Tragedy, Violence, and Human Dignity

July 14, 2016

Over the last several weeks news headlines have carried pronouncements of unspeakable tragedy and carnage. Well-known singer Christina Grimmie was senselessly murdered in Orlando. Then, just a day later, the world awoke to news of the worst mass shooting in American history. France witnessed another terror attack, the brutal and intimate murder of a police officer and his girlfriend in front of their son. A member of Britain’s parliament was murdered. Each story elicited a similar sadness, outrage, and empathy.

Interspersed among these headlines were two incidents with related plots. In Cincinnati, a 4-year old boy was nearly killed when he climbed into a zoo’s gorilla enclosure. Then in Orlando, a 2-year old boy was attacked and killed by an alligator in Orlando. Responses across the media and in the general public were more diverse than following the human-precipitated tragedies, which surprised some.

When deplorable acts of violence occur through human agency, blame is ultimately laid at the feet of the perpetrator. Certainly social structures and institutional realities come into consideration, but an individual person is finally deemed responsible.

It is much more difficult, however, to determine a path of agency and justice in the wake of animal perpetrated violence. Some cast aspersions on the mother of the 4-year old boy who fell in the gorilla enclosure: Why wasn’t she paying attention? How could she let her child wander? A petition was even begun, asking police to investigate the mother for neglect. A few blamed the zoo for improper procedures. Many were outraged over the subsequent killing of Harambe, the gorilla who resided in the enclosure. Similarly, in Orlando some were asking why parents would allow their 2-year old to play near a lagoon in Florida when “No Swimming” signs were clearly posted.

These incidents provide a window into our society and, despite the unthinkable and horrific nature of their tragedy, provide opportunities for reflection.

For much of society, worship of God has been replaced by worship of the created order. Paul pointed out this sociocultural shift in Romans 1:23, “…and [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Stephen Webb argues environmentalism is a type of broadly acceptable and palatable civil religion; he says it is good politics and tolerable religion to worship nature. We saw this briefly last year when a Minnesota dentist was barraged with death threats over the killing of a “beloved” lion in Africa (this incident in particular showed the inadequacy of prevailing American cultural narratives). While the veneration of Harambe and hypothetical purported willingness to choose his life over the 4-year old boy is clear evidence of that, I do not think such a simple analysis sufficiently bears forth the intricate thoughts and emotions at play.

James K. A. Smith says a hallmark of our secular age is the possibility of belief. For 1,000 years Christianity served as the dominant worldview for much of the Western world, rendering unbelief almost entirely unheard of. Today the inverse is true: Where belief in a transcendent God is considered untenable for vast stretches of society, the possibility of belief – and subsequent poorly suppressed yearning for it – appears to lurk in the most unanticipated spaces. Frankly, we should not be surprised when so-called “ecosexuals” facilitate ceremonies in which humans are encouraged to marry the ocean, and then consummate said marriage.

Christians recognize it is precisely the distortion of orthodox Christianity that permits – and even supports – a misguided and disproportionate love of nature. Cognizant of how idolatry warps worship of the one true God and of the increasing secular pressure exerted on America, it is no wonder the imago dei has taken a backseat to animal activism and environmental worship. When nature is an object of worship, humans are subservient to its capricious and merciless whims. The created order is due sovereign respect, and we humans have no recourse save to spew vitriol at those poor parents who dared allow their children to interfere with its matchless wisdom and authority.

Stephen Webb, however, also argued since the decline and distortion of Christianity gave birth to the pathology of environmental worship, it is a pathology for which only Christianity holds the cure. How, then, does the church embody that cure?

First, we must never hesitate to remind a weary world of the dignity of life and the beauty of humanity. The world is fallen and humans bear the indelible marks of total depravity, but that doesn’t change the reality that all humans bear the imago dei and are worthy of charitable and generous love. Our world is losing sight of the preciousness of humanity – its loveliness and redeemability. In a society where the lines between human and animal are blurring, we must resolutely proclaim the beauty and uniqueness of humanity – rejoicing in our embodied reality.

In light of the Orlando nightclub shooting Scott Sauls challenged the church to embody the gospel’s humanitarian pulse and ethic. We value human life because it is created in the image of God; we value human life because God sent Jesus Christ to redeem it. This is the church must not tire of championing. Certainly we mourn the loss of Harambe, but far greater would have been the death of that 4-year old boy. And most tragically do we look on the death of a 2-year old in Orlando. The more we talk about the value of human life, the more opportunities we have to remind people that Jesus valued humanity so much He was willing to sacrifice Himself on its behalf.

Second, we must remind the world there is a larger frame from which to view these tragedies. In Genesis 1 and 2 God made mankind steward over the animals and creation, but in Genesis 3 that stewardship was rendered much more difficult. The fall introduced enmity and strife into the world, and as a result we cannot expect congenial interactions with wild animals, even animals residing in a zoo or a theme park.

What we can expect, however, is the glorious hope of a new heaven and a new earth. In that soon-coming reality we will never again know the pain of a dead 2-year old or 49-murdered souls. We will not fear animals because we are promised the wolf and lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like an ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food; truly in that day animals will neither hurt nor destroy (Isaiah 65:25).

Animals cause tragedy, nature is unpredictable, and humans commit unthinkable acts of cruelty because we’re not home yet. There is a day to come, however, when Jesus will illuminate heaven by His very presence and wipe away every tear. Let us speak generously of the inherent value of all human life, the unimaginable glory of a new heaven and new earth, and of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to ensure that men could dwell in that new creation of fellowship with God, with one another, and with the animals for all eternity.

Christopher Divietro

Christopher Divietro

Chris was raised in southern New Jersey and attended Allegheny College where he met his wife, Liz. Liz taught middle school science. They have been married for 8 years and have two children; Aletheia is three (and a third) years old and Judah is two. Evangeline is due in August. … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24