Feral blacks and the image of God

Patrick H. writes:

One of the things white liberals and mainstream conservatives share is their view of blacks as subhuman, as possessing insufficient intelligence and conscience to be considered morally responsible beings. They draw different conclusions from this shared insight, of course. The liberal wants to implement Black Run America intensely, ubiquitously right now. The conservative disagrees: he wants to move toward that “ideal” a bit more slowly. Next year, perhaps.

As a theistic traditionalist reactionary, I find the denial of moral agency to blacks repugnant, since it implies they do not have the Imago Dei within, that they are not made in the image and likeness of God. It is the Imago Dei that gives us our distinctively human attributes of intelligence and free will, and which therefore makes us morally responsible for our actions. Since I view blacks as human, that means I must perforce view them as having within themselves the image of God, and therefore as being free moral agents, able to understand the world around them, to control their actions, to be responsible human beings.

And yet, and yet … when I see these stories at VFR in which certain blacks are described as “savages” and “beasts,” and realize that these are the right words to describe these remorseless killers and rapists and robbers, I have to ask: do these creatures have the image of God within? Or are they simply so sunken in sin that they no longer have an effective moral sense, an effective intelligence? Is it possible to have the Imago Dei in less than a full manner? Isn’t the Imago the sort of thing that you either have or don’t? Surely the Imago isn’t the kind of thing you sort of have, or used to have, or can lose in the first place. And yet these laughing exultant remorseless sadistic rapists and killers seem to have neither conscience nor self-control nor insight nor remorse. I see very little human in them. Look at that thing turning and staring into the camera with his pants down around his knees. Is that a creature capable of mercy? Is that a creature capable of insight? Are those eyes a window into a soul … or into nothing at all?

Is it appropriate even to wonder if a significant portion of the black population does not deserve to be called fully human? Or is thinking that way itself a grave moral sin?

LA replies:

As I’ve said before, I believe that blacks are formed in the image of God, and that it makes sense that blacks’ particular qualities add something valuable to the human mix. It is no contradiction to say that a being formed in the image of God is capable of being corrupted and debased to the point where he loses the divine image entirely. That is certainly true of a significant portion of the black population.

It’s a difficult problem. I remember touring a black district of Miami with a friend in the early 1990s, and being shocked by the human types we were seeing, and I said, “I’d say that the lowest third of the black population are less than human.” Now that was not a formed conviction that I would stand by, it was the thought of a moment, an attempt to make sense of the reality I was seeing.

However we may articulate the problem to ourselves religiously or philosophically, the fact remains that the first duty of human society is to provide for human safety, which means that people who pose a threat to human safety must be removed from society, for as long as they pose such a threat.

- end of initial entry -

Lydia McGrew writes:

It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding something that you have been saying in a couple of entries, but I don’t think that I’m misunderstanding. I disagree in the strongest possible terms with any implication that human beings can lose the imago dei. This is simply not possible, and I think it puts us in grave moral and theological peril to entertain and a fortiori to embrace the view that a human being is “capable of being corrupted and debased to the point where he loses the divine image entirely.” No, absolutely not. Human beings are not subhuman or no longer in the image of God, no matter how evil and debased they are. That, indeed, is why they are evil. A crocodile cannot even be evil. This is why we have a rule of law even for those who have become deeply evil and behaved in deeply evil ways. And this is why we do not torture them to death or subject them to degrading and inhuman punishment when we arrest them.

Of course, asserting the humanity of wicked criminals is in no way incompatible with being absolutely uncompromising on law and order. I entirely agree that “people who pose a threat to human safety must be removed from society for as long as they pose such a threat.” Indeed, asserting the humanity of criminals is entirely compatible with support for the death penalty, which I do strongly support and which I wish were more widely applied and carried out.

There can sometimes be a point to such hyperbolic or metaphorical terms as “savage,” “feral,” “predator,” and the like. I can even imagine speaking in outrage of some slaughter of the innocent and saying, “These animals raped and killed this child!” regardless of the race of the perpetrators. But when we start contemplating as a serious candidate the idea that human beings have literally become subhuman or have lost the image of God, we have crossed a line that must never be crossed and that Christians in particular should know better than to cross.

Matt writes:

You wrote:

It is no contradiction to say that a being formed in the image of God is capable of being corrupted and debased to the point where he loses the divine image entirely. That is certainly true of a significant portion of the black population.

It may not be a contradiction, but it is certainly false. There are no subhumans, and we ought to be clear about that: in fact that is what makes blacks responsible for their own behaviors, like everyone else. Dogs aren’t to blame for feral behavior; but human beings are. It is liberalism and other forms of modernity which (either implicitly or explicitly) believe in the subhuman untermensch. Count me out.

LA replies:

I did not state as a conviction that it is true that some human beings are lower than human. I said that this “was not a formed conviction that I would stand by, it was the thought of a moment, an attempt to make sense of the reality I was seeing.”

However, I did say that it is “certainly true” that a significant portion of the black population “have lost the divine image entirely.” I guess that in my subjective thinking on the subject, which is open to correction, being subhuman and not having the divine image are two different things. When I look at the photographs and read the accounts of the deeds of these mindless murdering remorseless thugs, I guess that they are some kind of human beings, but how can I believe that they are human beings that have any aspect of the divine image? If my statement is wrong from the point of view of orthodox Christian teaching, I will gladly take it back. But where does it say in the Bible that it is impossible for a human being to lose the divine image?

In any case, I then put aside any religious or metaphysical position on the issue, thus tacitly admitting that I was not being dogmatic about what I had said about people losing the divine image, and asserted the commonsense position that dangerous criminals must be separated from society.

LA continues:

Also, I would like to ask Lydia and Matt, if they were colonial governors in 19th century India, what would they have done about the thugees, the cult of assassins? The British killed them all. They did not concern themselves with the assassins’ souls or with the thought that the assassins were made in the image of God. They hunted them down and killed them as the unregenerate mad dogs they were, as an unreformable danger to the human race. What would Matt and Lydia have done?
August 1

Joseph A. writes:

The discussion in “Feral blacks and the image of God” requires some useful metaphysical distinctions.

As Lydia McGrew notes, Christians affirm that all human beings are made in the image of God. However, we often fail to live up to the high calling that our nature demands. Church Fathers from Irenaeus of Lyon to Bonaventure distinguish between God’s image and God’s likeness in which we are made. The image is in our essence; we cannot lose that, just as we cannot become oak trees or bullfrogs. However, through sin, we lose the likeness, and thus the way that the divine image manifests itself becomes marred. Therefore, it is correct to call evil people subhuman or bestial if we mean that they are failing to live up to the fully human standard of a rational creature oriented toward the good. This is true of everyone to some extent and at certain times, but it is sadly holds for certain souls to an extreme degree most or all of the time.

Consider the wicked boys who tortured the Haitian mother and her son in Florida five years ago (I wrote about it here). Such boys are human beings in that they have a human nature; they do carry the image of God. However, they have been so fully perverted that it is sensible to say that they are less than human. They are like Dionysius’ demons or Tolkien’s orcs—so fully corrupted that they no longer appear to have the essence given to them by God—though they fundamentally do.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle recognizes that repeated vicious actions slowly pervert one’s practical reason, and this process eventually leads to the complete destruction of one’s moral compass. Therefore, the vicious man is no longer fully human in that he has lost his ability to perceive the moral good. Of course, his essence remains human, but his actuality is not.

LA replies:

All right. So in order to articulate the phenomenon of utter human sin or degradation, which was also what I was trying to do, the Church Fathers differentiated the idea of man as made in God’s image, in Gen. 1:27 (“So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”) into the idea, as stated in Gen. 1:26, of man made in God’s image and God’s likeness (“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”), with “likeness” no longer a synonym or repetition of “image” (which is probably the way most people read it), but something ontologically different from image, and they said that a man can lose the likeness, but not the image.

If we say that certain human beings have utterly lost God’s likeness, but not God’s image, will that be acceptable to Lydia and Matt?

Lydia McGrew writes:

I have no desire to get involved in an esoteric theological debate over the Church Fathers’ views on the “image of God” vs. the “likeness of God.” As you imply, the distinction does not seem to be a natural interpretation of the text in any event.

However, as far as I am concerned, this is not an esoteric matter. Your commentator Joseph A. fortunately agrees with me that the image of God is of man’s essence and cannot be lost. However, he goes on after expounding on the notion that the “likeness” of God can be lost to say, regarding some people, “However, they have been so fully perverted that it is sensible to say that they are less than human.” And you find the alleged image/likeness distinction (with which you were previously unfamiliar) a useful thing to seize upon to cast as a challenge to me and Matt as a defense of your earlier comment.

In other words, as used in this conversation it’s just a change of terminology for the notion that some human beings are genuinely subhuman. I have no idea what or whether Matt will reply, but I reply by alluding (in my own words) to what he said: There are no subhumans. It is various forms of odious ideology that assert the existence of the untermensch. Count me out. And, I would add, a blatantly cosmetic change of terminology makes no difference. We should utterly reject the untermensch idea.

I have not researched the British treatment of the thugs and thuggee and don’t really have any intention of doing so just now. If it really arose from the idea that everyone who was a member of thuggee was genuinely subhuman, then that is wrong. The details of how order should best and most wisely be kept and how wicked men should be punished and prevented from harming the innocent should never be determined by concluding that either groups or individuals are literally subhuman. Beyond that, questions of the rule of law and how just punishment should be carried out in a variety of situations are to some degree separate. An affirmation of the humanity of criminals is quite compatible with a law and order approach that many people in modern America would consider draconian. I made it quite clear that I am strongly in favor of the death penalty. I don’t see anything wrong with hanging a pirate, caught in the act, from the yardarm after the briefest of military “trials” carried out on the deck of the capturing ship. That may or may not tell you what I would think of the British policy towards the thugs without my getting sidetracked.

It is only fair for me to tell you that I don’t consider this issue of whether some people are subhuman to be a matter for debate, and I have no intention of debating it. Just as I treat the pro-infanticide position of some “ethicists” as beyond the pale and hence will not write respectful and lengthy debates about why infanticide is evil, so I will not treat the view that some people are “less than human” as a matter that is up for discussion. I strongly urge you to turn your back on any flirtation with such an idea, regardless of terminology. Justified righteous anger at evil actions, actions that are utterly unworthy of human beings made in God’s image, is one thing. This response is quite another.

LA replies:

I cannot speak for Joseph A. As for myself, I repeat for the second time what I said, that my idea that some people are less than human “was not a formed conviction that I would stand by, it was the thought of a moment, an attempt to make sense of the reality I was seeing.”

Buck writes:

Maybe this is over my head. But, there’s an awful lot of contradiction or confusion and certainly disagreement revealed by this discussion. When the Bible is parsed this closely, it is shown to be unfathomable and profoundly useless to most humans. Is that what Jesus Christ intended? It that why there are countless “Christian” denominations?

Is there a teachable bottom line or not? This is not a side issue or an issue that can be set aside or dropped. What this discussion is about, is the essence of man and what is human.

Joseph A. wrote:

Therefore, the vicious man is no longer fully human in that he has lost his ability to perceive the moral good. Of course, his essence remains human, but his actuality is not.

Sorry, but that makes no sense, at least not to me. Not fully human, because immoral? Yet, his essence is human? But, he actually isn’t human?

When a non-Christian (someone like me who would like to be, but who cannot be because of this very kind of thing), who has no doubt of a Creator, and in the profound reality of Jesus Christ, but can not tolerate any church because of the humans who create and operate them.

Maybe God wants humans to work hard for the answers. But you humans are some of the smartest on the planet and you have revealed a profound lack of understanding and lack of agreement of what the essential nature of humanity is. Essence, human essence, is everything and the only thing. Isn’t it? Isn’t our humanity and their humanity the same humanity? Is this where God and the Bible and all of human history leaves us; at a point where we ultimately can not even define what or who is human?

I thought that it all came down to good versus evil, which is essentially and only a human thing.

Terry Morris writes:

Per the image of God discussion, the Bible does teach that God turns certain persons over to reprobate minds, which seems to me wholly consistent with your comments in context.

Patrick H. writes:

I find myself wondering how Matt and Lydia would view the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” which Jesus said is unforgivable (Mark 3: 28-30). Now, the sin against the Holy Spirit is the attribution of the works of the Spirit to Satan, which is to say treating good as evil. This is said to be “unforgivable,” not as requiring forgiveness, but unforgivable. And on the highest possible authority.

If a sin can be unforgivable, must it not be so if it permanently destroys something in the person? Might the sin against the Holy Spirit be precisely the sort of thing that permanently eradicates the Imago from the human who perpetrates it? It is called the eternal sin, after all.

But perhaps I am confusing damnation and the loss of the Imago. Animals aren’t damned. Perhaps performing the unforgivable sin isn’t the proof of the loss of the Imago, but the irrevocable deformation of it. So perhaps there is a distinction to be made here.

Jake F. writes:

I hope you know how much I appreciate VFR, and that a big part of it is that you ask questions that don’t get asked anywhere else.

You’ve asked an unaskable question: Can people lose the divine image? But I think it’s time to acknowledge that we have seen the answer: No. To suggest otherwise is to go against thousands of years of tradition; to turn on its head the notion that evil people are culpable for their own actions; and to pretend that our own flawed natures are meritorious, even though none of us are worthy of heaven.

What we should do about evil people is a red herring in this discussion. The same people who burned heretics understood that they were men. They burned them because they were men.

August 1, 8:00 p.m.

Wanda S. writes:

Very interesting discussion re whether feral blacks—or, rather, humans in general—are capable of losing their humanity.

I notice one thing about Lydia and Matt’s response to your suggestion—you mentioned it in passing yourself: they do not quote any Scripture to back up their assertion that humans can never lose their humanity. I feel sure that they would have done so if it were possible. Their reaction to your alarming suggestion strikes me as emotional and visceral, yet it is camouflaged in an assertiveness that hides the fact that they are presenting nothing but their own emotional wishcasting. No, that’s too sweeping; it’s not nothing but their own wishes—it’s the accumulated wishful thinking of the entire Western world over several generations. It’s the instinctive recoil of someone who is afraid of where such a discussion will lead: “This can’t be true, it CAN’T! Because if it is … ” they foresee all sorts of trouble ahead.

Now, that kind of recoil is not in itself a bad thing. It’s a healthy reaction to sin—it doesn’t do to linger in dangerous neighbourhoods. I feel that this is what Lydia and Matt are experiencing, but I think they are stretching the blanket of forbidden sinfulness to cover something that they can’t really justify with proper proofs. Is this topic really a sin against God, or is it a sin against popular 21st-century humanism?

I’d compare this to the current discussion in Catholic circles about excommunication. When lay people see Nancy Pelosi gleefully undermining Catholic teaching on abortion, they often indignantly ask why the Church doesn’t excommunicate her. In this case, the response comes very smoothly to Catholic apologists: “Oh, it’s not necessary. By her actions, she’s already excommunicated herself.” It doesn’t require a notarized document from the Vatican—the whole question is one of INTERNAL reality. It may look as if nothing has changed, but her soul has voluntarily undergone a transformation which removes it from communion with the Church.

I think what is frightening people about this discussion is that you have brought in the question of race. They’re afraid that this will lead to a declaration that blacks have no souls—that’s what an animal is, isn’t it? But you are asking if it’s possible to LOSE one’s humanity, not if they ever were human at all. I can’t see that that is contrary to Christianity. Surely we don’t think that damnation is more dependent on technicalities than excommunication? If our own choices can lead to a state of soul where we are outside the Church, all appearances to the contrary, then isn’t it even more true of damnation? If the queasy objectors want to argue that we can never know when the line is crossed because this is all a matter of spiritual reality, that’s one thing. But that doesn’t mean that the question shouldn’t be raised because the issue is nonexistent.

LA replies:

I agree with Wanda that Matt and Lydia have overreacted. “How dare you raise such an issue?” they are in effect saying. “It is NOT PERMITTED to broach this issue.” Yet the question I raised is a question that might occur and (judging from this discussion) probably does occur to many reasonable persons, including thoughtful Christians, faced with the horrifying human phenomena we see before us today. Is it right to prohibit the question? Further, the comments made by other participants show that intelligent, civilized people, most of them Christians, are capable of discussing the issue reasonably and arriving at the same position Matt and Lydia hold, without trying to to shut the discussion down as Matt and Lydia sought to do. It didn’t seem to occur to Matt and Lydia that some people might benefit from hearing informed arguments as to why a human being cannot lose the image of God no matter how debased he may be.

A the same time, a minority of participants disagree with that position, and they have offered reasonable, thoughtful arguments too.

Philip P. writes:

Well, I feel as though I am back in catechism class with all this theological talk!

I don’t believe that the Imago Dei can be totally lost, because that which God creates, man cannot destroy, only sully and dirty. Really: How could a creature rid himself of his Creator’s stamp? It seems impossible to me. Then again, I am a Catholic whose theology is heavily influenced by the eastern fathers, so my perspective is perhaps more hopeful than many westerners, who are under the pessimistic sway of Calvinism and Jansenistic

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Respecting your ongoing thread about whether some people might be reduced to “less than human” status by the thorough corruption of their wills, I must express both a personal sympathy for your reaction—it is hard to look at such bestial behavior and conclude that these men are not, in fact, beasts—and a total intellectual rejection of it. We are human beings, not human doings. A creature with a rational soul is what we are, by our natures, of our essence. Humanity is not something that we merit. To suggest that a man has lost this is to suggest that it is no longer possible to violate his human dignity, something that I do not believe even of the most degraded savage.

This is not only clear from Genesis, but it is the principal meaning of Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves. The obvious corruption of such “feral” men is supposed to fill us with righteous anger, but also with sorrow for the damage done to his soul, as a child of God. When we sin, we feel a particular sense of loss and sorrow, even if it is often turned to anger at the persons offended by our sin. Christ commands us, through his teaching that we must love others as we love ourselves, to extend that sense of sorrow and of loss to others, to be motivated first by a love of the sinner and a sincere regret for the ruin done to his human soul by his falling into darkness. To deny that a man is any longer a human is to reject this critical underpinning of Christian love and forgiveness.

Now, I’m not engaged in liberal-speak here, and none of this changes my position on just how we are to deal with the existence of such evil. I am not confused about what demands “forgiveness” places on the Christian community. I do believe, though, that genuine Christian horror at the depravity of some men has to begin with a recognition that these men are of their unchanging natures formed for the fellowship of God in His Kingdom. In short, they may be a spiritually deformed specimen of humanity, but they are not made less than fully human. Someone mentioned Tolkien’s orcs above. The Silmarillion reads that the corruption of the Firstborn Elves into the hideous race of the orcs was, it may be, “the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Illuvatar” (I’m going on memory here).

There is a sense, of course, in which men might fall so thoroughly into darkness that we may say colloquially that he is “inhuman,” but this is not literally true—not ever.

Debra C. writes:

Given my Lutheran theological perspective, I would like to offer my thoughts on the matter of the image of God in man which is different from anything I’ve read here at VFR thus far.

I believe that your original comments reflect the truth of the matter, that the image of God seems absent, or is absent, from people who have, shall we say, given themselves over entirely to baseness and are ruled by the prince of the power of darkness (Biblical language, I can assure you). That prince is a liar and murderer, and so too are those under his sway, as the feral blacks of this topic clearly are.

Before the Fall, man walked with God, man’s heart was attuned to God’s will, man was righteous and at peace with God—this is how man was created, this is man in the image of God.

But the Fall changed all that. God’s image in man was deeply marred, and we see that very quickly in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel.

Redemption through Christ helps to restore the image, but even so, redeemed man is still simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner, our “new man” in total sync with God’s will and our sinful nature still dragging us down. The image of God will not be fully restored in us until we reach heaven

At any rate, unredeemed man is at the mercy of his sinful nature, the influence of the corrupt world, and Satan himself. It is a wonder that given the relatively small number of believing Christians in our society that life is as peaceful, for most of us, at it is. Though we can all sense the evil wind that blows, that threatens to sweep away even our freedom of belief, on this day in particular.

Here is a description of Luther’s view of the corrupted image of God:

Martin Luther (and to some degree, Calvin) emphasized man’s original righteousness as embodying the image of God. Thus the fall significantly damaged and perverted the image, without destroying it entirely (see especially Gen. 9:6-7 and James 3:9 which indicate that whatever of the image was lost in the fall it in some sense still remains). The image, for Luther, was a special relation man had to God which Adam lost but Christ restores (see Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10).

Ed in Kanata writes:

In the book “The Beginnings of Wisdom,” Leon Kass discusses the creation of man, which God was silent on whether man was “good” (sixth day),

After nearly every act of creation, God looked at the creature and “saw that it was good.” There are two striking exceptions: neither the firmament (or heavens), on Day Two, nor man, on Day Six, is said to be good. What bearing, if any, might these omissions have on the place and status of human beings?

Now, one might say that there is no need to see or say that man is good; after all, he is made in God’s image and that might make man “better” than good. Moreover, once human beings are present, the whole is said to be very good: does this not imply that each part-man especially included-is good? Perhaps. But what if the omission were intended and meaningful? What if it were very good that the creation contain a creature that is himself not-or not yet-good?

He also attempts to define “the image of God”:

To see how man might be godlike, we look at the text to see what God is like. In the course of recounting His creation, Genesis 1 introduces us to God’s activities and powers: (1) God speaks, commands, names, blesses, and hallows:

(2) God makes, and makes freely; (3) God looks at and beholds the world; (4) God is concerned with the goodness or perfection of things; (5) God ad­ dresses solicitously other living creatures and provides for their sustenance.

In short: God exercises speech and reason, freedom in doing and making, and the powers of contemplation, judgment, and care.

In relation to your discussion at VFR it would seem that man is an ongoing project and that perhaps not all men are developing at the same pace.

Dave T. writes:

I think the aforementioned commenters aren’t being very charitable with your original remarks. If we concede that it’s a mistake to think that some humans “have lost the divine image” in the sense that they are no longer fully human in the sight of God it remains to consider the uncomfortable feeling one gets when visiting a black ghetto in a city like Miami that there is something less than fully human about the locals. Why not interpret this feeling by saying that these people are in fact subhuman but only relative to the standards of humanity required by modern civilization and not in an absolute sense (a la the divine image)? In other words, the problem is not that these people aren’t fully human in the sight of God but that the nature of their humanity is fundamentally incompatible with the kind of technologically advanced civilization that was originally developed by and for Western peoples.

Kristor writes:

Joseph A. is right about the distinction between the image and the likeness of God. He is right also that to the extent we sin, we make ourselves unlike our image; we contravene our essential being. And, to that extent, we unmake ourselves; we negate our actual being; we make ourselves less than fully human; so that, of men on Earth, only Christ has been fully human.

But this does not at all affect the imago dei. That we are not all we ought to be does not turn us into other sorts of creatures altogether, that—because their essential natures are other than human—ought therefore to be something other than human.

An evil, damned man is still a man; as Satan is wholly given over to evil, and to damnation, but is nevertheless and forever a seraph. And, just as it would make no sense to treat with Satan as if he were less than, or other than, a seraph, so it makes no sense to treat an evil man as other than a man. Only by treating an evil man as ineluctably human could it make sense to say of him still that he ought to be a good man. If by sinning a man could make himself subhuman, the standards of morality applicable to humans would no longer be even applicable to the sinner, and his evil acts would not thenceforth be accounted to him as sinful. It would then make as much sense to say of a sinner that he ought to be a good man, as it would to say the same thing of a tiger.

A man who has totally destroyed his moral sensibilities is like a man who has blinded himself. Oedipus was not rendered inhuman by his self-inflicted defect. A defective man is less than fully human, but whatever remains of him is still fully human. Not even the complete destruction of the body can make any of us less than human.

This goes even for men who have committed the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. In this lies the full horror of their damnation.

We ought then never to deprive evil men of the privileges proper to their basic dignity as human beings. This conviction is one aspect of the essential genius of Christendom. If we abandon it, we abandon Christianity, and so also the West.

None of this means that we ought not to punish or destroy evil men, where there is no other practicable way to protect society from their depredations. It means only that we ought never to treat them as anything but men. One of the evils of evil men, after all, is that they treat their fellows otherwise than as men ought to be treated. If we treat evil men as other than men, we ourselves do an evil of the very same sort—of that same sort, NB, that liberals commit, when they ascribe to blacks no moral agency that is peculiarly theirs.

It obliges us to seek and tell the truth, not only for prudential reasons, but because in the service of truth is that justice, and goodness, from which most practical advantage derives. As evil men are nevertheless men, we ought therefore to speak of them always truly, as men. Feral we may call them, or savage, wicked, damnable—but we ought not to characterize them as other than human, the way that such moral monsters as Peter Singer characterize infants.

Our duty as Christians is to pray mightily for those given over to evil, and to will their good with our whole strength, even as we justly punish them. While they yet live, after all, the pearl of great price, redemption to everlasting blessedness, is still possible to them. Indeed, the immense victory of their rescue from everlasting damnation is worth the payment of an infinite price—so far, at least, as God Himself is concerned, who has paid it. Not that we are charged with such a payment, for its fulfillment is not possible to us. But we ought to participate in it with all our power, so as to glorify God in the world, and in the imitation of Christ to fulfill the implementation of our own human nature—to become wholly Good, and Holy, and Christlike, and indeed wholly man. For, sainthood is our de minimis duty, that we were at first created to fulfill. God does not need our help, but this does not mean he does not desire it; nor does it mean that our help is not valuable, or effective in the economy of Creation, or for us salutary and pleasant withal.

LA replies:

I’m sorry if I seem not to be with the general trend of this discussion, but I think it is inadequate and almost silly to speak of the “evil” or “sin” of these mindless killing machines.

Daniel B. writes:

It seems that there is some confusion in distinguishing between Image and Likeness. I believe a good example of the distinction can be found in Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray. The portrait was painted in Gray’s image but over time the likeness of that image to Mr. Gray diminished until the image was completely unrecognizable and monstrous; the image had lost its likeness. I hope this is helpful to the discussion.

Bartholomew writes:

I’ve broken this complex thread down into three questions and enumerated them for the sake of clarity. I’ve then added my own opinion as a fourth enumeration.

1.) Is moral agency a function of humanity? The short answer is, No.

Matt wrote:

“There are no subhumans, and we ought to be clear about that: in fact that is what makes blacks responsible for their own behaviors, like everyone else.”

Buck wrote:

“I thought that it all came down to good versus evil, which is essentially and only a human thing.”

If being human is what makes blacks responsible for their own behaviors, then what about demons and angels? Certainly, neither one is human. Aren’t they responsible for what they do, and will they not one day be judged for their actions? The Bible says so.

Being able to distinguish between right and wrong has nothing to do with being made in the imago dei or being human. Adam and Eve were both before they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and prior to the forbidden bite could make no such distinction. Also, neither the Church nor the Western State hold a child/minor morally culpable for what he does. I don’t think Christians or lawmakers mean to say that children aren’t human or made in the imago dei. They mean simply to say that children/minors do not yet have the knowledge of good and evil. You can’t be morally corrupt if you don’t yet have morals.

To answer whether or not some blacks can be held responsible for their actions, we shouldn’t be asking whether they’re human or made in the imago dei; we should be asking whether they have acquired the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, when we’re debating whether blacks have lost the imago dei and/or likeness of God or man , Matt and Lydia need not worry whether we will inadvertently strip them of their moral agency. These blacks’ moral culpability has nothing to do with their humanity.

It seems that Matt and Lydia very much think that blacks are morally culpable for their actions. I think Albert Schweitzer, for one, had some doubts. Personally, I’m agnostic on the question since we aren’t in a position to effect much of Church or State law. Still, it’s an interesting discussion.

2.) Can a being become something other than he was created to be (e.g. angel to demon)? Yes.

Now, as for the original question: have some blacks become something other than human? It’s a shocking question, to be sure, but is the affirmative answer really without precedent?

Let’s return to angels and demons for a moment. Aren’t demons fallen angels? Doesn’t the word “fallen” refer biblically to one that has become distant from God and corrupted? Doesn’t the use of the word “demon” suggest that these creatures have become something sufficiently unlike the angels they once were and therefore that we’re better off simply thinking of them as something different? In essence, demons and angels are both celestial beings (2 Peter 2:10; Jude 1:8). In likeness, they’re quite different, right?

3.) Is there a distinction between being made in the image of God and bearing His likeness? Yes.

Lydia and Buck claim to find the distinction between essence/image and likeness either “esoteric” or imaginary. I don’t see why.

I think even a child could distinguish the likeness of a demon from that of an angel, and yet still understand that both demons and angels are roughly equal in power and therefore contend with one another in the heavenly realms. A person’s essence/image refers to his innate capabilities. A person’s likeness refers to the way he reflects the nature of those capabilities in his person. In the case of angels and demons: the essence of demons and angels is celestial power. The likeness of a demon is celestially evil; the likeness of an angel is celestially good.

Maybe a more material example would make the point even clearer. Consider for a moment the male homosexual. He’s been created not only with a human essence, but a man’s essence as well, right? And yet, through his degrading actions, his likeness becomes gradually farther and farther from the likeness of a man to the point of, say, a San Francisco Gay Pride Parader. In fact, it’s exactly the distance between these men’s essence (man) and their likeness (effeminate) that tells us they are 1.) degraded and 2.) repugnant. If their effeminate likeness matched a feminine essence (as it does in, say, the Miss America Beauty Pageant), we would probably have a different reaction, right?

Indeed, the more I think about Joseph’s distinction (essence vs likeness), the more convinced I become not only that it is real but that it is the very thing we use to make moral judgements of another’s actions. You might even say that bringing the two back into full harmony is the most important aim of our earthly existence.

4.) Some people (black or not) may have become sub-human, but it’s not ours to say.

My own take on the original question (have some blacks’ lost the imago dei) is, therefore, No, they have not. I agree with Joseph that that’s not possible. I do wonder, though sometimes whether they are as distant from the likeness of God as a flamboyant transsexual is from the likeness of a man. And if so, then perhaps they, like demons, deserve to be referred to by another name than human. It’s just we, as mere men, don’t have the authority to make that decision (and perhaps this is what made Lydia and Matt so anxious). If, according to Jude 1:8, angels do not dare pass judgment on their equals, the demons, leaving that rather to God, perhaps we likewise should refrain from passing judgement on our equals, these blacks, and leave that too to God.

Allen W. writes:

To be “in the image of” means to possess certain qualities of the original. In this case it includes reason and choice, which belong even to the most debased. Yet these are subordinate to such qualities as compassion and a sense of the ineffable. At issue is whether these remain in the most heinous of individuals. As I understand the case that all people maintain the divine image, it applies even when there is no evidence of its existence.

I accept certain beliefs which are held in the absence of empirical evidence, as for example belief in God. In such cases one operates on the basis of his inner-sense. Is there such an inner-sense that all men are in the image of God? My inner-sense is the very opposite, namely that such men are lower than the beast, and that it is a desecration of the image of God to view them as possessing it. Now one can say that ultimately good and evil are an extension of God, yet we would not say that evil and the devil are in the image of God.

Let me add that in the discussion of blacks, we are addressing the most heinous, rather than the group as a whole. The blacks as a people have the many failings that are well described on this site, but nevertheless share the common human sentiments of seeking the good life. This however does not apply to the Arab-Muslims, for their theology is one of death, where all of the worldly fruits (including the lives of their children) are to be subordinated to the will of Allah. So whereas depraved individuals can lose the divine image, a complete people can as well.

Ben M. writes:

Can men lose the image of God? Most certainly. Let’s turn to Scripture.

2 Peter 2:9-12:

2:9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
2:10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
2:11 Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.
2:12 But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.

So, some men have become “as natural beasts” “made to be taken and destroyed.” If they are ready to be destroyed and will “utterly perish in their own corruption” they are no longer the image of God. God’s image is not destroyed but these have become animals fit for destruction which WILL happen.

So what is this nonsense about not losing the image of God?

Peter continues:

2:22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

The image of God does not behave like a dog turning to his own vomit or become a pig in its own filth.

The Pharisees said they were the children of Abraham. What did Jesus say to them? “You are of your father the devil.” (John 8:44) Is the image of God a spawn of the devil?

1 John 3:10 says: “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” Are people saying that the image of God persists in evil men even when they are not of God. That’s like saying an object is a peach though it doesn’t come from a peach tree.

Matt writes:

As usual on the Internet, folks seem to think they can infer a great deal about my attitudes, thought processes, and emotions from very few words: a great deal more than my actual words support.

My only “feeling” (more an act of the intellect than any emotion though) is one of genuine concern for VFR as a community, and for you personally. There is a great deal that is good and valuable at VFR. But if VFR self-destructively adopts (or a significant, respected cohort within the VFR community adopts) a fundamentally Nietzschean/Nazi deontology of humanity—the superman (that is, fully human) versus the subhuman untermensch—then all that is good and valuable about VFR is going to be tainted by it.

I would rather not see that happen to a valuable man and friend, and the online community he has built. That’s all.

LA replies:

Matt has the volume turned up way too high. There is nothing Nietzschean/Nazi about this discussion. Matt is reading that into it, and his extreme alarm is not justified by anything in this discussion, almost all of which has taken place within the context of Christianity and the Bible.

Ben M. writes:

There will come a time when the image of God will be replaced by the image of the beast and IT will be worshipped deceiving and enslaving MAN. So in fact the image of God cannot be thought as the lowest common denominator in man and among men.

Revelation 13:14: And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
13:15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
13:16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
13:17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
13:18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

The number of man is the number of the beast. So much for the essence and number of man being the image of God. prophetically man becomes a part of the beast.

LA replies:

Ben M. has made a reasonable argument, based not in Nietzschean or Nazi or racial terms, but in biblical terms, that some human beings do not have the image of God. I don’t know that he is correct. But to aver that such an argument threatens to turn the VFR community into a Nazi community strikes me as silly.

Matt writes:

Let me put it to you this way, Larry:

There are some subjects which are simply beyond the pale of civilized human discussion. An example would be “Gee, what exactly makes pedophilia wrong, anyway? Let’s discuss that for the next few days and treat all viewpoints with respect.”

Surely any traditionalist conservative can concede that such subjects exist: subjects which should not be discussed in a way which frames all views as equally respectable. Equality is nonsense, even when it is applied to discussion topics.

“Golly, just what is wrong with the idea that a subpopulation of blacks are subhuman?” is that kind of subject. I’d rather not see VFR treat it as something other than the odious thing that it is, because doing so would reflect very poorly on VFR as a community.

LA replies:

“Golly, just what is wrong with the idea that a subpopulation of blacks are subhuman?”

Now that Matt has boiled down the discussion—or rather not the discussion itself, but how the discussion would be perceived—to those terms, I see that it would be too objectionable to make it worthwhile to continue it. I repeat that the great bulk of the discussion has not been conducted in racial terms, but in general moral and biblical terms. And in those terms I think it is a legitimate discussion. However, since the discussion began with a commenter and me wondering whether feral black criminals have lost the image of God, the discussion will be seen, no matter what its actual content, in racial terms, namely about whether “a subpopulation of blacks are subhuman,” and therefore it would not be good to continue it, and I hereby end it.

Finally, I repeat again that whenever this issue has been raised, both in the past and in this thread, I have always stated my own belief that blacks are created in the image of God.

LA continues:

A reader asks, “Apart from race, what about a discussion as to whether degraded individuals (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Mao) can lose the divine image?” As I’ve said, I think that’s a legitimate subject and we might have it again at some point.

August 2

LA writes:

There is a new entry posted this morning on the subject of whether this entry should have been terminated and about the legitimacy of the subject of whether human beings can lose the divine image.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 31, 2012 01:07 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):