. It is because of Imago Dei that I can say that all lives matter, the lives of the unborn matter, the lives of the elderly matter, the lives of the handicapped matter, and that young women should be treated as people of value and dignity. It is a principle worth standing by and worth defending. In doing so, we can push back against imago ego and return to the fact that humans are valuable because they are made in the image of God. 

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Feel free to comment! One of the reasons I blog is to interact with my readers. Don't hesitate to leave your thoughts or contact me with any comments, questions, or concerns. - James