Recently, there was a police officer shot and killed in the line of duty. She was serving a search warrant to a wanted felon and known gang member. She was a mother to three, one of which was scheduled to be released from the NICU the day after she was killed. She served as coach to an inner city team, served the special olympics, etc. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story. She was a person trying to make a difference in the world.
In the wake of this woman’s murder there has been a rant circulating around Facebook firmly stating that not all lives matter, not all lives have value. The article goes on to argue that the man who shot this police officer had no value, even going as far to say that he didn’t even deserve to have his name mentioned. The author claimed because of this man’s choices and actions that his life had no value.
Here is a brief quote from the rant: So circling back to my original thought, do all lives matter? No, all lives have the potential to matter. It’s up to the individual whether they want to matter or not. Everyone can make a difference; everyone has that opportunity to matter. What have YOU done with your life that matters?
First thing to get straight–I, in no way condone the actions or choices this man made. Second, it is a great tragedy when ANY life is lost. Third, I have no agenda against police officers or for gang members.
St. John Paul II worked arduously to educate people on the dignity of the human person. The Catholic Church ardently defends that all life has value from conception to natural death. Why? And how?
I have been wrestling with this for days, as a co-worker posed it to me and asked how to argue human dignity without referring to God or Christianity. There is one thing I have come to the conclusion of:
If one human person is ruled not to have value then no one has value.
Let me clarify.
If we are to say that our value is based on our choices, on our actions or on our words then how about those who are unable to make choices i.e. the unborn, the elderly, the sick, etc. Are those without the ability to choose unworthy or unvaluable?
Which leads me to ask, who determines the value of people? There are many political and social leaders who have tried in the past (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Sanger). Is it their ability to be productive? The fact they have senses, feelings, thoughts, etc.? But what about those born without sight or the ability to move from their bed? Do they not have value because they cannot perform actions as others do? For many atrocities of humanity, they were based on leaders determining the value of certain people over the other. To some, the Jewish people and Christians alike had no value. Those of certain descent had no value and were seen as sub-human. Because they were seen as not having value they were no longer seen as humans but as animals or beasts that could be killed easily without penalty. If we are to argue they have value then we cannot base them on actions or having a perfectly functional human body.
In reality, when a person is stripped down of all their accomplishments, good deeds, failures, faults, sins, etc. we have value simply by the fact that we are human.
Yes, you can immolate this value by living a virtuous life, serving others, and doing the right and good thing. Yet, what happens when we fail? When we sin, fall, choose wrongly? Is that it? How does the world dish out forgiveness or determine who has more value? Can you ever regain value in the eyes of society once a serious offense is committed? We can hide this value under a mud puddle of bad choices and end up on a cold wet street somewhere wondering what happened to our life. But does it deteriorate our value as a human being? I would argue that it does not.
Society may see this person as a drain, a nuisance and an unwanted pile of bones and skin. The Church does not see with eyes of this world. As hard as it is to swallow, the Church would say that that person curled up on a street corner has the same amount of value as the teacher in a classroom or a police officer on the streets.
The Church is a church of hope. Even if the gang member in this case had survived and served his prison term, a priest or a pastor would have come to visit him. Why? Not because he is a lost cause but because every life matters. The Christian people hold out hope for those who have made bad choices that they can come through the mud and rediscover their dignity. That man’s life had the potential for conversion and a new life.
Yes, the police officer chose a nobler path, she directed her life to immolate all the goodness that can come from a good life. A life of service was rewarding for her. She saw a community hurting and wanted to help it, coach it and protect it. She entered into the crosshairs of hope. Hope that she would protect the community from a violent felon. Hope that this man would come peacefully, remorsefully and willingly to face the consequences to his actions. Hope that his infant daughter would witness this act and vow never to fall into the same life her father had. That man, no doubt, probably thought he didn’t have value and that I believe is at the root of his bad choices.
When we stop believing our lives matter or have value then we have no reason to keep living, to keep making the good but hard choices, to pursue anything but what I think will make me happy for the fleeting minute–no matter the consequence to those around me.
Yes, our lives have value.
Yes, our choices matter.
Yes, our choices effect not just our lives but the lives of others.
Yes, our choices have consequences.
Value has to be something inherirantly given to each human being. It is up to us if we enhance and immolate that value or if we hide it and try to destroy it. But value is the constant factor it is ever present in each individual.
Rescue workers, seeing someone floating down a raging river don’t first yell down to the person, “Hey, are you a good person?” before diving in to rescue them. Same with a bad car accident. The workers don’t ask to see a resume or a list of good things they’ve done to determine if their lives are worth saving. Even that man who killed the police officer was taken to the same hospital as she, received the same treatment by doctors employed by the same hospital and they tried to save his life. Rescue workers, priests, doctors, nurses, firefighters, they don’t ask the value/worth of a person before helping, they just do it. If there is a human in trouble they will try to save that life.
When a natural disaster occurs we mourn the loss of life, not just a few lives. We don’t say, “Oh, I feel so sorry for the doctor that was killed but not for the garbage man who lived next door.” The media doesn’t try to dig up dirt about the people killed to convince people not to feel sorry for certain people.
All lives have value: young, old, mother or father, gang member or student. It is up to us to immolate that value, to show it to the world and use it to draw others to realize that they too have this immense worth within them. When we start saying that a person’s value is up to them we begin to wade in the murky waters of what value is, who determines it, and to that person what value means–if value to them means sex, money, selling drugs and killing those who get in their way then who can counter that if that is what they have determined for themselves to give their life value? There has to be a universal, inherent value or worth placed on every life. To foster this will only lead to a better world.