The title sounds crazy, I know, but let me explain.
Yesterday I got a call from a friend who is pastor in Virginia. He was asked a very interesting question by an atheist whom I suspect was trying to poke holes in the Christian’s thought process. It has turned into a fun little exercise, so I thought I would share.
The question went something like this:
Christians believe that children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven. Christians also believe that we shouldn’t abort babies in the womb because they already have a soul and are valuable to God their Creator. However, if aborting a child would guarantee that they go to heaven, then wouldn’t Christians be morally obligated to abort all babies in the womb because it would guarantee they get eternal life?
I suspect the question was asked more as a gotcha than a legit question. But nonetheless, I thought it might be helpful to try and tackle the question. So if you are interested, let’s try to work through this together.
The Age of Accountability
Let’s start by thinking through the presuppositions. What is the age of accountability and is it true that children who die before that age automatically go to heaven? I don’t want to spend too much time here, so let me direct you to articles by John Piper and John MacArthur for a little more information. But essentially the age of accountability refers to the age in which a person becomes aware of their sinfulness and need for forgiveness. Many Christians believe that before that age God extends mercy to the young or impaired to exempt them from the penalty of their sins in light of their immature state. While the Bible doesn’t address the age of accountability directly, there is sufficient evidence, some of which was highlighted in the two articles linked above, for a Christian to believe that God offers instant heaven to anyone unable to comprehend their sinful state due to age or mental impairment.
The Value of the Soul
The second part of the argument is that abortion is immoral because a baby in the womb already has a soul. This is an astute observation and I agree with the premise, but perhaps it deserves a defense. Most of us recognize that the moral weight associated with killing depends on what is being killed. No one bats an eye when I swat a fly or drop ant killer on a hill in my front yard. If I were to kill a puppy, most of us would feel a sense of loss or sadness in a way that we don’t feel at all with the death of a fly. But if I were to kill another person, especially a baby or young child, we would rightly feel that an evil had been committed that is wholly incomparable to the other two. Why is that?
The root of the answer is that humans are created in a way that is distinct from all of the rest of God’s creation. We are the only ones created “in God’s image.” In Genesis 9, after the flood, God instructs Noah that it is okay to kill and eat plants and animals, but it’s not okay to murder people. God explains in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.” In other words, murder, in Noah’s day, was a capital offense, and the reason it was such a big deal was because humans, unlike plants and animals, are made in God’s image.
So a person is valuable, ultimately, because they are created in God’s image. Interestingly, however, there seems to be a connection between being created in the image of God and having a soul. One website points out, “repeatedly in the Bible, people are referred to as “souls” (Exodus 31:14; Proverbs 11:30), especially in contexts that focus on the value of human life and personhood or on the concept of a “whole being” (Psalm 16:9-10; Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 2:41; Revelation 18:13). In fact, because of this, it is perhaps more accurate to say that humans are a soul and have a body.
The next step in this puzzle is to determine when someone gets a soul, or when their life becomes worthy of protection because they are created in God’s image. Unfortunately we are not given a direct answer to this question in the Bible, but we are given enough information to reason that souls exist inside their mother’s womb. For instance, Exodus 21:22–25 give us what is perhaps the first fetal homicide law.
When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment. If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.
That is, if a woman gives birth and both the woman and children survive, then only a fine is applied. However, if the woman gives birth and she or the children die, then the capital punishment God described to Noah in Genesis 6 applies. And we assume that the reason applies as well, the child who dies in labor is a soul who bears the image of God.
Another striking piece of evidence is found in the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth found in Luke 1:39–45. In the story Mary is carrying Jesus in utero and Elizabeth is also carrying her son John in utero (this child eventually becomes known as John the Baptist). When Mary walks before Elizabeth, her son John leaps for joy inside her womb. The capacity for this baby in the womb of his mother to recognize his Messiah and be moved for joy is evidence that the baby inside the womb is not merely a collection of cells, but the presence of a soul capable in some way of recognizing the God who is knitting him together.
Thus, in light of the evidence listed above, the premise that a child in utero bears a soul which is valuable and should be protected is true. While those outside of the Christian faith might argue else wise, Christians are bound to this conviction.
Do Aborted Children Go To Heaven?
Based on the two premises listed below, the Christian has every reason to believe that the souls of aborted children are in heaven awaiting their glorified bodies.
Should Christians Kill Babies to Send them to Heaven?
So far we have accepted all of the premises of the argument. Should we therefore accept the argument that we are morally obligated to abort all babies in order to guarantee that they go to heaven? The answer, as you might have guessed, is “no!”. Let me explain.
The basic argument is that we are morally obligated to do a bad thing in order that a good thing might be accomplished. This sort of moral reasoning is often called consequentialism, that is the merits of any action can only be judged according to its consequences. In more simple terms, consequentialism is the belief that the ends justify the means.
Christians can never hold to this kind of ethical reasoning. We can never be consequentialists. The Bible literally forbids it. Romans 3:8 instructs us, “And why not say, just as some people slanderously claim we say, “Let us do what is evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!” Paul makes a similar point in Romans 6:1–2, “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not!” Christians are clearly forbidden to do evil in order that good may come.
But, one may ask, is it really evil if good comes? How can we know what is evil and what isn’t? For the Christian this answer is rather easy. Christians discern good and evil primarily in light of the revealed will of God, not according to an arbitrary hierarchy of goods. That is, Christians are not given the freedom to decide if murder is evil, they must accept that it is evil because God has told us or shown us it is.
Atheists, obviously, do not think that God is the ultimate source for all moral standards. Further, atheists generally hold that there is no ultimate source for right and wrong. Instead right and wrong exist, for many atheists, on a giant sliding scale of comparisons. Something is only morally right or morally wrong in comparison to the amount of good or bad possible had we chosen a different course. This is why many atheists are consequentialists. They believe that if an action brings about a consequence they like, it is a morally good action. If it brings about a consequence they don’t like, then, obviously, it is morally bad. The more they like the consequence, the greater the moral good. The less they like the consequence, the worse the evil.
The point I am trying to make here is that the argument that we should kill babies in order to assure they go to heaven only makes sense in a non-Christian’s worldview. The question, should Christians kill babies in order to assure that they go to heaven, will only seem to pose a moral difficulty if we try to reason the problem using a decidedly non-Christian ethical system.
The Turning of the Tables
I introduced this article with a little bit of speculation. While I do not know the person who raised this question, I was told he is an atheist. I suspect, for that reason, there is a good chance that this question wasn’t intended as an honest attempt to understand moral reasoning from a Christian perspective. Instead, I think it is likely that he intended to show that Christianity is inferior to atheism because it creates a morally untenable world.
The irony, in my opinion, is that the question has actually demonstrated that his atheism has presented morally untenable world. In all fairness, he doesn’t believe that dead babies go to heaven, so his consequentialist view won’t lead him to kill babies in hopes that they will go to heaven. Nevertheless, the application of a consequentialism could easy lead to many decisions that most atheists would find morally appalling.
Christians obviously disagree with consequentialism, but if pressed, so do many atheists. For instance, a good number of atheists are against torture, but wouldn’t torture be a moral requirement if we believed that through it we could save lives? Or, consider Reba McIntyre’s song “Fancy;” selling your own daughter as a sex slave sounds pretty bad, but aren’t we morally obligated to do so if it can save them from a life of poverty? Christians, as previously discussed, should say, never do evil in hopes that grace might abound. The consequentialist, on the other hand, says the action is not evil and and is actually morally good, when it results in an agreeable situation.
Personally, I think the most damning example for consequentialism is historical reality of its effects during the Third Reich. Many Germans recognized of Hitler’s tactics were unsavory, but the consequentialist reasoning goes, if the end was wealth and political freedom for the German people, then perhaps the ends justified the means.
Someone may object arguing that the ends that Hitler fought for weren’t sufficiently good to justify the means. The problem for the atheist or consequentialist is that they have already denied any objective standard that could be used to prove that Hitler’s desired end wasn’t good enough. Perhaps a consequentialist might say that Hitler’s holocaust was morally bad because the end he desired was never attained. Had a free and prosperous German state been finally achieved, then who would have the moral authority to say it was wrong? To that I can only hope that the average reader will agree that the holocaust was self-evidently bad regardless of what end could have resulted from it.
Thus, it is my conviction that the Christian perspective not only better explains why we shouldn’t kill babies, it provides the only objective system able to show that killing babies is necessarily wrong regardless of the ends that it would achieve.