In the Image of God : Chapter 2 : Only Words

Speculation 2000 A.D.: WWIII, Roe vs. Wade, continues. This is a war of phenomenal proportions and magnitude that is not recognized as a war. It is a war defining the "beginning" and the "end" of each person’s journey through life. It splits families, reeks emotional personal havoc, scars young and old alike, and takes countless lives. It has been going on for over thirty years, laying siege to our very souls. Ironically, we don’t even see it for what it is. We don’t understand it is a war because we don’t even know what the war is about.

The war is over the definition of life. When does life begin and when does it end? Actually, the war is not only over a definition of when life begins and ends, but rather a statement of philosophy, a philosophical perception of what life is. If we do not understand what life is, we cannot define when it begins or ends. The struggle continues over the right to control one’s body, the right to die with dignity, the rights of the unborn, the rights of the father, the right to one’s privacy and the right to life.

The concept of who has the right to terminate the journey of another centers around two fundamental definitions: that of life and of death. This is not an insignificant exercise. This is one of the most crucial battles in our history. This affects every man, woman, and child alive today and who will be alive in the future.

The conflict taking place is not just a conflict; it is a war. World War II had fifty million casualties. This war has had far more than that already and isn’t close to being over. It involves religious institutions, governmental institutions, political groups, social groups, activists on both sides, and pacifists in the middle. It involves millions of people banding together to wage the war. It involves the fundamental moralities of our future societies. This is a war of desperation, a war of principle, a war to protect one’s own journey, a war to protect the journey of others. This is a war in which members of both sides can be proud to have participated. This is a global war, having extremely large casualty counts, inflicting extreme pain and suffering both physically and emotionally upon unbelievable numbers of people, and pulling every aspect of almost all cultures into the fray worldwide. This is certainly World War III.

The war is essentially over two words, "life" and "death," and what we find acceptable in terms of their definition. The war is as legitimate and noble a war we, as a species, have ever engaged in. This is a war over the very definition of who we, as a species and as individuals, perceive ourselves to be. The two words, life and death, are key to our perception of our very existence within reality.

The results of this war, WW III, will set the ambiance of our social and environmental reality well into the future of humankind. The repercussions of the war will affect our perception of ourselves and our species well into the next millennium and possibly beyond. In fact, the outcome of the war could very determine the survival of our species.

The war has been taking place for over three decades and the end is not in sight. What will end the war? Nothing we presently have in place within society will end this war. The element needed to end the war and resolve the issue in an acceptable manner to all sides is missing. We are missing an acceptable perception of what reality is, who we are as a people and as individuals, and what our purpose is within this reality. Understanding what reality is and what our purpose is within reality would lead us to an acceptable consensus regarding what life is and what death is, which would end the war.

How we define "life" and "death" will define what we perceive ourselves and our function in reality to be. This is thinking backward and that is why the war still rages and no solution is appearing on the horizon, in spite of over thirty years of conflict and pain. Actually, the words of the above statement are correct but they are not in the correct order. The statement should be, How we define ourselves and our function in reality will define what we perceive "life" and "death" to be.

Let’s first attempt to approach the war from the aspect of the first statement. The most logical place to begin would be to look in a respected philosophy dictionary. It is interesting that both R. Audi’s The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy and W. Reese’s Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion contain over 4,000 entries each over 850 pages each, but neither reference defines "life," "alive," "death" or "dead" (interesting omissions considering the significance of the terms in relationship to our existence within reality).

We accept the termination of existence within this reality as death and we accept existence within this reality as "life." These two statements, however, are not going to be adequate definitions for the general population, let alone academia. Let’s look at each term individually to help reveal acceptable definitions.

The first place to start should probably be "death." Although this has accelerated into an explosive issue, it is nevertheless the least explosive of the two social issues. It is also, oddly enough, a key to defining life. If we can agree upon what death is, we may be able to resolve the issue of life.

Webster’s Dictionary states that death is "a permanent cessation of all vital functions: the end of life." The words, "the end of life" aren’t going to help since we are starting with "death" and have not yet defined "life." So we will have to explore the definition, "a permanent cessation of all vital functions." Fortunately, the definition of "death" has already been put in place by medical ethics boards composed of doctors, religious leaders from various religious backgrounds, laymen, etc.

Originally, death was thought to mean the cessation of breathing. If no breath was emanating from the body for a period of time, death was formally declared. Today, we know people can go into comatose states where breathing is almost impossible to detect without proper equipment. We know people can be submerged for long periods in icy water and be revived with no mental dysfunction. We can, with medicine’s new technology, also disconnect people from their lungs and keep them healthy for long periods of time using heart lung machines. Other people can be kept alive without the use of their "vital" organs, i.e. the kidneys. Even half the brain can now be removed without death or total incapacitation.

Because of these advances, the medical ethics committees had to create a different definition of "death." They moved to what laymen would term "flatlined brain waves" on an EFG, electroencephalograph. Religions, doctors, lawyers, society, the general public, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, government - almost everyone accepts this as a time of "death" or, in other words, a time when one’s journey in life has ended. When a flatlined brain wave signal shows up on an EEG, everyone accepts the concept of pulling the plug on any life support systems the patient may be relying upon to keep their "vital" organs functioning. It took us a while to accept this definition of "death," but it is now almost universally accepted. With this established we then need to step into the violent fray of defining "life."

With "death" defined as the termination of brain waves by the brain, the definition of "life" should logically flow into place as the initiation of the production of brain waves. This occurs at a specific time in the development of the fetus. It doesn’t start at birth and it doesn’t start at conception.

This definition of "life" is not going to please either side in the war we are experiencing, but in terms of logic, it is going to be difficult to refute since it is based on the opposite of society’s definition of "death." The definition of death is one developed by medical ethics committees in their attempt to diffuse the issue of what to do with brain dead patients that medicine was capable of keeping alive for decades. The definition of "death" is a definition that society generally recognizes and accepts. Society also accepts the concept that the opposite of "death" is "life" and thus the logical definition: "life" begins when the brain starts emitting brain waves, when the brain becomes a viable organ, when the brain begins to function.

If we accept this definition for life, then the solution to many problems becomes simplistic and acceptable to the general public as well as to academia. The result: the war over abortion and capital punishment finally ends with little more than a sigh. The war is actually defined out of existence. There will still be discussion and dissension, but for the most part, heated conflicts based on "principle" will have had the wind taken out of their sails.

But what if we approach the issue from a more philosophical standpoint? What if we approach the issue from the direction of first defining who we are in reality and what our function in reality is and then tackle the issues of "life" and "death?" Will the outcome still be the same? To find out, let’s attempt to approach the war from the aspect of the second statement, ‘How we define ourselves and our function in reality, will define what we perceive "life" and "death" to be. Surprisingly, it will lead us to the same solution, just more emphatically.

Theism basically states that God and reality are separate entities and, therefore, that humans and God are separate entities. Pantheism basically states that God and reality are the same and thus humans are not separate from God, that humans are a portion of God. Neither philosophy has been able to bring solution to the issues. Quite the contrary. Pantheism has only increased a state of pacifism towards the issue and theism has only added fuel to the fire. If we take the best of both philosophies and accept the classical/traditional theistic concept that God is larger than reality, and add to this the concept of pantheism that God and reality are important to each other, you have basically panentheism. Panentheism adds the concept that reality is not separate from God but contained within God, and that although God may be all knowing, all powerful, and all present, It becomes even more so by journeying reality.

Acceptance of this philosophy does nothing to destroy religions. The majority of religions are built on a philosophy of theism or pantheism. To broaden their philosophy base significantly enough to incorporate panentheism does not alter their credibility. What it does do, however, is make room for a rational understanding and acceptance of the definition of "death" put forward by medical ethics committees. A panentheistic philosophical base opens religions up to accepting a definition of "life" that coincides with the definition of "death."

How does this all come about? A panentheistic philosophy would argue that God travels what we call reality through the machine of humans and other intelligent life forms. When the machine is no longer viable, God’s journey, our journey in reality, is over. Our soul, God, leaves the body. Lack of brain activity indicates the end of the journey, at which point a person is proclaimed "dead."

When the machine is viable, God’s journey, our journey in reality, begins. Our soul, God, enters the body. The indication of the start of this journey is the beginning of brain activity, at which point a person is proclaimed "alive."

Panentheism produces the same result. The war finally ends with little more than a sigh. The war is actually defined out of existence through having defined what the essence of an individual is within reality and what the function of an individual is within reality. This result may be the same as the previous process but it is much more significant, for it manages to establish our identity and purpose in reality in understandable terms. It establishes what reality itself is in an understandable fashion, while at the same time reinforcing our religions, cultures, and traditions. In addition, it would not only end the war, but would also end many perplexing problems we have faced and that we will face in the future concerning controversial issues such as capital punishment, abortion of a fetus after brain function begins, use of early development fetal material for medical research, use of the placenta for medical purposes, growth of fetal tissue for the purpose of producing organs for organ transplants, acceptance of organs grown from early fetal tissue, abortion of early development fetal tissue caused by rape or incest, termination of a patient not on life support systems whose brain is still functioning, and on it goes..

Who will "win" and who will "lose" with a universal acceptance of this definition of "life" and "death?" The winners will be on both sides of the battle:

  • Fathers who want a say in the life and death decisions of their offspring.
  • Women who want control over their bodies.
  • Couples who want to determine if a raped wife is pregnant with the husband’s child.
  • Souls who would have had the potential to journey through life.
  • Society that may lose a "pillar" of strength or creativity.
  • Unbending parents whose religions would deny their children the mercy of abortion after being subjected to rape or incest.
  • The judicial system as it attempts to rationalize partial birth abortion.
  • Religious organizations that wrestle with moral conflicts within their membership.
  • Abortion clinic employees wrestling with the conflict of "right" and "wrong," what’s best for the mother to be, what’s best for the infant to be.
  • Political parties presently lined up on each side of the issue of abortion or capital punishment, etc.

The losers will be potential life, fetal material before the brain starts to function. If potentiality, however, is one’s definition of "life," then one needs to go much further than protecting the fetal tissue in its primary stage. With potentiality for life as the definition of "life," one would need to prohibit any form of birth control ranging from the withdrawal method to vasectomy, since any act of sexual union would have "potential" for life. With ‘potentiality of life’ being the cornerstone for understanding when life begins, society, religions, and government would have their work cut out for them. Intrusion into the privacy of the home, not to mention the bedroom, would be all pervasive.

The alternative to defining life, reality, and what lies outside the universe upon a philosophical topic known as metaphysics is to define "death," "life," "killing," and "murder" in ways that are most expedient for our own self interests, our politics, our religions, our particular social setting. The problem is that by generating definitions as basic as these on the foundation of expediency allows the generation of other definitions on the same bases. Definitions based upon expediency rather than universal rationality leads to dangerous situations such as infanticide, genocide, racism, genderism, sexism, bigotry, etc.

It is your choice and my choice. We can end World War III or we can live life as usual and extend the war indefinitely. History indicates we will not be ready to take the simple step of ending violence and conflict. It may be the year 2000 A.D., but we will not be ready to take the small step of redefining our perception of ourselves, the step up to a different status and position of responsibility within reality. Instead, a new war is about to break out in 2050 A.D.