By Stephen McAlpine

“In a hundred years, if Christians are known as a strange group of people who don’t kill their children and don’t kill the elderly, we will have done a great thing.”

Those are the words of renowned theologian and ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School, in an article for our very own ABC’s Religion and Ethics website a few years ago.

A hundred years?  Try right now. As it stands, the push by many governments around the world to open up state-assisted suicide, euthanasia, voluntary assisted dying (VAD) – call  it what you will – is well ahead of the curve. The timeframe in which Christians are going to be regarded as strange – and, often, regarded as toxic – in their ethical framework, is right now.

What is the value of a life? Stephen McAlpine argues Christians should be known as a group who protects and defends life, especially society’s most vulnerable. (Pic: Alexander Grey via Unsplash.)

Our culture is already open to – and indeed practices – killing children, not merely in the womb in the early stages of gestation, but after “failed” abortions in which small babies are left to cry and die, with instructions not to even provide palliative care. 

And palliative care at the other end of life is already under financial pressure. The New South Wales branch of the Australian Medical Association has been warning of the dangers of huge cuts in funding for some time now. AMA President, Dr Michael Bonning has accused the government of deprioritising the health of its residents with a $249million cut:

“When patients reach the stage of palliative care, they are at their most vulnerable. They have reached a stage in life when they need and deserve enormous respect and support.”

It seems crazy that, with an ageing population, funding is being cut for something that will affect more and more Australians.

Meanwhile, the Northern Territory government is testing the waters around its intended legislation around euthanasia.

As in all such situations, the government is simply “asking the question” – a somewhat dubious way of introducing an issue into the public square that it wants to push. And what sector of the community does the NT government seek to determine if we’re willing to offer euthanasia to? The mentally ill. 

Australia spends billions each year on a mental health crisis, amid unprecedented rates of anxiety and mental illness, among the young especially. Just over a million Aussies aged 18-24 (that’s 40% of the cohort, double the adult average) a suffering a mental health condition. Governments are positing euthanasia as a possible solution.



“Now this really is post-Christian!”

So exclaimed historian Tom Holland, reflecting on the situation in Canada, where there is rising support for euthanasia as a solution for homelessness, mental illness and disability.

But here’s the thing: the percentage who agree that euthanasia should be offered to such groups increases sharply in the 18-34 cohort – the post-Christian cohort – the group of people least likely to have been influenced by the biblical perspective of creation, least likely to see the image of God in every human being. Their view of what it means to be human is completely different to a Christian person or culture. Let’s not forget that today’s 18-34 year olds will be the cultural and political shapers of our nations in the next 30 years. Gradually, our decision-makers will become more willing to allow killing of more people for more reasons. All in the name of personal autonomy. 

Celebrating the individual’s freedom sounds laudable, except that an individual who is suffering becomes increasingly inconvenient to the state. As has even been reported in the liberal media in Canada, assisted suicide has been offered to homeless war veterans who were merely seeking housing. A time is coming at which those the state deems problematic, too costly, too complex to fix, will be encouraged, even pressured into ending their lives. 

If this life is all there is, and personal happiness and comfort is the pinnacle and meaning of life, then it seems to make sense to solve suffering by ending it. But what if life this is not all there is? What if personal happiness and comfort is not the pinnacle and meaning of life? What if the celebration of personal autonomy leads us to a merciless, atomised culture of death?


Staying Christian in a Post-Christian World

This is where the church comes into the mix, as both a worshipping community, caring for those deemed inconvenient, and as a prophetic community calling out state-funded atrocity. How can we do that? There are many ways – and not enough words in a blog post to unpack it – but here are a few tips:

First, the church can start to take back some of the tasks it once outsourced to the state.

Where funding to aged care and hospitals is conditional on adhering to a culture of killing, it may be time to lean away from the state, and address its post-Christian brutality. In a sense it will mean being like the early church in pagan Rome.

Pagans thought nothing of exposing unwanted children on the hillside – usually baby girls. Christians brought them in and cared for them. Pagans thought nothing of abandoning the sick during a plague. Christians – at great risk to their own health – cared for them. That was ground-breaking. In a tribal world in which you only ever looked after the welfare of your own, the early Christians brought in, and cared for, the stranger. Jesus did that for us.

It’s time for a conversation about how the church will better support the vulnerable people the state no longer cares to keep alive. That might mean church investment into care, as well as teaching against rampant individualism. What would it look like for the worshipping community to take start-of-life/ end-of-life responsibility back again? We need to start that discussion.

Second, we want to ensure our voice is heard, even if the state increasingly seeks to mute it. It was Christianity that gave the world a way of engaging in the public square. We should not retreat to privatised Christianity while our world goes, so to speak, to hell in a handcart. Lobby groups may be less effective than in the past; yet, political leaders in Australia need to know that their inhumane laws will not go unchallenged. 

We should be encouraging the next generation of leaders who can speak bravely into this space. And it will take bravery. Those hostile to Christian ideas are just as hostile to Christian people who speak up. Hello, cancel-culture. Our nation’s emerging generation will also include Christian educators, legal experts, political leaders, public figures and corporate leaders, and they will need to be encouraged and supported as they step into that space. Christian communities will be their spiritual, moral – and financial – supply line.

Stanley Hauerwas is right. We will have done well if we are seen as that strange group that doesn’t kill its young and its elderly. And we’ll have done better if we’re that strange group that protects and defends all of society’s young, elderly, mentally ill, homeless, and disabled as well.

And rest assured, we don’t have to wait for 100 years to take up that mantle.


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