A Matter of Faith: Essay by Reverand Gregory Garland

A Matter of Faith
Rev. Gregory Garland

I. To be or not to be – human – that was
Hamlet’s, and it is our, question.
A. And so Hamlet goes on to reflect –
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension
how like a god!
The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
B. What is this quintessence of dust?
C. What does it mean to be a human being; or a
person?
D. At what point in our development do we
become a human being?
E. The answer, it seems, is a matter of faith. A Matter of Faith

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II. Three answers to that question as I see
it.
A. The first answer is that personhood, or
status as a human being begins at
conception.
This is the position held by anti-abortion,
anti-contraception folk.
This is the position of the folks who want a
legal description of “Person” to include every
human being from the beginning of the
biological development.
B. The second answer and what seems to be the
only biblically based position is that
personhood or status as a human being
begins — at birth.
For centuries scholars of the Old Testament
agreed that the most important Hebrew
word describing a human being was
nephesh, a word that occurs 755 times in the
Hebrew Bible…
Nephesh is the usual term for the total
human nature and the defining
characteristic of a nephesh is breath.

In fact, Jacob argues that the etymology of
nephesh goes back to the root that means ‘to
breathe.’ [Is a fetus a Person; the Bible’s view,” by Dr. Roy Bowen Ward] A Matter of Faith

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This position holds that personhood and
status as a human being comes with taking
of the first breath – which occurs at birth.
And if my understanding is correct, Jewish
common practice a couple thousand years
ago, was that full human rights weren’t even
transferred to the born infant until the
father blessed and accepted the child.
C. The third answer holds that becoming a
person, a human being, is a developmental
process.
This position holds that the human
gestational entity moves from potential
personhood to actual personhood over the
nine month period from conception to birth.
III. So what is a human being, what is an
actual person?
A. There are those whose faith brings them to
believe that a fertilized egg is an actual
person – that all that is required is a
combination of genetic material into a
unified genome.
B. But my faith brings me to have a different
understanding of an actual human being. A Matter of Faith

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C. An actual human being – a person
1. Has greatly fulfilled their potential.
2. They are self-aware, aware of others, can work
and play; even a new born has work to do.
3. An actual person appreciates life, this is not to
say they necessarily enjoy it, but they appreciate
it, they are aware of it.
4. An actual person thinks, has cognition, has
sensations and constructs those sensations into
meaningful projections of a reality—even if it is
the reality projected by a new born.
5. An actual person can relate, communicate,
interact, and has intentions and a will.
6. Honestly, human actualization is something that
takes place during the entire life of a person, but
there is a threshold that is achieved near the time
of natural birth, that clearly qualifies one as a
human being – as a person.
7. Just as we don’t have trouble telling the
difference between a hatched chicken and the
eggs we eat for breakfast; we should be able to
see the difference between a fertilized human egg
and an actual person. A Matter of Faith

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8. For most legal purposes, we use the biblical
standard of taking a breath and being born as
when we confer personhood upon an individual;
it is then that we issue a birth certificate and
confer most legal rights to an individual.
9. We don’t issue conception certificates; at least
not at this point.
IV. My faith leads me to see a clear
distinction between a potential and an
actual human being.
A. A zygote, a fertilized egg, is a potential
human being.
1. In fact, more often than not, the potential is never
actualized as about 70% of fertilized eggs
naturally never make it to birth.
2. And if we were to recognize the fertilized egg as
a fully actual human being, it will ruin a
wonderful philosophical dilemma of which came
first the Chicken or the Egg.
The unambiguous answer would simply have to
be neither, they are the same thing. A Matter of Faith

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B. My faith leads me to believe that becoming
human, becoming a person is a
developmental process and that the rights of
personhood need to be conferred as
actuality is approached and not granted for
potential.
My daughter had the potential of getting
an A in Statistics.
What she actually got was, … well, let’s just
say – it was not an A.
But she would have loved to have been
graded on her potential and gotten that A.

There is a definite difference between
potential and actual.
But that is how my faith see’s it.
V. What we are left with is simply a matter
of faith.
A. There are those whose religious faith lead
them to believe that being a fully actualized
human being occurs at another point in
time; such as at birth or at conception. A Matter of Faith

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B. But that’s the point – it is a matter of faith.
And what the proposed Fertilized Egg
Amendment does is codify one faith position
into law.
The supporters of “Personhood”
amendments wish for the government to
support and establish their faith position
concerning personhood as the only legal
position setting it over and above the faith
positions of a multitude of other faith
traditions.
VI. Beyond the codification of one faith
position into law, there is also the ever
important issue of justice and God’s
unambiguous injunction that we must
act justly.
A. Amendment 62 will take away the
reproductive rights of women and effectively
give those rights to the state which will be
responsible for protecting the rights and life
of the pre-born “person.” A Matter of Faith

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B. Like some horrific science fiction movie, this
amendment will effectively make an
impregnated woman a ward of the state and
her sole purpose will be to serve as a vessel
for the delivery of another state protected
person;
without regard to how she was impregnated
or how the pregnancy may affect her.
Once impregnated, she will lose control of
her own body, her own destiny.
C. More than that, the amendment has the
potential of taking away some of the most
important means of preventing pregnancy,
leading to a drastic increase in unwanted
pregnancies, unwanted children, and
increasing the accompanying economic,
psychological and physical violence that
often arise in such situations. A Matter of Faith

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D. As the pill and women’s increased
reproductive rights have given women a way
out of second class humanhood;
this amendment is the pathway to putting
women back into the status they held
decades ago.
E. Oppression, repression, and the ending of
women’s reproductive rights I do not believe
are part of God’s vision of Shalom.
F. So I am here to encourage you to fight the
good fight to ensure that this does not
happen.

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