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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.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
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.
Friday, November 06, 2015
One confusing aspect of natural law is how Aquinas believed that all natural inclinations are good and should be pursued while seeking after unnatural inclinations should be avoided. Budzeszewski notes it sounds like Aquinas is teaching that whatever one's desire is, that should be fulfilled. However, that isn't what is meant. He then draw the distinction between any inclination, including those that may have resulted from our fallen nature, and natural inclinations. The difference is found in the teleology, that is the end purpose or design of the thing being discussed. Budziszewski explains:
In drawing the two sexes together, for instance, sexual desire serves two purposes, one called procreative and the other unitive. Why not a third: pleasure? Has Thomas got something against having a good time? No, but he follows Aristotle in viewing pleasure as a result of our activities rather than the purpose for which we do them—as a crowning grace, not a goal. The problem is that pleasure can result from doing wrong as well as from doing right. Therefore pleasure cannot be used as a criterion for judging between good and bad inclinations; rather the purposes of the inclinations must be used to judge between good and bad pleasures.This is a clear way to understand how the design of human beings points to a natural man/woman pairing, and how sexual function has primary and tertiary purposes. It doesn't deny sex for couples that may be infertile, since they are still acting within natural inclinations, even if no child will ever result. However, it also highlights the impossibility of any same-sex coupling to ever be able to make the same claim. This is why whenever I talk about marriage, I talk about natural marriage, because man/woman marriage reflects biology and natural law.
Now the procreative purpose of physical union is to bring children into a secure family in which they can be taught and cared for by a mother and father who love them. Only a man and a woman can procreate a child, and we sever the institution of marriage from the natural purpose of procreation only at our peril. Perhaps that is too obvious to require further discussion. The unitive purpose, however, is not so obvious. What we mean by saying that physical union has a unitive purpose is that it can also further a deeper union between the husband and wife.
To understand the unitive purpose we must recognize that the sexes are not only different but complementary. God could have made just one self-sufficient sex. Instead he made two, each of which feels itself incomplete and longs for the other. The canyon between them is deep, but bridging it is well worth the patience and discipline it requires.
To be sure, there are other ways to use the sexual powers, ways that do not bridge the canyon. For instance, solitary sex sinks a person more deeply in the self; sodomy sinks him into a looking-glass idol of the self; and promiscuity merely uses the other for the purposes of the self. By contrast, marriage holds forth the prospect of altogether forgetting the self in care and sacrifice for the other. We come to ourselves by losing ourselves. This extraordinary intimacy is among the profoundest of natural goods. Of course, Divine law goes even further, describing it as a foretaste of our supernatural good—that still deeper union to which we are invited with the wholly other, who is God—but that is another topic.1
IMage courtesy Ray Dumas and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Recently I've had a few different people ask me about the passage in Deuteronomy dealing with a young woman who has been raped. One was by an atheist, the other by a Christian. Both thought that the passage painted God as a cruel misogynist who would have a woman doubly punished for a crime committed against her. Here is how the Christian lady phrased it:
Did God approve of moses law? I am referring to women. If a woman had a female child she was unclean double the time. If a girl was raped she had to marry her rapist. Seems like women were less than. I can't imagine God being ok with that? Thanks !!While the idea of setting a law where the rapist marries his victim seems shocking to us today, once the passage is placed into its proper textual and historical context, one can see just how important the law was to protect women.
God Did Not Command Women to Marry Their RapistsThe passage in question comes from Deuteronomy 22, where God is laying out certain ways of dealing with different sexual sins. In verses 23-29, the law takes into account different scenarios of rape. Let's take the first two scenarios offered:
If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.Notice that in neither of these cases is there mentioned anything about a woman marrying her rapist. In the first instance, the woman is betrothed and she is found with another man within a populated area, where she could've called for help but didn't. This law is to root out adulterous relationships whereby the female later claims it was rape. In the second instance, the woman is given the benefit of the doubt, since the area is unpopulated.
But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
It is verses 28-29 that cause all the fuss:
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.The key to understanding this passage is twofold: understanding the opportunities available to women in this culture and understanding who the mandate is addressing. One must remember this law is written to govern the nation of Israel's legal system in the Late Bronze Age. A young woman who was not a virgin was not considered marriageable material. A young woman who was raped or was promiscuous would have been considered "damaged goods," especially since the land was to be passed down from father to son. The loss of virginity prior to marriage would call that direct line of paternity into question.
How Would Women in the Ancient World Survive?Secondly, women had no real way to live independently from a man, especially if she had no land to live on. Without a husband, a woman who is unlikely to be married has nowhere to live except in the house of her father. She would be dependent upon either her father's kindness or her husband's to sustain her life. This is why in the book of Ruth we see Naomi telling her two young widowed daughters-in-law that they would fare better in their fathers' houses than risk fending for themselves in Israel.
Lastly, if the father felt his house was shamed by the crime (an unfortunate but very clear possibility), he may not even allow her to stay in the house. Understanding these concepts, it should be clear that rape in the Ancient Near East was not merely a crime against the personal autonomy and emotional well-being of a woman, but it could quite literally have been a death sentence for her!
Thus, when we look at the command given, we can read it with a proper perspective. Notice that the command is not to the woman. It does not say "you shall marry your rapist." What it says is any man who takes the virginity of the woman must be ready to provide for her for the rest of her life as a wife. Since he stole the most valuable of her possessions, her ability to marry, he is obligated to marry her himself so she won't die.
One more important point to remember; the obligation does not go both ways. Deuteronomy 22 is expanding on the law given in Exodus 22:16-17. There, we read. "If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins." Notice that the father of the girl has a right of refusal. He can say "You're a creep and you will have to pay, but you're not coming near her."
So the law on a man who takes the virginity of a woman must also be ready to marry her is not punitive for the woman; it's actually protective. It ensures she won't be tossed away as "damaged goods" but will be provided for. It also emphasizes that promiscuity is a serious matter. The father of the woman can protect his daughter from vicious rapists while also forcing kids who "were just fooling around" to make their relationship permanent. This isn't a misogynistic command but one meant to protect young girls' lives. We simply need to understand the culture in which it was applied.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Is a cross an offensive object and if it is, in what way is it offensive? In today's over-sensitive culture, causing offense is one of the worst things one can do. With charges of microaggressions and trigger warnings now the norm on college campuses, we've moved to a surreal understanding of what is deemed proper in polite society. Still, does a cross on a city-owned hilltop in and of itself cause offense?
A couple of years ago, I engaged in a discussion on the radio with the lawyer from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State who had threatened the city with legal action because a 110 year old cross sat atop publicly owned property. The hilltop, known to local residents as Mount Rubidoux, had been owned by the family of Frank Augustus Miller, one of the influential citizens in the young California community. Miller was a fan of California history and mission-revival architecture. Miller built the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside and placed the cross atop Mt. Rubidoux to honor Father Junipero Serra along with a plaque explaining the same. The monument was unveiled by President William Howard Taft in 1909.1 After Miller's passing, his family donated Mt. Rubidoux to the city, as a gift for the community to enjoy.
How Does Offense Disappear with Ownership?I offer this background to show that the primary purpose of the cross was recognition of a historical figure, father Junipero Serra. Yet, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wanted it taken down. In the radio interview, AU associate legal director Alex J. Luchenitser claimed the cross was considered offensive. "We received a complaint by a local resident who was deeply troubled by the cross." It was troubling for this person to look up at the cross every day and see what he considered an endorsement of a specific religion. The supposed complainant was "deeply troubled" to use Luchenitser's own words.
I could imagine Jewish people looking over a monument with a Nazi swastika being offended at seeing that every day. I could understand it if a city left up signs in front of drinking fountains that said "Whites only" as being offensive. I don't understand how this cross fits in the same category, yet I will take Luchenitser at his word.
My problem, then, is with the solution that Luchenitser offered: if the city would simply sell the cross monument and the land surrounding it to a private entity, the problem will be solved; the cross would no longer be offensive. Now, how does that work? I'm certain that the Jewish citizen would continue to be offended at the Nazi insignia prominently displayed no matter who owned the thing. Similarly, selling the drinking fountain and the building to which its attached would in no way diminish the offense of a "Whites only" sign. This resident that initially complained to the AU, won't he or she still wake up every morning and see that cross in the same place as before? Why is that person no longer offended?
Ultimately, the solution that Luchenitser offers proves the offense objection isn't sincere. Either the cross is an offensive symbol or it isn't. What Luchenitser and his ilk at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State really want is to try and erase any and all reminders that religious motivations factored into the founding of our nation and our local communities. That's the real goal of such frivolous lawsuits. Luchenitser also argued that such a display is tantamount to the government proselytizing. That's a separate argument that can be answered at a later time. My point for today is that any claim that a cross would be removed because it is offensive should be rejected.
In order to settle the dispute and not tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, the city of Riverside chose to sell the cross to a private organization, the Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. It stands in the same spot and is still visible for miles around. It is either a beacon of offense (and if so, the city is complicit in allowing such an offensive symbol to remain) or it is what it always has been: a symbol recognizing the role that Christianity played in settling Riverside and the state of California.
Image courtesy Paolo and licensed via Creative Commons [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Monday, August 24, 2015
Earlier this year, a bill that would make certain instances of assisted suicide legal in the state of California was passed by the state Senate and is now trying to slip through the assembly via a special session, according to Los Angeles Times reporter George Skelton.1 Modeled after a similar law that has been active in Oregon, the California bill would allow patients who supposedly have less than six months to live to end their lives by taking lethal drugs prescribed by a physician.
These kinds of laws are problematic for a number of reasons, which I will go into in a later article. However, Skelton made one comment in his opinion piece as he tried to sell the legislation that caught my eye. He wrote, "To protect hospitals and physicians from acting against their beliefs, none would be required to participate."2When I reviewed the actual legislation, it did indeed contain a clause for conscience. SB-128, Sect 443.14 (e)(1) reads:
Participation in activities authorized pursuant to this part shall be voluntary. Notwithstanding Sections 442 to 442.7, inclusive, a person or entity that elects, for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics, not to engage in activities authorized pursuant to this part is not required to take any action in support of an individual's decision under this part.Isn't that interesting? A physician, a hospital, or any other appropriately licensed individual or organization may refuse the wishes of the patient "for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics.” This runs contrary to what normally happens when patients walk into care facility and are suffering. Doctors are supposed to alleviate suffering. Emergency rooms are required by law to take in and examine all patients who complain of significant pain, whether they can pay or not. It would seem the responsibility of hospitals would be the same in this instance as the patient is still suffering, but it's due in this instance to a terminal illness.
The Double StandardDon't get me wrong. I'm no supporter of this legislation, and I'm glad that doctors will have the opportunity to opt out if it violates their beliefs. But here's the thing; a suffering person is a far more urgent situation than say a wedding and a physician carries a far greater responsibility to the public good than a cake baker or photographer does. It is a more urgent situation than having one's employer pay for whatever kind of birth control will help you fulfill your carnal desires. Why then would democratic legislatures in the state of California include such an extremely wide and open conscience clause in this piece of legislation when we are told over and over that belief isn't something that should affect one's profession? Why aren't the pro-assisted suicide groups rallying to throw out this exception, complaining that it's inherently discriminatory, that one's beliefs shouldn't impose on the suffering patient, or that any person who chose to go into health care should have known that they may need to provide life-ending drugs?
One can quickly see the disconnect in the two positions. If belief, moral conviction, or ethical understanding is enough reason for any doctor or an entire institution like a hospital to refuse to alleviate the suffering of a patient, then it is clearly more than enough reason to refuse to bake a wedding cake or take pictures at someone's wedding. Skelton trumpets the exemption in the bill as a good thing. Would he be willing to support such legislation if that clause stood alone, such as a Religious Freedom bill? Or is this clause to get the camel's nose under the tent until a judge decides to wipe out the exception through judicial fiat? I can only surmise, but one thing is clear. It is wholly inconsistent to uphold an exemption for belief when suffering is involved but to say one's convictions don't count in lesser circumstances.
2. Skelton, 2015.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Last month, I taught a class on how to engage the culture when discussing the issue of marriage, rights and homosexuality. One of the class attendees asked how she should respond to the argument she had heard from her professor in a university gender studies class. She said the professor, who identified herself as a lesbian, offered several arguments for allowing homosexual marriage, but there was one particular argument she hadn't heard before. She said, "One of the arguments was about hermaphrodites. Given that the intersexed were assigned a sex by their parents or doctor, they didn't get to choose. Because they are not strictly male or female, shouldn't they have the opportunity to marry whomever they want, regardless of the assigned sexed placed upon them growing up?"
I have to admit, I had never heard of such a tenuous argument either. However, this professor is not alone in thinking this way. The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), a support group for those who are considered intersexed, offers a similar challenge on its web site:
People who are proponents of prohibitions against "same sex" marriage think it is easy to figure out who is "same sex" and who is "opposite sex." Not so…While this situation seems pretty strange, it does require a response. First, we should comment on what constitutes an intersexed person. Most of the time, the label of intersexed is given to a person who is genetically male or female (XX or XY) but has ambiguous genitalia. These individuals comprise about .018% of the population, according to Leonard Sax. 2 This is an incredibly small portion of the population to base an argument for disregarding the concept of natural marriage that has been the foundation of human society for millennia. Even if we assume the ISNA's broader estimate, which counts those with chromosomal abnormalities, intersexed people comprise 1.7% of the total population.
Lots of people with intersex that we know are legally married. What will happen to them if we end up with simplistic notions of sex?
And lots of people with intersex we know can't get legally married, because some doctor decided for them which sex they would count as forever more. Why should a doctor get to decide who you can grow up to marry?1
Should Laws that Cannot Apply to All Apply At All?The real objection offered by both the ISNA and the professor is that since the laws defining marriage would be considered unfair to those who are diagnosed as intersexed, they should not apply at all. Does that make sense? In my answer, I offered a counter-example. I pointed to a relatively common traffic law: if an emergency vehicle approaches with both a red light displayed and a siren sounding, drivers are required to pull to the curb. However, in my state, deaf people can legally obtain their driver's license, too. So, a deaf person could be ticketed for not obeying this law, even though it is physically impossible for them to hear the siren. Therefore, should such a law be repealed? Of course not! If the right curb rule was repealed, it would do much more harm than good; obstructing emergency vehicles and endangering drivers and emergency respondents.
A recent study estimates that between .9% to 2.2% of the population suffers from a significant hearing impairment. Does it make sense to change the traffic laws since they make no sense for this segment of society or would it make more sense to keep the law and review any citations individually? Legislation has always taken the latter approach. Similarly, it makes no sense to wipe out all the marriage laws with the advantages they offer society and the protections they provide children simply because they don't make sense to an even narrower portion of the population. The argument smacks to me of desperation.
2. Sax, Leonard. "How Common Is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto‐Sterling." Journal of Sex Research 39.3 (2002): 174-78. Web.
Image courtesy Scott Davidson. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
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 MachinesMuch 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 ImmaterialIt 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.3As 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.
2. Calamur, Krishnadev. "N.Y. Judge Amends 'Habeas Corpus' Order For Chimps." NPR. NPR, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/04/22/401519113/n-y-judge-amends-habeas-corpus-order-for-chimps.
3. Kreeft, Peter. "Human Personhood Begins at Conception." Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/personhood.htm.
Monday, June 23, 2014
This whole issue is a mess and it grieves me that Hannah and Riggs don't like the ramifications of their choice to be a homosexual couple. Part of choosing a homosexual relationship is knowing that one can never naturally produce children. It simply cannot be. Instead, they decided to father children through artificial means. This means that the two men enlisted the aid of at least two women in their desire to create children, one or more as the egg donor and another woman to carry the babies to term.
The fact that women are necessary to the child-bearing process shouldn't surprise anyone; even a third grader can tell you that every baby had a mommy and a daddy at some point. But Hanna and Riggs really don't like that reality. They are trying to manufacture a family while still holding onto their male-only relationship. But the question then arises: If a mother is necessary for the first nine months of human development, why would anyone think that she is optional for the next eighteen years? Why are the same feminists who scream because there are no women priests not screaming when two men appear before a Texas judge and say, "We would like you to legitimize our choice to deprive two children of their biological requirement for a mother"? Of course, they didn't put it in those terms, but that's what is implied by the action. Hanna and Riggs think that women add nothing essential to the proper development of human beings. Two people are all that matters, even if they are the same sex.
As an aside, why two? Where does the idea of a couple come from? That is also a result of biology, because only one man and one woman can procreate. You can't get a child with one or three. But if one ignores biology it could be one or five or perhaps even the government itself.
Perhaps that's the solution; take all biology out of the equation, have the government create the babies and assign them to people. Everyone gets the same chance that way and orientation or fertility never come into play. Or, we can say that we feel for the individuals who cannot conceive, but such a solution is worse than the affliction.
Riggs has protested the court decision, claiming that it isn't good for the babies. "Ultimately, we're talking about is what's better: one parent or two parents. For me it's two parents. It's a no-brainer."2 If Riggs was thinking about what's better for children, then he should have thought twice about the surrogacy itself. As I've written before, children from sperm donors don't do as well as children from biological parents. Also, Mark Regenerus' huge study comparing same-sex families to natural families underscores the fact that if one wants the best outcome for a child, they should be reared with a mother and a father.
I therefore think that it is right for the judge to rule as she did. Interestingly, I think a case can be made that those who hold to natural marriage as the appropriate environment in which to rear children actually value women more than those lobbying for the legal rights of homosexual men adopting children. Natural marriage proponents see women as irreplaceable—irreplaceable!—in the development on young lives. While some children may tragically lose the opportunity for a mother, to create that scenario by design strikes me as cruel.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
However, the overt Christian terminology used in the prayers bothered at least two town residents (identified by USA Today as an atheist and a Jew) who filed suit and petitioned the court not to ban the practice of opening the meeting with prayer, but "to limit the town to 'inclusive and ecumenical' prayers that referred only to a 'generic God.'"1 The Second Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the lawsuit, but the majority of the Court disagreed and overturned the verdict on a 5-4 decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy made some lucid points about the problems with the suit. I'd like to look at some key points. (All emphasis in the quotes below is mine.)
The Historical Precedent for PrayerFirst, Kennedy pointed to both the historical and legal precedent for allowing government meetings to be opened in prayer. Citing both a 1983 decision (Marsh) on the government funding of chaplains and a 1989 case of groups displaying specifically religious holiday displays on public lands, Kennedy writes:
There is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well. Marsh teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted "by reference to historical practices and understandings." … Respondents' insistence on nonsectarian prayer is not consistent with this tradition. The prayers in Marsh were consistent with the First Amendment not because they espoused only a generic theism but because the Nation's history and tradition have shown that prayer in this limited context could "coexis[t] with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."Kennedy further notes that the First Congress, just after crafting the First Amendment, voted to appoint chaplains and they opened their meetings in prayer, thus demonstrating that their intent was not to quell these activities.
The Problem of Governmental Censoring of PrayerKennedy then notes that if the law were to require governmental agencies to preview and approve or disallow specific prayers based on their use of sectarian language, it would create a much bigger problem. It would, in effect turn a bureaucrat or the court itself into the faith police. This would open up a can of worms. Government, the courts, or even the majority view judging which prayers should be banned and which are permissible becomes subjective and makes government more involved in religion than the current practice does. He writes:
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact. Respondents' contrary arguments are unpersuasive. It is doubtful that consensus could be reached as to what qualifies as a generic or nonsectarian prayer. It would also be unwise to conclude that only those religious words acceptable to the majority are permissible, for the First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.
Understand that the Government isn't the Final WordAnother salient point Kennedy makes is that respectful, ceremonial prayer before a government assembly, no matter which creed administers it, serves a function for all. By appealing to God and asking a blessing on the proceedings, the invocation essentially declares that governments and those that run them are never the last word. People are fallible. Political organizations are fallible. We must recognize that while our representatives seek to make the right decisions and serve the will of the people as best they can, their decisions are not themselves foolproof.
The tradition reflected in Marsh permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing reference to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition. These religious themes provide particular means to universal ends. Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief."
Even those who disagree as to religious doctrine may find common ground in the desire to show respect for the divine in all aspects of their lives and being. Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.
The Difference Between Offense and CoercionThe last key phrase I'd like to point out is one that I would hope extend well beyond this particular decision. Our culture today is sick. People have assumed that the pursuit of happiness somehow means that they should never feel any discomfort or disagreement while participating in a public function. Kennedy succinctly dismisses this claim:
In their declarations in the trial court, respondents stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected. Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.To that I say "Amen."
2014. www.SupremeCourt.gov. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
William Kinne is a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, He identifies as a Christian, and he supports Colorado's legislation for same-sex unions. In a recent Op-Ed piece he was quoted saying, "I think it's a civil-rights issue. I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law." His wife Rachel disagrees, stating: "I believe we [should] vote based on our moral beliefs."1
Kinne's response is as worrisome as it is common today. It shows how fragmented and compartmentalized our modern society has become, and how sloganeering has replaced clear-thinking on some very important issues. Especially troublesome is the contradictory nature of his statements. Can one separate his religious beliefs from the law? Should one do so? Really, one doesn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about these issues to see where the flaws in Kinne's statements appear.
First of all, what is religion? Today, many people would say it is what one believes about the existence of God and how that person should worship. It is a private belief that gives comfort and structure to the life on an individual, and each individual will seek out the comfort and structure that best works for him or her. In other words, religion is a pragmatic approach that affects one's individual actions or perhaps the actions of a like-minded group but doesn't really affect the wider world. But this is a relatively recent understanding of what religion is.2 Religious belief encompasses much more than the personal aspects of faith. Religion deals with concepts like why we exist, why there is something rather than nothing, what is right and wrong for all people; basically, any religious system has ultimate realities at its core.
But a great many of our laws are simply a reflection of our beliefs about ultimate realities. For example, we believe that human beings are valuable in and of themselves, so our society passes laws against killing or against discriminating on the basis of race. We value the truth so laws against slander or perjury are passed. While there are tax laws and other procedural legislation, moral values are the foundation for the laws that protect us. These laws reflect our understanding that human beings are intrinsically valuable.
When we talk about concepts like value, we are talking about something the Germans called a Weltanschauung or what is known as a worldview. But one cannot separate religion from worldview like Kinne hopes because religion plays a central role in informing one's worldview. Philosopher Brendan Sweetman notes, "Every time we make a moral judgment, or make a claim about the nature of reality, or about what sort of beings human beings are, or about whether God exists, or about the nature of the good life, or about which political system is best, or about whether a law should be passed regarding such and such, we are appealing to our worldview."3
Sweetman classifies worldviews into broadly religious and secular types.4 An irreligious person would have a secular worldview while a religious person would have a religious one. However, one cannot have a secular AND a religious worldview. Whether or not God exists is a worldview question and to say he does and he doesn't is hopelessly confused. Similarly, if one believes in Christianity then one would hold that moral values are grounded in God. Laws should then be a reflection of one's understanding of how God would have us treat one another. To make a claim that "I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law" is contradictory.
I think we need Christians to challenge this mistaken concept of religion as only a private matter. Perhaps we should question those who would object to religion informing the law as to what they base their ideas of morality and equality. Do they truly believe that all men are created equal? Why? By centering our discussion on worldview instead of faith, we may be able to get farther and help others understand how all ones beliefs should work together to form a consistent whole. A consistent view is to be preferred over a cloistered one, and I've found no worldview more consistent than Christianity.
July 11, 2013. <http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/political-connections/danger-ahead-for-democrats-the-passion-gap-20130711> Accessed July 13, 2013.
2. The early 20th century French sociologist Emile Durkin defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society classifies such views as "functional definitions". For more on this, see their entry "Definition of Religion" at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/defreligion.htm
3. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2006. 17.
Monday, June 24, 2013
According to the Encyclopedia of Virginia, Buck was born in Charlottesville in 1906. Her father died when she was very young. When she was three her mother was committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, mostly on the basis of her ongoing promiscuity.1 Buck then lived with a foster family, developing normally until she became pregnant at the age of 16. Ignoring Buck's claims that she was raped by their nephew, her foster family foisted the charge of promiscuity and feeble-mindedness on Buck and had her likewise committed.
About this time, the state of 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." The lawmakers knew their legislation was a constitutional gamble. As the Encyclopedia puts it:
"Behind the law was the eugenic assumption that these traits were hereditary and that sexual sterilization could thus prevent their transmission. Uncertain that the new law could withstand a constitutional challenge, the framers and supporters of the law arranged to test it in court. They chose Buck in the belief that she had inherited her feeblemindedness from her mother and that her daughter showed signs of slow mental development as well."2Buck's forced sterilization worked its way up Virginia's appellate courts until she appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in April of 1927. On May 2 of that year, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., speaking on behalf of an 8-1 majority ruled that the forced sterilization law was constitutional. In the majority opinion Holmes famously wrote:
"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."3By all accounts Holmes was a brilliant U.S. Supreme Court Justice. He served for almost thirty years and is considered a scholar "who, more than any other individual, shaped the law of the 20th century" according to biographer Albert W. Alschuler.4 But as a legal scholar, Holmes was neither a theologian nor a biologist. He was neither a philosopher nor a geneticist. So, how could that Court be the last word morally for a question that has at its basis what being human means?
Of course, the pro-eugenics crowd testified with their experts as to Carrie's diagnosis. The Court's decision, though, did not turn on whether Carrie Buck's diagnosis was accurate, even though Holmes believed it was. In the majority opinion he wrote, "There can be no doubt that so far as procedure is concerned the rights of the patient are most carefully considered, and as every step in this case was taken in scrupulous compliance with the statute and after months of observation, there is no doubt that in that respect the plaintiff in error has had due process of law. The attack is not upon the procedure but upon the substantive law"5 (emphasis added).
Holmes was a lawyer; as such he ruled on the legality of the laws set before him. In order to declare eugenics acceptable, the justices would have to reason on legal grounds. Therefore, the majority agreed that "compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes." Eight Supreme Court Justices had to change the definition of what a vaccination is in order to legally include forced sterilization. Only then could eugenics practices gain traction. But in so doing the Court made the claim that the state rather than God can decide how human reproduction should work in the lives of certain individuals.
In fact, Aubrey Strode, the attorney arguing on behalf of Virginia made this explicit. According to Scott Polirstok:
"Strode argued that a feebleminded individual will benefit from having his/her lost liberty ‘restored' following a sterilization procedure. In other words, a feebleminded individual who had not as yet been sterilized, did not have any liberty as a sexual being because of the fear of producing children who would be mentally deficient. However once sterilized, the individual and society could be free of the fear of producing defective children and hence liberty would be ‘restored'."6Holmes' decision in this case was neither morally upright nor biologically accurate. Today we see such a decision as abhorrent, and rightfully so. But it was always abhorrent, even when the court ruled that it was legal and a decision that was "better for the world" or that the individuals would be "restored" to sexual liberty. It didn't matter that eight very intelligent and well-schooled justices saw fit to allow such atrocities to American citizens. They were wrong and their ruling did not make forced sterilizations moral.
When we try to claim that simply because something is legal that makes it moral, we fall victim to a type of pragmatic moral relativism that will blow to and fro with the whims of the culture. But that's not what morality is. Real moral values and duties don't change. They are objective, based in God and who we are as human beings. The circumstances of how those values and duties play out may differ, but the principles remain unchanged. So, don't think that any court decision means the death knell for morality.
Carrie Buck was forcibly sterilized in 1927 and Virginia perpetrated the same cruelty on over 8,300 others for nearly fifty years. Nationally, the number of forced sterilizations is estimated at 60,0007 and sterilizations continued through most of the 1970's. Many of the victims are still alive and seek reparations from the state. And if you're wondering, the Buck v. Bell decision has never been overturned. Does that make it the right thing to do?
Monday, March 04, 2013
RG: As opposed to forcing a transgendered person to be uncomfortable within a locker room where they don't belong? I think we all should teach our kids to understand and respect the human body as opposed to fear it or be made uncomfortable by it.
Lenny: Why would a human being not belong in a locker room where he or she shares the exact same body parts as all the other occupants? it strikes me that this "discomfort" of which you speak has nothing at all to do with either biology or the actual fact that there are physical differences between males and females, and we should respect those differences enough to provide for proper privacy.
I note that you don't say that its the supposedly transgendered individual who needs to "understand and respect" his own body. No, all the OTHER kids in Massachusetts schools need to change. There is no way to justify such ignorance.
RG: So, first we have to ask ourselves 2 questions:
1. Do you believe there are a subset of the population that are transgendered? If not, then there is no need to discuss what Massachusetts has done here. However, since Mass understands the dynamics of an ever changing, growing and enlightened society, let's agree there are those kinds of people and move to question 2.
2. Do you think that someone should not be judged clearly on their anatomy? That they are not the sum of their parts? If you pardon the pun. And that is what Mass is trying to address and protect a class of citizens from laws that target them unfairly. That we as a society can look at someone and not say, you have a penis, you are a boy, end of story and rather look at the person who could not help how they are on the inside and force them to be a certain way because it makes the rest of us more comfortable. And yes, we should teach our children to be more understanding and respectful of people different than us and to not be ashamed of our bodies since it is about looking what is on the inside than the outside
Lenny: No, we don't need to ask those questions first. The very first thing one should ask is "Why do we mandate restrooms and locker rooms to be separated by sex at all?" That's the central issue and that's the item that's being changed. Why don't we place large picture windows in locker rooms? Why should we have any kind of privacy by sex? Once you understand the reason for privacy at all, the rest of the argument can take on a clearer context.
RG: So forgetting all these scare tactics about regulation of such laws and getting to the heart of it, everyone should be allowed to enter areas (locker, bathroom, etc.) in accordance with their gender identity. Gender identity is evolving in such a way to not specifically be about anatomy. If you want to give me a reason why this isnt true or should only be limited to anatomy, please tell me.
Lenny: Don't try to turn it around. YOU need to provide a reason why it SHOULDN'T be limited to anatomy. Anatomy is something solid. It can be tested scientifically and is instantly recognizable when seeing an unclothed body. That's what separate changing rooms are all about - so people of the opposite sex don't see your body. This is obvious. You're working really hard at trying to justify your position, but you keep talking about this like it's an abstract issue. These are real kids. If you want to wear pants or a dress doesn't matter when you're clothes are off, which is the situation in the locker rooms. Anatomy is all there is at that point.
RG: So then my previous comment holds true, why even discuss this decision when you still don't believe that someone could be born anatomically one way yet be different on the inside.
It is odd that you want to bring up things that can be scientifically validated when God cannot be and yet you believe that.
Lenny: "Different on the inside" whether true or not, is not a factor in this discussion. I may or may not believe that a person could feel different about sports, or that they identify more as a cat than as a person. None of it has bearing on the question of whether students should be subjected to viewing the genitalia of another person of the opposite sex while simultaneously exposing themselves. It's a non-sequitor. It does not follow.
RG: (Provided link to a story of a supposedly transgendered eight year old boy who has feminine tendencies.)
Lenny: Yeah, I'm actually familiar with that article. But nothing follows from it.
RG: Again, this is the typical metaphors, usually from religious people that goes against their doctrine. To compare someone who knows they were born into the wrong body to someone who likes dogs instead of cats or identifies with a sports team. REALLY? It is the same thing? And quit living in the middle, I may or may not, obviously you have an opinion that is driving your rationale. After looking at the evidence, while may not be definitive, I choose to believe that there is a subset of people born into the wrong bodies and for society to tell them, 'hey, sucks for you, use the right bathroom' is incredibly ignorant and disrespectful of people who are different than us. To say that a person is ONLY the sum of their physical appearances is sad. I choose to move on the side of empathy and teach my future kids the same thing rather than judge those transgendered people who have been picked on their whole lives to continue the discrimination into adulthood. I choose to be a better person, a more understanding person, after all, isn't that what your God says we should all be. If a female-to-male walked into my lockeroom or bathroom, I wouldn't run scared but embrace their strength.
I want the reader to notice a couple of things from this exchange. First, RG wanted to bait me into a discussion of whether transgenderism is a real condition or not. However, I wouldn't bite. It truly does not matter whether I think transgenderism is a medical condition, a psychological condition, or whether I'm for it or against it. I have good arguments for the problems with dealing with those who claim to be "born with the wrong body", but that's not the issue here. I wanted to address the insane idea that even if transgenderism is true, that means that that one person can ignore his or her physiology, even at the expense of the rest of the student body. No one's feelings matter except the one who the state of Massachusetts deems needs protecting. No one's privacy matters any more, because this political issue trumps everything else--and it's being applied to our children! Such a stance should offend any rational person.
Secondly, you'll notice that RG never even attempted to answer my question of why we segregate bathrooms and locker rooms at all. Why? Because as soon as he does, his entire case falls apart. He cannot answer the question an he knows it. He uses all kinds of emotionally charged words ("understand and respect the human body as opposed to fear it," "move on there side of empathy," "scare tactics," etc.) but those are the only points of his argument. He cannot appeal to science (a tactic he usually takes when discussing whether or not God exists) because the science is pretty clear. These people have twenty three pairs of chromosomes and the last one is either XX or XY.
No, science doesn't matter, morality doesn't matter, and common sense has flown out the window when it comes to issues like transgendersim. All that matters to folks like this is to advance a particular agenda, and everyone else be damned. There truly is no logic to it. It is political correctness on steroids and I would hope that by focusing our arguments on the problem at hand more people can see how crazy our laws are becoming.
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