In The Hunger Games, impoverished district citizens must indulge the Capitol’s obsession with fashion, food, and entertainment. The latter comes in the form of a reality TV show that forces district children to fight to the death, until only one remains.
The Capitol (a totalitarian government) is so consumed by their fixation with entertainment that they overlook its implications: loss of human life. In their view, entertainment is more valuable than the lives of selected persons (“tributes,” they’re called).
This brutal world may seem far-fetched, yet ideologies held by Australian philosopher and bioethics professor Peter Singer that challenge the common understanding of personhood and place more value on the lives of certain “persons” make this popular book (and now movie) scenario chillingly plausible.
On his FAQ page from Princeton, Singer defines “persons” as “beings capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future.” With this definition in mind, he makes the following bold claim:
Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.
In other words, some humans are not “persons.” Moreover, Singer believes that if parents and doctors determine that a baby with a serious disability should die, then “it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support—which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection—but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.”
Singer also believes there should be no moral distinction between humans and animals. To place higher value on human life merely because of its species membership is “speciesism.” Beings should be treated as individuals, rather than as members of a species, he says.
In contrast, historic Christianity asserts that humans differ from animals not only in degree but also in kind because humans alone are created in God’s image. Philosopher-theologian Kenneth Samples takes a look at the doctrine of the imago Dei in his latest book, 7 Truths that Changed the World and compares it with secular humanism’s “grand dismissal of humans’ inherent dignity and the overall sanctity of human life.”
According to Samples, if the historic Christian worldview is true, then certain features would be unique to human beings. Scientific and philosophical reasoning reveal humans alone are personal, spiritual, rational, volitional, relational, aesthetic, philosophical, and deeply morally flawed. Other worldviews such as naturalism and pantheism “face extreme difficulty accounting for such human features.”
While it’s frightening to think about infanticide, Samples suggests it’s a direct implication of a secular mindset. “Without God,” he says, “secularists would have to invent a new system of ethics and then arbitrarily define what a person is.” On the other hand, with God, namely the God of the Bible, all people possess inherent dignity, moral worth, and eternal value.
Worldviews have consequences. For humanity’s sake, this reader and moviegover hopes that popular literature and Singer’s ideas remain fantasy while a Christian worldview increasingly becomes reality.