Speaking the Truth in Love

The Dignity of Man

On February 12, 2009, Kyle Butt and Dan Barker met to debate the existence of God. In his closing remarks, Mr. Barker gave an analogy intended to show the superiority of the atheist’s view of mankind. Imagine, he said, that a person is charged with a crime and imprisoned. After some years the governor pardons him. Mercy is a good thing. But if it were discovered that the prisoner was innocent, his innocence would give him more dignity than a pardon.

Barker’s point is clear. The humanist perspective that man is basically good gives people more dignity than the biblical view of men and women as sinners needing grace. But the analogy holds up only if people are truly innocent of iniquity. Suppose that Tim murders his neighbor. The police arrest him, the jury convicts him on circumstantial evidence, and the judge gives him a life sentence. After five years an appeals court decides that a mistake has been made, that guilty Tim is in fact innocent. If Tim walks free, his freedom does not ennoble his character or enhance his personal dignity. Tim is living a lie.

“We atheists and agnostics,” Dan Barker says, “don’t view ourselves as sick. We don’t view ourselves as sinners. We don’t feel a conviction of wrong. We don’t buy into the supernatural, mythological lie that there is something actually, spiritually wrong with humanity.” Does Mr. Barker’s declaration of human innocence mesh with reality? Is there no spiritual wrong in a father who sexually molests his infant daughter? Is there no sickness in the soul of a serial killer terrorizing a university campus? Was there no true evil in the hearts of the Nazi soldiers who brutally murdered little Jewish children?

No lie, however appealing, enhances human dignity. What truly ennobles a man is knowing he is created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). God even invites people to become his children and therefore “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). What humanist perception of man can equal the biblical view that a Christian is a son or daughter of the King of Kings?

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