1) What makes people valuable?
2) What makes human rights important?
3) What is all the fuss about equality – why are people equal? (For example, why aren’t healthy, productive laborers more important than people who extensively need others to care for them?)
4) Are people more important than animals in some way? (For example, if a boat was going down and I had a choice whether to save a baby or a puppy, why might I choose the baby over the puppy?)
5) What is it that makes humanity the dominant species?
A completely secular/nonspiritual way of answering these questions might be (these are just my poor attempts at answers, and are very oversimplified):
1) Nothing (other than possibly the fact that they are alive).
2) If anything, the promotion of proficiency, peace, and production.
3) (I am actually not sure what a secular response to this might be, unless positively leaning toward the hope of some potential future improvement of more unfortunate circumstances.)
4) Life for life, no; but humans do have the ability to think and use resources in such a way as to potentially improve existence for all species. (?)
5) “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am” – humans have more developed logic than other species).
But really, with no spiritual basis, I don’t think there are meaningful answers to these questions – not so meaningful, anyway, that a reasonable person would passionately devote him-/herself to champion the cause consistently. Why do people believe in equality and personal value?
Or maybe people believe as humans we are responsible to care for each other and grant all humans equality because it improves existence for all of us as a corporate body, and we should value each other because we are of the same species – we are one. And we have responsibility to care for other life forms (like animals) because we are able to do so, and so it becomes our moral duty.
I think there is a better reason. It has to do with the concept of Imago Dei, or humans being made in the image of God. There is so much debate as to what this means precisely, but theologians believe it helps to explain our uniqueness as a species – our ability to reason, to create, to choose, to moralize, to relate and empathize, to study both ourselves and other creatures and materials, to worship….
Lately I have become friends with an atheist with Buddhist leanings. He argues with me a lot on the equal value of all life, not just human. (For the record, I do believe all life is valuable…I just think human life is different, and if a choice must be made, the human life should take precedence.) He makes me stop and think more deeply about why I would save a drowning baby over a drowning dog.
Do you have any further reasons for why human life is unique (and possibly superior) to other forms of life? Do you think I’m wrong? What do you think the “image of God” is?