Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

The Death of Life & Liberty in the Death of Terri Schiavo


In his book, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Gene Edward Veith defines the often talked about philosophy of postmodernism. The philosophy behind this mindset which prevails in the contemporary context is the essential idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This philosophy that is replacing modernism "...goes far beyond relativism." The postmodernist not only maintains that there is no absolute truth but actually attempts to deconstruct truth altogether. In postmodernism, new paradigms are brought to bear on contemporary thinking "from the deconstructionism and post-Marxism of the universities to the relativism of popular culture." The dynamics and implications of the philosophy are expressed most clearly in the arts. A loss of humanness and truth is characteristic of postmodern art from film to television to literature to architecture. Avant garde is the watchword in postmodernism. Postmodernism affects culture in a dramatic way. The contemporary "...society is splintering into various factions, with the culture fragmenting into subcultures based on race, ethnicity, and sexuality." Postmodernism has tremendous political impact as all social relationships are reduced to issues of power. The idea that might makes right is prevalent and seriously jeopardizes the concepts of freedom and democracy.


The rejection of absolute truth has certainly come home to roost in America. With the death of Terri Schiavo, it is difficult not to feel that something else has died in our nation. The land of the free and the home of the brave is fast becoming the land of the oppressed and the home of the tyrant. Terri is only representative of the increasingly disenfranchised populace. Activist judges represent the loss of democratic principles. Lady Liberty cries, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Do we agree with that any more?


Truth has died in our beloved land. While no one can claim that America has ever been a Christian nation in the biblical sense, neither can anyone deny that America was founded upon Christian principles. Those principles held sway in government for close to one-hundred years before the slow but steady process of erosion commenced. In terms of a general collective mindset, widespread agreement regarding the authority of God, the exaltation of morality, and the value of family was a given. This agreement was grounded in the truth and reality of God. The assurance that God is supreme and that which is right or wrong is determined by His word were twin pillars upon which persons made decisions and led their lives.


Gone is such conviction. How it ought to shock and grieve us at the same time when we hear social-conservatives in the aftermath of Terri's passing speak of issues of life and death as a matter of personal choice. One such pundit said, "my life has no value once I have ceased to enjoy it." Whether realized or not, the implication in that statement is that "I have a right to die when I want to for whatever reason." To adopt that line of thinking is to affirm suicide for example as a matter of choice. It is to support Dr. Kovorkian and indeed the culture of death. Again, no liberal avowed God-hater uttered these words but an outspoken social-conservative who presumably would claim to be Christian.


Postmodern thinking has penetrated the conservative camp. In the name of freedom and personal liberty, we are told that killing oneself is a matter of choice. While the Christian believes in, strives for, and promotes freedom and personal liberty, he does so under the sovereign rule of God. When God says that the taking of human life in this fashion is an attack on the image of God in man, and thereby and attack on God Himself (Gen. 9:6), then freedom halts at that point. We have no rights before God. He is the King. But in a postmodern world, the individual is king. God has nothing to say in the matter. Truth is personal and relative. The idea of a supreme God who has a standard of morality and reveals truth that is absolute is simply the by product of a by-gone era of infancy. Something has died in our land.


Not only has truth died in our land, but humanness has died as well. Terri Schiavo was astoundingly dehumanized in this national debate as she became the ball for political and rhetorical volley. Some within the medical community claim she was unaware of anything and felt nothing. Yet, they gave her morphine. They claim she was in a persistent vegetative state. Yet, thirty-three sworn affidavits from the same medical community say otherwise. She certainly gave signs of "being with us" even on the brief video made available to the news outlets. Of course, an autopsy will be done now and the debate will continue to rage despite the fact that a woman has been starved to death by a husband who swore to love her and a government that swore to protect her.


How it ought to shock and grieve us at the same time when we hear social-conservatives speak of the real people in this figurative drama as un-compelling. To paraphrase, one pundit said, "I didn't like any of the players in this movie. I'm bored with it. I don't care about Michael Schiavo or the Schindler's. They are not compelling. I might care about Terri if she were with us. But, she hasn't been for fifteen years now. I just don't care." So here we find ourselves in a culture and philosophical milieu where persons mean nothing because they are not compelling. We can forget about the larger issues at stake. We can forget about Terri Schiavo. She's not with us and her family is not likeable. They can't hold our attention so we shouldn't be wasting our time. After all, our favorite soap opera was interrupted to announce the death of this uninteresting woman who was not with us anyway. Let's hurry up already, Bob Barker is about to make another winner on the "Price is Right."


Without getting into the frivolity and weightlessness of our collective thoughts and amusements, to dehumanize Terri is to dehumanize all of us. When these notions are espoused by a leading social-conservative, postmodernism has indeed won the day. In the name of entertainment value, even in the news, we are told that persons and issues are not worthy of coverage unless they intrigue us. The fact that human beings have essential dignity is cast aside for an incipient evolutionary worldview. Why should it matter to us whether or not Terri's feeding tube is removed? Why should we care? After all, she's just an animal. Strike that, she's just a vegetable.


We humans bear the image of God in us. That reality means something. In the culture of relativism and death however, it means nothing. And neither do we.


Not only has humanness died in our land, but unity has died with it. When I was in grade-school, we were taught that America was a "melting-pot." We were gladly a country in which diverse people groups lived. But, we lived together in harmony and blended to form a distinct American culture. While many of us displayed the characteristics of having come from other cultures, lands, and ethnic groups, we all appreciated being here and being together. We affirmed religious freedom and the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in a myriad of different ways.


We certainly had massive struggles with "Civil Rights" as some did not buy into the American philosophy that all men are created equal in terms of human rights and that those rights indeed are God-given. By grace, for almost forty years now, we recognize what our founding documents affirmed: equality for all men as well as liberty and justice (though not yet perfectly). And yet, our culture is fragmenting along different faults today. We are no longer a melting-pot but a mixed-salad as it were. In the name of postmodern multiculturalism, the different herds (as in herd mentality, who thinks for himself anymore) are so bent on maintaining their own cultural distinctiveness, not only in terms of celebration of one's culture which is a wonderful dynamic, but also in terms of clinging to or adopting philosophical paradigms that splinter people rather than bring them together.


The melting-pot is boiling over as persons of all stripes attempt to impose their will upon the rest of us. It has always been a fact in true biblical circles that Christians are happy to co-exist with others. The Christian doesn't agree with the atheist, but he has no problem living in the same neighborhood. But the atheist has a problem with the Christian. He hates God and therefore he hates Christians. He wants them gone. Thus we see the marginalization of Christianity which will lead to outright persecution. Christianity will be outlawed in the land of the free.


Yet, how many Christians who don't think straight would outlaw homosexuality? To be consistent, one would have to outlaw pre-marital sex, unbiblical divorce, and a host of other things. Oh, no doubt homosexuality is sin against God and the homosexual who does not repent and fly to Christ for salvation will die in his sins and spend eternity in a literal Hell. How Christians should evangelize homosexuals with all possible diligence and speed. Yet, is it right to persecute them? You can't desire freedom for yourself and deny it to others.


We're not talking about the marriage issue here either. God defines marriage. We're not talking about the "Philadelphia 5." We affirm the evangelization of homosexuals as noted. See my blog entitled "Multiculturalism Run Amok" in defense of the "Philadelphia 5" and in castigation of the actions of the "Pink Angels" and the law enforcement officers and court officials themselves. Nor are we affirming the homosexual agenda or equating it with the civil rights movement of the sixties. What we're talking about is the persecution of them or anyone for that matter. Many are the Christians who would outlaw Buddhism in this country. Is that biblical? Didn't we come here for religious freedom? Wasn't it Baptists who were persecuted, outlawed, and jailed in early America by other Christian groups? Let's not be un-baptistic, un-American, and un-biblical now simply because we disagree with Buddhists. Let's thell them they are wrong with love and preach Christ to them. But, let's not talk out of both sides of our mouths when it comes to freedom.


To be clear, we could never affirm ecumenical unity at the expense of truth. We could never affirm the rightness of homosexuality or Islam, for both cultures (in a multicultural sense) are deadly wrong. Tolerance as defined by the postmodern could never be embraced by the Christian. We could no more affirm the validity of Hinduism than we could deny that Christ is the only way to salvation. But, we must have a unity of thought when it comes to the principles upon which this nation was founded: principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are not just words. These are fundamental principles that make the republic work. Without them, the republic does not work and America will soon be another fallen empire in the pages of history. In 1787, when the Constitutional Convention had just finished its work, it was Benjamin Franklin, when asked by an anxious woman outside, "what kind of government have you given us?" who said, "A Republic, madam, if you can keep it." We are struggling to keep it. How shocked and grieved we ought to be when we hear a social-conservative say that Terri's life doesn't matter. Postmodern multiculturalism is destroying our unity. Indeed, something has died in America.


Not only has unity died in America, but so too has freedom. Nowhere more clearly in recent days has the concept of "might makes right" been displayed as it has been in the Terri Schiavo case. Here's a woman who could not speak for herself and was starved to death. Maybe her tombstone could read, "here lies a helpless woman who could not speak for herself, so we killed her."


Not only was she starved to death, but she was starved to death as her family, her country, and the world protested. Many are the ones who appeal to the word of Michael Schiavo and how he was executing Terri's wishes. The problem with that appeal is that Michael Schiavo has no word. Its worthless. He wasn't executing her wishes, he was executing her.


Many are those who loudly assert that the courts had to decide the issue and once they did, then the protest should be over. The problem with that assertion is that the courts, in a Christian worldview, do not decide whether or not an innocent person lives or dies: God does. But today, the courts seem to have the power. Might makes right. How shocked and grieved we should be when social-conservatives affirm the court's decision. Only ignorance could tout the "rule of law" and reject true law at the same time. At one time the Christian and the secularist agreed on the fact that transcendent law existed. While the secularist had no philosophical rationale for such thinking, he nevertheless affirmed a natural law against murder. Christians affirm that God has established law and the rule of law and that murder is against that law. For the courts to sentence Terri Schiavo to death while claiming to be upholding the "rule of law" is the most muddied thinking we've heard in some time. Law is not what the courts say it is. Law is what God says it is. If the courts go against God's law, they are the ones who are anarchists.


Yet, in a postmodern age, courts have the power, so they have the right. Again, the problem lies in the fact that postmodern thinking has penetrated even the conservative camp. When courts become the arbiters of truth and establishers of so-called law (which is really legislation, and there is a difference), and when conservatives simply bow, postmodern philosophy has won the day. The standard is no longer absolute. The standard is what the courts make it to be. As we have seen, that standard shifts every time court is in session. Freedom has died in America when her citizens can be put to death because judges refuse to look at legitimate evidence, willfully deny their fallibility, and thumb their noses at the "rule of law."


Yes, with the Terri Schiavo case and her death, some things have died in America. Among those things are truth, humanness, unity, and freedom. If we don't pray, evangelize, and engage the culture biblically; if God doesn't intervene by grace; it won't be long before something more will die in America. It will be America as we know it. The philosophical feeding tube has been removed with the exit of a biblical worldview and the entrance of postmodernism. Unless it is somehow reinserted, our values, freedoms, and dreams will die. The clock is ticking and time is running out.  


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