All human life is sacred: a contextual challenge to Moral Regeneration

A discussion paper at the KZNCC Symposium – Marianhill 28/09/2022

 

Let us locate the subject of today’s discussion in the right perspective of how God the Creator did this sacredness of life and anchored it in God’s creative plan for humanity. Genesis 2: 1-7 predicates the sanctity of life in a place that says human life has a measure of God’s divinity. Put differently, there is an element of something divine that God placed in the human being right at the beginning of time, right at the point of creation.  “And the Lord God formed the human being of the dust of the ground and breathed into this his/her nostril, the breath of life, and man/woman became a living soul”[1] In summation therefore, at least from the point of view of Christian ethics, God the Creator breathed life into human creation, and then life started. All human beings, it is thus safe to conclude, have a streak and measure of divinity in them. That is the thesis from which we are going to proceed on this vexed subject of the sanctity of life, life as a sacred phenomenon that is not only human, but also divine.

 

In other words, the principle or concept or doctrine of the sanctity of life contends that human beings are created by God in God’s own image – what is known in theological jargon as the Imago Dei. It also presupposes that humanity is more sacred than the rest of creation. By this principle of life as sacred it is also believed that human life is inviolable and that technologies, cultures and subcultures as well as postmodern and new age bioethical practices that violate life intrinsically undermine and denigrate what God designed and created with divine perfection.

 

This is how some scholars have defined the sanctity of life:

 

“All human being at any and every stage all of life, in any and every state of consciousness and self-awareness, of any and every race, colour, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character behaviour, physical ability or disability, potential, class and social status… are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status”[2]

  1. Moral conviction
  2. Perception and treatment of human beings
  3. Universality

 

Christian scriptures and Christian ethics teach that human life is precious and that murder or any manner of taking life is unequivocally wrong. Uniquely among all of God’s creatures only a human being has the capacity to have a relationship with God. Only a human being has a soul and only he/she were made in the Image of God. The Bible talks of God as knowing the individual from conception, while the individual is a little clot in the mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

African Theologians and philosophers also concur with this Christian ethical understanding of humanity. John Parratt former professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the universities of Malawi and Botswana argues that “Life is essentially ‘life in community’, for the life of the individual is grasped as it is shared. It is both empirical and super-empirical, that is, it is life here and now and life beyond the grave’ “(Parratt 1995:92)[3]. The sanctity of life of one person is, therefore, I will submit, intrinsically and inextricably intertwined with the sanctity of life of the next person. All human life is thus sacred and holy and divine, covered by the essence of divine Godliness. Parratt goes on to argue that “these two aspects of life are inseparable and interdependent. There is a real community between the living and the dead, for life in community is participation in the sacred life of the ancestors… Godself is the ultimate source of life and is also its fullness” (Parratt 1995: 92).

 

We need to understand therefore that Moral Regeneration is not just a philosophy or an ideology to which people all over the world need to subscribe. It is not a temporary intervention only to be implemented when things are not favourable to us humanity and the created order. Moral Regeneration is not just a project to reduce or terminate gross social ills that have almost taken permanent root in our communities. Among these are violent crimes including sexual assault and rape, murder and homicide, gender-based violence and the current incessant targeting of women through femicide, heartless abuse of elderly people and violation of people living with disability. It is not an academic project to be studied and mastered by students at universities and other tertiary institutions. It is, concomittally, not a social relief programme that should be called out by politicians when it is convenient to do that when things are not favourable towards their political parties or towards government.

 

Rather, I will argue that Moral Regeneration should be understood as an honest ethical attempt (informed by religious creeds or not) to champion and pioneer the re-humanization of our society and economy and environment. It is a programme informed by different religious ethics. We can say this without fear of contradicting ourselves that all major religions of the world uphold the notion which argues that human beings need minimum standards to guide and enhance the quality of their lives premised on human dignity, peace and justice, equality and sanctity of human life. So Moral Regeneration, and to a large extent Social Cohesion, engender within us as people a human conscience capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. In fact, the government has a slogan that says: Doing right even when no one is watching. That is moral repurposing and sharpening of our ethical imperatives.

 

If we must relate human life as sacred to moral regeneration, we cannot turn a blind eye to the recent and current murders not only in our province KwaZulu-Natal, but also across the country. The whole nation was shocked beyond disbelief when 16 people were killed at a tavern in Soweto; two people again at a tavern at Sweetwaters in Pietermaritzburg; the unexplained death of twenty-one young people again at a tavern in Mdantsane, outside East London. We as a country, have not recovered from this humongous unnatural loss of sacred human life – unfortunately all of them young, led to drinking as part of their attempt to misguidedly deal with vicissitudes and contextual pressures of the young and the restless. These cases are now before the courts of law.

Others, perhaps informed by their religious or moral conviction, contend that these instances where young people unnaturally lost their lives and in the specific incidents were callously murdered in cold blood, were deserving because taverns and joints and bars have never been part of God’s divine plan and purpose. They have invoked Biblical texts and injunctions that in summary declare: ‘You reap what you sow’. Is this a fair assessment of how the end justifies the means? What does this say about the sanctity, the sacredness of human life? Does the way people choose to live their life have any bearing in how that life should be ended through human negligence or sacrilege or lack of Ubuntu? ‘Akumuntu lokhu – nthoena ha se motho – this thing is not a human being’ – a phrase usually saved to refer to those who have decided to live their lives below the minimum human standards. Professor Gabriel Setiloane would say: Motho o ga se motho ka gonne o felletswe ke botho. Their humanity has been diminished by their inhuman behaviour. Is human sacredness relative to their moral to their moral disposition?

 

In our province, the scourge of assassination and elimination of political opponents and comrades alike, especially elected representatives like councillors cannot be ignored or understated. It seems like a permanent feature every time there is an imminent national conference. Inter and intra party murders have shot up in an alarming rate. It undermines the sacredness of life in the most brutal and barbaric way of eliminating those perceived as one’s political enemies. It is grossly inhuman and annihilates the Image of God in humanity. It is informed in the main by retribution and an extremely violent way of settling disputes and/or differing points of view.

 

The continuous callous murder of Amakhosi across the province in the last two years, strangely during the height of Covid-19, precipitated KZNCC to host a provincial prayer to raise the level of moral consciousness and regeneration among the citizens of KwaZulu-Natal. Since that prayer, the killing of Amakhosi and other traditional leaders has been so reduced that it reared it’s ugly head again on the day of Umkhosi Womhlanga, two weeks ago when Dr Dumisane Khumalo, a senior member of the Usuthu Traditional Council which advises Isilo uMisizulu kaZwelithini, and advised current king’s late father Isilo Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. That case is the most recent and ugliest to visit the AmaZulu Royal House since Isilo uZwelithini passed on.

 

The recent killing of the sixteen passengers on the Richmond bus through gunfire; the dastard killing of the policeman by the mother of his children in Ethekwini last week; the murder of the six passengers in the Polo VW last week downtown Pietermaritzburg – these acts of murder are extremely disconcerting, making this province the purported murder capital of the country. What does this say about the sanctity of life and moral degeneration?

 

The scourge of massive truck accidents that took more than twenty lives in the  last two weeks in Pongola and Vryheid respectively point to an increase in the road carnage that has seen profits in logistics placed before human lives. The alleged racing that articulated trucks engage in on our roads should be investigated with the view to arrest, prosecute, convict and sentencing. Where does this profit before people approach to the ferrying of goods like coal and other merchandise from the ports through the road instead of rail place the premium – on the sacredness of human life or economic prosperity of mineral and oil oligarchs in this country in general and in this province in particular? Does capital hold more value than human life?

 

Finally, for our specific consideration, I would like to touch on the sexual promiscuity and recklessness on the one hand and the exponential increase in the cases of abortion. All of human life is sacred, we argued earlier on. Where does this proliferation of abortions (most of which are backyard and bush abortions) and loss of life to both prospective mother and foetus put the divine attribute of the human life? Should those who have been raped, infected with HIV and AIDS and conceived in the process of their sexual violation be stopped from having arranged abortions as part of their psycho-emotional therapy and redress? How should the faith communities and churches in particular respond to the sudden upswing in the murders, abortions, accidents and suicides as part of their moral regeneration programmes?  How do we help churches to respond to moral degeneration? How do we assist faith communities to raise boy children with the view of socializing them through gender justice and gender equality for the earliest of their human consciousness? Why do our young men sexually violate women, kill them gruesomely an put them in a boot of the car and burn the car to ashes? Is it still elimination of evidence or have we as men degenerated to the level evil heartless empty persons in our country?

[1] Genesis 2:7

[2] David P Gushee The Sanctity of Life, 2006 The Centre for Bioethics and Human Dignity

[3] John Parratt 1995 Re-Inventing Christianity – African Theology Today p92ff

 

All human life is sacred

All human life is sacred: a contextual challenge to Moral Regeneration

A discussion paper at the KZNCC Symposium – Marianhill 28/09/2022

 

All human life is sacred

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