Neal Kramer is currently a professor in the English Department at BYU, and has worked in various capacities with that institution. He has written extensively on topics concerning Mormon Literature and Mormon Studies, and has worked with and published with such organizations and publications as the Association for Mormon Letters, Dialogue, and many others. We’re honored to have him as our guest.
This week’s visit of the Pope to the United States has reminded us again of the powerful concept that enlivens much earnest and probably correct thinking about the greatest issues of our time. This concept, advanced almost exclusively by Roman Catholic theologians and sometimes adopted by Pres. Bush, is, of course, the concept of a culture of life.
Its antithesis, a culture of death, has also found some traction in recent thinking about profound post-war issues in the West, such as civilian casualties in war, genocide, the use of nuclear weapons, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, eugenics, poverty, the death penalty, health care, and so forth.
The core idea advanced by these theologians, including the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardine from Chicago and the late Pope John Paul II, is respect for human life in all its forms. It derives from the belief that humans are God’s creations/children and therefore have inherent dignity. This belief is unwavering in its commitment to the ethical, spiritual, and moral imperative to respect the dignity of all humanity and of each individual person. This lies behind the Pope’s call this past week for worldwide respect for human rights as the foundation for peace in the world.
A culture of life is a complex web or seamless fabric of teachings, all of which are interconnected. Interestingly enough, the teachings about a culture of life do not translate into a particular political ideology. No current nation-state takes the culture of life as the foundation of its way of life. This means that there laws, practices, and ideas about justice in every society that conflict with the culture of life. For example, U.S. laws about abortion and capital punishment are both in conflict with the teachings about human dignity in the idea of a culture of life. The strength of the concept, from my perspective, is its consistency as well as its capacity to transcend local culture or government.
Do Latter-day Saints have a fundamental teaching or teachings as consistent and rational as this concept? Ought we to have it? Can it be consistent with the concept of ongoing revelation?