What Does It Really Mean to Protect Human Dignity?

Day after day, the screens of our electronic devices are filled with images and reports that are hard to view. Racial hatred bursting out in shouting matches and even violence. Distraught and exhausted refugees fleeing nations devastated by violence and war. Children as young as 11 or 12 being bought and sold for sex. These images can be dismaying or even paralyzing.

In his book, The Dignity Revolution, Daniel Darling offers an antidote. He presents readers with a vision of how to understand such scenes and take meaningful action in response. He argues that the answer lies in fully embracing the concept of human dignity, and he calls for us to join him in a revolution to protect the dignity of all humans in a comprehensive way:

Imagine, for a moment, if God’s people began to lead a new, quiet revolution whose foundation was a simple premise: every human being—no matter who they are, no matter where they are, no matter what they have done or have had done to them—possesses dignity, because every human is made in the image of God. By God’s grace, our churches would change, and our communities would change.

Darling’s book begins by considering some foundational questions: What does it mean to be human? In particular, what does it mean to be made in God’s image? As image bearers, why do we so often act to dehumanize others? What role does our sin nature play in all of this? How, as citizens of God’s kingdom, can we imitate our king and promote dignity in our world? The remainder of the book applies the foundational principles to a wide variety of issues, including race relations, abortion, euthanasia, criminal justice, health care, sex and marriage, use of technology, work and vocation, aging and death, and many more.

A Comprehensive Approach

As is apparent, Darling’s treatment of human dignity is wide-ranging. This is one of the book’s great strengths. For many years, evangelicals have proudly touted their pro-life credentials in opposing abortion and euthanasia. Darling applauds this but insists that we must affirm the dignity of all humans in every area of life.

Darling’s approach is comprehensive in two ways. First, as one can see from the list of topics above, he is not content to discuss dignity only in areas traditionally viewed as “life issues.” Second, he insists on making all the relevant connections between those topics. Take, for instance, his very thoughtful approach to end-of-life issues. As one would expect in a book about human dignity, Darling discusses euthanasia and the concept of “death with dignity.” But that provides a launching point to go much deeper into the way we view death—and our treatment of the elderly. He rightly notes that “when we prioritize youth and attractiveness and marginalize the elderly, we are communicating a message that is far different than the Christian gospel.” He goes on to discuss how we should approach illness and access to health care. In this and other chapters, Darling warns that we must not compartmentalize and apply dignity only to our pet topics.

Now, the breadth of the discussion at times leads to one of the book’s weaknesses. In an effort to be all-encompassing, Darling occasionally sacrifices needed depth. A good example of this comes in Chapter 6, titled “Frenemies.” In it, he leads readers through a dizzying range of topics related to our justice system, from racial disparity in sentencing to gun rights, retribution, restorative justice, prison conditions, the death penalty, immigration, and human trafficking. He offers interesting insights into all of these subjects, but for the most part, they don’t really get the in-depth treatment they deserve.

Darling promises to handle the hot-button issues of the day in a non-partisan way: “This book is not about right or left.” And he delivers. While it is apparent that Darling begins with some core convictions that have been traditionally labeled conservative, he works hard to rise above partisanship, and he urges readers to do the same. He regularly—and wisely—warns readers to guard against blind spots and to apply a consistent dignity-affirming approach to all issues. So, for example, while addressing something as polarizing as abortion, he urges us to “consider the ways in which economic structures and health-care policies might work against a culture of life and squeeze the poor or isolated into situations where abortion seems the only option.”

The Dignity Revolution displays a helpful balance on many issues. So, for example, it affirms restorative justice without ignoring the biblical principle of just deserts in sentencing. It touts the benefits of capitalism while warning of its drawbacks, including how it “can often incentivize greed and leave many behind.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jeffrey Brauch