At Work & Public Square

The Dignity of Human Life and Economics

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As an evangelical Christian who has worked most of my vocational life in pro-life and pro-family causes, my venture into the economic arena here at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics at first seemed like a different path.

However, it wasn’t long before I saw a common Biblical thread that undergirds both what evangelicals traditionally view as “social issues” and the free market values cherished by economic or “fiscal conservatives”.

That core issue is the inherent dignity of the human person who is made “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:27).

This truth is driven home in a fabulous lecture given this past spring at the Heritage Foundation Resource Bank meeting by Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

In his lecture, Prof. George made a compelling case for the common moral (and I would add, Biblical) principles upon which both social and fiscal conservatism rest.  His speech was directed at two audiences:

  • Social conservatives, many of whom don’t see the value of economic freedom.
  • Economic conservatives, many of whom often lack an interest in some of the vital social issues of the day, such as abortion and the preservation of the family.

His talk aimed at helping these two groups see beyond their need for a mere “marriage of political convenience” and to instead see and cherish their common moral foundations. The first of these foundations is the dignity of the human person.

What is ultimately at stake, he said, is the health and stability of our society and the liberties we hold dear.  Looking back, Prof. George recounted how communism in the 20th century sought to destroy the three things profoundly good in a healthy society:

  1. Faith
  2. Family
  3. Freedom

What communist dictators always knew is that they had to destroy not one but all three of these societal pillars in order to realize their goals. In a strong society, all three pillars stand together and cannot exist without the other two.

Let me focus here on Prof. George’s discussion of the first of these pillars: faith.

This pillar is rooted in the truth that human beings, male and female, are made in God’s image with dignity and worth. A society that reflects this truth must recognize the human person, from conception to natural death, not as a means to an end, but the end himself. She is not an object to be used for collective, utilitarian goals.

Not only must the human person not be used, but he must be supported and protected by all facets of society – the government, law, business, the market, education, science, civic institutions, etc.

Prof. George argued that our basic and cherished liberties – both economic and personal – are rooted in the inherent and equal dignity of each human being.

At IFWE, we see this truth about the value of the human person reflected in the dignity of his or her work. And because we are made in God’s image with creativity, our work – both paid and volunteer – has inherent worth and significance.  As a result, there are practical applications for us as Christians:

  • The Church must do more to help all individuals have an equal opportunity to discover their gifts, get the necessary education, find a job or volunteer opportunity that utilizes these gifts, and be spiritually supported in their vocational calling.
  • We must sustain and cherish an economic environment that not only provides us the freedom to flourish in our work but also reflects the inherent dignity of each human being. This means the government must avoid placing undue or burdensome restrictions on an individual’s ability to leverage his gifts and creativity in the marketplace.  And, government policies that provide support for the destitute must uphold the dignity of the individual and his work.

It’s striking to me that this fundamental issue of the dignity of human beings transcends so many facets of society. Because we bear the image of our Creator, there’s a battle that’s been waged from the very beginning – a desperate, tooth-and-nail effort to deface that image.

It’s a Biblical truth that Christians must hold dear and protect, whether we consider ourselves “social” or “economic conservatives.”

What do you think? How else might the dignity of human life impact our understanding of faith, work, and economics? Leave your comments here.

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