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Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCOTUS Ignoring the Constitution

It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions have been released. One of the biggest decisions getting press is the finding in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, where the Court overturned a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Because this is the first Supreme Court ruling on an abortion case in nearly 20 years, it has gotten a lot of press. However, the bigger story is the decision the Court made to not hear a case.

Today, the Court's majority denied a hearing for the owners of a Washington State pharmacy who are resisting being compelled by state law to sell abortifacient drugs at their business. This is a terrifying decision, and not simply because it involves abortion. The case hung on the fact that compelling someone to engage in commerce against their convictions and religious beliefs is unconstitutional. That's what free exercise of religion means. That's why the Pilgrims left for America and it's why religious freedom was demanded as the first of the amendments guaranteed in the Constitution. To simply ignore that now is to gut the very freedom upon which our country is built.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating, I offer this quote from James Madison on the need for religious liberty separate from any state compulsion:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves (emphasis added).1
What makes Madison's arguments even more interesting is in this instance he was arguing against compulsion from the state to subsidize a particular form of Christianity, but he anchored his arguments in the understanding that personal conviction takes precedence over the state's desire. It is the guarantee that the people have the right of conscience to live out their beliefs to the Governor of the Universe first that is inalienable. In denying the hearing, the Court 's majority is denying that any such right exists.

Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito understood the problem rejecting the case poses for religious liberty. In their dissenting opinion, they call this “an ominous sign” and conclude “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” 2

I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned that judicial reinterpretation is erasing the very rights upon which this country was built and why it should exist. Madison thought it was a big deal, maybe our judiciary should, too.


1. Madison, James. "Amendment I (Religion): James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." The Founder's Constitution. The University of Chicago, 1987. Web. 28 June 2016.
2. Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman. Supreme Court of the United States. 28 June 2016. Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When Does Cultural Insanity Hit the Breaking Point?

The Internet is ablaze with all kinds of opinions on about the shooting of Harambe, a seventeen-year-old gorilla zookeepers shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after the beast grabbed a three year old child who had fallen into his enclosure. Twitter showed the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe was trending over the weekend and a petition entitle "Justice for Harambe" has garnered over 350,000 signatures urging that the parents of the toddler "be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life."1

Obviously, this only proves there are 350,000 people in the world who have never had to watch a toddler for an extended period of time.

Others are decrying the response of the zoo in shooting the ape. NBC News reported "Animal rights activists continued to protest Monday" over Harambe's death. But just what is there to protest? A child's life was in danger and the only way to guarantee his safety was to shoot the animal. This is a no-brainer, yet it has seen a significant amount of coverage and discussion across the various media outlets.

Detaching Desire from Reality

The gorilla protesters aren't a big thing by themselves. However, the event is indicative of a very scary trend that has been developing rather quickly in society. People have basically decoupled themselves from reality. We have seen it in the transgender issue where people not only wish to believe their desire is enough to change the reality of their biology; they demand that everyone else reinforce their desire. We've seen it in spoiled college kids who think if they only hear opinions and ideas about how they want the world to be, they won't be "triggered" and therefore bad things won't happen to them. We've seen it in every televised police pursuit where each felon seems to really believe that he or she can unilaterally escape an entire police squad wit radios, spike strips, and helicopters to track their every move. How do those always end?

While it's easy to point at each scenario and shake our heads, I'm wondering when will enough be enough? I understand and accept in any free society one will face competing belief systems. I think that's actually healthy. Everyone should be challenged to understand and produce reasons for the beliefs he or she holds. But that isn't what this is. We've moved from reasoning to reactionary, and from truth to tale. Just as those who use edited photos and posts to craft a non-real version of their lives on social media, there are those who now believe they can similarly shape their entire world experience.

The problem is that the real world doesn't play this game. People end up getting hurt. Zookeepers explained that tranquilizers don't work like you see in the movies. They can take up to 30 minutes to take effect. In the interim, you've just angered a 450 lb. gorilla who can crush that toddler like an empty soda can. Is that really a good plan? If it were your child, would you still advocate for it?

Reality can be hard. Ignore it and sooner or later it comes back at you like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, coldly asserting "I'm not going to be ignored!" If protesters were there to stand in front of the zoo marksmen, stopping them from shooting and the child died, then what? Who would be to blame then?

I applaud the zoo officials for making the right call in this instance. Human beings are more valuable than animals, full stop. If you must choose between one or the other, choose the human. That's what being civilized is.


1. Hurt, Sheila. "Cincinnati Zoo: Justice for Harambe.", 29 May 2016. Web. 31 May 2016.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Another Way Christianity Changed Everything: Human Freedom

People want to be free. In fact, most of the battles now fought in the culture wars are about individuals who feel they have not simply a desire but a right to express their individual freedom as to who they are and how they are seen by others. The transgender bathroom fiasco is a prime example of this.

It is their right, they demand, to present themselves as they personally wish to be presented. They maintain that neither culture nor tradition should trump who they are as individuals and they're pursued various legal strategies to assert individual rights as real and inviolate. But where do those rights come from?

In one sense I agree with the battlers. Culture, tradition and even government cannot bestow rights (properly understood) upon people. Any right that is granted by an institution is not an inviolate right by definition. If the state can create and bestow rights upon an individual, then the state can take those rights away. Such "rights" amount to privileges that the state allows one to exercise.

In fact, throughout much of human history, the individual was subservient to the group. In his book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, scholar Larry Siedentop outlines how all cultures prior to Christ were first built around the family unit which expanded to the city-state, the polis.1 He writes how the Greeks saw devotion to the welfare of the city as the highest virtue. Rome demanded devotion to the emperor and the empire. Conformity to the powers that be was the only thing that made one a worthwhile citizen.

So what changed? Where did this idea that the state should be respectful of the rights of the citizen more than the citizen must conform to the needs of the state come from? Siedentop states plainly, it is Christianity that declared such a radically new concept to humanity:
Paul's vision on the road to Damascus amounted to the discovery of human freedom—of moral agency potentially available to each and everyone, that is to individuals. This 'universal' freedom, with its moral implications, was utterly different from the freedom enjoyed by the privileged class of citizens in the polis.

In his conception of the Christ, Paul brings together basic features of Jewish and Greek thought to create something new. We can see in a famous passage from his letters, the letter to the Galatians, dating from about twenty years after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul uses Jesus' emphasis on the fatherhood of God to insist on the brotherhood of man and, indirectly, to proclaim his own role as apostle to the Gentiles. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' Paul's 'one' signals a new transparency in human relations. Through his conception of the Christ, Paul insists on the moral equality of humans, on a status shared equally by all. And his great mission becomes the salvation of individual souls, through sharing his vision of the Christ - a vision which makes it possible to create a new self.2
Paul grounds his view of humanity as valuable because each individual bears the image of God. People are not simply material beings. If they were, then they could be measured by their value to the group. But as individual image bearers "conventional social roles—whether of father, daughter, official, priest or slave—become secondary in relation to that primary role."3  This stands in stark contrast to how all other cultures saw themselves by either their position in the public sphere and their position within the domestic sphere, which Siedentop explains "was understood as the sphere of the family, rather than that of individuals endowed with rights. The domestic sphere was a sphere of inequality. Inequality of roles was fundamental to the worship of the ancient family."4

It is Christianity that makes any sense of individual rights at all. Without a very specific Christian theology of man, the assertion that human beings are equal and each person has rights is as meaningless as holding that individual cells have certain rights without respect to the body as a whole.  There is simply no other way to anchor the rights of human beings.

I don't agree on the bathroom issue. I believe it is ludicrous to think that one's desire can overrule reality. No matter how convinced an anorexic is that she is fat, the reality is her self-starvation is endangering to her person. The biology of her body is in conflict with her self-concept. Similarly, those with gender dysphoria are at odds with their biology. Restrooms serve a very utilitarian function, wholly built to serve human biological needs. Separating bathrooms by biological sex bathroom doesn't violate one's rights because it is our biology that makes us human. Sex is a real differentiator and shouldn't be ignored. But even more importantly, how can anyone consistently argue for their rights against Christian theology when it is Christian theology that provides the very foundation for having rights at all? The contradiction is striking.


1. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. S.l.: Penguin, 2014. Print. 25.
2. Siedentop, 2014. 60.
3. Siedentop, 2014. 62.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 18.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mark Feb 24 as a Key Date in the Battle for Religious Freedom

Today is a significant date in Christian history, for it was on February 24, 303 AD that the edict was issued by Roman Emperor Diocletian that began the first empire-wide and most bloody persecution of Christians. Prior to 303, Christians had been persecuted in various provinces of the Roman Empire, but this was different. It was systemic and all-encompassing.

The Diocletian Persecution is important partially because of how it began. Historian W.H.C. Frend explains the crafting of the laws that launched the persecution:
The persecution resembled Valerian's more than Decius's. It had been carefully planned and the consequences had been weighed. Diocletian recognized the danger of making Christians martyrs. No blood, he insisted, must be shed. The aim was to recall the Christians to their duty of recognizing the majesty of the Roman Gods. The edict he promulgated on 24 February ordered throughout the empire churches were to be destroyed, and the sacred books of the Christians handed over to be burned. Christians in public offices were to be removed from them. In private life Christians in the upper classes (honestiores) were to lose their privileges. In particular, they could not act as plaintiffs in cases of injury, adultery, or theft. Christian slaves might not be freed. But there was no requirement for universal sacrifice. The attack was concentrated on the organization of the church, its life as represented by the Scriptures and buildings, and on its influential members. (Emphasis added.)1
Notice the thought process by Emperor Diocletian who had to initially be convinced to issue the edict. We're not going to force people to worship Roman Gods. It's simply the duty of those who enjoy the benefits of Rome's governance to recognize there is a social standard to which they must adhere. Thus, Christians should be removed from public offices since their Christian beliefs run counter to the beliefs the state wishes to promote. Wealthy Christian businessmen should lose any protections they hold, especially those that would protect them legally. The church as an organization should be attacked as a wrong-thinking institution. But no blood should be shed and Christians can believe what they will in the privacy of their own homes.

The Loss of Freedom Today

Of course, we are not in Diocletian's Rome. Frend spends several pages discussing why conditions in the Empire at that time made the persecution more likely than before. Those conditions do not exist today and I'm not arguing that we are heading for another Diocletian Persecution. However, the trend to weaken religious freedom is increasing, and many of the justifications used sound eerily familiar. If you're a Christian court clerk in Kentucky who refuses to sign a marriage certificate, people demand you be removed from public office. If you are a baker or wedding photographer, your beliefs and your conscience are secondary to what the state feels is moral. Here's how the Harvard Law Review summarized the judgment against one such photographer:
Justice Bosson concluded that "[i]n the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. . . . [I]t is the price of citizenship."2
The freedom of religion is often referred to as the "First Freedom." In the United States, it is the first freedom to be recognized in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, but it is the first freedom in more ways than that. Without the freedom to not simply "do whatever we want in the privacy of our homes," but to incorporate our beliefs into our broader lives, we are not truly worshiping freely. It is the state that is setting the rubric of what counts as true beliefs verses what counts as inconsequential beliefs. How much can you belief something if it never affects the way in which you live? The short answer is: you can't. By dictating which beliefs must be sacrificed for the price of citizenship is effectively setting a state religious litmus test.

Escalating from Legislation to Volience

The second reason why we should remember the Diocletian persecution is how quickly it elevated from a calculated, no-blood political move to an all-out blood bath against Christians. The Christian History Institute sums it up nicely:
Before the end of the year, Diocletian issued two more proclamations against Christians and Maximian issued a fourth the following year. One ordered the imprisonment of Christian teachers, filling the prisons with bishops and clergy. The next ordered that these prisoners either sacrifice to the pagan gods or be tortured. The third directed that all Christians should be required to sacrifice on pain of torture.

Christians suffered terribly, especially in the eastern empire. Some were thrown to wild beasts, others burned alive or roasted on griddles. Some were skinned or had their flesh scraped from their bones. Others were crucified. A few were tied between trees that were bent so as to meet and, when the branches were released, the force ripped these victims limb from limb. Eventually the Romans wearied of this and set the remaining Christians to work in mines or gave them menial jobs. In many instances, they gouged out an eye or maimed a hand or foot before sending the workers off. From this period come many notable martyrs, including the young girl, Agnes of Rome.3
While the powers that be began in limiting their scope of the edicts, it quickly grew out of control. The tortures were fierce and had gone beyond what the designers had imagined. Even those Christians who had adopted Roman customs were not immune. Frend writes, "For some, the Persecution must have come as a great shock. Even in towns where they were most numerous, we find Christians sharing fully in the Greco-Roman culture, taking part in city life as councilors, and not adverse to references to Hades and the Muses on their tombstones."4 To have assumed those who just "go with the program" or one who agrees with the state and capitulate to its edicts means they will not be targeted was mistaken. Just the name "Christian" was enough to condemn one to death or to slave labor.

AS we mark the anniversary of the Diocletian Persecution, we should consider these things and think about what we risk in our own society. People are people and they tend to repeat themselves. What lessons should we learn before we allow our religious freedom to be adjudicated into something less than an irrevocable right held by all mankind?


1. Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. Print. 457.
2. "Constitutional Law — First Amendment — New Mexico Supreme Court Holds That Application Of Public Accommodations Law To Wedding Photography Company Does Not Violate First Amendment Speech Protections. Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013)." Harvard Law Review 127.5 (2014): 1485. Web.
[. "Start of Diocletian's Great Persecution | It Happened Today." Christian History Institute. Christian History Institute, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
4. Frend, 1984. 445.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Demand for Choice Can Diminish Humanity

I wrote yesterday how human dignity is being redefined and how individual autonomy is what is regarded as the most sacred thing. One way this is playing out in the broader culture is in the way people choose to define themselves.  Most believe that self-definition should be completely free of all restrictions. So, we have Bruce Jenner who now chooses to identify as a woman and Rachel Dolezal, who while born to a Caucasian family has chosen to identify as African American.

Traditionally, one would say that these choices are not one's to make. People have certain attributes and sex or race describe biology and heritage. They are not malleable. Yet, today others claim that to restrict someone from being able to choose one's own identity diminishes his or her personhood. It is the choice that matters more.

In his masterpiece Orthodoxy, Chesterton took on the claim that limiting choices somehow diminishes an individual. He noted that it is the limitations that shape one's identity, not the absolute freedom. He explains that "every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses." 1 He goes on to explain that even religious moral laws limit choices and while those who extol choice above all else (people whom he labels as "will –worshipper" ) sound nonsensical when examining the defining effect of limiting oneself in choice:
For instance, Mr. John Davidson tells us to have nothing to do with "Thou shalt not"; but it is surely obvious that "Thou shalt not" is only one of the necessary corollaries of "I will." "I will go to the Lord Mayor's Show, and thou shalt not stop me." Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.

The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes.

Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles"; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless.2
I think Chesterton is right here. Being human means there are certain limitations to our nature. It is the best of man not to choose to opt out of that thing that makes one uncomfortable but to find a path to live with the discomfort. We don't applaud the paraplegic who gets my with a personal servant attending twenty four hours a day. We applaud those who embrace a vibrant life and who have overcome the struggles in which their unfortunate circumstance has placed them. Thus I don't see Jenner or Dolezal as ones to be lauded. By trying to lose their limitations, they don't add to the human condition, they detract from it.


1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Public Domain Books, 1994. Kindle Edition. 32.
2.Chesterton, 32-33.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars

I'm currently attending the Evangelical Philosophical Society's Annual Meeting which is being held this year in Atlanta. This is the place where all the top scholars come together to share ideas and discuss their research, like this morning's panel entitled "Sexuality and the Crisis of Religious Liberty." One of the speakers was Dr. Greg Forster who drew out an interesting distinction on how people understand basic human worth and how it's changed in the past half century or so.

It's no secret there's a great conflict within our society on key moral issues. Homosexual unions, transgenderism, and euthanasia have all made the headlines recently, but these are part of a broader clash occurring in our culture today. Forster noted that these clashes aren't separate issues, especially as you see how they are argued against or defended in the public square. Most of the proponents of progressive moral issues believe laws that would bar same sex unions or euthanasia are assaults upon human dignity; people who oppose such things should be labeled bigots. Forster said that the root of the shift in understanding that has happened in the last fifty years or so is due to a shift in the understanding of just what human dignity is.

Traditional Human Dignity is Rooted in the Image of God

Traditional western ideas of human dignity are grounded in the fact that all human beings have an inherent worth simply due to the fact that they are human as I've explained before. Every human being bears the image of God and therefore holds this worth, regardless of his or her capacities or actions. It is this concept of human worth that recognized the importance of liberty for all. It is why racism is wrong. It is why one should not compel another to believe what violates his or her conscience, for to force someone to do what is against that person's will is to ignores the fact that human beings are moral agents intrinsically.

Such a concept of human dignity allows us to draw a distinction between a person as a human being and one's decisions, actions, or proclivities. I can disagree with an action, but the person doing the action still has full human dignity. This is the reasoning behind why civilized societies don't torture prisoners, no matter how heinous their crimes. Human beings have worth simply because they are human beings.

The New Dignity: Rooted in Choice

Of course, such a view of human dignity isn't shared universally. Many countries that don't have a Judeo-Christian heritage don't hold to this view and it isn't surprising their lack of this view would be reflected in other ways, such as the cruel treatment of prisoners. There are countries today that will cane people for graffiti or sentence a thief to have his hand cut off.

Forster argued that in the 20th century, western countries wanted some way to stop systemic abuses by other nations. They needed a reason that was authoritatively cross-cultural and cross-religious. Forster argues that the concept of human dignity was adapted for this task and it was redefined in order to do so. An example is the German Constitution that was written just after World War II. It opens with the words "Human dignity shall be inviolable"1 and then goes on to unpack what they mean by dignity. The very next article reads:
(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.2
You can see this concept of human dignity is not rooted in the Imago Dei, but in the free choices people make. It's the choices that are significant drivers of dignity above. That is a radical diversion from the historic Christian understanding.

Forster went on to explain that as modern jurisprudence progressed, it has aligned itself with this much more secular version of dignity. Viewed in this light, when choices are denied, dignity is denied as well. Thus, denying someone of their choice to marry another of the same sex becomes an act that takes away the dignity of a person. If someone chooses to be recognized as another gender, their choice holds the value of that individual.

How Dignity Defined by Choice Robs Us

The interesting thing in rooting dignity on the capacity of individual choice is it will cut another way. Those that cannot choose will not be defined as humans with dignity. Since the unborn cannot choose but the mother can, we dehumanize the fetus. The elderly and inform don't have any inherent worth, but their choice to commit suicide is labeled "death with dignity." You can see how these competing concepts shape much of our culture wars today.

But this view flips everything on its head. It is the weakest and those without a voice who need the most protecting. Organizations would lobby on behalf of those who could not lobby for themselves stating they did so because of the worth of the individual. Those who are voiceless today have that dignity taken from them because they cannot voice a choice of their own.

Religious freedom also suffers as a result. Religious belief offers moral prescriptions for society. One should do thus and so but not this and that. Religious laws function in a way that limits certain choices or identifies certain choices as wrong. Therefore, religious values are under assault with some identifying them as corrosive to human dignity.

But we find ourselves in a Catch-22 here, for following one's religious teaching is also a choice. However, the secular view is that autonomous choices trump religious claims, thereby destroying the rights of religious people to choose to follow their conscience, even when the stakes are so low they amount to whether or not to bake a wedding cake or take pictures.

Rooting human dignity in freedom of choice will weaken society. It offers the weakest among us less power. It removes the distinction between the worth of the individual and the actions that individual makes. It eliminated the protection of conscience and a guarantee of religious liberty. Those with power will wield even greater threats, as the track record on euthanasia has already demonstrated. By changing the definition of human dignity, the concept of dignity for all will vanish.


1. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1, Sect. 1 Translation at
2. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 2.

Image courtesy Cali4beach and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Abdicating Our Right to Speak

Imagine you had two children. One became a philosophy professor, the other an engineer. Which would you say chose the more valuable occupation? Would the choice of their respective careers demonstrate which child was more intelligent? Which one knew the world better? Today, it is the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses that are emphasized in schools. The humanities, like literature, history, and philosophy are considered additions to the sciences, not equally necessary to them. But that's because our society is terribly biased.

The bias stems from a widespread belief that society always progresses forward. That is, the beliefs and knowledge we have today supersedes those of a century ago. Three hundred years ago humanity was even more superstitious and ignorant than the people of the last century and a thousand years ago they were even worse. Humanity has been marching in an upward trajectory and we've never been smarter or understood our world better than we do today.

I think that such a belief is itself indicative of the poor intellectual shape to which modern culture has succumbed. Of course we know more about science. We can do things that were heretofore unimaginable. But while it is true we know more about the workings of our world, it is equally true we know less about the workings of ourselves and what makes civilizations prosper. We've emphasized our ability to manipulate our environment while abandoning the values and philosophies that allowed us to achieve such feats in the first place.

Living in The Age of Feeling

Historians sometimes classify human history into specific ages where the culture stresses specific aspects of their society. We had the Age of Empires with Greece and Rome. Then, as Fulton J. Sheen notes, the Middle Ages would be classified as the Age of Faith. After the renaissance, humanity entered the Age of Reason. So, what age now we are living now? Sheen says we are now living in the Age of Feeling.1 We are living is what Sorokin labeled a sensate culture. We place too much value on the feelings we and others feel, and it is making us stupider as a culture.

I can think of at least three ways our culture has demonstrated it values feeling about all else:
  1. We would sacrifice our rights rather than feel uncomfortable
  2. We would ignore our biology instead of recognize human limitations
  3. We would sacrifice excellence in exchange for parity
Let's look at the first of these; our society is giving up our rights as human beings in order to promote the comfort of others.

Uncomfortable Speech is No Longer Tolerated

During the Age of Reason, very intelligent people recognized that a free and modern society could only prosper through the free exchange of ideas. This meant that freedom to express unpopular ideas would be crucial to advancement. Today, we have taken the opposite position, and this has been never more apparent than in our institutions of higher educations. Colleges were viewed as the place that promoted the free exchange of ideas. Now, they shelter and cloister their students from anything that a small elite defines as "hateful" or offensive.  Schools like Oberlin College offer "trigger-warnings" on course material that may upset a student.

Other schools like Rutgers University and Smith College have disinvited speakers because a small group of students and faculty disagreed with their political positions. Oberlin did host Christina Hoff Sommers, only to have students protest her presence, try to shout her down, or like those at Georgetown create "safe spaces" for students where they wouldn't listen to the speaker and instead take comfort in the seclusion of comfortable ignorance. How is this helping to shape the future leaders in society? How can we take Oberlin or its students seriously when instead of listening to an intelligent, articulate adult present her case on a position you may disagree with, you instead want to act like a child and hold your fingers in your ears? That isn't progress; that regress.

There are two additional ways our society demonstrates that it is becoming less advanced rather than more advanced. I will look at each ibn upcoming blog posts. But for now, pray that enough people become sickened by such antics that they stand up for our right to free speech, even speech with which they disagree. One good way of doing this is to not give money to any college or university that upholds things like speech codes on campus. See the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's latest report to find out which schools meet this criterion.

Continue to part two of this article ».


1. Sheen, Fulton J. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. Print. 23.
Image courtesy Emanuela Franchini and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Biology Cannot Account for Personhood

What makes a person? A New York judge has caused a lot of confusion on that score in the last couple of days. After hearing arguments by representatives of the Nonhuman Rights Project, who are seeking the "freedom" of two chimps held at the Stony Brook University lab. Upon hearing the petition, Manhattan Judge Barbara Jaffe issued a writ of habeas corpus, which according to Science magazine reporter David Grimm who has been reporting on the case, "typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention."1 The action by Judge Jaffe would have been the first time non-humans were recognized as legal persons. However, Jaffe quickly amended her court order, striking out the phrase "writ of habeas corpus," according to updates of the story.2

Are chimps persons? What defines personhood? Groups like Planned Parenthood have gone out of their way to make sure that unborn children are not defined as persons. They try to justify that claim by pointing to things like the ability to have complex thoughts or limited brain development. Those kinds of limitations are supposedly what keep unborn children from being seen as persons. Yet, the chimps at Stony Brook University will never have the capacity for abstract reasoning. They may feel pain, but they will never be able to internalize the concept of pain as an idea in and of itself. So, why should people petition for the recognition of chimps as legal persons when the argument can be made much more persuasively that human fetuses are human persons?

Reducing People to Biological Machines

Much of the confusion on what properties define personhood is the shortsightedness of relying on science to answer such questions. Science has been a great tool and has helped us understand things like human development in-vitro. It has also shown us that there are similarities in the way certain processes of biology function in both humans and animals. We share more of these similarities with some animals, such as chimps and apes, than we do with others, such as spiders or earthworms. But is a description of the machinery of our bodies all that's required to determine personhood or is there something more?

I think there is. In fact, biology isn't the necessary component in what makes a being a person at all. What if a human being is not being kept alive by his or her biology by purely by mechanical processes?  If someone has multiple artificial components surgically transplanted into them, does it make them less a person than another without the implants? Of course not. Even if we could one day replace all of that individual's body with machines, it wouldn't change the personhood of the individual.

Personhood is Immaterial

It isn't the biology that matters in the question of personhood. It is the fact that persons share certain non-physical attributes, such as the ability to love, to reason, to recognize other persons as persons and to have communion with God. Those are what make a person a person. Basically, we reflect certain attributes of God, attributes that are immaterial. I want to be clear here, though. I am not saying that these attributes need to be active for personhood to obtain. If that were the case, those under anesthesia or in a coma would not be considered persons. It would disqualify some with significant mental disabilities.  Rather, personhood recognizes the being as having the potential for these kinds of things, even if they aren't fully realized.

Peter Kreeft sums it up appropriately:
The reason we should love, respect, and not kill human beings is because they are persons, i.e., subjects, souls, "I's", made in the image of God Who is I AM. We revere the person, not the functioning; the doer, not the doing. If robots could do all that persons can do behaviorally, they would still not be persons. Mere machines cannot be persons. They may function as persons, but they do not understand that they do not have freedom, or free will to choose what they do. They obey their programming without free choice. They are artifacts, and artifacts are not persons. Persons are natural, not artificial. They develop from within (like fetuses!); artifacts are made from without.3
As long as the broader culture looks to biology to try and define personhood, confusion will continue. Personhood is something bigger than biology, though. We need to expand our thinking to include the non-physical aspects of what makes  each of us persons, lest we lose the concept of personhood altogether.


1. Grimm, David. "Updated: Judge's Ruling Grants Legal Right to Research Chimps." Science Insider. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
2. Calamur, Krishnadev. "N.Y. Judge Amends 'Habeas Corpus' Order For Chimps." NPR. NPR, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
3. Kreeft, Peter. "Human Personhood Begins at Conception." Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why God is the Foundation of American Liberty

In the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American life since 1942 when congress passed the Flag Code into law, describing the proper ways to display and treat the nation's flag. 1 At that time, the pledge did not contain the words "under God" in it. It also originally stipulated that citizens should say the pledge with their right hands outstretched toward the flag. However, given that salute's eerie similarity to the Nazi salute, the wartime congress quickly amended the law to have citizens place their right hands over their hearts. 2

It wasn't until 1953, when Democratic Congressman Louis Rabaut and Republican Senator Homer Ferguson introduced a bill to congress to amend the Pledge to include the words "under God" that the national debate was brought center stage. During this time, many different voices contributed to the debate. While a lot of media today explain away the addition as simply a knee-jerk response to those "Godless communists" in the Soviet Union, I think there is much more to the addition than that. Several civic groups, most noticeably the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus had decided to include the phrase in their recitation of the Pledge a few years prior, modeling it after Abraham Lincoln's use of the term in his Gettysburg address.3 Other groups began to do likewise.

God and the Constitution

In general, the question of how God relates to American government was swirling at the time. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided a case (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306) stating school children should be excused from attending public school for reasons of religious education or religious observance. Justice William O. Douglas, in writing for the majority said:
The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concern or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state [343 U.S. 306, 314] encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.4

Liberty Relies on the Natural Rights that God Bestows

As one can see, it was widely recognized that the United States was a nation founded upon certain principles, and those principles had at their root the belief that God exists and he is the source of those natural rights that this country holds so dear.

Such a concept shouldn't be shocking to anyone who has read the Declaration of independence. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a deist, he recognized that God alone grounds our rights. In writing about the revolution, he said "The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."5 Jefferson in another letter goes on to reinforce this view. When speaking on the issue of slavery, one that had begun to divide the nation, he said:
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. 6
Because the liberties of Americans depend on God and the foundational recognition that all governments must be held to this standard, which is a standard above themselves, the pressure increased to add the words "under God" to the pledge.

A New Birth of Freedom

On Feb 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower attended a service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where he heard Rev. George Docherty deliver a sermon entitled "A New Birth of Freedom," highlighting this distinction and drawing on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. While Docherty did say "I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity," to assume that was the focus of his reasoning would be to do him and President Eisenhower a disservice. You may real Docherty's entire sermon here, but for conciseness, here is the relevant portion:
There is no religious examination on entering the United States of America- no persecution because a man's faith differs even from the Christian religion. So, it must be 'under God' to include the great Jewish Community, and the people of the Moslem faith, and the myriad of denominations of Christians in the land.

What then of the honest atheist?

Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man-we call him a secular; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man, but because he is dialectically honest, and would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many have I known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neighbors, quite excellent.

But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow. The dilemma of the secular is quite simple.

He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic.

And if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.

In Jefferson's phrase, if we deny the existence of the god who gave us life how can we live by the liberty he gave us at the same time? This is a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson are the words "In God we trust." Congress is opened with prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the President takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance, conclude solemnly, with the words "so help me God."

This is the issue we face today: A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in God. A way of life that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concatenation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and "Whose soul is restless till he rest in God."

In this land, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, for we are one nation indivisible under God, and humbly as God has given us the light we seek liberty and justice for all. This quest is not only within these United States, but to the four corners of the glove wherever man will lift up his head toward the vision of his true and divine manhood.7
After that sermon, President Eisenhower went to congress and asked them to reintroduce the amendment to the Flag Code, which he signed into law on May 28, 1954.


1. Streufert, Duane. "United States Code." Duane Streufert, 8 July 1995. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
2. "Historical Timeline - Under God in the Pledge.", 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
3. "Historical Timeline", 2015.
4. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). United States Supreme Court. 28 Apr. 1952. Web.
5. Looney, J. Jefferson, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. Princeton: Princeton University, 2004. Web.
6. Looney, 2004.
7. Docherty, George. "A New Birth of Freedom." Virtue, Liberty, and Independence. City-On-A-Hill, 7 Feb. 1954. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Injustice of Government Defining Marriage

In the history of the United States, there are two United States Supreme Court decisions that everyone agrees were breathtakingly egregious. Both were rulings focusing on government laws that tried to police the natural course of human beings and both times the Court came down on the wrong side of nature.

The first case involved an African-American man named Dred Scott who was bought as a slave. Although his master, Peter Blow, moved from Virginia to the state of Missouri where slavery was illegal, Scott wouldn't be released by Blow. Scott attempted to purchase his freedom and was denied, so he sued for his family's freedom.1 In 1850, the St. Louis circuit court ruled that Scott was free, but appeals and counter appeals went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which threw out the verdict on the grounds that as a man of African descent, Scott didn't have standing to sue in a court of law. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that "When the Constitution was adopted, [those of African descent] were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its 'people or citizens.' Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."2

The second case focused on a woman named Carrie Buck and the state of Virginia's desire to forcibly sterilize her against her will. Virginia had recently passed a law that "the state could sterilize anyone found to be incompetent because of alcoholism, epilepsy, feeblemindedness, insanity, or other factors."3 Buck was presumed to be feeble-minded and to have come from a mother who was similarly classified as such. You can read the details here, but the Supreme Court agreed that the state had a compelling interest in forcibly sterilizing Buck against her will, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously pronouncing "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."4

Redefining What It Means to Be Human

Some would point to both these decisions as wrong because the Court did not grant more freedom to the plaintiff. But it isn't freedom in the sense of the unrestricted ability to do what one wants that was at issue. For example, there is a real compelling interest to incarcerate dangerous criminals. If granting freedom for freedom's sake is all that we should recognize, then prisons don't make much sense.

It isn't freedom where the courts went awry, it was the fact that the court tried to override the natural understanding of what it means to be human. The Dred Scott decision sought to redefine the concept of a person, stating that the government has the power to define just who qualifies as a person. If your family is from the African continent, then the government is within its right to redefine your personhood. The Buck v Bell decision argued that the government had the right to redefine who is deserving of having children or which genes should be passed on to future generations.

Nature and Natural Law

 In both cases, nature and biology would say that there is nothing fundamentally different in Mr. Scott's makeup that makes him any less human and therefore any less a person than anyone else. In Carrie Buck's case, the Court allowed the state to break the natural function of her body and stop it from reproducing. In both cases, the Courts didn't recognize the facts that natural law had established but thought that government institutions could redefine natural law into whatever meaning they wished.

Today, there are two other cases that divide the people. In the 1972 Roe v Wade decision, the Court granted the states the power to redefine an unborn baby as something other than a person, and, just like Dred Scott, without guarantee of the rights and protections that all citizens enjoy. In the as yet undecided same-sex marriage cases, the Court is weighing whether states can refuse to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. States that make such inclusions are also ignoring the natural process that every child is the product of a man and a woman and marriage is simply the codification that process as the best environment for children.

The Danger of Tyranny

We see the decisions against Scott and Buck as coercive intrusions of government over flexing its power to thwart what "Nature and Nature's God entitle them" as the Declaration puts it. Governments must maintain law and order. However, any government that believes it can redefine any aspect of natural law is not creating more freedom; it is creating enslavement. For even if you are a proponent of the new definition, you are conceding that the Government has the power to ignore nature and redefine any aspect of humanity that it so wishes. Once we cede such power to the courts or the government, there are no limits to the tyrannies they could enact. Natural rights must be anchored in natural law and natural law is reflected in our natural biology. When legislation or legal opinions contradict the basic functions of human beings, we all lose.


1. PBS. "Dred Scott's Fight for Freedom." PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation, 1989. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.
2. Scott v. Sandford. 60 U.S. 393. U. S. Supreme Court. 1857. Legal Information Institute. Web.
3. Smith, J. David and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Carrie Elizabeth Buck (1906–1983)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 31 May. 2013. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
4. Buck v. Bell, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded, 274 U.S. 200.U.S. Supreme Court. 1927. American Legal History – Russell. 18 November 2009. Web.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Understanding the Imago Dei is More Crucial than Ever

In the very beginning of the Bible, it states that man is created in God's image. In fact, the phrase is repeated three times in Genesis 1:26-27, which is the ancient Jewish equivalent of typing in all caps to underscore the point. Theologians throughout the ages use the Latin imago Dei when speaking of this unique aspect of human creation, however most people are still a bit fuzzy as to what being made in the image of God means.

Some people misunderstand the concept of being made in God's image to mean that God modeled our physical attributes after his own. This is a mistake as Jesus clearly taught that God is not physical but a spirit (John 4:24). As I've explained elsewhere, bearing the image of God means that humans are fundamentally different from every other animal created on the earth. Part of the imago Dei is the capability we have to reason and the ability to exercise our free will and make meaningful choices.

Recently, though, asked a question that I expect many other Christians may have about this definition. A person asked "What about those who are mentally ill, though? How can they bear God's image if they lack the ability to reason or make decisions for themselves?" This is a good question that reveals bias of our modern culture that has larger implications across a variety of moral issues.

More Than a List of Skills

Today, much of what is valued in society is based on "what can you do for me" or "what skills do you have" mentality. So, it may be natural for people to assume that the imago Dei is measured by one's ability to reason, thus the question above about the mentally impaired. But one isn't considered a person because of one's ability but by nature of being human. We are designed to reflect God's image in ourselves and the design doesn't change even if we cannot properly execute the elements implicit in that. For example, a car is a vehicle whose design and purpose is to move across land, while a boat is a vehicle whose deign and purpose is to move across the water. The can may have a broken axle or the boat a hole in its side that prevent it from executing its normal function, but no one would look at a boat with a hole and say that it changes its function. Boats cannot move across the land unaided because so doing is counter to all of its design. The vehicle may need repair but one can quickly see whether it is a land or sea vehicle.

The reason this concept of design and purpose (what's known in philosophy as the telos or end purpose of a thing) is that it is crucial to the dignity of all human persons. It is not merely the mentally-ill who cannot reason, but the embryo has not yet developed reasoning capacity either. If the imago Dei doesn't apply to the embryo, then why should Christians oppose abortion? However, if the telos of the embryo is a functioning, rational adult who can make free decisions and can have a spiritual sensitivity, then the embryo shows as much uniqueness as any other human being. It is human nature to be social, to be creative, to be relational, to be rational, to have a sense of the moral, and to be spiritual. All of these reflect God's character and all sit in distinction to other animals in creation.  And every being that so reflects God's image in this way is intrinsically valuable because God values these things.

Photo courtesy diegain and again and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq

There are only two books in the Bible that end in a question. The first is the book of Jonah, which tells the story of God going to remarkable lengths to share the message of redemption with a seemingly irredeemable people. Because the prophet Jonah was Jewish, he rebels against God's command to preach repentance to the Ninevites who were ruthlessly cruel and would inflict that cruelty upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel some years later. Jonah wants to see the Assyrian capital judged by the Almighty. However, God knew that if the right person delivered His message those people would be saved.

Today, the city that occupies Nineveh's location is named Mosul. Mosul is famous for its long history of Christianity, which goes back to within a 100 years of Jesus' death1. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox faiths have early roots there and the city was the capital of Nestorianism since the sixth century. Christians are a significant part of the historic fabric of the city.

But all that has changed. With the recent takeover of the city by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Jihadist group, Christians have been targeted. ISIS has purged the city of Christians, forcing them to either convert to Islam, agree to second-class status, or die. ISIS terrorists, echoing the Gestapo's branding of Jewish houses with a Star of David, were marking every door identified as Christian with the Arabic letter N for followers of the Nazarene, Jesus. Ironically, Nazareth is also the area where the prophet Jonah was from.

The UK Telegraph passed along a report from the local news agency that "ISIS troops entered the house of a poor Christian and, when they didn't get what they wanted, the soldiers raped the mother and daughter in front of their husband and father." 2 The New York Times reports that "at least 1,531 civilians were killed in June alone" in Mosul and the city's Christian population has gone from 30,000 in 2003 to zero.3 While major media outlets continue to splash headlines decrying the nearly 500 dead in Gaza, the fate of Christians in Mosul gets no such preference. This when the crisis is a direct result of US troop toppling the Iraqi government then abandoning the country.4

As I said, Jonah is one of only two books of the Bible ending in a question. It records the redemption of a people. The other is the book of Nahum, which records the utter destruction that was heaped upon Nineveh as judgment came. Today, Christians are faced with a question. Will we as the body of Christ be reluctant to intervene or will we extend ourselves to minister to those who are suffering because of His name?

What Christians Can Do

The horror ISIS is inflicting on our brothers and sisters in Christ is staggering and the church needs to act. The Apostle Paul instructs us "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Here then are three things we can do to help Christians fleeing Mosul:

1. Support the Christian Refugees

Christians can support those fleeing their homes in Mosul. We first support our brothers and sisters by praying fervently for them. Pray daily. Pray before each meal as you thank God for your blessings that He would offer compassion and shelter to the refugees as well. But you can support the refugees in more concrete ways as well. Currently I've found two Christian organizations that are providing relief efforts to the displaced Christians from Iraq. You may donate to either  International Christian Concern or the Barnabas Fund. Both are registered with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2. Write Your Congressional Representative

We need to speak up for those people who are being murdered and displaced from their homes. I recommend you write to your federal congressional representative and let them know that you have serious concerns about the suffering in Mosul. Be respectful and keep your letter short and on point. I have created a sample letter here. For US citizens, if you don't know who your representative is, you may find out here.

3. Talk about it

Let's raise the awareness of this atrocity to the level of national discourse. Post about the plight of Iraqi Christians. Update your status on social media platforms and share links. Encourage others to do the same. If you're a pastor, talk about this from the pulpit. The more attention we draw to those afflicted by evil, the more other people will join with us to help.


1. See Rassam, Suha. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day.(Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2005). 24-26.    
2. Stanley, Tim. "Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes — and the West is silent." The Telegraph. 21 July 2014.
3. Rubin, Alissa J. "ISIS Forces Last Iraqi Christians to Flee Mosul." The New York Times, 18 July 2014.
4. Stanley, Ibid.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Banning Religious Books in Prison

Have you ever heard those "scare stories" of how believers will one day have most of their books banned by overreaching zealots? Normally, Christians think "well, I can see that coming down the line, when Christianity is outlawed in this country and Christians have to hide underground. Today, in countries like China, such things go on all the time, but in most Western nations we believe that we're decades away from such actions. Well, that time has arrived.

The New York Times recently reported that earlier this year the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons have banned most religious texts from all its chapel libraries. According to the Times, the chaplains were instructed to "the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources." The goal, according to BOP spokesperson Traci Billingsley is to deny access to materials that may "discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize."

Immediately, my reaction is one of amazement. Limiting access to thousands of titles of religious literature in case a title may incite terrorism or violence? I understand that the Department of Justice needs to be careful and control some of the materials that prisoners have access to. I mean, I understand books promoting governmental overthrow or how to build a bomb wouldn't be made readily available to convicted felons.

However, it seems to me that we shouldn't ban everything then create a list of approved books for access. Instead, ban the problematic titles. Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley summed it up when he said "It's swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

As an apologist, I always encourage the examination of ideas. Truth has a way of holding up under scrutiny. Granted, sometimes you need a guide, but barring works that show the weaknesses within a belief system gives you a warped view of that system. Similarly, what about new titles? Why should prisoners have to wait to read the newest Lee Strobel book until some committee approves it?

Of course, the bigger issue is, if this type of screening exists today then what's down the road?

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