Clashing worldviews in same-sex marriage and bioethics

The recent Supreme Court decisions regarding same-sex marriage have made me think about the fundamental worldview differences that underly the different positions on that very controversial issue and the similarity to the worldview differences involved in many of the issues that we deal with in bioethics. Although there are biological issues involved in the ethical positions that people take regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage these are usually considered to be issues of social ethics and not specifically a part of bioethics. However, there are marked similarities in some of the basic worldview differences involved.

Primary in many of these issues, whether it is same-sex marriage, euthanasia, embryo destructive research, abortion, or human enhancement, is the place of personal liberty and autonomy in the worldview of the person taking a position on these issues. Much of our society holds to a worldview that says that personal liberty is one of the highest if not the highest value. Arguments for same-sex marriage rely heavily on the idea that society should not interfere with the ability of a person to pursue personal relationships and sexual fulfillment in whatever way that the person chooses. That is very similar to the argument for euthanasia based on a person’s ability to choose how he is going to die, a couple’s ability to choose what will happen to their unused embryos, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body and a fetus living within her body, and and our ability to choose to enhance our own or our children’s abilities. These arguments are strong because all of us in our society, including Christians, believe that personal liberty and autonomy are important and should be respected. The difference is that in a Christian worldview there is a stronger understanding that personal liberty needs to be limited by objective moral values for it to remain ethically valid. Human sexuality needs to stay within the bounds of traditional marriage. Caring for those who are suffering and dying needs to respect the value of every human life and not cross the boundary of killing innocent human beings. The choices we make about the treatment of human embryos and fetuses need to be limited by that same respect for the value of human life and the proscription of killing innocents. Choices about enhancing human abilities need to be limited by a respect for the givenness of our human nature. Underlying all of these moral boundaries is the idea that there are objective moral values that are grounded in the nature of the God who has created us who is good.

Another key worldview difference involves our understanding of who we are as human beings and what it means for us to flourish as human beings. Many in our society see human beings as animals who have some advanced capabilities that give us advantages over and more moral responsibilities than other animals, but no categorical difference from other animals. This is in contrast with a Christian view of human beings that sees us as being made in the image of God which gives both an inherent value to every human life and an understanding that there is a higher purpose to our lives than fulfilling our basic desires. This difference impacts how we see such things as the fulfillment of our sexual desires, dealing with suffering, the value of the lives of human embryos and fetuses, the relative importance of our own desires and those of ones dependent on us, and whether we should strive to change our nature.

These fundamental worldview differences help to explain why there are such deep divisions on social issues such as same-sex marriage and many issues in bioethics. We need to continue to point out the importance of such basic issues as the existence of objective moral values and the nature of human beings as we discuss these issues that are of great importance in our society.

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