Whether one takes the ontological, functional, or relational viewpoint about the imago Dei, that human persons have a certain dignity which confers certain rights would be a rather easy case to make. In fact, it’s a case that is made by many secularist and other non-Christian thinkers:
For example, Jürgen Habermas, a leading secularist social and political theorist, writes: “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and … , human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love…. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk” (Time of Transitions (Oxford: Polity Press, 2006), pp. 150-51). And these so-called ethics are themselves premised on the indomitable dignity of human personhood—an idea aptly encapsulated in the term ‘imago Dei’. Similarly, nihilist philosopher Gianni Vattimo writes: “Equality will always be a metaphysical thesis . . . because of its claim to capture a human essence given once for all” (Nihilism and Emancipation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), pp. 98-99). And metaphysical theses, for Vattimo, involve some kind of transcendent, religious worldview. So, precisely for this reason, as a “nihilist,” Vattimo rejects the “essentialistic standpoint.”
By contrast, in holding to a Christian “metaphysical thesis,” we can and must ask questions such as: What are some implications that follow from our doctrine of imago Dei—that is, the implications of the idea that human persons have divine dignity and intrinsic rights? One crucial implication I want to consider is the $32 billion global industry known as “human trafficking” which I (hope to always consistently) call “inhuman trafficking.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines inhuman trafficking as: “[Inh]uman trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them” (UNODC). Today, the estimate of inhuman slavery and trafficking ranges from 4-27 million slaves worldwide. (The large range is due to the covert nature of the crime (the invisibility of victims) and under-reporting, among other things.)
If we compare this range of figures to the early North American slavery tragedy, we can note that today’s tragedy is equal to or up to nearly seven times greater than the situation in the three centuries of slavery in the U.S. According to the 1860 U.S. federal census, there were nearly 4.5 million Negroes in the United States, with just under 4 million (3,950,528) living in the southern states.
If we focus on just the children alone involved in inhuman trafficking—the statistics for which seem a bit more established—we find the following tragic reality:
1.2 million children / year [Source: UNICEF]
100,000 / month
25,000 / week
3,571 / day
149 / hour
5 children / every two minutes
1 child / every 24 seconds
How do we spend each hour of our days? Does not the imago Dei provide a very powerful impetus for us to combat the horrors of inhuman trafficking? What will we do with the talents the Lord has given us and the fact of the imago Dei which inheres in every single human person?