What Lives Have Value?

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Year ago, when I was about 13 years old, our social studies teacher, Mr. Krumm taught us that the value of our lives was based on what we contributed to society. And to an extent, it certainly seems to be true in that a doctor certainly contributes more to society than a criminal gang member. But, this premise raises serious questions to my mind that I’ve never quite been able to come to terms with.

For example, it seems to me that if one takes this to the logical conclusion, then it would follow that a human being that does not contribute to society has no value. And what defines a ‘contribution to society’ anyway?

So let’s run this idea around the corral and see what it looks like. . .

I assume that contribution to society means  positive, constructive actions that adds value, or in some way benefits the society in which we live. Obviously, this would rule out law-breaking behaviors at the outset. One could argue from a personal and by extension a government level as to what constitutes negative destructive behaviors, but that is not my point here.

My point here is to consider the original premise that people have value based upon their contribution to society. This seems to establish somewhat of a bell curve of value starting at birth and ending at death. The peak of the bell curve would be the individual’s max value, which corresponds to their highest level of contribution to society.

This means that some folks will quite naturally have much higher bell curves of value than other folks due to their brains, talents, and work ethic.

Specifically, this idea leads to the idea that human lives have different values; some lives have much higher value than other lives.

And by extension, what if an entire race or races of people are generally more of a problem to the rest of the world than having made historical contributions in the fields of medicine, sciences, philosophy, architecture, etc… What if certain races have a higher percentage of crime rates, higher poverty, lower educational attainment, lower moral standards so that they actually are a large drain on society? Why would people who fall into these categories have any reason to expect me or anyone else to respect or value them if I observe they are immoral, untrustworthy, loud, foul-mouthed, emotionally based creatures? To me, they have little to no value and are an absolute infection to humanity.

If one thinks that human lives have value based upon their contributions to society,  then these questions also instantly enter my fevered thinking. . .

As a former tutor, one of my families had a son who was completely unaware of his surroundings, was fed through a tube in his stomach, had no ability to speak, and lived out his life in a wheelchair completely dependent upon his tired, hard working parents to sustain his life. He contributes nothing, and is a heavy, ongoing burden to his parents, who have to care for him 24-7, 365 days out of the year.  In what way does this life have any value whatsoever?

I have worked with the elderly in old folks homes, and have seen a number of them just sitting there, staring blankly, alone, and apparently unable to communicate with anyone. According to this premise, what are they contributing to society and why do their lives have value?

This horrible germ of an idea planted inside my young, impressionable brain years ago has taken root and both values and devalues people, including myself based upon how much education, training they have, how much money they make, how well they live.

And it’s a vicious two-edged sword that cut me and devalues me because I have not accomplished much, I have not made much money, I have less education, less world travel experiences, less social graces than many folks I know. By this premise, my ‘value bell curve’ is far lower than others. I cannot even stand to speak with them as equals, because, it seems to me, that almost everyone is far more accomplished than I.

Worse than that, this idea is the same idea that evil society’s use to abuse and kill the unwanted unborn, the mentally feeble, the elderly,etc…and I utterly abhor and reject that conclusion.

On the flip side, Christianity teaches us that human lives are intrinsically valuable which on the surface works well until I encounter historical people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung; or read about MS-13 gang members, or encounter mentally challenged people who barely function or cannot function at all.

Combined with the belief that all lives are intrinsically valuable is that God created all life, and has a specific plan for every life. So, taking this idea out for a stroll, would imply that God deliberately chose to have some humans born with two heads sharing one body, or with physical deformities such as a foot growing out of a belly, or that this Sovereign omni-powerful God ‘allowed’ a baby to be born without any arms or legs; God wanted my friend’s son to be born both autistic and with Down’s syndrome essentially meaning that all he will ever do is to walk, make weird off-putting grunting noises, eat, sleep, and play by himself. What possible value do these lives have?

And so I am in a quandary. I don’t believe in choosing who gets to live and who gets killed based upon an arbitrary set of ‘standards’, yet I struggle greatly with seeing any value in the mentally and physically deficient people.  I struggle with giving value and respect to certain races of people. This idea colors my value of everyone, and that limits my ability to appreciate many folks.

And it bothers me that I even have this quandary within myself. I feel like a bad person for even entertaining this question in the courtroom of my mind.

It would have caused less mental conflict, less destructive self-devaluations  had I not been infected with this horrible ‘value’ from a liberal curriculum.

Why do our lives have any value and where does the value originate?

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