The Image of God
May 1989By Steffen Richards
Steffen Richards is a painting contractor in Berkeley.
When I talk with skeptics about God, I often find that the biblical concept that Man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) is a severe stumbling block to them. They scoff at the possibility. From their point of view, it is more likely that Man created God in his own image: thus the resemblance.
Actually, the notion that Man is made in the image of God is a blessing for men and women, for without it, they are lost creatures. Let us start where the skeptics start: Man is an animal, and indeed only one out of the many that there are. We know that whatever is in Nature shares the magnificence and splendor of it, and therefore we admire the animals in their simplicity of life and for what seems to be an unburdened existence. By contrast, ours is disturbing. We trash Nature. We kill each other in mass slaughters. We allow ourselves to live in degradation. We selfishly abandon our children. It is easy to extend this list. And what does it prove? It is powerful testimony that animals are in some ways superior, and that we should be learning how to live on our planet in such a way that it looks as good around us as it does around them.
Inherent in this logic, however, is the assumption that overturns it. To despair of Mans role on earth is to be aware of his custodial failings which implicitly affirm that he has a custodial role, the very point of the passage in Scripture (where it says, and let them have dominion over ) which tells us that Man is made in the image and likeness of God. If it is not transparent that human beings are a species apart from the animals on the basis of common sense, then we can affirm that they are by simply calling to mind that the killing of men and the killing of animals are inherently different moral acts. Cattle are slaughtered daily for our sake, and yet no hue and cry is raised over the practice. Because Hitler treated the Jews and others in this fashion, the world was, and continues to be, outraged at the crime. Once the barrier between Man and animal is knocked down, Man can, with some justification, be treated exactly as we treat animals. Our experience tells us that animals, no matter what our philosophy, will never be treated in the same manner as we treat human beings.
When we ask, what is it that separates us from animals?, we get a variety of answers. Much has been made, for example, of our thought, our language, our use of tools, our ability to build, our art. But when we ask, what is it, really, that sets us off?, I have to respond that it is our dignity.
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