I mentioned awhile back that Jack Hoban has done an excellent job of explaining the Life Value from the perspective of the Marine Corps in his article, Developing the Ethical Marine Warrior, over at the Marine Corps Gazette.  One of the comments from “Chappy” brought up some interesting discussion regarding how the Life Value relates to a Christian Worldview.  A lot of what he said was valid concern mainly because when the Life Value is not properly interpreted or applied, it, like all values, can lead to misunderstanding.

It took me a while to find time to actually reply, but I finally got to this:

Chappy,

I know exactly how you feel. I had some similar concerns and I’ve seen many with the same concerns over the years. However, I think that much like Mr. Hoban mentions, you might agree with more than you think. No one is trying to replace anyone’s faith here. And I would argue that truth is truth (though truth isn’t always valued by everyone the same); I am definitely not a moral relativist or a religious one.

But I can also say that there is nothing at odds with the Christian worldview here, and no one has said that it is the “end all, be all” philosophy. Instead, try to look at it as another stepping stone or tool in the backpack. A few above me have already replied with some very good answers, but given your signature, I’m guessing you’re a Navy Chaplain. Since I’m one, too, I thought you might like a perspective of someone of likely similar background.

As I’ve thought through a few of the responses to the Life Value, particularly yours, I tried to think of a few examples that illustrate the commonalities that exist.

If person A says “murder is wrong” and person B says “murder is wrong” then an observer would probably state that “they agree.” But what if person A’s reasoning is “Because murder is against the law” and person B’s reasoning is “Because it is against the Ten Commandments/Scripture.” Does their reasoning make their first statement any less agreeable? Of course not. Do they automatically disagree simply because their reasoning is different? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, either.

Since you brought the Christianity Worldview into the discussion, I’ll build on a parable that you’re familiar with… the wise and the foolish builder, as they build their houses – great since you reference it with your title. Consider the Live Value to be the foundation of the house (as in, part of the house) and the Christian worldview to be the foundation under the house… rock or sand (as in, what the house is built on).

I would say that the Life Value is present in everyone because, well, that’s how God made us. What if the following statement was made: “Murder is wrong because the Life Value says so… because God imprinted His law (the Life Value) on the hearts of all men.” Such a statement is completely in line with the discussion, the Christian worldview, etc.

The Life Value is a solid and reasonable view of Natural Law. It’s also in keeping with a Christian Worldview (because, I would say, God would not codify something in Nature that is at odds with His Nature). If you state “God wrote His law on the hearts of all men” and if you state “No greater love has any man than that he lay down his life for another” and if you say “love your neighbor as yourself…” then simply ask how do any of those beliefs or views become “at odds” with a stated philosophy of Natural Law viewpoint that says, “Valuing, protecting and defending Life is so important that it is the standard to judge all other values if for no other reason than it is a prerequisite to all other values”? Nico points out a great question along these lines: “Should divine faith simply preclude our ability to reason and deconstruct our own nature?”

In fact, is there any example of a Life Value application that actually disagrees with a Christian Worldview? I’ve yet to find one. Mind you, I do not agree with everything Dr. Humphrey states regarding Natural Law and the Life Value, but I also don’t agree with everything that “people of faith” state about their beliefs and reasoning, either.

Now, as I read your comments, the following thoughts surface.

You mentioned the Holocaust. That’s ironic since it’s a prime example of the validity of the Life Value in that it completely goes against it. Would someone argue that the Nazis were “Protecting all life… even the life of their enemies?” I doubt it.

Just like if someone brought up the Crusades and religion… most would argue that they are not a good example of Religion/faith as true north, either. In fact, the reason they were not valid in a Christian context is because A) they were not in keeping with Jesus’ actual teachings and B) a lot of people needlessly died (there’s a reference to life in that) which, again, was not in keeping with Jesus’ teaching.

You mentioned 9/11. Again, that’s an example of what the Life Value is NOT about. It’s also a good example of “religious rooted” (and faith as one’s true north) beliefs gone wrong. Life is not nebulous. It is a prerequisite. It is intrinsic. Furthurmore, the Core Values don’t have to be used to justify it… however, the Life value is probably the only solid justification one can find for the Core Values. You say there is nothing courageous in “throwing one’s life away” and I agree. And as for what is “fanatical” I don’t think Mr. Hoban would classify you as one because, well, you’re not killing anyone for simply disagreeing with you like THEY are. I think that’s fanatical, and I think you’d agree.

The Founding Fathers and Freedom: yes, you make an excellent point. But anyone who has studied the philosophy of Freedom will be quick to point out that freedom is not the absolute with which to judge (already addressed by some above). If I were completely free, I could simply do what I want without regard to the affect it has on others. I could kill someone and not face consequences… that’s true “freedom.” But I don’t think anyone would be a proponent of that… and neither would the Founding Fathers.

Sidebar: While we discuss the Founding Fathers, I think a good case could be made that they talked a great deal about religious freedom and yet they expected a Christian foundation for the the Nation they founded. But our Country no longer follows that “intent” because “freedom” overcame original intent. Just a note of caution on that topic. The same as in the courtroom… law professionals will happily explain that “original intent” of the law is not what matters… only “current interpretation.”

On the Declaration of Independence, yes, Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are mentioned. But can you have liberty without life? Happiness without life? Obviously not.

Honor, Courage and commitment – Spiritual readiness… got it. But that means a lot of things to a lot of different people and you would be hard pressed to force a creator theory on everyone in the Marine Corps. In fact, you would most likely be removed from the system because it would be considered unacceptable.

I would raise, also, an interesting question that directly pertains to the statement that “faith” should be the true north on the moral compass. Really? So which faith? What determines if that faith is morally correct? Or does the terrorist that does what he does because of his “faith” deserve credit for following his compass? What if one’s faith imposes itself in a negative manner on innocents? Would one argue that all faith is equal? Or simply the faith of thoses who’s faith agrees with yours?

A bit more on that statement that “True north on the moral compass is one’s faith.” I think the leaders of 9/11 would make a similar statement. Leaders of the Crusade would make a similar statement. I’m not going to make that statement UNLESS the “faith” one is talking about is qualified. The Founding Fathers didn’t qualify Christianity as that faith because they assumed it was obvious. Yet look at what has happened.

You mention a Diety that gives us the freedom to say “You are not true north, I am.” That assumes that one’s faith points to THAT particular Diety (which, btw, mine does), but it also doesn’t take into account other faiths have different dieties (that don’t allow for such, um, “liberty”), and some have no diety, etc. So how far are you willing to pursue that line of reasoning? I would state that, not simply”faith” or even Spirituality, but specifically the Christian faith. But that’s me, and the simple fact of the matter is that I can’t do that in our country of “freedom” from an authoritative and teaching perspective (which is why MCRP-6-12C mentions “spirituality” and not faith and not a specific faith… it’s being politically correct). In a Bible Study? Yes. In a Command capacity or teaching environment? No.

I think Jack (who is far more of a philosopher than he lets on) summed it up extremely well: But my faith is not my true north – the object of my faith is.” Amen! However, I’m also willing to state that “Life is a univeral value” because, well, A) it aligns with Scripture (my first few paragraphs) and B) no one has shown me something contrary… and I’ve been teaching it as a foundational ethics course for Sailors, Marines, etc. for about five years now.

And you’re right… there is no room for moral relativism in the military. But if you say “Honor, Courage and Commitment” are core values, one simply has to ask, “why?” to gum up the works. What makes our’s right and the enemy’s wrong? The only way to answer WHY they are good values is to either bring a specific faith into it (which you cannot do in uniform at an official level) or you have to find a common truth you can agree on, which in this case is Life. Because your faith aligns with it.

As for Kung Fu, Caine was the kind of guy that protected life. He didn’t needlessly take it. Maybe he went through MCMAP, I don’t know, but I’d call him an “Ethical Warrior” any day.

Truth isn’t in the eye of the beholder… I agree. However, I do know that the Life Value isn’t morally relative, either. I have yet to see an example where it is is made so when properly applied. What if all our Marines valued life like Caine to the point that the world assumed the good of every incident? Imagine the possibility.

Yes, moral relativism is a sickness of our society. But even honor, courage and commitment can be made morally relative. Even truth (as a value of people) can be made morally relative. E.g., if someone holds a gun to your head and demands to know where your family is so they can kill them, you’re value of truth changes – it isn’t primary, is it?. Now, to be clear… that doesn’t mean absolute truth doesn’t exist (because it does!). It just means that a person’s value of truth changes.

But as for the direction of the Marine Corps… are you really saying you don’t want Marines who value the lives of themselves and those they are responsible for above all? You don’t want protectors and defenders of life? You don’t want Marines who will risk their own lives in order to save the life of even an enemy, if they can (in accordance with their Rules of Engagement) because their reason is that they value all life because all men are created equal?

A few things to think about.

Very respectfully,

Kermit Jones