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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage (podcast)



Homosexual marriage has become more than simply a hot-button issue; Christians are losing their businesses and going to jail when they stand against it. Yet, we're the ones labeled as bigots. How can Christians properly present their views to nonbelievers without being viewed as "bigoted"? Learn how to argue that natural marriage is not only biblical, but essential for culture.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Morality Must be More than Increasing Happiness



Moral knowledge is something people take for granted. We understand that someone who inflicts pain and torture for recreational purposes is evil. That's why the rapist is so reviled. It shows morality as something objective, not merely a preference to be held. Moral values and duties must be anchored in God to be meaningful.

Yet, people don't like to admit an objective morality means they themselves may be morally culpable for acts they choose. So they try to escape the consequence of objective morality. Some do this by trying to claim that morality isn't objective but relative. This reduces them to state absurd conclusions like rape may be morally justified. Others try to ground objective morality in something other than God. I think those folks don't really have an appreciation for what true morality entails. Still, they offer ideas such as morality is a byproduct of evolutionary survival benefits.

One of the more popular ways to try and hold to an objective morality while dismissing God comes in the form of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that increasing happiness and diminishing suffering is the measure of what's good. There are many problems with utilitarianism, but one particular problem is its definition is too narrow to identify all questions generally agreed as moral questions as being truly questions about morality. Richard Swinburne makes this point well:
For some, a belief about moral worth is simply a belief about which actions are important to do. But that use would allow the narcissist, who thinks that is important that he promote his own happiness, to have a moral view, and so it would fail to bring out the distinction which most of us make among the considerations by which we judge the worth of actions, and which I argued to have such importance. For others, a belief about moral worth is a belief about the importance of actions in virtue of their universalizable properties of a certain kind—e.g. those concerned with sex or (more widely) those concerned with the promotion of happiness or unhappiness of other people. On the latter account it would be a moral view that men ought to feed the starving; but not a moral view that men ought to worship God, or that artists who can paint great pictures ought to do so even if those pictures will be seen only by themselves. If you use 'moral' in this limited sense, you can say without contradiction 'I think that religion is more important than morality'; but on my preferred use it would be self-contradictory to assert of anything describable in universal terms that it was more important than morality. A man's morality is (with the qualification that it be not centred on self or any other particular individual) what he believes most important. My grounds for preferring my use are that so many men's beliefs about which actions are important to do are supported or opposed both on grounds which concern the happiness and unhappiness of other people and also on other grounds (e.g. whether the action shows due loyalty, pays honour to whom honour is due, involves keeping a promise or telling the truth), that confining the term to the narrower use would obscure the overlap of grounds of the different kinds in leading to beliefs about overall worth.1
Swinburne is arguing for a view of morality that is objective and prescriptive; moral values and duties are real "oughts" to which all of humanity are beholden. If something like telling the truth is valuable in itself, then morality must be larger than simply adding to the happiness of an individual or individuals. If morality is only about increasing happiness, it begs the question of whether honor has any real meaning since one can bestow false honor on another to make him or her happy. But there is something not quite right with honoring a coward alongside a hero after the battle. And the weighing of the rightness or wrongness of an action identifies it as a moral question, one that defining morality as increasing happiness alone cannot solve.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 223-224.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer?



Remember that cliffhanger on Friends where Rachel sees Joey on one knee with a ring in his hand and tells him she would marry him? As fans of the show would know, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. Joey bent down to pick up an engagement ring that had fallen out of Ross's jacket. Even though Joey never actually asked her to marry him, it was because Rachel had it in her mind that she was going to be alone that she reacted so quickly to his posture.

Sitcoms have made a trope out of friends misunderstanding one another. The seventies sitcom Three's Company seemed to drive almost every episode on some kind of farcical misunderstanding. However, in the real world misunderstandings are usually not so funny nor so easily resolved. Yet, we live in an age where in-person conversations have given way to digital exchanges and misunderstanding someone else is easier than ever.

Real conversations between people allow the participants to see each other's body language, facial expressions, and their level of attentiveness. Their voice inflection, cadence, and speed help our understanding of the words they use and what they mean. But all of that is lost in the digital world of texts and social media comments.

How does this affect me and my witness?

Perhaps you've followed me to this point and are currently thinking, "Well, yeah. Everyone has had an experience when our text or comment was received differently than intended. But what's your point?" My point is simple, as Christians who engage with others both in person and on social media, we must be extra diligent to make sure we really understand the other person before we comment in any way.

Unfortunately, I see the opposite over and over again, especially on boards that focus on defending the faith. One particularly grievous pattern that I've observed is people commenting on the title of an article that has been shared or posted without actually bothering to read the article itself. Just like the distracted Rachel who's a bit wrapped up in her own needs, these folks are responding to something that many times hasn't been said. Yet we complain whenever an atheist or news report provides a caricature of a Christian position, many times without ever asking a Christian what it is he or she believes.

This can happen in face to face conversations when you're too busy thinking about what your next "killer comeback" is going to be instead of really listening to the other person. But I've shown that taking a vested interest in the other person and their beliefs can radically change the nature and direction of the conversation. Online, it happens even more frequently, and results in driving people apart more than helping them see the truth of the Gospel.

Did you answer this article's title before you got here?

Even in my own writings, I often title my articles in the form of a question (just as this one is). When I post them on Facebook, I receive several responses. The people don't interact with the article and its ideas, but they simply answer the question in the article's title! Sometimes they even get the topic the question raises wrong. This should never happen.

Christians need to care enough about those with whom we interact to find out what it is they're saying before we rush headlong into our "silver bullet" answer. We cannot allow ourselves to create straw men.  When the issues are important, proper communication and understanding become even more crucial. Don't rely on second hand accounts of what you think an expert said, read the expert yourself. You may be surprised to find a more nuanced view than you were lead to believe. Don't snap to a judgement on a post because the first sentence sounds like a common view. It may or may not be. Ask the author some questions and see if you can understand what is behind the comment. By asking questions, you may even be able to show the inconsistency of the other person's view.

What's the one question no Christian can answer? It the one they never bothered to hear in the first place.

Image courtesy Lourdes S. (Day 14: I Don't Know ANY of This!) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 20, 2016

Here's Why Target's Bathroom Policy Matters So Much



I get weary of the culture wars. It seems never-ending, doesn't it? There is always some new indignity to oppose or non-Christian position to resist. Things get worse when we look at the political support for-profit companies provide. There are so many that take a contrary stand to Christian ideals, if I were to boycott each one, it would be difficult to shop at all. Sometimes, I just want a pair of pants or cellular service or a hamburger. I don't want to have to figure out who's safe and who isn't.

That's why a recent blog post by Jaci Lambert caught my eye. Entitled "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife," Lambert argues Target has supported fairly liberal positions prior to implementing its transgender bathroom policy, the perverts and pedophiles won't care about Target's bathroom policies, it's therefore every parent's job to keep their kids safe in the bathroom, and transgender people are not the dangerous villains that they seem to be cast given these discussions, and such boycotts don't reflect Jesus to the outside world.1

Advocating for an Idea, not Just an Action

I appreciate Jaci's honesty and explanation. I think her points have validity, with the possible exception of the idea that pedophiles and perverts don't care. In the few months since this national conversation on bathrooms started there have already been reported problems of men inhabiting clothing store dressing rooms, in grocery store restrooms, and even in locker rooms where the activist tested Seattle's law by entering where underage girls were disrobing. Certainly it doesn't take much imagination to understand that such laws will embolden more perverts to attempt such entries if there's no threat of prosecution.

But, that's really beside the point. My concern with the blog post is it misses the bigger reason why this particular issue is so important. Yes, Christians will disagree with many stances Target takes. That shouldn't by itself be surprising or critical enough to yell "boycott!" Yes, parents must watch over their kids. Let's face it, many pedophiles are men looking to abuse young boys and holding to a traditional bathroom policy does absolutely nothing to address that danger. My concerns about safety are real, but they aren't the tipping point for me.

The biggest problem with the Target stance is it gives legitimacy to an idea that is both dangerous and abhorrent. That is, it legitimizes the idea that biology doesn't matter and every person's predilections are equally valid. It ignores the scientific data that gender dysphoria is a mental disorder that holds a high suicide rate, even after transitioning, and instead promotes the myth that gender can be whatever each individual wishes to define for him or herself. The policy ignores the discomfort of women who were raped or sexually assaulted that makes up 17.6% of the female population2 to accommodate 0.3% who identify as transgender3. In short, it says it's OK to ignore the truth for political correctness.

Some Ramifications So Far

It becomes easy to see how big the impact of the spread of these ideas is. Target's bathroom policy was announced on April 19, 2016. In less than one month from that announcement, President Obama's Department of Education issued what amounts to a threat to every public school in the country stating that all restrooms should be open to those who identify as whatever gender they please. I'm not saying that one caused the other, but the fact there was no immediate and overwhelming backlash to the Target policy made it easier on the DOE to do their dirty work.

Then there's the message such policies send to the larger culture. Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet believes that because homosexual marriage is now accepted in society, people should treat those who hold traditional views as they would Nazis:
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won…   For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That's mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line ("You lost, live with it") is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn't work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
This is what capitulation leads to. It changes the society and allows those who wish to bankrupt Christian businesses or jail government employees for exercising their right of conscience. Ultimately, it denies the intrinsic worth of the human body, upon which human dignity itself is based.

As I said, I'm not a big boycott guy, but ideas have consequences. When the ideas a corporation are promoting undermine the core of human dignity itself, I think those are values worth fighting for.

References

1. Lambert, Jaci. "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife." Ministry in the Mommyhood. Jaci Lambert, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 May 2016. http://www.ministryinthemommyhood.com/target-bathrooms-and-the-straight-conservative-preachers-wife/ .
2. Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. "Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey." PsycEXTRA Dataset. U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 2006. Web. 20 May 2016.
3. Gates, Gary J. "How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?" Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2011. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Can We be Equal without Christianity?



Throughout the history of civilization, people have sought to understand themselves by seeking to understand their place in society. When that society was patriarchal, the most respect was given to the forefathers, especially the eldest and most direct ancestor. When societies grew into city-states, one found his place in the service to that polis. Plato divided the classes into the guardians, the warriors, and the commoners, each serving the state in a specific capacity.

This kind of understanding extended beyond Greece. Rome granted citizenship was highly valued because it gave the citizen an elevated place in the society with greater rights.1 We see cultures, such as those of Saudi Arabia or oriental nations who still adopt a hierarchical view of the individual. But the West is different. Here, we value all people as equal. In the United States, our nation was founded on the principle. What caused the nations that sprang from the Roman Empire to so drastically alter their understanding of the worth of the individual?

Changing the Measure of Worth

In his excellent book Inventing the Individual, Larry Siedentop answers that question by pointing to the rise of Christianity. Siedentop details how the teachings of Jesus and Paul caused a "moral revolution" in thought, moving the value of the individual from hierarchical to equal. Individual freedom becomes elevated. He explains:
Previously in antiquity, it was the patriarchal family that had been the agency of immortality. Now, through the story of Jesus, individual moral agency was raised up as providing a unique window into the nature of things, into the experience of grace rather than necessity, a glimpse of something transcending death. The individual replaced the family as the focus of immortality.2
Because the individual now holds the ability tom become immortal, one's understanding of morality is changed as well. Instead of Plato's justice being determined by how one is helpful to the Polis, morality becomes more about an individual's actions to other individuals. Siedentop argues that "the premise of moral equality requires a human will that is in a sense pre-social,"3 meaning independent of one's position within the societal structures. The only way people can do that is through faith in Christ. He continues, "Faith in the Christ requires seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, the point of view which truly moralizes humans as agents." 4

How Christianity Impacts More than Civic Status

Once the basis for moral equality is established through Christ, Siedentop then shows just how powerful those ideas become. For example, he points to Tertullian to show the radical new way of thinking Christianity offers the world:
If God created humans as equals, as rational agents with free will, then there ought to be an area within which they are free to choose responsible a free choices. Identifying such an area was at first meant to be self-defence by Christians. But soon it was also much more than that. Tertullian saw clear implications of Christian moral beliefs. "Here lies the perfection and distinctiveness of Christian goodness," he argued. "Ordinary goodness is different; for all men love their friends, but only Christians love their enemies."5
This is how true goodness comes from Christianity alone. The moral equality of all people rests in the Christian understanding of redemption. Realize, I don't know whether Siedentop is a Christian or not. His book is written from his position as a scholar of political history, serving at Oxford among other institutions. His book does not push Christian beliefs, but simply describes the paradigm shift Christianity brought upon the world. Without Christianity, moral equality cannot find its footing. Without Christianity, the value of the individual fades into how one services the state.

References

1. "civitas". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 17 May. 2016
http://www.britannica.com/topic/civitas.
2. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism. Penguin Books, 2014. Print. 58.
3. Siedentop, 2014. 64.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 65.
5. Siedentop, 2014.76.
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