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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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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Wife Beheaded Barely Registers for the Press

I found an interesting article on the GetReligion blog dealing with Muzzammil Hassan. Hassan is probably not a familiar name to you – and that's precisely y the issue. Hassan is a Muslim-American who is very active in trying to dispel negative Muslim stereotypes in the media. As the blog post notes, "Muzzammil Hassan had received some fantastic national media coverage a couple of years ago - NPR, Chicago Tribune, etc. - as the founder and CEO of Bridges TV. Bridges was founded, he said, to counter negative Muslim stereotypes."



So why the interest in Hassan now? Well, a couple of weeks ago his wife filed for divorce and asked for an order of protection against her husband. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as days later Hassan summarily beheaded his wife and then reported her dead body to the police.

It's an understatement to say that beheading your wife is a shocking crime. So, why haven't we heard more about it? The story has received some press, but not to the level one would expect for this type of action. As the GetReligion post goes on to say:
So just on the irony or hypocrisy angle alone, I figured the story would get quite a bit of media coverage. But it kind of just floated out there - getting some coverage but nothing terribly substantive. Normally I would chalk it up to the news maxim that only violence against young blond women gets coverage but even with the domestic abuse situation involving Rihanna and Chris Brown, no one seemed interested in a particularly gruesome murder….
The thing was that Hassan was a prominent Muslim who had been championed for his efforts to dispel Muslim stereotypes. So while, very sad to say, even if he were simply accused of killing his wife in a more common manner as opposed to beheading her - something that is extremely uncommon in America - this story might not have had as much news value.
The stories that were out there seemed to lack substance. They didn't explore why beheadings are more common in some cultures and what, if anything, that has to do with various religious values.
These are good questions and I hope that our culture and the "watchdogs of justice" aren't afraid to at least ask them. The blog post does highlight at least one Associated Press article that begins to explore these questions. You can read the whole Get Religion piece here.
Image courtesy E.C. and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Don't Let Your Eyes Deceive You!


In my devotion this morning I found myself in Ezekiel 12 - a prophecy about Israel and Judah going into captivity. In this prophecy, the Lord tells Ezekiel:
"The prince who is among them will load his baggage on his shoulder in the dark and go out. They will dig a hole through the wall to bring it out. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land with his eyes. I will also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare And I will bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there." (vv. 12-13)
This prophecy was fulfilled during King Zedekiah’s reign. After trying to form a revolt against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had previously put him in power, the Babylonians came into Judah, besieged Jerusalem and leveled the city. Capturing Zedekiah, they slaughtered his sons before his eyes and then put his eyes out – making that the last thing he would ever see. Once blinded, they carried him in chains to Babylon.

This story got me thinking about how the Bible treats the eye symbolically.
  • In Genesis 3, Eve saw the fruit of the tree was good for food, so she took it and gave some to her husband to eat.
  • Sampson had eye trouble - he saw a daughter of the Philistines and wanted to marry her (Judges 14:1) and he saw a harlot in Gaza (Judges 16:1) which led to his fate with Delilah. The Philistines put out Samson’s eyes. Only after this did God use him again.
  • Jesus once taught "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matt 5:39).
One of Israel and Judah's problems prior to the exile is they trusted too much in what they saw – their temple, their walls, their chariots and their alliances – instead of their relationship with the Lord. Symbolically, God is showing the entire rebellious nation that their eyes are deceiving them and leading them away from Him. So he allows them to be "put out" the king's eyes are put out, the temple is destroyed and the nation is put out of the land so they can no longer trust in their surroundings.

The interesting thing in all this is how we can be reconciled through Jesus. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind by making clay or mud from the ground and putting it on his eyes. I've always read that with a nod to Genesis 2 - since God created us out of the dust of the ground, could it be that this man's condition was he was born without his entire eye? Perhaps Jesus is creating that part of him that the man lacked in the same way that God made Adam.

Whatever the case, Jesus has the ability to heal us of our deepest sin issues. The eye is the source for all kinds of sin. If we voluntarily admit our sins and give them to Him, He can restore us to a proper state. If we continue in rebellion, God just may have to deal with us more strongly in order to keep us from sinning so we can again make the main thing the main thing.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Shell Game on Stem Cells



One of the campaign pledges Barak Obama ran on was to reverse the Bush administration's ban of federal funding for new lines of embryonic stem cell research. Given Obama's now in office, some news publications are spinning the stem cell debate pretty strongly. Time magazine's cover story on stem cell research trumpets "How the Coming Revolution in Stem Cells Could Save your Life" while the article is filled with ridiculous statements like "during the dark days of the Bush administration's stem cell restrictions", "federally backed scientists like Melton were forced to adopt a byzantine system of labeling and cataloging their cell cultures and equipment". Even the article's subheading contains more commentary than fact when it states "After eight years of political ostracism, stem-cell scientists like Harvard's Douglas Melton are coming back into the light - and making discoveries that may soon bring lifesaving breakthroughs."

My question is - aren't we getting tired of being lied to yet? The hype in the Time article is ridiculous, meant only to sway people to a political point of view. Let's separate all this rhetoric from what we actually know.
  1. There was no ban on stem cell research. Even though articles carried headlines of the "federal stem cell research ban", there was never a ban on this type of research. The Bush administration disallowed any federal funding for creating new lies of embryonic stem cells - in other words destroying more embryos just to get stem cells from them. Federal money was available to do research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells. And private investment in embryonic development was always allowable, but not as readily found for reasons we will see.
  2. Embryos don't need to be destroyed for this research to continue. Just last year, UCLA scientists announced that they were able to create pluripotent stem cells - cells with all the same potential as embryonic cells - from human skin, thus confirming earlier successes by other scientists. Katherine Plath, one of the lead scientists on the project said "Our reprogrammed human skin cells were virtually indistinguishable from human embryonic stem cells." If this is true, then why are we so up in arms over the federal restrictions? Look what it helped accomplish - scientists looked for other ways to get to the same cell types without an ethical quandary and were successful. Everybody wins.
  3. Embryonic stem cell research is not the only game in town. Over and over again, articles like the one in Time fail to differentiate the types of stem cell research that are being investigated. Embryonic stem cells, those which come from human embryos, are only one type of research being performed - and that type isn't even the most successful research happening. Adults create stem cells naturally as well and in this field of research we're seeing real advances all the time.
The latest example is how a stem cell treatment can reverse multiple sclerosis symptoms by using the patient's own stem cells. This is a major breakthrough and has no ethical problems whatsoever, yet articles like that in Time never differentiate the success and ethical issues dividing adult stem cells and Let me emphasis this point - there are no successful clinical trials of any treatment using embryonic stems cells anywhere in the world. None . According to the Susan Martinuk of the Calgary Herald, "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved a clinical trial for an ESC treatment for spinal cord injuries, thereby making the U. S. the first in the world to conduct a human ESC clinical trial." She then goes on to offer a very candid assessment of the field:
But many private companies have been reluctant to fund embryo research because it involves morally controversial techniques and, so far, has shown few signs of success. Most preliminary research indicates that adult stem cells are the key to new cures and treatments, so they're jumping on that bandwagon. This is the real reason government funding is so essential to ESC research—few private investors view it as a future success.
...
In contrast, adult stem cells from bone marrow and stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood are already curing diseases. While scientists are heralding the success of their FDA approval for the world's first clinical trial using ESCs, more than 1,000 clinical trials are underway or have been completed using ASCs. Dozens of cures have been seen in trials and the FDA has already approved ASC treatments for nine different conditions. Other ASC treatments have been approved for use in other countries, but are still in the process of gaining FDA approval.
Duke University is using umbilical cord blood to treat children with brain injuries and cerebral palsy. The Texas Heart Institute is treating patients with heart disease by injecting their own ASCs directly into the heart to stimulate healing and blood flow. Most recently, a woman's bone marrow cells were used to grow the new windpipe she so badly needed.
The first step to enlightenment isn't Barack Obama. It's acknowledging the only thing holding back embryonic stem cell research is that it might not work. In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Estrich claimed that those against destroying embryos for research purposes were playing "selfish politics mandated by those who don't give a damn". Really? Where's the track record here? Who's obfuscating the issues? Why don't private investors see the same rich potential in embryonic stem cells as adult cells? And if it's because they don't want to get caught in an ethical quandary, then why not advance the creation of pluripotent cells from human skin instead of embryos. It seems to me that Estrich and Time are the ones playing politics. If you're really worried about the kids, then follow success, not your agenda.

Image courtesy ZioDave - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ziodave/25510393. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
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