Honestly, I don’t much care what philosophy a person subscribes to. Most of it hardly seems to matter. The lines between Calvinist and Arminian, Platonic and Aristotelean, Stoicism and Cynicism, hardly seem to affect the average person in their day to day life. Most people follow a hodgepodge of unstated philosophies. Not knowing what Epicureanism is doesn’t make you not an Epicurean.
Which is the point of this post. I honestly don’t care about your epistemology or the fact that you have no idea what the word epistemology means. I really don’t as long as your personal philosophy doesn’t seek to justify douchebaggery. A couple of years ago a guy cut me in line while telling his girlfriend his life philosophy — “step up to the plate.” Seemed perfectly fitting.
What really bothers me is when people hold a philosophy by rote without understanding the implications. Every philosophy has a set implications. Arminians have to work out the sovereignty of God and come to terms with the problem of freewill in a world where every path is foreknown. Calvinists have to work out evil in a world where God practices complete sovereignty — this is not an implication I would want to tackle.
I know that example seems pretty minor. After all, Arminians and Calvinists attempt to follow the same God and the same rules. I just find adopting a philosophy without working out its implications bull-headed.
Let me work with a simpler example. Let’s build a common Evangelical Christian framework. We stir in Christian ethics, a bit of stoicism, some oddly placed patriotism, and tie it altogether with a happy song best sung with one hand in the air. (Two if you’re charismatic.) Somewhere in there is a high value for human life. Oh sure, it gets distorted a lot. I mean, a lot of Christians struggle to weigh the lives of those different than them. The Evangelical Church is one of the few places in America still practicing de facto segregation and rather enjoying it, but that isn’t part of the framework. That’s just human nature.
Now, let’s just analyze the framework which says that human life is to be protected at all costs. Good, fine. Now for the implications. No where in the framework does it give a definition of life, so the natural assumption is to take as broad of a definition as possible. Life is that thing that happens between sperm meeting egg and heart stopping — so long as the heart cannot be restarted. There we have a livable framework. If I follow this framework (I don’t, by the way) I have a responsibility to protect all humans between conception and death. That means that I revive those who are injured, keep those on life-support plugged in, and hold angry signs in front of abortion clinics. Let’s just deal with those approaching end of life.
Christians tend to call euthanasia and similar termination by choice “playing God.” Which is a strange thing to accuse God of. Either it’s murder which is a sin or something we do to imitate God. That’s just twisted lexicon, I hope. Really, the Christian God seems to be far more interested in the creation of life. Perhaps when we conceive a child we should say, “I was just playing God.” Makes more sense within our framework.
So pulling the plug is “playing God” but honestly, everything you’ve done to preserve the life was already playing God — from CPR to life support machines. Doesn’t God breathe life into us? Isn’t a breathing machine our crude imitation thereof?
About “pulling the plug,” “terminating care,” or “allowing to pass:” I see two implications. First, a brain-dead 70 year-old man is just as human as a a 20 year-old healthy male. Second, anyone who allows a life to pass is guilty of murder. Nurses, doctors, hospice workers are all murderers. Which is a strange thing to accuse someone who dedicated their life to working with the sick and dying of, but what do I know? Unfortunately, I know a lot of Christians that are totally okay with the second implication. They have no qualms at all about calling a hospital worker a murderer for (my terminology) “deciding not to play God anymore.”
But that same Christian better damn well have problems with the first implication. The brain-dead man plugged into a breathing machine is already dearly departed. We might talk about Terry Schiavo and percentage chances of recovery, but what is hooked up to that machine? It isn’t a soul. It’s just flesh and bone. To say a person without mind, conscience is alive is to reduce a human to a construct of simple flesh. No more special than the dirt we’re made from.
Here is how I see it (again, working from the Christian framework): Either the soul has flown the body and the person — breathing or not — is dead, or the soul is attached to a lump of flesh devoid of conscious. In the first scenario there is no reason at all to keep the body on a breathing machine because it is no longer human. In the second scenario we have a duty to return the soul to God’s care. To keep the body alive is to keep the soul from rest. That’d be a huge sin. It’d make a person very much guilty of “playing God.”
I wouldn’t want to deal with those implications. Instead I’d change the framework to one with implications I can deal with. In my personal thought, a human being is special because of their soul. Protecting life and limb is important so long as that person remains a person. Once the specialness of the person is gone we can (SHOULD, even) let the person go. This, of course, has it’s own implications. We might worry about “How do we know?” and “When we don’t know, who decides?” But I can deal with that.