Tag Archives: Human Dignity


December 2017 Pulse

In its September 24, 2017, issue, The Mirror reported that a sex robot called Samantha has gone on sale in the UK for £3,500. Samantha, which can be purchased at Vibez Adult Boutique in Aylesford, Kent, ‘has a brain and can interact with you’, write Stephen Beech and Natalie Tipping. She can even switch ‘between a family mode and a sex mode setting’.

The idea of fabricating a woman to meet the needs of a man is not new; its origins can be traced to ancient Rome. For example, In Metamorphoses the Roman poet of erotica, Ovid, tells the story of the sculptor Pygamalion, who fell in love with the ivory statue representing perfect womanhood, which he names Galatea. The goddess Venus brings the statue to life and Pygamalion marries her.

With the ascendance of AI and social robotics, the Galatea myth has become a reality.

The philosophical, ethical and social issues generated by the advent of sex robots or sexbots have received serious attention by roboticists and ethicists in the rapidly expanding branch of ethics called roboethics.

Writers in this field have identified three possible uses of sexbots. Some have argued that sexbots can be used to help with the treatment or therapy of patients with diverse conditions in hospitals or homes. It has even been suggested that these robotic dolls could be made available to sex offenders and paedophiles during their incarceration.

Others have suggested that some individuals might find these lifelike silicon androids useful for physical or emotional companionship. Still others maintain that sexbots could one day replace human sex workers and prostitutes.

Very few Christian ethicists have thus far reflected on the theological, spiritual and ethical issues surrounding this application of social robotics. This would require nothing less than a robust account of the Christian understanding of sex and sexuality.

For the purposes of this article, however, it is sufficient to stress that the Bible and Christian tradition teach that sexual relationships must be confined to a man and a woman – a husband and his wife – who are joined together in the covenant of marriage.

More to the point, the Bible clearly teaches that humans are allowed to engage in sex only with other humans. The Bible therefore prohibits and condemns bestiality as the perversion of nature and an abominable sin (See Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:23; Deuteronomy 27:21).

While the Bible does not deal specifically with the question of having sex with a machine – for obvious reasons – what it has to say about human sexual relationships can be brought to bear on this issue.

What follows is an attempt to highlight some of the grave concerns of this particular form and application of social robotics.

The first thing to note is that the relationship between the human user and the sex robot is an ‘I-It’, not an ‘I-You’ relationship. The interaction between the human and the sexbot is unidirectional and asymmetrical in that the machine is entirely oblivious of the overtures, desires and affections of its human user.

AI and sophisticated robotics can create what scholars have described as ‘an anthropomorphic illusion’ that may fool the user into thinking that the simulacrum is the real thing – that the sex robot is human ‘in some sense’. But the fact remains that the sexbot is a machine, albeit one that is programmed to mimic human responses and expressions.

Robot ethicist John Sullins asks if it is ethical to create humanlike robotic sex dolls in the first place. It would be ethically objectionable, Sullins argues, if the illusion of humanness is used to ‘fool people into ascribing more feelings to the machine than they should’. Put differently, from the standpoint of ethics, the illusion of humanness that sexbots present can be said to be in some profound ways disrespectful of human dignity and agency.

This brings us to the question whether the use of a robot for sexual gratification can be properly described as ‘having sex’ in the conventional sense at all. At its most fundamental level, the sex robot is nothing more than a very sophisticated version of cruder forms of sex toys. This has led ethicists like Sullins to argue that using a robotic sex doll (with low level AI) is just an elaborate act of masturbation.

A number of ethicists have argued that sex robots have accentuated harmful stereotypes of women, especially women’s bodies. Roboticist Kathleen Richardson has pointed out that the representation of sex robots is usually based on pornographic images of women. She added that these robots reinforce the view of the female body as a commodity and encourages coercive attitudes towards it.

In a paper presented at a robotics conference, Sinziana Gutiu argues that ‘sex robots, by their very design, reinforce the idea that women are subordinate to men and mere instruments for the fulfilment of male fantasies. This type of harm has been explored in the context of pornography and is reproduced by the advent of sex robots. Like pornography, use of sex robots sexualises rape, violence, sexual harassment and prostitution and eroticizes dominance and submission’.

Scholars argue that the use of a sexbot is in many ways more harmful than viewing pornography because the user is physically and emotionally more intensely engaged. Sex robots provide a nearly complete sexual experience in a way that viewing pornography does not. Consequently, as Gutiu points out, ‘The user is therefore more likely to ascribe and internalise a primarily sexual and submissive purpose for women, through direct sensory experience’.

Sex robots will not only harm the user but also the wider society. The individual who uses a sexbot is engaged in a dehumanised form of sex and intimacy. Repeated exposure to this perverted form of sex would dehumanise the user. In fact, the more ‘humanised’ the android – that is, the more powerfully it presents the anthropomorphic illusion – the more dehumanising it is for the user.

Gutiu provides a list of possible harms: ‘Negative effects include alienation and seclusion from society, stunted emotional development, and an inability to compromise or handle rejection. A person’s need for sex with a robot could suggest a sign of physical and emotional withdrawal from efforts to connect intimately with humans’.

Blay Whitby and Kathleen Richardson concur.

‘An individual who consorts with robots rather than humans’, Whitby asserts, ‘may become more socially isolated’. Richardson maintains that the reason why intimate relations with robots will lead to isolation is because ‘robots are not able to meet the species specific sociality of human beings, only other humans can do that’.

‘User’s repeated interaction with sex robots’, Gutiu adds, ‘will solidify antisocial habits and confirm their fragility and unwillingness to overcome personal social challenges’.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Religion and Violence

June 2015 Pulse

The beheadings of American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the British aid worker David Haines by the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 have not only shocked and outraged the world, but they have also revived the debate about religious violence.

Both President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were determined to stress the distinction between the IS and Islam as a religion. In an address in Parliament, Cameron categorically asserted that the “IS is not Islamic” and that “they are not Muslims; they are monsters”.

In the past 15 years, numerous books have been written on the contentious issue of religion and violence. For example, in When Religion Becomes Evil, published just one year after the horrific events of 9/11 (Sept 11, 2001), Charles Kimball argues that “it is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil, perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.”

Apart from the fact that Kimball does not identify these rival institutions or provide evidence for his claim (perhaps he thought it too trite to require evidence), scholars have also criticised him for naively bracketing religion away from political ideologies. Such separation is artificial and contrived. As Jonathan Smith has rightly put it, “religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study … Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy”.

Be that as it may, are there religions that promote violence by their doctrines or attitude towards unbelievers? Many would argue that all religious traditions have at their centre the commitment to peace and non-violence. Konrad Raiser writes that from the religious perspective, violence “is a manifestation of evil and all religions are struggling with the question where this evil comes from and how it can be overcome”.

From the Christian theological perspective, however, because of human sin it is difficult to think of any form of organised human activity or institution that could not be corrupted or perverted.

Take democracy for example. A broad and popular way of describing democracy is a ‘government by the people for the people’. Many people would no doubt maintain that democracy is a good form of government, with its commitment to human dignity and freedom.

Yet democracy not only can go terribly wrong, it can also be dangerous. Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. And even though democracy is said to prevent oppressive governments, in Germany and South Africa it produced, for a period, extremely racist societies.

For many Muslims, jihad (a term that is often brandished unexplained by the media) refers fundamentally to striving for moral goodness and justice for society. And although this concept has four meanings, one of which is associated with just war, it does not in principle encourage acquiescence to violence.

However, since the 1970s under the influence of the Egyptian Umar Abd ar-Rahman and the Palestinian Abdallah Azzam, the ideologist for the Hamas movement, this concept has been radicalised by extremist groups, including those associated with Wahhabism. Al Qaeda and IS have commandeered the radical meaning of jihad in promoting their violent campaigns against the West and fellow Muslims who do not embrace their political convictions.

That Islam itself does not promote violence is evidenced by the fact that the Quran does not describe Allah as the ‘lord of war’ but rather as compassionate and merciful, and as the loving one and the forgiver.

Etymologically, islam, which refers to the surrender or submission that human beings must show to Allah, is derived from salam, which means peace – hence the Muslim greeting, “Peace be with you” (Salàm Ualaikum). In fact, in Surah 41:33-35 we read the injunction: “Requisite evil with good, and he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend.”

Although religious beliefs in themselves are not causes of violence, it is important to note that religion – like ethnicity and language – is a significant marker of identity. And as a marker of identity, religion can be subtly used to fan the flames of social and political conflicts. When religious sentiments are combined with political ideologies in a certain way, even a peaceful religion can be conscripted in the exercise of violence.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of the Methodist Message.

God and the Victim

On 15 June 2012, The Straits Times published Susan Long’s interview with Ms Somaly Mam, a Cambodian sex slave-turned-anti trafficking activist. In the interview, Mam recalled her idyllic childhood among the minority Phnong tribe in Cambodia’s mountainous Mondulkiri province, even though she was abandoned as a toddler. When she was 10, she was ‘adopted’ by an elderly man –whom she calls ‘Grandfather’ – who had promised to help her to find her birth parents. Instead, he beat her into submission and sold her off several times, eventually to a brothel at Phnom Penh when she was only 16. She ran away, but was caught and gang-raped by the police. In 1996, Somaly Mam founded an organisation, Afesip, which has rescued more than 7,00 girls from prostitution and sex-slavery across Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Mam’s story is just one among countless others. The scale of global human trafficking is truly alarming. In 2004, the U.S. study indicates that about 600,000 to 800,000 people were victims of human trafficking worldwide. Among them, 80 percent were female, 50 percent were minors, and 70 percent were trafficked for sexual exploitation. Two years after the publication of this report, the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) citing data obtained from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that 12.3 million people are forced into bonded labour, child labour and sexual servitude. The most numerous victims – estimated at 9.5 million – are from the Asian region, with two-thirds of the women and children trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is the second most profitable form of transnational crime, after the sale of drugs. The report estimated that the annual profits of commercial sex trafficking is US$33.9 billion, based on only 1.4 million people trafficked for this purpose.

One the many factors that have led to the rise of human trafficking is globalisation. Almost every aspect of globalisation – free markets, free trade, greater economic competition, decline in state interventions, greater mobility of people and more rapid communications – has in some ways contributed to the trafficking and trade of human beings. Another factor is the end of the Cold War that had spawned numerous intrastate and regional conflicts in whose wake many are left impoverished and displaced. Disoriented and heavily dependant on handouts of foreign aid organisations, these desperate people are often ripe for the exploitation of traffickers. Within a few years of the collapse of the USSR, the Slavic successor states became the main suppliers of prostitutes to world markets, including Asia, the epicentre for the trafficking of women for the sex industry.

It is therefore not surprising that Southeast Asia, with its years of regional conflicts, high levels of corruption, and transitions from Communist regimes, is the hub for sex trafficking. Some scholars think that the geography of the region has also helped this transnational crime. For example, in the Golden Triangle region, women are trafficked from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and south China to work as prostitutes in Thailand. In Thailand, triads with connections with the Japanese yakuza run the lucrative pedophilia tourism. In some countries, the police, politicians and political parties all have a share in the revenue brought in by human trafficking. In her courageous book, Guns, Girls, Gambling and Ganja, Pasul Phongpaichit shows how human trafficking plays an important role in the Thai economy. In a recent TIP report, Singapore is given a Tier 2 ranking, which indicates that although the Republic has not complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making ‘significant efforts’ to do so. The Singapore government has refuted the US State Department report, pointing out ‘several inaccuracies and misrepresentations’.

Christian leaders across the ecclesiastical traditions recognise that trafficking in person, either to work as unpaid labourers or as prostitutes, is a form of modern slavery. In a document entitled, Trafficking in Persons the late Pope John Paul II writes: ‘The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and grave violation of fundamental human rights’. The Church has a long history of denouncing slavery inspired by passages such as Isaiah 58:6, where the true fast is understood in terms of the liberation of victims of oppression and injustice: ‘Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?’ At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus used the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 to describe his mission, which includes the liberation of captives and the oppressed.

Christians therefore can never remain detached from the crime of human trafficking and stand aloof from its many victims. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus emphasised precisely this point in his exposition of what it really means to be a neighbour. In telling this parable, Jesus urges the self-righteous lawyer to embrace a new definition of neighbour that goes far beyond the immediacy of one’s family, friends and tribe. The story of the Samaritan helping the stranger who was the victim of a brutal crime demonstrates this process of ‘re-neighbouring’. It urges Christians to broaden their understanding of the neighbour to include the people, sometimes ‘invisible’ to society, who are suffering from disenfranchisement and violation, including the victims of trafficking. We are told that when the Samaritan saw the injured man lying in the pool of blood, he ‘took pity’ (Greek: esplanchenisthe) on him. The Greek word suggests a deep sympathy that enables the sympathiser to inwardly ‘experience’ the suffering of another. The story of the Samaritan urges the Church to learn to sympathise with those whose lives are being destroyed by trafficking. The parable urges the Church to learn to recognise the horror of victimization and to recover her ability to mourn.

The story of the Samaritan tells us that sympathy alone is not enough. It calls the Church to intervene. By stopping by the injured victim, and by nursing and binding his wounds, the Samaritan may be said to have interrupted the ‘trajectory’ of the injured victim, who would surely die if he did not receive help. Because of its complex nature, global human trafficking can only be thwarted through multilateral efforts. Churches should work with civil society groups and NGOs to meet the profound challenges posed by trafficking in repatriating victims, building shelters for returning victims, and even pressuring governments to develop laws and enforce legislation. The Church can be that welcoming community, where victims of trafficking can find a home where they feel accepted and loved, without being stigmatized. The Church can be that healing and nurturing community where people severely scarred can begin to rebuild their lives and explore promising directions for their future. Most importantly, the Church can be the community of grace where victims of abuse can experience the saving embrace of Jesus Christ.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (October 2012).

Ending The Scourge

Feb 2015 Pulse

Like so many around the world, I too was hoodwinked into believing Somaly Mam’s story. The world-renowned crusader against sex trafficking and slavery almost achieved iconic status with the story of her own sexual abuse when she was a 13-year-old girl in Thloc Chhroy, a typical rural Cambodian village along the banks of the Mekong River.

Her heroic efforts to free and rehabilitate young women from slavery and abuse received support from Hillary Clinton and celebrities like Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon. Mam’s inspiring story led me to write an article entitled “God and the Victim” for a publication of The Bible Society of Singapore two years ago.

Sadly, an article in the May 2014 issue of Newsweek revealed that Mam’s story about her experience as a sex slave was fabricated. While there is a sense in which this disclosure does not detract from the significant achievements of her foundation that   has saved the lives of thousands of girls in Cambodia, it does betray public trust, which is so vital to the work of any non- governmental organisation (NGO).

Next to the illegal drugs trade, human trafficking is the most lucrative form of organised crime that boasts of a complex and truly global network. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, at any one time there are 2.5 million victims of human trafficking, a crime that generates tens of billions of dollars in profit for criminals each year. The US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (2007) states that approximately 80 per cent of the victims are women and girls, 50 per cent of which are minors.

Louise Shelley, in her excellent study entitled Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, showed that every continent in the world is somehow involved in human smuggling. In Southeast Asia, human trafficking has been a longstanding problem, with poverty and the uninhibited growth of the sex industry as the main causes. Transnational criminals have ingeniously taken advantage of realities such as globalisation, unprecedented migration, and the massive movement of people to create a flourishing business in human smuggling.

The girls and women sold or abducted are often subjected to unconscionable violence and cruelty even before they are sent to the brothels. Many are repeatedly raped and beaten by their exploiters, while others are turned into drug addicts to ensure their total dependence and submission. Even if some of these victims could eventually buy their freedom (a very unlikely prospect) or somehow manage to escape, with almost no education and professional skills, their re-entry to society is at best precarious.

Human trafficking is an offense to human dignity and freedom, and is roundly condemned by Christian leaders across the denominations. In a recent address to international police chiefs, Pope Francis emphatically asserted: “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”

In the same vein, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, described human trafficking as “an offence against the created order of equality, an offence against the dignity of humans as called to share in some measure in God’s own creative responsibility, an offence against the interdependence that makes it impossible for any one truly to flourish at the expense of any other person”.

There are hundreds of organisations working tirelessly across the globe to address the problem of human trafficking and rescue its victims. Among them is COATNET (Christian Organisations Against Trafficking NETwork), which consists of 36 affiliates from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox organisations.

But the challenges that these organisations face are enormous, not least because trafficking syndicates constantly change their strategies and modi operandi. Their work is difficult and frustrating also because of the complicity of some governments with these criminal activities.

Be that as it may, no effort must be spared to end this scourge or at least to cripple the criminal networks responsible for perpetrating this evil. However, even as we rescue the victims of human trafficking from slavery and abuse, let us not forget to also rescue the oppressors from the spiritual bondage that has so debased and perverted their humanity.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

Church Does Not Prohibit Abortion Under All Circumstances

It is clear that the Christian Tradition opposes abortion because it is the wilful killing of another human being. But are there no exceptions? What about pregnancies that result from rape? Should abortion be allowed in order to save the life of the pregnant woman?

WHILE the Christian faith opposes abortion for reasons spelt out in last month’s article (Abortion is ‘wilful destruction of a human being’: Methodist Message April 2007), the Christian anti-abortion position does not prohibit abortion under all circumstances.

The late Christian ethicist Paul Ramsay introduced the distinction between direct and indirect abortion in his attempt to show that under some very limited circumstances, abortion must be allowed. The difference between the two forms of abortion has to do with the primary thrust of the act, its main intention.

In direct abortion, the main intention is to kill the conceptus, while in indirect abortion it is to save the life of the pregnant woman. For this reason, direct abortion must always be prohibited. But indirect abortion may be allowed, but only when all other avenues of saving the life of the woman have been exhausted.

Indirect abortion restricts the circumstances in which abortion can be carried out. To repeat: only when the pregnant woman is in mortal danger, and when there is no other alternative, is abortion allowed. This means that all other reasons – quality of life, convenience, peace of mind, financial burden, etc – must be ruled out. Indirect abortion is one of those inevitable consequences of living in an imperfect world where in order to save a life physicians must take that of another.

But does this apply to pregnancy that results from rape? If a victim of rape were not allowed to abort, she would have to bear the responsibility of bringing the pregnancy to term and taking care of the child once he or she is born. The abortion option would relieve her of such responsibility, which is not the result of her own actions. In addition, some victims of rape may be under-aged or mentally ill and therefore unable to discharge their maternal responsibilities.

Christian ethicists have made several responses to this. The first is the statistically proven fact that very few women who are subjected to this violent attack become pregnant. Several reasons have been offered to explain why this is so. The woman may be infertile at the time because of either the menstrual cycle or the use of contraceptives. There may be lack of actual penetration, or her male attacker may be suffering from sexual deficiencies like impotence.

Secondly, if the victim were to present herself to the emergency department of a hospital within 24 hours, she will be subjected to certain protocols. Some of these protocols, such as flushing the reproductive tract and hormonal treatment, would prevent fertilisation. Thus, if proper steps are taken promptly, the chances that the violent sexual encounter would result in pregnancy can be greatly minimised.

Sometimes hospitals use abortifacient drugs like Ovral and RU 486 to prevent pregnancy in rape victims. There is some ambiguity in the description of such drugs and what they do. Are they contraceptives, abortion drugs or contragestation drugs? Drugs like Ovral have often been described as a contraceptive mainly because they “render the endometrium hostile to a possible fertilised egg”. In other words, these drugs cause a miscarriage. RU 486, however, prevents the implantation of the embryo on the wall of the uterus. The drug causes the uterus to react in a way similar to the end of a menstrual cycle.

Judging from what these drugs actually do, we must conclude that they primarily cause an abortion to take place. This means that it is misleading to call these drugs contraceptives. Their introduction has in fact already changed the entire course of the abortion debate, causing a shift from surgical to chemical abortions, and from abortion clinics to the physician’s office. Their introduction has made abortions easier, cheaper and much more private.

Even though the chances of a rape victim becoming pregnant are very slim, there is still a possibility that this might happen. Should the rape victim be allowed to abort the baby? To answer this question we must look beyond the individual and the crime that is committed against her, and set both the victim and the crime in the larger social context.

To put the matter plainly, although rape is a crime committed against an individual, it is never a private matter. This crime, like all other crimes, involves the entire community – the family, the church, the larger society. Thus it is the entire human community, not just the victim alone, that must bear the responsibility for the consequences of this violent act. Here the community must care for the victim and her child. It must provide her with the material, emotional and physical support she needs. It must care for her and the child she is carrying in every possible way.

Abortion is a convenient solution if society is unwilling to take up this responsibility. The abortion option is therefore welcomed by pragmatists. But such an attitude would surely erode the moral fibre of our society and drive it to embrace an ever more extreme form of individualism.


‘The late Christian ethicist Paul Ramsay introduced the distinction between direct and indirect abortion in his attempt to show that under some very limited circumstances, abortion must be allowed. The difference between the two forms of abortion has to do with the primary thrust of the act, its main intention.’

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Should Christians Condone Euthanasia?

IN THE modern world dying has become a problem! The extraordinary advances in science and technology have not only made it possible for doctors to alleviate pain but also to extend life.

The possibility of being maintained on life support for months and sometimes years has resulted in much anxiety in both elderly and non-elderly patients. Patients and their families are increasingly involved in medical decisions concerning the end of life. As a result, patients, physicians, the public, and policy makers are faced with complex and difficult questions: Should the terminally ill patient be allowed to die? Should the medical profession have the option of helping these patients to die?

The issue of euthanasia or physician-assisted-suicide is receiving renewed attention and interest in recent years. The recent case of Terri Schiavo and the public debate it sparked shows quite clearly how clouded the question of euthanasia can become. (For my comments please see, “A Life Deemed Useless: The Terri Schiavo Case”, Trumpet, May 2005, pp. 2, 8).

But renewed interest in this issue can also be attributed to the fact that in recent years a number of European countries have legalised the practice of euthanasia. For instance, on April 10, 2001, the Dutch Government approved the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act”. And on May 28, 2002, Belgium passed an Act legalising euthanasia, which went into effect on Sept 23, 2002.

What is euthanasia? Should Christians condone such a practice?

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has defined euthanasia as:

… the act of bringing about the death of a hopelessly ill and suffering person in a relatively quick and painless way for reasons of mercy. In this report, the term euthanasia will signify the medical administration of a lethal agent to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patient’s intolerable and incurable suffering.

The Christian faith does not condone euthanasia because it maintains that human life is a gift of God and has intrinsic and exceptional value. The Christian faith’s rejection of euthanasia is also established upon the general prohibition against murder found in the sixth commandment in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:13).

According to the Christian faith, each human being is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) and given a special vocation. Thus each human being has a unique role to play in the drama of salvation of the world. This emphasis has led some 20th century theologians like Karl Barth to argue that the dignity of each individual person is profoundly related to his or her uniqueness.

God has given each person a unique role to play at this time, in this place and in this manner. And although that role may not be glamorous, it is nonetheless special – it cannot be played by any other person in all of history.

Furthermore, the Christian faith sees life as a “gift” or a “loan” from God. The implication of this is that the individual is not simply a master but a beneficiary. More precisely, the individual is first a beneficiary before he or she is a master. This means that the individual’s life is not at his or her disposal, but he or she must treat it with due care; and due care must mean that nothing should be done to harm or destroy it. These insights have informed and shaped the Christian idea of the sacredness or the sanctity of life, and correlatively its stringent prohibition against harming and destroying human life.

Supporters of euthanasia have presented two arguments why to their mind the practice is not morally unacceptable. The first appeals to the principle of autonomy and self-determination: the person requesting to be euthanised is exercising his or her right to self-determination. This basic “right-to-die” argument appears in its various permutations in pro-euthanasia literature.

The problem with this argument is that if the “right-to-die” is so fundamental, why restrict it only to those who are terminally ill? Why not allow those who are in good health, but who feel that their lives are not worth living, to euthanise themselves?

The second argument – to which some Christians may be more sympathetic – is that euthanasia provides compassionate relief from suffering. That is why it is sometimes called “mercy killing”. In response, we argue that although suffering is to be resisted because it is not the expressed will of God, human beings do not have the right to take a life in order to relief suffering. The central principle which governs medical ethics is “maximise care”, and not “minimise suffering”. If it were the latter, then the elimination of sufferers would indeed be justified. But the duty of the physician is “always to care, never to kill”.

This wisdom, enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath, is embedded in the tradition of Western medicine for many centuries and should serve as the moral compass for decisions concerning the end of life. Thus the Declaration on Euthanasia of the World Health Organisation (Madrid, 1987) states that “euthanasia, or the act of deliberately putting to an end to a patient’s life, either at the request of the patient himself or at the request of his relatives, is immoral”.

In similar vein, the encyclical Evangelium vitae (“Gospel of Life“) issued by Pope John Paul II condemns euthanasia because it is a “grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person”.

‘The Christian faith sees life as a “gift” or a “loan” from God. The implication of this is that the individual is not simply a master but a beneficiary … These insights have informed and shaped the Christian idea of the sacredness or the sanctity of life, and correlatively its stringent prohibition against harming and destroying human life.’

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Should Christians Support The Death Penalty?

CAPITAL punishment is a divisive issue today, even among Christians. Fundamentalist Christians in America, especially from the so-called Bible-belt, support the death penalty because it is the explicit teaching of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament.

Conservative Catholics support the death penalty maintaining that the practice – which is the right of the State – is in concurrence with Scripture, tradition and natural law. Liberals (and some conservatives) have long called for its total abolition.

It is impossible within the limited compass of this essay to examine this complex issue from every angle. What follows is a brief survey of the biblical material and the witness of the Christian tradition. I will also discuss, albeit briefly, the arguments in support of and against capital punishment, before presenting my own position.

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament sanctions capital punishment for certain crimes and offences. In the Mosaic Law there are no less than 36 capital offences that are punishable by execution by stoning, burning, decapitation or strangulation. The list includes offences such as idolatry, magic, blasphemy, murder, adultery, bestiality, incest, and even the violation of the Sabbath. But the death penalty is seen as an especially appropriate punishment for murder, for the Noahic covenant presents the following principle: “Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6).

That capital punishment is an approved punishment that the State can execute is surely taught, or at least implied, in Romans 13. The authority of the State is established by God to reward the good and punish the wicked. The State has the right to wield the sword in dealing with the wicked.

Although Jesus Himself refrains from using violence, He does not deny that the State has the authority to exact capital punishment. He cites with approval the harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die”, in His debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, Cf. Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). In His trial before Pilate, Jesus did not contest Pilate’s right to execute offenders but reminded him that this authority came “from above”. (John 19:11).

Support for the death penalty is almost unanimous in the Christian tradition, particularly in the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Except for a few like Ambrose, most Church Fathers maintain that Scripture gives the State the right to exact such punishment on certain offenders.

Thoughtful objectors of the death penalty have offered four reasons why capital punishment should be abolished. The first is that the convict may be innocent. This objection alerts us to the fact that even the best and most objective justice system is imperfect and therefore not infallible. The second objection is that the death penalty whets the appetite for revenge. The third objection is that the death punishment cheapens the value of life and promotes the idea that murder in some respects may be condoned. Some see this as a weak objection: many pro-life advocates are at the same time advocates of capital punishment because they reasoned rightly that the innocent and the guilty do not have the same rights.

The final objection will at first glance appear to be compelling: Christians are called to forgive. Although forgiveness is an important aspect of the Gospel and the Christian is commanded to forgive, there must be a distinction between the assailant’s relationship with his victim and with the state. Personal pardon on the part of the victim does not absolve the offender from his/her obligation to justice.

The purposes of criminal punishment may be summarised thus: rehabilitation, defence against the criminal, deterrence and retribution. Can the death penalty achieve these goals?

Rehabilitation: Obviously the death penalty does not help to reintegrate the criminal into society – although from the pastoral standpoint it may cause repentance and reconciliation with God. Defence against the criminal: Capital punishment is obviously an effective way of protecting society from the criminal, although some questioned if such an extreme measure is really necessary. Deterrence: The death penalty may deter others contemplating to commit similar crimes, although its power to do so is debatable. Finally, retribution: The general principle is that guilt calls for punishment; and the greater the offence, the more severe the punishment.

But since the State, unlike God, is neither omniscient nor omnipotent, retribution by the State obviously has its limits.

I believe that the State has the authority to exact the death penalty although it may choose not to do so. The State may choose to commute the death sentence to a less severe punishment, like life imprisonment without parole. However, should the State choose to put criminals to death, such punishment should be meted out only to perpetrators of heinous crimes like murder.

The State has the authority to wield the sword, but it must do so sparingly, and always in the interest of justice.


Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Christians Can Conclude That Bible ‘Does Not Prohibit Organ Donation & Transplantation’

Should Christians support organ donations and transplantation?

SINCE medical doctors Joseph Murray and David Hume performed the first successful living-related kidney transplant from identical twins in 1954, the science of organ transplantation has advanced by leaps and bounds. About 50 years later, there have been successful heart, pancreas, pancreas islet cell, intestine, lung, liver and heart-lung transplants. This medical technology has helped thousands of individuals.

Should Christians support this ever-growing practice, and should they be organ donors?

The Bible does not deal directly with the issue of organ donation since it is alien to the biblical world. The task of the Christian thinker, then, is to see if what the Bible says about God, human beings, the nature of our physical bodies, and our relationship with one another, has light to shed on the topic.

The Bible teaches very clearly that our physical bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20), and that we should therefore be good stewards of our bodies. It therefore prohibits any form of self-mutilation. Yet, the New Testament also urges Christians to love one another in a self-sacrificial way. The supreme example of the unconditional love that is demanded of God is Jesus Christ, who gave His life for the sake of sinful humanity.

Jesus taught that His disciples are to love not just their neighbours, but also their enemies. Just as Jesus loved us and gave up His body for us, so we are commanded to love one another: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Jesus also exhorted His disciples to serve others, and by doing so they are in fact serving their Lord. Thus, when Jesus spoke of caring for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matt 25:35-46) He implied that the unconditional love of His disciples must extend to even strangers. “Verily I say unto you”, Jesus said, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

In light of this central biblical teaching about Christian love, the Christian can conclude that the Bible does not prohibit organ donation (and transplantation). In fact, the Bible in a sense encourages this act of sacrificial love and service. The clearest statement from a leader of the Christian community in favour of organ donation comes from Pope John Paul II, who in his encyclical entitled The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) wrote: “There is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big and small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view of offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.”

Although there are no strong objections to organ donation and transplantation from the Christian standpoint, there are some very real and pressing ethical concerns, hinted at in the statement just quoted. The first has to do with the concern that the procurement of organs for transplantation does not put the donor in harm’s way. That is to say, obtaining organs for transplant must abide by the strict ethical codes that govern the practice of medicine in general.

Related to this is the important issue of informed consent: the authenticity of such a decisive gesture requires that individuals be properly informed of the procedures involved and are in a position to consent or decline in a manner that is both free and conscientious. This is especially pertinent in the case of the living donor.

In addition, steps must be taken to ensure that the donor is not under any pressure or duress to offer one of his or her organs for transplantation. Pressure faced by the donor can come in very subtle ways, for example, in the unspoken expectations of members of the family or even from the sick person in need of the organ. The decision to offer a part of one’s body for the health and wellbeing of another must be made without pressure and any expectation of reward. It is precisely in this sort of giving that the nobility of the act as a genuine gesture of love is seen.

We must address, albeit very briefly, the issue of the sale and purchase of organs for transplantation. Given the principles already laid out in this essay, we must conclude that from the Christian standpoint the sale and purchase of organs for transplantation must never be allowed. This is because such activities would result in the commercialisation of human organs where the latter are seen as items of exchange or trade. This is a violation of human dignity because it essentially looks upon the human body as an object that can be bought and sold at the right price.

Other ethical objections to this practice, such as the exploitation of the poor, are also important considerations. But they are secondary reasons for prohibiting organ sales. The primary reason has to do with the fact that such a practice violates human dignity and will corrode the moral fibre of human society if it is allowed to flourish.

Space allows me to deal very briefly with just one more ethical concern with organ procurement that relates to cadaveric donors: the problem of “brain death”. Through the ages, death is understood as the state of the body without life – cold, blue and rigid. In 1968, however, an ad hoc committee at Harvard recommended the neurological criterion for determining death.

According to this view, the patient is said to have died when there is a cessation of brain activity. This definition of death is preferred to the tradition cardiopulmonary criterion (which maintains that death has occurred when heart and lung activities have ceased) because it allows the procurement of organs for transplantation. When harvesting organs for transplantation, time is of the essence: without circulation, the heart and liver are damaged in three to five minutes, while the kidneys are damaged in about 30 minutes. The neurological criterion for determining death, however, has been challenged by some doctors and ethicists alike, and continues to be a subject of considerable debate.


‘The Bible teaches very clearly that our physical bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and that we should therefore be good stewards of our bodies.’

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message

Christians generally maintain that human rights are universal

What is the Christian perspective on human rights?

THE modern concept of human rights is historically rooted in deism whose concept of God and human autonomy are radically at odds with the teachings of the Bible and the Christian Faith. Christian theologians have long been alert to the inadequacies and even dangers associated with the modern discourse on human rights.

The French lawyer and philosopher, Jacques Ellul, in his book, The Theological Foundation of Law (1960), speaks for many Christian thinkers when he argues that the judicial relativism on which modern concepts of human rights are established offers no protection against arbitrary power.

On the basis of this premise, Ellul argues, the all-powerful state could decide what is right or wrong based on its own criteria. This approach would lead to what is sometimes called legal positivism, the theory that law is whatever the state legislates. As the Belgian philosopher Perelman has so clearly argued, such juridical positivism has simply collapsed before the abuses of Hitlerism in the last century.

Christian theologians, however, are convinced that there are numerous passages in Scripture that address the modern concern for human dignity and rights.

Evangelical writer John Warwick Montgomery has provided an impressive list of human rights issues that the Bible addresses. This includes procedural due process rights such as impartiality of tribunal (Mal 2:9; 1 Tim 5:21), fair hearing (Exod 22:9) and prompt trial (Ezra 7:26). The Bible also addresses substantive due process rights such as non-discrimination in general (Acts 10:34; Deut 16:19), equality before the law (Matt 5:45) and racial, sexual and social equality (Gal 3:28; Amos 9:7; Ex 21:2). Montgomery also maintains that rights encompassing three generations of human rights, first proposed in 1979 by the Czech jurist Karel Vasak, can also be gleaned from the Bible. These include right to life (Exod 20:13; Ps 51:5; Matt 5:21-22; Luke 1:15, 41), and right to family life (1 Tim 5:8), to cite just a few examples.

Some of the most significant writings on human rights from the Christian perspective can be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae Personae), the Council affirms that religious freedom is the inviolable right of every human being, for it has its foundation in human dignity. Because “the right to religious freedom has its foundation, not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature”, the common welfare of society, the Council insists, requires the social conditions necessary for people to exercise that freedom responsibly and without coercion.

In another document, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church (Gaudium et Spes), the Council maintains that “there must be made available to all men everything necessary for leading a life truly human”. The following are listed as essential for human existence: “food, clothing, shelter, the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and to rightful freedom in matters religious too.”

Catholics and Protestants have approached the issue of human rights from different angles, and perhaps even different points of departure. The Catholic approach may be aptly described as “reason enlightened by revelation”, while the Protestant approach emphasises revelation over reason. Although these two approaches may appear quite different, they both lead to the same broad conclusions.

What is pertinent to note is that in both approaches, revelation and reason are involved. In the Catholic approach, reason is not autonomous but guided by a higher authority, namely divine revelation. In the Protestant approach, divine revelation is never irrational, but provides the necessary framework for rational reflection on human rights.

Christians have generally maintained that human rights are universal – every human being has a claim to these rights. The universality of human rights is established on Christological and not anthropological grounds. Because Christ died for all human beings, not just for Christians, all persons can claim these rights. In other words, by dying for all human beings Christ shows that God has given every person a special dignity that should not be violated.

Furthermore, many Christian theologians maintain that a proper understanding of human rights can only come from the revealed truths found in the Bible. Thus, for many theologians, the Ten Commandments are the basis for a Christian understanding of the rights of human beings created in the image of God. As Carl Henry put it, “In the Christian view, inalienable rights are creational rights governing the community and individual, rights implicit in the social commandments of the Decalogue.”

Broadly speaking, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants generally accept the main tenets of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), although never without qualifications.

Finally, Christian thinkers like Ellul maintain that the Church has the responsibility to speak against the violation of human rights by the State or any other human authority. The Church is therefore summoned to speak the discerning word, to affirm the limits of the law and even judge the legal system. “This discerning word,” Ellul insists, “is part of the Church’s proclamation.”


‘The universality of human rights is established on Christological and not anthropological grounds. Because Christ died for all human beings, not just for Christians, all persons can claim these rights.’

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.