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Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label morality. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Does Modifying Your Body Disregard Its Intrinsic Worth?



It's no surprise that culture is changing at an ever more rapidly pace. Norms that had been held consistently for centuries have in a couple of decades undergone radical redefinition. Marriage is one of these, but it is far from the only one.

One stark example may be the huge increase in the popularity of tattoos and other forms of body modification. According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, nearly four-in-ten Millennials have at least one tattoo and half of those who have at least one have more than one. Additionally, "nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe — about six times the share of older adults who've done this."1 Tattoos and other forms of body modification are just as likely to be found on evangelical Christians in the pew as they are in the general public, which underscores their ubiquity in our culture.

What Do We Mean by Body Modification?

Within the Christian community especially, body modification has become a very controversial issue. In fact, whenever the topic comes up a contentious discussion usually ensues, especially online. It's that contention that bothers me the most, for I fear that Christians need to be careful and think about all the implications of their particular stance. That's why I want proceed with caution as we think through many of the facets that encircle the debate, some of which most people haven't yet considered .

First, as I argued in this article, the human body is not nothing. It has intrinsic value, which places it in a very limited category. Therefore, taking care to think about what modifying one's body means is appropriate for the Christian. There may be a different answer for those who don't share a Christian worldview. My thoughts in this and the articles to come are primarily targeted to those who hold the body as something that holds intrinsic worth. It seems to me that intrinsic worth is really where the main objections to body modification can be centered. I say this because when one looks to define just we mean when we talk about body modification, the categories are a lot larger than most people let on.

Four Categories of Body Modification

In the book Brave New World of Health, sociologist Isabel Karpin provides a very helpful overview of the various ways human beings have modified their body. She breaks these down into four primary areas: modifications that are therapeutic, cosmetic, enhancements to the body itself, or what she terms radical modifications.2 Usually, the first and at least some forms of the second set are non-controversial.

Therapeutic modifications are defined as "performed on abnormal structures of the body, caused by congenital defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma, infection, tumours or disease. [They are] generally performed to improve functions, but may also be done to approximate a normal appearance"3  Thus, breast reconstruction and tattooing would fall into this area. Many breast cancer survivors will receive tattoos to simulate lost areolas. If applying ink under the skin is by its nature a violation of the intrinsic worth of a body because it is artificial, then these types of modifications would be considered wrong. However, I don't see anyone arguing that way.

What about cosmetic modifications? I will leave aside temporary modifications such as haircuts/dyes for the moment and focus on only those things that permanently change the body. Are they different? Here Karpin defines cosmetic modifications as things like tummy tucks and breast augmentation. However, permanent cosmetic modifications also include such subtle things as braces for straightening teeth, ear piercings, hair transplants and permanent eyeliner. To condemn all cosmetic modifications would be to condemn these as well.

The last two categories are normally where there is more contention. Enhancements are those like people having magnets implanted under their skin to pick up metallic objects.4 Radical modifications are those that are the most non-conformist in our culture.  Radical modifications include nipple or genital piercings, skin braiding, scarring, branding, 3D implants, such as silicone horns, metal screws to attach whiskers, tongue slitting, Karpin defines this category somewhat subjectively as "as the alteration of someone's appearance in a way that does not accord with cultural ideas of the normal and the natural."

Modification and Worth

So, does modifying the body show a disregard for its worth and dignity? I don't believe it does specifically. Therapeutic modifications seem to recognize the value of a healthy, fully formed body and recipients are seeking to emulate that. I also don't believe that simply because a modification is done for cosmetic purposes, it invalidates the body's value. Sometimes, permanent eyeliner or laser hair removal is undertaken as simply a time saver rather than a statement. The appearance of those individuals still conforms to societal standards.

Even when defining radical modifications, societal standards play a central role. That's the key, it seems to me. I don't think body modification is something that violates the recognition of the body's intrinsic worth by definition. That isn't to say no body modifications ever disregard the body's intrinsic worth.  The issue is actually more complicated than that. One must know if and when modification does demonstrate disregard for the worth of the body. That means Christians shouldn't approach body modification with abandon. I'll tackle that in an upcoming article.

References

1. "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next." Pew Social Trends. Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.
2. Karpin, Isabel. "Constructing the Body Inside and Out: Genetic and Somatic Modification." Brave New World of Health. Belinda Bennett, Terry Carney, and Isabel Karpin, Eds. Sydney, NSW: Federation, 2008. 77-81. Print.
3. Karpin, 2008. 80.
4. Karpin, 2008. 81.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christian Bakers Forced to Pay Fines; Here's What We Can Learn



This morning, the lawyer representing Sweet Cakes by Melissa reported that the couple was paying the fine of over $135,000 levied against them by Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries for not baking a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian doled out the heavy-handed fine, claiming the bakers were being immoral in their stance, inflicting emotional and mental suffering and violating the women's civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation.1 Avakian had prompted the payment by seizing every penny the bakers had in their bank accounts.2

It seems we live in a topsy-turvy world where wrong is called right and right is called wrong. But this shouldn't be a surprise to Christians. I understand that people have a tendency to think of the problems they currently face as new or unique. While for some things this may be true (substituting screen time for real relationships doesn't seem to be a problem of past generations), human beings are a remarkably consistent lot and the early believers faced many of the same trials we do today.

Athenagoras gives us one example. In the second century AD, Christians were being persecuted in various cities across the Roman Empire on trumped up charges. Different city official and citizens objected to Christians not bowing to their gods, which basically meant rejecting whatever morality they themselves deemed appropriate. The officials would put the Christians on trial under false accusations, such as being immoral or being atheists, condemn them in a kangaroo court, and use it as justification to persecute them and seize their belongings.

Charges of immorality are as old as Christianity

The injustice of this all disturbed Christian philosopher Athenagoras so much that in AD 177 he wrote a letter to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the Emperor of Rome himself and argued the case for the Christians. One of the charges brought against Christians was they were engaging in immoral sexual acts. Athenagoras writes, "they have further also made up stories against us of impious feasts and forbidden intercourse between the sexes, both that they may appear to themselves to have rational grounds of hatred, and because they think either by fear to lead us away from our way of life, or to render the rulers harsh and inexorable by the magnitude of the charges they bring."3

Athenagoras goes on to argue that Christians are not immoral at all; they are actually more moral than even the belief systems of their accusers, pointing out how gods the officials worship, such as Zeus, were adulterers and incestuous. He writes that Christians held to a high view of the sanctity of marriage. He then goes on to compare Christians and their accusers. Notice how modern the charges in this paragraph sound:
But though such is our character (Oh! Why should I speak of things unfit to be uttered?), the things said of us are an example of the proverb, "The harlot reproves the chaste." For those who have set up a market for fornication and established infamous resorts for the young for every kind of vile pleasure—who do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comeliest bodies in all sorts of ways, so dishonouring the fair workmanship of God (for beauty on earth is not self-made, but sent hither by the hand and will of God)—these men, I say, revile us for the very things which they are conscious of themselves, and ascribe to their own gods, boasting of them as noble deeds, and worthy of the gods. These adulterers and pederasts defame [people choosing to remain unmarried for life] and the once-married (while they themselves live like fishes; for these gulp down whatever falls in their way, and the stronger chases the weaker…), but it is incumbent on us to be good and patient of evil.

Two Lessons from Athenagoras

While the persecution of Christian bakers is not nearly as severe as what second century Christians faced, I think there are lessons to be gleaned from the parallels between this event and what Christians faced in Athenagoras' day. First, charges against Christians on grounds of morality won't go away. Christian values are not those of the world and no one should be surprised when those who are in charge come against Christians and successfully use the law as a hammer against them. Jesus himself warned us of this when he said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19. ESV).

Secondly, we must make certain as Christians that we consistently live up to our own moral standards. Athenagoras' argument is anchored on the fact that Christians really did value marriage. They held it in the highest regard and shunned things like divorce and adultery. He states Christians are opposed to immorality for entertainment, such as was common in the gladiatorial events.

How seriously do Christians take their entertainment choices? Do you hold your marriage in the highest of regards, seeing it as inviolable until death? Does your life help make the case against persecution or is it undercutting the contrast? We must live as Christ has told us to live, for we will certainly suffer if we bear his name.

References

1. Rede, George. "Sweet Cakes Owners Pay Damages While Continuing Appeal of $135,000 Bias Case." OregonLive.com. Oregon Live LLC., 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/12/sweet_cakes_owners_pay_damages.html.
2. Starnes, Todd. "Costly Beliefs: State Squeezes Last Penny from Bakers Who Defied Lesbian-wedding Cake Order." Fox News. FOX News Network, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/12/29/bakers-forced-to-pay-more-than-135g-in-lesbian-cake-battle.html.
3. Athenagoras. "A Plea for the Christians." Chapter 31. Translated by B.P. Pratten. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Web. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0205.htm.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Infertility And Christian Families: What's The Right Thing To Do? (video)



Many Christian couples yearn for a child but fertility issues have thwarted their efforts. Now, the medical community has undergone an explosion in new reproductive technologies, promising success where there was previously no hope. But with the promise, they also bring new questions on how Christians should approach such techniques.

In this video, Lenny explains various techniques and the potential dangers that accompany them. He also offers specific questions Christians should ask before embarking on in-vitro fertilization. This is the first in a multi-part series on reproductive technologies and the Christian.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Illogic of Atheist Christmas Billboards

It's that time of year again; Christmas is coming. You will see all kinds of people decorating their homes, shopping for presents, and attending company parties as they do every year. Another yearly event now seems to be the anti-theist billboards put up by groups like the American Atheists. Fox 21 reported on the billboards appearing on Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs. They carry the message "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness sake. Happy holidays!"1 Here's an example:



What should Christians make of these billboards? Is it an attack on Christianity? It clearly holds a message contrary to Christian teaching, but the American Atheists claim they aren't trying to undermine Christmas. According to the channel, American Atheists spokesman Randy Gotovich said "We're trying to be inclusive of everyone in Christmas and saying that anyone can celebrate it. It shouldn't be viewed strictly as a Christian holiday."2

What?

Perhaps Gotovich missed the common referent in the words Christ mas and Christian—the word Christ. While people who are not devout or even Christians may celebrate Christmas, the concept of Christmas falls apart without Christ. The holiday makes no sense. The refrain of "Peace on earth, good will toward men" is a call for every human being to replicate the selflessness and mercy that God showed by sending his son to save sinners. That's why taking the entire quote of Luke 2:14 is important: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (ESV). Only in the Christian worldview does this kind of selflessness make sense. It certainly doesn't work in a world based on survival of the fittest.

Gotovich's statement unwittingly displays something. Atheists ideals cannot exist on their own. Imagine if the American Atheists were more honest and sought to abolish Christmas entirely. Why not say, "We don't need this holiday infused at every turn with religious implications and mythicism. We have Darwin Day. Let's celebrate that instead." How many followers do you think they would attract?

The Confused Message of "Be Good for Goodness' Sake"

Instead of promoting atheism by its own virtues, the American Atheists want to keep Christmas, but corrupt it. AA President David Silverman tried to redefine the holiday on their website by saying "The things that are most important during the holiday season—spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry—have nothing to do with religion."3 Again, what? Where did he get that from?

First off, ideas like spending time with loved ones should not be seasonal. Charity and altruism are good things. But atheists don't think so if the altruism carries religious implications. In instances such as those, they'd rather shut down food pantries than allow a church the freedom to help the needy.

But the biggest problem with the billboard is whose idea of "being good" is being adopted here? What standard or scale are the atheists using to weigh whether an action is in itself good or bad? They obviously believe that skipping church is a good thing and going to church is a bad thing. But what if they're wrong on that point? Then how can they "be good for goodness' sake" when telling someone to skip church, which is bad?

When the atheists borrowed that line from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," they misrepresented it. The line is using "for goodness' sake" as an emphatic device, just as you might hear a mother say while scolding her son, "Why do you have to take your brother's toys? For goodness' sake, you have plenty of your own to play with!" By changing the meaning to try and make it say that goodness has its own ontology, that is that goodness exists outside of anything else, they beg the question.

One cannot be good for goodness' sake without knowing first what defines goodness. And therein lies the problem. Atheism has no grounding for goodness. There is nothing to give their pronouncements about what is good or bad any value at all. Everything becomes subjective, like Silverman's claim that "being merry" is an important holiday value. Being merry is nice, I guess, but it isn't a virtue. All it takes to be merry is an open bar at the company Christmas party.

Without the transcendent source of God to anchor goodness, there is no way anyone can be good for the sake of goodness alone. Where does one start? By seeking to leverage the inherently religious principles of Christmas (in which God establishes the foundation of sacrificial love) to try and undermine the practice of religion, the American Atheists have set up a contradiction.

Let them present their own worldview. Let them hold their own holidays. For goodness' sake, why do they keep trying to take the Christian ones? That's simply naughty.

References

1. Fisher, Kody. "Controversial Billboards along I-25." FOX21Newscom. KXRM-TV, 07 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. http://fox21news.com/2015/12/07/controversial-billboards-along-i-25/.
2. Fisher, 2015.
3. "Santa Says ‘Just Skip Church' in Atheists' Holiday Billboards." American Atheists. American Atheists, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. http://news.atheists.org/2015/12/07/santa-says-just-skip-church-in-atheists-holiday-billboards/.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why Would God Command Women to Marry Their Rapists?


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 Rapists

The 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.

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.
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.
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.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'Secular' Nations are Coasting Off Christian Fuel



"No one need fear that the Titanic will go down. Even though all her former compartments and bulkheads were stove in by the iceberg, she would still float indefinitely. She might go down a little at the bow, but she would float. I am free to say that no matter how bad the collision with an iceberg, the Titanic would float. She is an unsinkable ship." 1

Those words were offered by P.A.S. Franklin, Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine on the morning of April 15, after reports started coming in that the R.M.S. Titanic stuck an iceberg and was in need of rescue. Franklin assured the public that would be rescued. Of course, his assumption was completely wrong, as was the Titanic's captain who proceeded at full speed even though the Titanic had received six separate warnings of heavy ice before she was struck. Captain Smith, a seasoned leader, knew of the ice in the water before he left port.2 Both men were assuming future success on their past history. Smith even previously said that modern shipbuilding had "gone beyond" any condition causing a ship to sink. 3

Christianity is What Shaped These Societies

I offer the example of the Titanic not to berate the assumptions of the men above, but that they should serve as a caution. Today, we recognize such statements as hubris, perhaps even ridiculous but hindsight is easy. When I read things like Phil Zuckerman's claim that secular societies fare better than religious ones, I have to shake my head. Zuckerman offers several statistics, both on a state level within the U.S. and on a global scale comparing 'secular' nations to those whose citizens are religiously engaged and concludes that on many different benchmarks, such as economic indicators and reported levels of happiness, the secular nations are better. Scandinavian countries are held high in Zuckerman's writings as prime examples of secular nations. While that may be a debatable point, I will grant that for all practical purposes, the Scandinavian nations have a dominant secular population.

I've already discussed the first problem with the claim: what counts as 'better?' Today, I want to take on the heart of the matter, though. These secular nations (and the less religious states Zuckerman offers) are as successful as they are not because they've turned secular, but because of the centuries of Christian history and values that have shaped them into what they are today. It is the Christian tradition that has made the Scandinavian countries value all people as equals. Before Christianity, the Viking culture saw pillaging monasteries of far off countries acceptable and slavery was part of the business. It took some 150-250 years for the Scandinavian nations to convert to Christianity, and during that time the culture gradually changed to adopt Christian principles.4

Jumping to Conclusions

The length of time it takes to change a culture fits appropriately with sociologist Robert Woodberry's findings on how Christian missionaries positively affected third world nations. What makes his study so significant is that Woodberry has researched his claim so carefully no critic can find a hole in it. You can read more here, but as Christianity Today summarized:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.5
Zuckerman has offered his criteria for "better" by using measures like a nation's democracy, the equality of women, or its level of literacy. But these are results of the Christian worldview. So are education, the value for children and orphans, and the idea that all men are created equal. The secular nations that Zuckerman highlights have had a long history of Christianity as their primary societal driver. There simply has not been enough time for secular values that Christians warn of to do the damage they can ultimately inflict.

Once the Titanic struck the iceberg, it didn't sink right away. It took over two hours before she went down and in the immediate minutes after the hit, I would imagine certain crew would still have voiced the same hope as P.A.S. Franklin. Their assumptions were equally wrong. I've shown how the so-call model secular nations have devalued life already. The question for us today is where will this new secularism take us when enough time has passed for the culture to be drowning in it?

References

1. "She Cannot Sink, Says Official of White Star Line" The Evening World (New York, NY) 15 Apr. 1912, Final ed.: 1. Print. PDF version available at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030193/1912-04-15/ed-1/seq-1.pdf
2. Elverhøi, Peter. "There's a lot of ice out there, old boy." Acquitting the Iceberg. Encyclopedia Titanica, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/acquitting-the-iceberg~chapter-6.html.
3. Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998. Print. 48.
4. Stone, Ryan. "The Long Goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of Three Realms." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.ancient-origins.net/opinion-guest-authors/long-goodbye-scandinavian-paganism-and-christianization-three-realms-002212.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014. https://www.disciplenations.org/media/CT-Article-On-Missionaries-And-Global-Democracy.pdf  Accessed 6/9/2014.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Are Atheist Countries Really More Moral?



Within the last twenty four hours I saw two different versions of a meme gaining popularity online. The latest one references the nation of Iceland with text that states "Iceland has no army, jailed their corrupt bankers, economy is booming, violent crime is rare, one of the lowest crime rates in the world." The meme then unveils its punchline: "Atheist majority population. Where is all that evil and depravity the religious talk about?"

Similar ideas have been offered before. Phil Zuckerman has written in this vein extensively. His article "Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies" that appeared last year in Psychology Today makes similar assertions:
…those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today, such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc.1
Is this right? Are nations such as Iceland, the Scandinavian countries, and Australia better off with their secular cultures?

Clarifying the Question – What Do you Mean by 'Better'?

Before we jump too far into the details, it is important to clarify just what is being claimed. Take the Iceland meme for example. Does anyone think it would be better if the United States had no standing army? I'm certain Iceland wouldn't like that, since as a member of NATO they rely on the U.S. and its NATO partners to protect them in the event of an invasion, as they did in World War II.2

Secondly, many of the measures that folks like Zuckerman uses are subjective on what makes a better state of affairs. For example, in her response to Zuckerman's book Society Without God, sociologist Lisa Graham McMinn notes how selective Zuckerman's definition of better is. She writes:
But Zuckerman flubs a fundamental point: He confuses a contented life with a good life. Zuckerman frankly admits the lack of purpose expressed by many Scandinavians. They aren't troubled by the need to find it either, but are satisfied living their lives without being overly concerned about the larger meaning of life or what happens after death.3
Interestingly, even Zuckerman admits in his own research that the one factor where the more secular nations fare worse is the number of suicides as a percentage of the population. In a paper presented in the academic journal Sociology Compass, Zuckerman writes:
As for suicide, however, regular church-attending Americans clearly have lower rates than non-attenders (Comstock and Partridge, 1972; Stack and Wasserman, 1992; Martin, 1984), although this correlation has actually not been found in other nations (Stack, 1991). Of the current top-ten nations with the highest rates of suicide, most are relatively secular (World Health Organization, 2003). 4

Does Being Liberal Mean More Moral?

Zuckerman immediately tries to brush off this correlation by explaining that perhaps most of the suicides are remnants from previous dictators in eastern bloc countries. However, he also notes in the report that the secular nations are much more supportive of physician-assisted suicide, which he argues is one factor in concluding that such stances make the secularist more moral than the believer:

But I would go farther. I would argue that a strong case could be made that atheists and secular people actually possesses a stronger or more ethical sense of social justice than their religious peers. After all, when it comes to such issues as the governmental use of torture or the death penalty, we see that atheists and secular people are far more merciful and humane. When it comes to protecting the environment, women's rights, and gay rights, the non-religious again distinguish themselves as being the most supportive5 (emphasis in the original).

So, is it of any surprise to see suicide rates go up in a culture where practices like abortion and euthanasia are lauded? Isn't this devaluing of life exactly what Christians mean when they warn that "things will get ugly"? In the Netherlands, there has been a 300% increase in euthanized people in just over a decade. Worse, as Wesley J. Smith reports, "In only twenty three years, Dutch doctors have gone from being permitted to kill the terminally ill who ask for it, to killing the chronically ill who ask for it, to killing newborn babies in their cribs because they have birth defects, even though by definition they cannot ask for it. Dutch doctors also engage in involuntary euthanasia without significant legal consequence, even though such activity is officially prohibited."6

That doesn't sound better to me. I think McMinn is right when she concludes "Zuckerman sells humanity short. If people are content but no longer care about transcendent meaning and purpose or life beyond death, that's not a sign of greatness but tragic forgetfulness."7

There are more problems with the meme as well. Click here to read part two. Click here to read part three.

References

1. Zuckerman, Phil. "Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-secular-life/201410/secular-societies-fare-better-religious-societies.
2. IcelandicRoots. "The Occupation of Iceland During World War II." Icelandic Roots. Icelandic Roots, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2015. http://www.icelandicroots.com/the-occupation-of-iceland-during-world-war-ii/.
3. McMinn, Lisa Graham. "Learning from Secular Nations." ChristianityToday.com. Christianity Today, 2 Feb. 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/february/13.57.html.
4. Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions." Sociology Compass 3.6 (2009): 949-71. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
5. Zuckerman, 2009.
6. Smith, Wesley J. Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder. New York: Times, 1997. Print. 110-111.
7. McMinn, 2009.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars, Super Heroes, and How Relativism Doesn't Satisfy



Today is October 21, 2015, known as "Back to the Future Day" in pop culture circles. In Back to the Future II, today is the pivotal point where Marty travels to the future, Biff steals the time machine, and the entire course of history is changed where the villain becomes triumphant. Marty must restore the timeline so the good guy wins and evil is vanquished.

Another popular movie franchise is also on everyone's lips this week as the last trailer for the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga has been released. I found it interesting that people were lining up and crowding movie theaters to see the trailer for the film! People have already bought tickets to a showing that's two months away. The Avengers and other comic book hero films are similarly popular. All one has to do is look at the top all-time box office grosses to see how superheroes and genre films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings are massively successful. What's causing all the attraction to these kinds of films?

A Rising Culture of Moral Ambiguity

One reason why my curiosity was piqued at the popularity of these films is their very simple portrayal of good and evil. Star Wars and comic hero films draw very clear lines between good and evil. The characters may have some inner struggles, but they aren't an anti-hero like the television series Dexter or Breaking Bad. Those characters have become more popular as they reflect the moral relativism held by so many people, especially the younger generation. As the television site Flow notes:

Dexter possesses a key element common to a lion's share of the series that critics, fans and scholars laud as contemporary quality television: a central character that is, at best, morally ambiguous and, at worst, either so pathologically self-centered or self-contained that his/her actions stretch our common lexicon for one who has "emotional baggage" that often ends with blood (and lots of it); in other words, "amoral" or "immoral" don't seem quite fit the discursive bill.1

Clearly, the belief that morality is relative is increasing. It is the default position on college campuses today, and students are so entrenched in it they would rather say rape is OK than admit that there are objective values and duties to which we all must conform. The clear good/evil distinction seems out of place in such a world, so why are films that reflect is so incredibly popular, especially with the youth?

How to Kill a Dragon

I think the answer is a simple one. Moral relativism may sound great, but inside most people there's a nagging suspicion that it isn't true. People long for good to triumph and evil to be vanquished. Underneath it all they really want there to be a right and a wrong, a good and an evil, and they want to be able to identify which is which. Hero movies meet this need.

G.K. Chesterton famously observed:
Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.2
We used to tell myths of knights and dragons to communicate the idea of good conquering evil and right overpowering wrong. I know of no parent who reads such stories to their children any longer. While our film experiences let us escape in the wonder of a world that is morally clear and encourages us to slay our own dragons, our television choices week after week paint in all greys and show how self-justification can be leveraged to help us do what we want, just like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II. The only question is which timeline will remain as part of our future?

References

1. "Darkly Dreaming Of Dexter: If Loving Him Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right." Flow. Department of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin., July 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://flowtv.org/2007/11/darkly-dreaming-of-dexter-if-loving-him-is-wrong-i-don%E2%80%99t-want-to-be-right-pt-1/.
2. Chesterton, G. K. Tremendous Trifles. Project Gutemberg. 5 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8092/8092-h/8092-h.htm

Thursday, October 01, 2015

What "Thou Shalt Not Judge" Really Means



"Thou shalt not judge" is a phrase that Christians hear over and over again. Even those who don't believe in Jesus will cite his teaching in Matthew 7:1 to try and say that Christians shouldn't tell others certain actions (things like abortion, homosexuality, and the like) are wrong. But that's a bit too cavalier. We must take Jesus's words in their proper context to understand exactly what he meant.

In this passage from his web site, Dr. J.P. Moreland gives a great explanation on the different types of judging and why Jesus did not say moral judgments were out of bounds. He explains:
We need to distinguish two senses of judging: condemning and evaluating. The former is wrong and is in view in Matthew 7. When Jesus says not to judge, he means it in the sense that the Pharisees judged others: their purpose was to condemn the person judged and to elevate themselves above that person. Now this is a form of self-righteous blindness that vv. 2-4 explicitly forbid. Such judgment is an expression of a habitual approach to life of avoiding self-examination and repentance and, instead, propping oneself up by putting others down.

But there is another sense of judging that is central both to moral purity/holiness and to showing tough love to another: evaluating another’s behavior as wrong, pointing that out to the person with a view to their repentance, restoration and flourishing. This form of judging another may bring short-term pain in the form of guilt, embarrassment and a experience of the need to change, but its long-term effect is (or is supposed to be) the flourishing and uplifting of the other.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for another is to tell him or her something hard to hear. This form of judgment is absolutely biblical. In fact, in Matthew 7:5, Jesus basically says that after one has appropriately engaged in self-examination and personal repentance, he/she is now in a position accurately and helpfully to evaluate another. This very same form of judgment is commanded in Galatians 6:1-2. It is moral confusion and cowardice to eschew evaluating other’s behavior. It is moral clarity and courage not to condemn others.

Today it is more important than ever for the church to recover and proclaim judgment as evaluation gently yet firmly. 1
I agree with J.P. To not be allowed to make any moral judgments is insane. We rely on people such as whistleblowers to come forward if they see corporate executives who are embezzling funds. In the same way, we rely on whistleblowers to call out Planned Parenthood when they are taking live-born babies and cutting them up for their parts. Both serve the same purpose, to help diminish the amount of evil in the world.

References

1.Moreland, J. P. "Search On Judging Others: Is There a Right Way?" JPMoreland.com. J.P. Moreland, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. http://www.jpmoreland.com/2012/12/19/on-judging-others-is-there-a-right-way
Image courtesy hobvias sudoneighm -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Those Guilty of Doing Nothing in the Face of Evil

On October 27, 2009, a 15 year old girl went to her homecoming dance being held at the gymnasium of Richmond High School in Richmond, California. She was attacked outside the building and for some 2-1/2 hours was gang raped while as many as 20 bystanders looked on and did nothing.1 In October of 2012, a man is savagely beaten, robbed, and stripped of his clothes while onlookers laughed and filmed the event on their phones (clips of which can be seen here.)2 Jose Robles, manager of a Manhattan deli, after being beaten and mugged, complained from his hospital bed that no one stepped in to answer his cried for help. Instead, "people were watching and they were having a good time filming" the crime he said.3

Many people wonder how or why otherwise upright individuals could so callously ignore someone in need. Why wouldn't anyone help? In some situations, actually having a lot of people know about a heinous situation diminishes the desire for people to step in. Because of perceived social cues and reluctance to stick out, people will shy away from helping until they see others do so. The phenomenon is known as "the bystander effect" in psychology circles.4

The Bystander Effect

In her article on the bystander effect,5 Dr. Melissa Burkley references a landmark series of experiments conducted by John Darley and Bibb Latane. There they found two main components driving the lack of involvement by others. The first she dubs "pluralistic ignorance" and uses an example of a child who's splashing wildly in a pool. Upon seeing the child, you may survey the other adults in the pool area to see if anyone else is bothered by her actions. If they are concerned the child is drowning, you would dive in to rescue her. If they're indifferent, you may conclude nothing's wrong. But if no one knows and they all are looking at each other, then a false message is communicated.

The second factor of the bystander effect is what Burkley labels "diffusion of responsibility." She explains:
When you are the only eyewitness present, 100% of the responsibility for providing help rests on your shoulders. But if there are five eyewitnesses, only 20% of the responsibility is yours. The responsibility becomes defused or dispersed among the group members. In these situations, people may assume that someone else will help or that someone else is better qualified to provide assistance. But if everyone assumes this, then no one will intervene.6
It shouldn't be a revelation that those who succumb to the bystander effect are wrong. Even Jesus taught against it in his parable of the Good Samaritan. As beings who are morally aware, every person has a duty to help those in need. To watch others and assume you carry only a fraction of the moral responsibility in a dire situation is to allow evil to persist. Even if one is unsure, as in the pool example, there is nothing improper for a person to walk toward the edge of the pool and ask the child if she is in distress. An inquiry is preferable to a child's death.

Bystander Effect and Planned Parenthood

I bring this up because I'm seeing the bystander effect writ large in our society today. Millions of Christians as well as others are ignoring the evil of Planned Parenthood's extracting live babies from their mothers wombs in order to cut them apart and sell them off piece by piece. A few folks have written to me and asked "Why aren't people more upset about this?" As I've stated before, if public outcry can spur legislation within a month to ban confederate flags or one lion's death can ignite indignation across the country via social media, then certainly the lives of the most defenseless of human beings should be worth our time and effort. To ignore it or assume others will carry on with the fight is wrong.

There are many ways you can make a difference in the effort. First, if you haven't done so, make sure you watch the videos. I've linked to them all here. You don't have to watch the full footage, but the ten videos to date are damning evidence that this isn't manipulation or slick editing. Secondly, share them. Share them a lot. Voice your outrage at this barbarism. You can also follow some of the suggestions I've outlined here. And if you'd like to pass on some answers to the objections Planned Parenthood supporters are raising, check out the links to the articles below.

We must act in this crisis and not wait for others. As Carly Fiorina stated in the Republican Presidential debate on September 16, 2015:
I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation.7
It's also about the character of each of us as individuals.

References

1. CNN. "Police: As Many as 20 Present at Gang Rape outside School Dance." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Oct. 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/27/california.gang.rape.investigation/.
2. Sylvester, Lisa. "Onlookers Jeer as Man Is Beaten, Stripped and Robbed in Baltimore." CNN. Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/09/us/maryland-beating/.
3. Burke, Kerry, Tina Moore, and Bill Hutchinson. "Port Authority Attack Victim Angry at Do-nothing Witnesses." NY Daily News. NYDailyNews.com, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Sept. 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/port-authority-attack-victim-angry-do-nothing-witnesses-article-1.1742519.
4. Burkley, Melissa, PhD. "Why Don't We Help? Less Is More, at Least When It Comes to Bystanders." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 4 Nov. 2009. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-social-thinker/200911/why-don-t-we-help-less-is-more-least-when-it-comes-bystanders.
5. Burkley, 2009.
6. Burkley, 2009.
7. Beckwith, Ryan Teague. "Transcript: Read the Full Text of the Second Republican Debate." TIME. Time, Inc., 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. http://time.com/4037239/second-republican-debate-transcript-cnn/ .

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

If You're Skeptical of Miracles, Then Why Not Morality



Is it unreasonable to believe in miracles? Numerous atheists I've spoken to over the years not only don't believe in miracles, they consider any belief in miracles as illogical. Most point to David Hume's Of Miracles in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding as to why belief in miracles should be considered unreasonable.

I don't find Hume's arguments at all convincing. Still, many atheists hold Hume in the highest esteem when it comes to matters of reason and conviction. They believe Hume's skepticism is the model to be followed as a foundation for rationalism. However, there is one area where Hume's reasoning leads to uncomfortable conclusions, that is in the area of morality.

Christians argue for the necessity of God's existence given the fact that objective moral values and duties really exist. If there is no God to ground them, no binding moral values and duties exist. Hume came to a similar conclusion. Book III of his Treatise of Human Nature focuses on the question of morality and Hume begins by dismissing the concept of morality as being derived by reason at all. He writes:
It has been observed, that nothing is ever present to the mind but its perceptions; and that all the actions of seeing, hearing, judging, loving, hating, and thinking, fall under this denomination. The mind can never exert itself in any action, which we may not comprehend under the term of perception; and consequently that term is no less applicable to those judgments, by which we distinguish moral good and evil, than to every other operation of the mind. To approve of one character, to condemn another, are only so many different perceptions.1
Hume explains that reasoning shouldn't be colored by a man's passions. Whether or not a proposition is true is irrelevant to the feelings one has about that statement. You may be passionate about your hockey team winning the game, but your feelings don't affect the score in any way. As Mark Linville put it, Hume "maintained that belief in objective moral properties is, at best, unwar­ranted, and talk of them is, in fact, meaningless."2 Here's Hume discussing how even murder cannot be considered objectively wrong:
Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compared to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind.3
So Hume holds that there really isn't any objective morality; moral laws are simply our feelings projected outwards trying to get people to not do things we feel are disgusting. It's all about what we personally like or don't like. Reason has nothing to do with the matter.

As Linville notes, modern Darwinists, such as Edward O. Wilson and Michael Ruse agree with Hume, holding that objective morality is a "useful fiction" that evolution used in order to increase survivability.4 If it is a fiction, a falsehood, then it isn't reasonable to believe morality at all.

Both miracles and moral laws make sense if God really exists. Without God, miracles are a contradiction and moral laws are nothing more than the outward voicing of feelings of discomfort or dislike. If atheists are going to be skeptical of miracles, then why wouldn't they be just as skeptical of morality?


References

1. Hume, David. "Moral Distinctions Not Derived from Reason." A Treatise of Human Nature. The University of Adelaide, 3 July 2015. Web. 02 Sept. 2015. https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/david/h92t/B3.1.1.html.
2. Mark D. Linville. "The Moral Argument." The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. By William Lane. Craig and James Porter Moreland. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 393. Print.
3. Hume, 2015.
4. Linville, 2009.
Image courtesy Andreas Schamanek and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Christian Morals Make Us More Free



What is true freedom? Does having fewer restrictions make one more free? That's the message advertisers would foist on our kids. From the No Rules skateboard apparel to yesterday's MTV Video Music Awards where Miley Cyrus was given "pretty free reign… no rules,"1 to Ashley Madison's come-on slogan of "Life is short… have an affair, " the message is unmistakable: freedom means shedding the moral restrictions of the past.

It's part of people's nature to bristle against rules, especially those rules that would force one to curb his or her predilections. Children would rather eat candy than vegetables for dinner. Students would rather play video games than study. Most adults in society today look upon those desires as childish. They understand there are real consequences to taking the easy road. Ignoring the nutritional needs of one's body or educational opportunities that color one's future isn't a freeing experience; they have real and significant consequences.

Given the serious consequences of childish actions, people have come to realize that it is actually more freeing to live within these rules. The person who studied hard in school and has earned a degree has many more opportunities in front of him than one who didn't. The person who eats well has the freedom to perform better in sports. Freedom isn't about the next few hours or the next few days, but what happens over a lifetime.

Christian Morality is Freeing

While people generally agree on the obvious examples I offered above, this principle of freedom applies within the moral realm as well. Marvin Olasky recently interviewed University of Texas philosophy professor J. Budziszewski on the changes in attitude college students display today as opposed to years past. Budziszewski has been a keen observer of the difficulties Christian students face when entering college, and given our sex-saturated culture, the temptations for easy sexual hook-ups is everywhere. When asked about what the church can do about all the young people leaving their faith in college, Budziszewski answered:
We haven't a chance of getting people to live a Christian way of life if they think it is just a collection of joy-killing rules. What we should explain is that Christian morality is a prerequisite for happiness, and that it makes us more free, not less—free to do what is good rather than being jerked around by desires. People need to have the vision of the good that temptation is pulling them away from.2
This is a crucial message that the church hasn't communicated very well at all. We've turned sex into a series of "thou shalt not's" instead of emphasizing the holiness of sex. We've warned against the ways of the world in ominous tones instead of talking with kids about just how much freedom one gains when one works at developing the good in one's life. Gratification delayed does not mean gratification denied, it simply means you will have the freedom to experience the full joys of what God has intended for you without the nasty consequences. There will be more choices afforded to you and you will have more control over your life's path.

References

1. Boardman, Madeline. "VMAs Producer: Miley Cyrus Has 'free Rein,' No Rules for Sunday's Show." EW.com. Entertainment Weekly Inc, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/27/vma-miley-cyrus-free-rein-no-rules.
2. Olasky, Marvin. "J. Budziszewski: Generation Disordered" WORLD. WORLD News Group, 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.worldmag.com/2015/08/generation_disordered/.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where's the Dignity in Euthanasia?



A couple of days ago I posted about the California legislature seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state. While many of the pro-euthanasia crowd relies on the catch phrase "death with dignity," actively ending a person's life doesn't dignify either one's respect for life or the personhood of the patient.

Kenneth Samples explains that there are two categories of euthanasia and the distinction between them is key:
In active euthanasia, an agent intentionally and actively takes the life of a terminally ill patient. This might be done either by the patient himself or herself (suicide) or with the assistance of someone else (possibly a physician, family member, or friend). Active euthanasia produces or causes death. This means that the patient's death results not from the terminal illness itself but from the specific act of euthanasia (such as a lethal dose of medication or gunshot).

In passive euthanasia, an agent allows a terminally ill patient to die naturally without intervening, usually by withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining (artificial or extraordinary) treatment. Passive euthanasia permits death to take its natural course but does not actually cause death itself.1
Samples then notes that since active euthanasia is the intentional taking of a life, it is something that falls into the exclusive domain of God and is rejected by Christianity as immoral:
What is the traditional Christian view of euthanasia? Most theologians and ethicists affirm the active-passive distinction from both a logical and a moral standpoint. Active euthanasia, however, is viewed as morally offensive and unacceptable (virtual homicide). It is condemned because it violates the scriptural principle that prohibits the intentional taking of innocent human life (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). Many Christian ethicists believe that given the state of human sinfulness (original sin, total depravity; see Pss. 51 :5; 58:3; Prov 20:9), active euthanasia weakens respect for human life and sets a dangerous precedent for humanity.2
I agree with this assessment We are woefully flawed beings and are far too capable of misusing such power, even if the original intentions are to alleviate suffering. The problem with the active form of euthanasia /physician-assisted suicide patients can be manipulated into either thinking that they are a burden to their families or that they would be "better off" dead.

Safeguards Don't Protect Patients

In a 2011 article in the medical journal Current Oncology, Dr. Jose Pereira notes that while both the Netherlands and Belgium has euthanasia laws that require the request to be "voluntary, well-considered, informed, and persistent over time. The requesting person must provide explicit written consent and must be competent at the time the request is made."3 Yet, Pereira reports these haven't been effective in guarding against abuse:
Despite those safeguards, more than 500 people in the Netherlands are euthanized involuntarily every year. In 2005, a total of 2410 deaths by euthanasia or psa [Physician Assisted Suicide] were reported, representing 1.7% of all deaths in the Netherlands. More than 560 people (0.4% of all deaths) were administered lethal substances without having given explicit consent 7. For every 5 people euthanized, 1 is euthanized without having given explicit consent. Attempts at bringing those cases to trial have failed, providing evidence that the judicial system has become more tolerant over time of such transgressions.4
Pereira goes on to report that in Belgium, the situation is worse, with voluntary and involuntary euthanasia rates three times higher than the Netherlands!

Passive Euthanasia

What about passive euthanasia, though? Is it too always wrong? Not necessarily, but caution must still be maintained. Again,  Samples explains:
Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, has been generally accepted by traditional Christian theologians and ethicists, but with some careful qualifications. Passive euthanasia can be considered if a patient has not been denied natural life-sustaining means such as air, water, and food (though artificial measures may not be necessary), and also if the physical condition of the patient has been diagnosed as irreversible, death is imminent, and further treatment would lead only to a burdensome prolongation of death.5
In the famous case of Terry Schiavo, her husband had fought a legal battle to remove her feeding tube and withhold hydration, a move her parents fought vigorously. Schiavo was significantly brain damaged after she collapsed at her home, but she was in no way terminal. In such an instance, I believe removing her feeding tube is immoral. It certainly doesn't give Terri any more dignity to be dead and food and water are basic essentials one must not withhold from any person who may find him or herself incapable of providing independently. We do so for those who may be paralyzed, infants and young children, those with severe mental disabilities, and many others.

Samples ends his comment by quoting from John Jefferson Davis, who sums it up well:
Human life is sacred because God made man in his own image and likeness.... This canopy of sacredness extends throughout man's life, and is not simply limited to those times and circumstances when man happens to be strong, independent, healthy, and fully conscious of his relationships to others.6
The reason we don't simply end the life of the mentally or physically disabled is because these people bear the image of God, the imago Dei, and physical limitations do not diminish it. The imago Dei is what makes all people equal, even those who are severely handicapped or have Parkinson's disease. Schiavo's brain injury was severe, but she was still a human being, and therefore held a dignity intrinsic to all humanity. How can a physician or even the patient himself claim that this intrinsic dignity is now missing and they need to die in order to regain it? It makes no sense.

References

1. Samples, Kenneth R. 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity's Most Dangerous Ideas. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. Print. 176.
2. Samples, 2012.
3. Pereira, J. "Legalizing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide: The Illusion of Safeguards and Controls." Current Oncology Curr. Oncol. 18.2 (2011): n. pag. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
4. Pereira, 2011.
5. Samples, 2012.
6. Samples, 2012.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Naturalism and the Problem of Living a Good Life



Scott Rae, in the introduction to his book Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, lays out some of the reasons the study of ethics is important and why the modern assumption of naturalism endangers the concept of even a good life:
Most people, when they are genuinely being honest with themselves, associate doing well in life with being a good person. Having moral character is still essential to most people's conceptions of what makes a person flourish in his or her life. For example, it is difficult to imagine a person being considered a success in life if he has gained his wealth dishonestly. It is equally difficult to call a person a success who is at the top of his profession but cheats on his wife, abuses his children, and drinks too much. On the other hand, we rightly hold up a person like Mother Teresa as a model of living a good life, even though she lacked most material goods that society values. One of the principal reasons for being moral is that it is central to most concepts of human fulfillment. For the Christian, being moral is critical to a life that seeks to honor God. We could say that being moral is inherently good because it is foundational to a person's flourishing in life, since doing well in life and being a good person still go together for most people.



These reasons for the importance of studying ethics all presume that there is as genuine moral knowledge. But that notion is being increasingly called into question in philosophy today as a result of the cultural dominance of the worldview of naturalism. Among other things, the naturalist holds that all reality is reducible to that which can be perceived with one's senses—that is, there is nothing that is real or counts for knowledge that is not verifiable by the senses. As a result, moral knowledge has been reduced to the realm of belief and is considered parallel to religious beliefs, which the culture widely holds are not verifiable. The theist maintains that moral knowledge is genuine knowledge in the same way that scientific knowledge is real—that the notion that "murder is wrong" can be known .as true and cannot be reduced to subjective opinion or belief without the risk of all morality being subjective. The theist argues that no one lives consistently, as though morality were entirely subjective, and that moral truths do exist and can be known as such.1

References

1. Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000. Print. 11,13

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Contradiction of Preaching Morality as Cultural


One of the runaway concepts plaguing society today is the denial of moral duties and values as objective external things. Most people assume morality is fluid and right and wrong are nothing in themselves except a reflection of the likes or dislikes of a certain people at a certain point in time. Thus, while some cultures would have regarded homosexual acts wrong in their day, they were simply voicing their dislike for it while in our own time acceptance has made the act wrong no longer.

Usually people who explain away moral precepts in this manner are trying to accomplish two things: they seek to lift the restrictions that traditional moral values demands of them while demonstrating that we live in a more enlightened age, not beholden to rules that were crafted in a less progressive time. Their message is that it isn't good to stay locked in the backwards thinking of the past.

But this is exactly where their problem lies. If their view of morality as merely the outward voicing of likes or dislikes a specific culture holds is true, it destroys not only the wrongness of what we wish weren't wrong; it destroys the very idea that we must progress to a new way of thinking about morality at all.

G. K. Chesterton noted the trend well in his book Orthodoxy. He observed:
We often hear it said, for instance, "What is right in one age is wrong in another." This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat.1
Chesterton is right here. The idea of assuming right and wrong change with preferences means that right and wrong don't really exist at all. One society can never be better than another, only different. That means the person who wishes to fight for the civil rights of an oppressed group isn't right in taking on that crusade, he or she isn't advancing the society in so doing, because there is no place to advance. He is only moving it sideways.

The concept of better or worse can only make sense when an outside frame of reference is used. By relativizing moral values to societal preferences, the fame of reference no longer exists. Therefore the very goal of the moral relativist is undercut, demonstrating their "new way of thinking" is simply confusion.

References

1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print. 63.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

WALL-E, Morality, and Men Without Chests



In the 2008 Pixar film WALL-E, humans are not the hero. The movie portrays people as very advanced technologically: they can create space ships that house the population of the planet. They can build robots that will function autonomously for hundreds of years. They have floating chairs and auto-changing clothes. Work seems to be passé.

Even with accomplishing the things that we toady dream about, the film doesn't want you to think humans are in a better position. It wants you to realize that they've traded an important part of their humanity for their comfort and convenience. They've lost the idea that work, exercise, struggle, and the natural order are part of the human condition. In the consumerist culture of WALL-E, humans' drive to satisfy every desire has made their bellies so fat they can no longer stand on their feet.

Our Growing Bellies and Shrinking Chests

It should be no surprise that the comment on humanity in WALL-E wasn't about the distant future, but about our culture today. We're the ones who are driven so much by our desires that we've grown fat and forsaken the richness that denial of pleasure offers human beings, and that fatness is not only physical. We've let out appetites overwhelm us on questions of morality, too.

The fatness of our bellies was famously noted by C.S. Lewis in his short book The Abolition of Man. Lewis, drawing from Plato, extends the idea. Human beings have two centers of motivation: his reasoning and his appetites. We can come to a decision that X is the right thing to do by weighing the pros and cons, and looking at the consequences of the outcome, not only for ourselves but for others and for society in general. This is reasoning, or being ruled by the head.

The other source of motivation is our appetites. Appetites and desires are universal, but they really don't require much thought. You feel them and seek to satisfy them. Appetites are pictured to be ruled by the belly, that is the stomach and genitals. They are not constrained to only sexual or gastronomic satisfaction, though. Desire to get the "next new thing" or the desire to avoid work, like in WALL-E would qualify.

If we were to be ruled by only our appetites, we are no better off than animals. It is our head, our ability to reason and curb appetites that make us civilized. But how do we do this, when our appetites are so powerful within us? Lewis says we have traditionally allowed the head to rule over the belly through the chest. He explains the chest is the center of magnanimity. It is:
emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment — these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.1

We are in the World of WALL-E Right Now

Our culture has given itself over completely to its appetites. Individuality has trumped reason. We are told that sex doesn't matter in marriage, the only institution recognized as the appropriate to rear children. We're told that biology has nothing to do with gender although it has everything to do with sexual orientation. We care more about finding self-fulfillment in whatever our desires may be than we do to upholding the time-tested pillars that uphold society for all. Owen Strachan believes the Obergefell ruling demonstrates this: "Our self-obsessed society has made good on its orientation. We now care more about personal feelings and rights we deemed are owed to us than we do about duties to God, family, country, and community."2

Because we no longer value magnanimity (does anyone even know what the word means today?), the belly has his way and becomes more and more engorged. We are, as Lewis claimed, Men without Chests. But it also makes us men without feet and men without a natural home. We are adrift on a craft built entirely of comfort and we've forgotten how to walk. The problem is, sooner or later we are going to fall out of our lounge chairs and we won't be able to get up again.

References

1. Lewis, C. S. "The Abolition of Man." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. Print. 704.
2. Strachan, Owen. "5 Implications of the Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision." ThoughtLife. Patheos, 26 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2015/06/5-implications-of-the-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-decision/.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What About Slavery in the Bible? (video)



"Why would a God of love allow the Israelites to won slaves, even giving them laws on ownership?" It seems to be a common objection by some who seek to demonstrate that the Bible is incoherent. However, as Lenny explains in this short video, the concept of slave in the Ancient Near East wasn't the same thing as it was in the pre-Civil War south. It was much broader, including serfdom and share-cropping type relationships.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why the "Evil God" Objection Fails



Traffic lights across the world use red and green to signify stop and go. 1 From that, the concept of red communication stop or lack of progress while green means continued movement have spread well beyond the automobile. For example, they're used in machinery power switches to signify whether a machine is operating. They're also used in financial reports to show whether a stock is falling (red) or rising (green).

But why these colors? Why couldn't it be blue and orange? There's no objective need for choosing red and green instead of blue and orange to represent stop and go. The Chinese traditionally associate the color red with fortune and luck. Given this, on mainland China, rising stocks are displayed with a red arrow on a graph, while green means the stock is sinking.2

What if some of our other assumptions about what we believe to be up and down are wrong? What about our assumption that God is inherently good? Every once in a while I hear atheists offer a counter-argument to the all-good God concept by asking "what if God isn't good, but malevolent? How do you know that god is good at all?" One example of this is a post by John Loftus on his blog Debunking Christianity:
But what if Satan is the good guy? What if he rebelled against God because he was aware of God's evil plan to create this kind of world and with it condemn human beings to hell forever? What if Satan told Adam the truth in the garden and wanted him to have a true knowledge about God that was forbidden him? What if God was the one who revealed a lie, that Satan was the bad guy even though he isn't?

… What if this so-called cosmic war is being won by the wrong guy? What if in response Satan is sending prophets (i.e. intellectuals), to tell believers the truth, that God is a liar, an evil egomaniac, a moral monster? What evidence is there to deny my scenario? Evidence. That's what I'm asking for in any scenario. Probabilities are all that matter. For if any of these scenarios are to be taken seriously then people are within their epistemic rights to believe the Scientology tale too.3

What Makes Good Good?

Loftus asks for evidence, and I think we can offer some. The problem in Loftus' proposal is that if we were to grant it, it runs smack into another favorite objection offered by atheists: the Euthyphro dilemma. In his Euthyphro dialogue, Plato asks if God is considered good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good? In Loftus's scenario, we have an objective good that sits outside of God, one that he should obey, but doesn't. But how does this work? If God is understood to be pre-existent and it was he who created all things including Satan, the concept of a moral law sitting outside of God is nonsensical. There is no good and evil per se. There is only the universe as it was created to operate and it functions as it functions.

As the Moral Argument concludes, the very notions of good and evil, right and wrong require God to exist. An all-good God is the foundation for our moral values and duties. He is neither beholden to some external principle nor does he create moral values arbitrarily. The good is found within God himself and moral values simply reflect his nature. But with a supposed evil God, there's no way to know what good actually is; thus there's no way to understand what the term God means. An evil God really becomes an oxymoron at that point, given that part of what we mean by God is he who grounds moral obligations.

References

1. Scott. "The Origin of the Green, Yellow, and Red Color Scheme for Traffic Lights." Today I Found Out. Vacca Foeda Media, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/03/the-origin-of-the-green-yellow-and-red-color-scheme-for-traffic-lights/.
2. Jiang, Feng, Su Lu, Xiang Yao, Xiaodong Yue, and Wing Tung Au. "Up or Down? How Culture and Color Affect Judgments." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making J. Behav. Dec. Making 27.3 (2013): 226-34. Web.
3. Loftus, John W. "What If Satan Is the Good Guy?" Debunking Christianity. John W. Loftus, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015. http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-if-satan-is-good-guy.html.

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