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

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Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

Friday, August 04, 2017

The New Generation and the Lack of Struggle



There's a very interesting scene in the movie The Matrix where Agent Smith, speaking for the computers, tells Morpheus how early versions of simulated worlds constructed by the Matrix proved to be failures. He explains:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this...
I don't think Smith got it quite right. Human beings don't define our reality through suffering, but suffering definitely wakes us up to what is truly real, what is valuable, and what is important. During the Great Depression, children would go out and work if they could, perhaps selling newspapers or whatever they could find, in order to bring their earnings home and lay them on the table. They didn't demand to keep “their” money. They did it because it could mean the difference between eating something that night or not. They learned that one cannot expect to have every desire satisfied. That's a luxury, not real life.  It's no wonder that these children went off to fight in WWII and became known as the “great generation” for their continued self-sacrifice.

Of course, after the war, things changed. The Baby Boomers were given advantages their parents had never before seen. The Boomers then reared their children with privileges and technologies that were unthinkable two generations before. It is kids from this generation who demand that no one should ever feel offended and who believe that happiness is a right by virtue of birth. It is this generation that has spawned the Social Justice Warriors, who want to wage a war against any imagined slight or bias they can think of.

The Necessity of Being  Just and Wise and Charitable 

Sir Roger Scruton, speaking at the end of the James Delingpole podcast, made a striking observation.  Delingpole noted “Presumably, we're not living in the darkest times that anyone has lived through…” prompting Scruton to reply:
Absolutely. That is part of the problem. But, em, the new generation and beyond has nothing to confront. They've got an abundance of everything, of food, of clothing, a shelter, and opportunities. And, you know, there are some who are less well off than others, but there's a—the element of struggle has been removed from their lives. And I think that's one reason we've produced a different kind of human type, one that's out of touch with ancestors for whom, who required virtue in order to live properly. They had to be courageous. They had to be just and wise and charitable if they were to make their way in society.

They were… In those days, there was a real difference between human types: those who could attract to themselves friends and a circle of collaborators and those who were on the margins. Now, you know, with social media and all that, it helps people to get by without virtue. You can cultivate the substitute virtue—virtue signaling as it's called—and have friendships which are purely spectral, which exist in cyberspace but not in reality. So, it's easy to get by without furnishing yourself with the real moral attributes that you need.

But I think at a certain stage young people will wake up that they've done this and they rebel against it and they do want what is real.
I hope Sir Roger is right and young people will wake up to the difference between what they perceive as virtuous versus what virtue actually is. If we as a culture can only learn through suffering, the future looks very bleak indeed.

Image courtesy Andrew Ciscel and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 (cc-by-sa-2.0https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en) generic license.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Pornography, Cannibalism, and Debasing Humanity through Non-Belief



In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort to mainstream pornography. Not only did several mainstream studio/high production value films choose to feature nudity and overt sex scenes, but the pornographic film Deep Throat became the center of attention across the nation. Even trusted middle American publication Time magazine produced a feature on Deep Throat,1 giving a smut film the air of credibility.2 The New York Times writer Ralph Blumenthal commented that the film had "become a premier topic of cocktail‐party and dinner‐table conversation in Manhattan drawing rooms, Long Island beach cottages and ski country A‐frames. It has, in short, engendered a kind of porno chic."3 Not discussed were the countless number of victims in pornography's wake. Linda Boreman, billed as Lovelace in the film, has said "When you see the movie Deep Throat you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time."

The trend towards porno-chic should have served as a caution. Sexual freedom advocates claimed licentiousness as liberation, arguing that old-fashioned morals were repressive and holding society back. However, the opposite has proven true. Today, one doesn't even have to look at naked people to see it.

Reza Aslan's interaction with a small extremist Hindu group of Aghori nomads where his face is smeared with the cremated ashes of the dead and he actually joins them in eating brains from the deceased and drinking from a human skull4 is as offensive and pornographic as any sexually explicit scene ever filmed. Aslan's choosing to capture the grotesque rituals of this tiny sect, not even representative of Hindus, is offered for shock value and to titillate. It reminds me of citizen spectators who stretch to view mangled bodies after an automobile accident: they feign horror as they struggle to see the carnage up close.

Robbing Human Worth for Ratings

Christianity has always held that human beings are intrinsically valuable. Human bodies are not a tool separate from the person, but part of what makes a person complete. Therefore the human body has intrinsic worth. Aslan's participation in eating brains is like a news reporter decrying the tragedy of the accident while zooming in for a close-up of the corpse. The very act itself is defiling and debases the value of the deceased. The Aztecs were noted for their human sacrifices, but we certainly don't need to recreate that today in order to understand their faith. Neither does any civilized person need to participate in cannibalism to understand the faith of this sect.

Here's the point: as our society abandons its Judeo-Christian ethic, it becomes more uncivilized by tolerating more and more acts of degradation. Pornography was previously seen as a vice that caters to man's animal instincts rather than his higher nature as a rational, civilized being. Newspapers wouldn't run pornography advertisements and "smut" carried a strong social stigma. Now, we have the most popular sit-coms writing full episodes about how the protagonists get to obsessively watch the free porn channel on their television set for a week.

Atheists are quick to charge that religion poisons everything and the world would be better without its constraints. They're wrong. No one would like to see their beloved parent or grandparent's body used as food for ritual or for ratings. It robs them of their dignity. Aslan is a secularist and he isn't behaving any better than these Aghori. CNN, in airing the piece, is also culpable. Porno-chic now includes mainstreaming cannibalism. What will be next?

References

1. "The Sexes: Wonder Woman." Time. Time Inc., 15 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,906765,00.html.
2. See this quote from Carolyn Bronstein: "The editors of the Los Angeles Times decided to stop bowdlerizing the Pussycat copy, figuring if small-town America could tolerate exposure to Deep Throat in the pages of its hallowed news weekly, then Californians could surely handle some movie ads." in Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-pornography Movement; 1976 - 1986. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 63. Print.
3. Blumenthal, Ralph. ""Hard‐core" Grows Fashionable—and Very Profitable." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/21/archives/pornochic-hardcore-grows-fashionableand-very-profitable.html.
4. Safi, Michael. "Reza Aslan Outrages Hindus by Eating Human Brains in CNN Documentary." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/reza-aslan-criticised-for-documentary-on-cannibalistic-hindus.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Progressives: Please Help Me Understand International Women's Day


Today is marked as International Women's Day, described as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."1 The Women's March, among other progressive women's rights groups, decided to mark the day by creating "A Day without a Woman" campaign, instructing women to:
  1. Take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
  3. And Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman
As a heterosexual white male living in the 21st century, I definitely want to highlight the crucial contributions women have made to our society. But I need some help in understanding just how to go about doing this. Lest I be accused of "mansplaining" or bias because of my sex, I want to ask my progressive friends to help me make better sense of this day and just what it is I'm recognizing.

Question 1: How Do We Mark Achievements Today?

As noted above, this date is set aside to celebrate "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women," yet women are being instructed to take the day off from labor—to go on strike. Fox News reports that "Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in ‘A Day Without a Woman' strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home."2How does this celebrate achievement? What happens to the female students who are supposed to be taught today? Does losing one day's instruction give them an advantage?

Question 2: How Do We Accelerate Economic Gender Parity?

Perhaps the strike is meant to accelerate gender parity. After all, the day is to be marked with calls to action. Does the fact that these schools closed mean the school districts need to hire more men so the ratio of genders is equal? Should we put quotas in place to ensure parity? What about other jobs where men are in the vast majority, like sanitation engineers or coal miners? Business insider lists these as two of the fifteen most deadly occupations with fatalities per 100,000 workers at 22.8 and 38.9 respectively.3 Christina Hoff Sommers documents how in the top ten highest paying college majors, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in all but one while in the ten least remunerative majors women outnumber the men in all but one. So, how do we accelerate gender parity economically here?

Question 3: How Do We Accelerate Cultural Gender Parity?

Perhaps economic parity isn't the only kind of parity we should strive for. Perhaps we can recognize that women as women offer unique and worthwhile contributions to our society that cannot be measured (or are undervalued) economically. But this seems to get sticky pretty fast. Can I say that women as a gender have a unique view on society and its problems? When the city of Los Angeles was in danger of having an all-male city council, former councilwoman Laura Chick decried the possibility, saying "Shame, shame. Absolutely it makes a difference. Our brains are different. We have different perspectives.... There's something terribly wrong with this."4

But how can this be true if a family requires two loving adults, no matter what their gender? Progressives have been telling me for a long time that children don't need women as mothers, they simply need loving individuals. Gender doesn't matter at all. To create a situation where children are intentionally denied the opportunity for a mother is so inconsequential that it shouldn't even be up for discussion. It certainly shouldn't be considered as a factor when adopting, as Catholic Charites were told, forcing them to shut down their adoption services in Massachusetts.

Question 4: What do You Mean by Woman?

Perhaps the fact that women bear children and are responsible for the lion's share of rearing them is a point to be underscored. But that would mean that the very concept of being a woman is rooted in biology. But according to my progressive friends, that isn't true at all. They say the very idea of gender is simply a social construct. All that is required to be a woman is to identify as a woman. Is that right? But that means I can be celebrated if I choose to identify as a woman today.

The big question in all this is how do we celebrate the achievements of women and rally to gain parity for women when the concept of what a woman is isn't defined? This is probably where I need the most help, as I can't make sense of it at all. If the very definition of what constitutes a woman is up for grabs, then what happens to those gender parity issues? I mean, there are those who deeply identify as football fans or basketball fans. I'm in the minority as a hockey fan. Should I seek a day for celebration of achievement and a call to parity since hockey fans are so underrepresented in society?

I would really love to celebrate women. However, in today's world with all the different messaging going on, I can't figure out just who it is we're celebrating or what kind of achievements qualify to be celebrated. If anyone can help me out, I'd be really appreciative.

References

1. "About International Women's Day." International Women's Day. Aurora Ventures (Europe) Limited., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About.
2. "'Day Without a Woman' Strike Shuts down Schools as Teachers Bolt." Fox News. FOX News Network, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/03/08/day-without-woman-strike-shuts-schools-down-as-teachers-bolt.html.
3. Lubin Gus and Kevin Lincoln. "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America." Business Insider. Business Insider, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/most-dangerous-jobs-2011-9.
4. Newton, Jim. "An All-male City Council?" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017. http://www.latimes.com/la-oe-newton-column-women-in-los-angeles-politics-20130401-column.html.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The One Sexual Orientation No One Advocates For



I recently wrote that today's western culture has become so craven we have elevated our sexual appetites above our desire for a civilized society. And I'm not simply talking about suggestive advertisements or sexual references in our entertainment. As I noted there, the "pelvic issues," (homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion) have consumed an inordinate amount of our politics and popular discussion.

The proponents of LGBT rights frame their demands as issues of civil rights.1 In so doing, they make the claim that sexual attraction is considered a viable way of understanding another individual, something that is "inherent and immutable."2 Such language implies sexual desires and preferences are what define you. They constitute an essential part of who you are.

Inherent and Immutable Sexual Desires

If sexual orientation and desire are crucial to understanding who an individual is and if it is true that such desires are inherent and immutable as the HRC's definition states, then all sexual orientations should be accepted and championed equally. But there's one sexual orientation I've not heard any of the pro-LGBT groups bolster and that is the occuposexual.

What is an occuposexual? You won't find it by Googling the word, since I just coined the term myself, but the orientation has a long history and is well-represented online. An occuposexual is someone who is sexually attracted to those already committed to another in a relationship. They are drawn to people who are already relationally occupied.

Before you dismiss this as not a real sexual orientation, you should look at the facts. Occuposexual orientation is real. Dr. Valerie Golden wrote in Psychology Today how recent studies have found "90 percent of single women were interested in a man who they believed was taken, while a mere 59 percent wanted him when told he was single." Certainly, the attraction would differ in degree and not all those women would act on their desires, but Alfred Kinsey's heterosexual/homosexual scale makes the same distinctions.3 This scale was also used to justify the "normalcy" of homosexual desires.

The Desire of Occuposexuals is Like Any Other Sexual Desire

Occuposexuals themselves have written about their desires, using language that sounds just the same as other sexual orientations. In this article entitled "I am Dating a Married Man", a twenty-something woman admits that she is simply attracted to married men. She explains her attraction is because "he's already involved with somebody else. In many cases, the Other Woman wouldn't be turned on by the guy if he wasn't. The fact that he's ‘taken' is proof of his desirability. The fact that another woman's husband wants her is proof of hers."4 Everyone from news outlets to Women's' Health Magazine has articles on the subject.

You may be quick to dismiss such an orientation as regular people who just aren't in control of their predilections. But how can you make that judgment? We know occuposexuality occurs in nature, as the article Infidelity Common Among Birds and Mammals, Experts Say clearly proves. Like the lady in the ‘I am Dating a Married Man" article explains, she knows that what she's doing isn't right, but she can't help herself. She's gone from one married man to another even though she knows it's wrong and it's trouble. In fact, in any type of objection that occuposexuality is somehow different from other sexual orientations fails by using the very same arguments the pro-homosexual community has used for decades in their advocacy.

So Why Is No One Championing the Occuposexual?

You may notice something unique, though, about their occuposexual. While groups like GLAAD and HRC are quick to demand rights for their constituencies, who they classify as "sexual minorities," no one is championing the occuposexual's rights to come out of the closet, to express their sexuality as they feel it, or really to even exist. Why not? The answer is easy. No one wants their significant other snatched from them by an occuposexual. They believe even though this is a sexual desire, one that's real, it is ultimately a desire and the occuposexual doesn't have to act upon it. They believe the person who holds that desire is responsible for his or her actions, even if that means seeking out help to properly deal with those inherent desires. Plus, occuposexuality will never be a big winner in the public's opinion.

But all of this makes my point. It's easy to justify desires when others cannot see the serious impact they have on a society. It's easy to assert the idea that sexual orientation is a fundamental function of who you are and not a secondary function. I say the human being is not whatever his or her sexual attractions may be. Human beings are too valuable to be reduced to their sexual desires. That's true for the occuposexual as well as any other form of sexual orientation. By elevating sexual identity to something inherent and immutable, one must make room for the occuposexual to find his or her fulfillment in sexual expression, too. Are you willing to give up your mate or are you just a bigoted occupophobe?

References

1. Becker, John. "LGBT Rights Are Civil Rights." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-becker/lgbt-rights-are-civil-rights_b_1368381.html.
2. "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions." Human Rights Campaign. Human Rights Campaign, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. http://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions.
3. "The Kinsey Scale." The Kinsey Institute. The Trustees of Indiana University, 2017. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
4. DOLCE84. " I Am Dating a Married Man Story & Experience." The Experience Project. The Experience Project, 5 Sept. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Am-Dating-A-Married-Man/54661.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teaching the Three Rs of Being Human



Every parent wants his or her child to grow into a fully capable, knowledgeable human being. One way we seek to accomplish this is to make sure our children have a proper education, beginning with what has colloquially become known as the three "Rs": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic. These three Rs are not simply basic skills. Reading allows children to take in knowledge, writing allows them to communicate and distribute knowledge, and arithmetic provides the basis for not simply mathematics, but logical comparison and a host of other concepts. Together, the three Rs have become a shorthand way to reference a complete foundational knowledge all children need to build upon for a successful education.

However, there is another set of three Rs that are at least as foundational to the development of successful human beings as those with which we're all familiar, and I've noticed that not only are these three Rs not taught to children today, but young adults who are deficient in understanding them are causing major repercussions in our university system. These aren't three Rs of education. These are three Rs that distinguish us from animals. They are the three traits that make us civilized human beings and if the next generation doesn't learn them, society will regress as it has already begun to do.

The three Rs of being human are Reason, Regard, and Reverence. Let me briefly explain each of them below:

Reason

Reason is an incredibly important skill human beings are capable of developing, and it is one that makes us uniquely human. Animals operate off of their appetites, desires, and drives. Bonobos are very sexually active and much more socially open, so much so they are called the "hippie apes."1 But bonobos also cannibalize their young.2 They operate off their drives and instincts. Humans use their reason to overcome their drives. This is what being civilized means. But left-leaning political movements today have been pushing to return to basing our decisions on our desires. We have become men without chests, flabby, and looking more like animals and less like rational beings.

Regard

Another concept that is being lost on the next generation is the Golden Rule. Many people give lip service to the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, but it seems that a whole lot of college kids think the rule comes with an asterisk, acting as if it only applies when that other person agrees with your position. But Jesus put it in context, declaring "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:39-41, ESV).

The concept of recognizing and extending honor to people because they are also human beings is uniquely Christian.. It recognizes that people are flawed and no one is beyond redemption. It is a practical way to show humility as opposed to arrogance. Given the protest culture we increasingly find ourselves in today, humility has become a rare commodity.

Reverence

Lastly, we need to teach our children the crucial aspect of reverence toward God. No one should believe he or she is the center of the universe. By recognizing there is a higher moral law to which we all are accountable, it further serves to help us realize both our fragility and dependence.

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologiae, recognized that human beings alone weigh their actions through reason, seeking to attain "the good" or the highest level of happiness. As Shawn Floyd summarizes, Aquinas believes "human actions are those over which one has voluntary control (ST IaIIae 1.1). Unlike non-rational animals, human beings choose their actions according to a reasoned account of what they think is good."3 Aquinas argues that each of us seeking happiness can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate good, which is God. Without recognizing God, we are doomed to seek only immediate and imperfect pleasures, diminishing our capacity to be truly human by finding the ultimate good.

Losing Our Humanity

It's become popular to bash the medieval as people who were stuck in the Dark Ages and ignorant. However, Aquinas understood what it meant to be human rather than an animal and he strove to live out that difference. Today, our society is regressing, operating more on feeling than facts and comfort over truth. They would rather have us behave more like the bonobos, indulging our sexual passions whatever they may be.

If we don't start teaching the three Rs of humanity, we are in real danger of our culture becoming truly debased, one not fit for real humans to live in.

References

1. Angier, Natalie. "In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/science/bonobos-apes-matriarchy.html.
2. Callaway, Ewen. "Hippy Apes Caught Cannibalising Their Young." New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18454-hippy-apes-caught-cannibalising-their-young/.
3. Floyd, Shawn. "Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-moral/#H2.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Why Isn't the Church a Sanctuary for Black Lives?



I'm aghast at the news. Within a 24 hour period, two police shootings have left two men dead and cell phone videos showing the aftermath. Both victims were black men who seem to be in non-threatening positions and their deaths add evidence to the charge that there is a serious problem in our country with racial engagement.

Were these shooting racially motivated? Uncovering internal motivation is a pretty tricky business. The details are still being investigated in these cases so it would be premature to pronounce guilt or innocence. But what we can judge is there is a natural reaction to such incidents. Is it any surprise that blacks are scared for their lives when they see law enforcement? Is it a shock that these people have cause to be concerned about their welfare being threatened by the very people who have sworn to protect them?

The Church Must Do Better

There is a judgment I can make and it is the evangelical church is failing these people. We are failing. Those who are scared don't see the church as a sanctuary where they will receive support, empathy and protection. They don't see evangelicals as advocates for them like they are for the unborn. Mika Edmondson said it well when he addressed the council members of the Gospel Coalition in May of this year:
Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to "mourn with those who mourn." The unique calling of the church (as opposed to the institutions of the world) is not simply to tolerate one another, or even simply to understand one another, but to mourn with one another and bear one another's burdens. To deliberately devote ourselves to listen to one another for understanding, and then to empathize with one another to the point of shedding tears with one another. That's certainly not what so many of the talking heads on cable TV and talk radio are advocating. They're not talking about mourning with those who mourn.

But in the church, white suburban men are called to cry tears with the black inner-city woman scared to death her husband is going to be the next Eric Garner, or that her teenage son is going to be the next Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. And if you are so entrenched in your socio-political camp that you can't shed some tears with Tanisha, something is deeply wrong. Because that's who the church is called to be. That's the kind of thing that makes our unity in Christ really conspicuous and causes people to see that there is a unique power at work in the church unlike anything in this world.1
Realize that Dr. Edmondson is not claiming that all police are hunting down black people. He isn't assigning guilt in any shooting incident. Rather, he's talking about ministering to hurting people in a time of tragedy. That is clearly what Jesus taught his followers to do.

The Model of Ambrose

We need to work harder so blacks feel that evangelical churches are places they can go for sanctuary. We talk about sanctuary, but do we really understand what that term means? It means coming under the cover of an entity that will provide comfort and stand for what is right

We have a model in the early church. Theodosius I was emperor of Rome in 390 AD. He was a Christian and began aggressively banning pagan activities. "The Law" began oppressing pagans, which lead to a riot in Thessalonica where some of the citizens killed Theodosius's representative in protest. The slaying angered the emperor so much he gave his soldiers carte blanche to punish the citizens. They in turn devised a scheme and slaughtered a large number of men, women, and children of the city.

Theodosius was the most powerful man in the world, yet his actions were rebuked by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who excommunicated him for eight months until he repented of his actions. In one famous retelling, Ambrose stood outside his church and forbade Theodosius' entrance. William Stearns Davis recounts the story:
When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying "You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.2
Alvin J. Schmidt notes the event is pivotal in history since it is "the first instance of applying the principle that no one, not even an emperor or king, is above the law."3 Ambrose's bravery tuned the culture, establishing the rule of Law above the rule of power in the West.

Calling out sin, promoting justice for the oppressed, and standing strong for the Gospel have always been a part of the Christian legacy. We need to comfort those who mourn and stand beside the fearful. Non-Christians who wish to uphold natural marriage or protection for the unborn feel confident the church stands with them in their fight for justice. We need to work harder so those in the black community hold similar feelings.

References

1. Edmondson, Mika. "Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?" The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition, Inc., 24 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016. .
2. From: Davis, William Stearns, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 298-300. Reproduced online at https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/theodoret-ambrose1.asp
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 250.



Monday, April 04, 2016

Culture Has Created a Selfish Kind of Rebel (video)



Modern society has emphasized the individual to an extreme. A person of previous generations aspired to become a certain type of individual, one who placed others before self and understood the culture wasn't there to cater to their personal desires. However, all that changed over the last sixty years as young people began to embrace the "me-first" philosophy that has taken over.

 In this clip, Lenny takes a look at the shift in values modern culture has undergone and he cites the prescient wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, who saw the shift coming within the intellectual elite, which helped propel the cult of the individual.



Image courtesy Paško Tomić and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is Any Body Modification OK Just Because It's Your Body?



It's no secret the culture has shifted regarding the personalizing of one's body. I've been exploring the question of body modification in a series of articles where I hope to bring some clarity to this contentious issue. I first argued that the human body holds intrinsic worth; the body has value in itself as opposed to merely having value because we give it value. Thus, we should be thoughtful as Christians when thinking about any kind of body modification.

In my last article, I also said that one shouldn't discount any type of modification as some kind of violation of that worth. I offered reconstructive surgery, braces, hair plugs, or even certain forms of tattoos as examples that demonstrate one cannot simply classify any tattooing or body modification as sinful or wrong. But those fall into one aspect of the four different classifications of body modification. There are other types of modifications that are not so easily dismissed.

Further complicating the issue is the question of personal autonomy. As human beings, we know our bodies better than anyone else. We control them and they affect us, not others. If we wish to alter our bodies, shouldn't we have that right? Even some of the more extreme cases, most people are reticent to tell others they cannot do as they wish with their bodies. Take Pixee Fox, a North Carolina woman who had several plastic surgeries including 1400cc breast implants and the removal of six ribs to provide a cartoon-like hourglass shape. Most may call such actions foolish, but would they describe them as sinful or wrong?

Damage for Self-Fulfillment

I think there are instances where certain modifications that present themselves as violating the inherent worth of the body and shouldn't be allowed, even though they may infringe on the autonomy of the person requesting them. There are of course modifications done forcibly against one's will or before one can give consent, such as female genital mutilation. Since informed self-choice doesn't really factor into such cases, I would consider them separate issues.

I'd like to look at a group of people that are becoming better documented in medical literature. These people suffer from a condition called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) and they have the common trait in feeling that one of their body parts is foreign to them and needs to be amputated. Realize these are healthy limbs or appendages that function normally; there is nothing physically wrong with them. Those with BIID, though, "feel ‘over complete' and want to have the alien limb amputated."1 They will seek out medical intervention, although there are no hospitals that currently allow the amputation of healthy limbs.2

Many may say that such an extreme condition is clearly a mental disorder, and shouldn't be included in a discussion on body modification, but some in the medical community feel the issue isn't quite that cut and dry. Tim Bayne and Neil Levy argue that patients suffering from BIID have an autonomous right to modify their body just as those who undergo extreme breast enlargements or other plastic surgeries have the right to alter healthy body parts for their satisfaction. They note that reproductive surgeries, such as tubal ligation or vasectomy cripple healthy organs, too. They also state BIID patients "who succeed in procuring an amputation seem to experience a significant and lasting increase in wellbeing" and stop seeking to self-amputate, which is much more dangerous and has led to death in prior cases. 3

An Autonomous Lifelong Desire

Sabine Müller points out that those suffering from BIID are not making their choice off the cuff. Instead, they have agonized over their foreign limb and they report having these feelings since childhood. She states "Because of the early onset of the disturbance of the body image, BIID patients cannot remember a life in which the affected limb was integrated into the body image."4

Annemarie Bridy argues the initial revulsion over removing the offending limb as a form of treatment may be simply showing a bias most people have. She writes:
In contemporary society, the body is regarded not as a physiological given to which we must reconcile ourselves, but as a malleable instrument of self-expression amenable to a wide range of medical and surgical interventions…

At the turn of the twentieth century, many physicians believed that cosmetic surgery undermined fundamental tenets of the medical profession by violating the ethical injunction against doing harm…. Body parts perceived to be too small are augmented; those which are thought to be too large are reduced in size or prominence. While the dramatic shift in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery hardly forces the conclusion that elective amputation will one day be as common as rhinoplasty is today, it does suggest that beliefs about the integrity of the body and the nature of bodily harm are culturally mediated and historically contingent. As anomalous as it may seem when viewed in a historical vacuum, elective amputation becomes less incomprehensible when it is viewed as a manifestation of the continuing social and cultural evolution of attitudes toward the body and its modification.5
What further complicates the issue is the question of autonomy. All of those writing on this issue underscore how important it is to respect autonomous decisions by the patient even when we disagree with their decision. Bayne and Levy point to decisions based on religious autonomy that may be harmful, such as Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions.6  Yet, not all procedures are morally justified by claims of autonomy. Müller uses the example of an anorexic patient who deeply desires stomach-stapling surgery.7

Where Do We Draw the Line?

While Bridy along with Bayne and Levy see circumstances where they believe amputation of healthy limbs is permissible for BIID patients, I agree with Müller who sees the condition as primarily a psychiatric affliction that should be treated as such. As a Christian, I would recognize the body has a telos, that is it shows design for a purpose. To claim that one's arm or leg is foreign to the individual is to claim there is no objective telos to the body. The only value or purpose the body has is whatever the individual wishes to ascribe to it. Those with BIID are being honest in their feelings of detachment from one of their limbs and their misery in their current state. However, they seem to believe their mental state should dictate their physical state. This doesn't follow for me. Anorexics have mental states seeing themselves as fat, but it would be immoral to allow them to modify their bodies through stomach stapling or some other procedure. It is their mental understanding that is failing them.

BIID is an extreme aspect of body modification. I would argue it holds strong parallels to those who seek sexual reassignment surgery and the issues are nearly identical, although individuals who claim to be transgendered do have the opportunity to modify their bodies to match their mental state while BIID patients do  not. Why? What's the difference? One of the reasons for opposing SRS is that it also disregards the intrinsic worth of the body and gives subjective value to it.

The real question, though, is just how far down the road should Christians go? What about less drastic forms of body modification? Where do we cross the line from personal expression and harmless autonomous choices to demonstrating a subjective value for the body God gave us? Does tongue-splitting qualify? How about vasectomy or tubal ligation? These aren't easy questions, but in a future article I hope to perhaps offer some guidelines to explore them more fully.

References

1. Müller, Sabine. "Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID)—Is the Amputation of Healthy Limbs Ethically Justified?" The American Journal of Bioethics, 9:1, 36-43,
(2009) DOI: 10.1080/15265160802588194
2. Bayne, Tim, and Neil Levy. "Amputees By Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation." Journal of Applied Philosophy 22.1 (2005). 75. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
3. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 78-86.
4. Müller, 2009.39.
5. Bridy, Annemarie. "Confounding Extremities: Surgery at the Medico-ethical Limits of Self-Modification." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32.1 (2004): 148-58. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.151-152.
6. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 80.
7. Müller, 2009.40.
Image courtesy Jenny O'Donnell [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk],
.

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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Value of the Human Body



What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.

First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.

Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.

How Does One Ascribe Value?

What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.

Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

Human Beings as Body and Soul

As human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings.  God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2
Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.

The Value of the Human Body

Given these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.

All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them.  Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.

References

1. I realize some Christians hold to a form of physicalism, whereby they see the soul as an attribute of the body instead of in distinction from it. However, even this belief doesn't damage my central argument.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/world/africa/082299sierra-leone.html
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Culture Has Created A Selfish Kind Of Rebel



It's no secret that Western societies is pulling away from their Christian roots. How did modern culture get to this point and what does it mean? In this short clip, Lenny reviews how the culture shifted as we became more successful and how authors like G.K. Chesterton predicted the meaninglessness that would result.




Image courtesy Dave Winer and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars



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

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

Traditional Human Dignity is Rooted in the Image of God

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

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

The New Dignity: Rooted in Choice

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

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

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

How Dignity Defined by Choice Robs Us

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

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

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

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

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

References

1. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1, Sect. 1 Translation at https://www.btg-bestellservice.de/pdf/80201000.pdf
2. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 2.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Living in a Post-Pagan Culture

We in the West are living in a post-Christian culture. Europe has been overtly secular for many years, but given the high percentage of the population in the U.S. who believe in God, identify with a specific Christian faith and state religion is very important to them. Yet, the recent Pew survey showed that mainstream Christianity has been losing adherents, especially with the Millennial generation.1



Even prior to the Pew survey, the influence of Christian beliefs had been clearly waning as we saw less and less evidence of the Christian worldview impacting the important moral questions of our day. Instead of the God of the Bible and his moral standard, most Americans hold to God as someone you pray to in order to escape trouble but doesn't require anything from you. It's akin to what researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton labeled Moral Therapeutic Deism.2 The recent battles that Christians have had to fight in not servicing homosexual unions to maintain their religious integrity offers a clear sign that the country had left its Christian underpinnings. There should be no doubt that American—the last hold-out in the West—has become post-Christian.

What are we trading Christianity for?

Of course, believers have lamented how a society built upon and existing because of a Christian worldview would now jettison its foundational principles for something that is not clearly defined. Most of the culture is moving to a feelings-based system of judgment.

Take a recent letter to the Los Angeles Times. Reader E.J. Parker was opining on whether the Los Angeles should change the name of Robert E. Lee school and wrote, "For me, the deciding point is this: Were I an African American, how would I feel as a parent, sending my child to a school named for the great hero for the Confederacy?" That's the deciding point? Feelings? Yet, in all those lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers, and wedding coordinators who wouldn't service a homosexual ceremony (and even a complaint against Christians who would), feelings are the impetus and the deciding factor.

So, what is in store for Western society now? Are we to slide back into paganism? No, that won't happen. A feelings-based society is further removed from Paganism than it is from a Christian society. C.S. Lewis explains:
For [those in a post-Christian society] neglect not only the law of Christ but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and the other crimes which I will not say Christian Doctors, but the pagans and the barbarous have themselves denounced.

They err who say "the world is turning pagan again." Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state.

"Post Christian man" is not the same as "pre-Christian man." He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except the want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost.3
Lewis is exactly right here. Christianity provided the grounding for the equality of all men; it is unintelligible in paganism. The New Secularists who place all their emphasis on the feelings of others have taken that Christian idea and warped it to mean all people should be equally unoffended. The new concept only vaguely resembles Christian morality, but it is completely foreign to pagan Rome of Greece, where the conqueror is lauded as the supreme example of humanity.

The West has divorced itself from Christianity. Our society is now is selling off all those things that remind us of the relationship. But if Christianity built the house, bought the furniture, and created the traditions, what will our lives look like once all those things are gone? We cannot look to the pagan past as we have buried that husband long ago. This brave new world is unknown, and perhaps those who advocate for it should show a bit more caution before every bit of shelter is lost.

References

1. "America's Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow." Rep. Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., 15 May 2015. Web. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
2. Smith, Christian. "On "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" as U.S. Teenagers' Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith." Religion and Youth. Ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2010. 46-57. Print.
3. Lewis, C. S., Wayne Martindale, and Jerry Root. The Quotable Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989. 482. Print.
Image courtesy Zoomar and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

How Did the Early Christians Influence Their Culture?


Christians are wondering how to deal with the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling forcing all fifty states to recognize homosexual unions as marriage. The decision was lauded by those on the left as the last word on the question. Corporations changed their social media icons to include the homosexual rainbow colors. Government agencies like the Department of Education and the White House showed their unabridged support for the decision. Many people saw themselves ostracized or compared to bigots or ISIS because of their Christian views, even from friends and family members.

The fallout from this court case clearly shows that Christianity is now an outsider faith. For those in the West, it is a position Christians hadn't experienced since prior to Constantine's ascension in Rome. We aren't used to such a position, but we can look to the actions of those who lived in even greater peril for to understand how to hold fast to our faith and still significantly impact a pagan society.

Learning from the Early Christians

The early church was also an outsider faith, viewed with suspicion and denounced in its first two hundred years, too. But even with life-threatening persecution, the early church not only grew, but changed minds and hearts. Christianity's critics originally condemned the faith as a dangerous superstition causing sedition. Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan in AD 112 discussing the Christian problem, reporting "whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished."1

But near the end of the century, views of Christianity began to change. Galen of Pergamon was an influential Roman physician and philosopher. He described Christianity not as a superstition, but as a philosophy. He explains:
Most people are unable to follow any demonstrative argument consecutively; hence they need parables, and benefit from them just as we now see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables and miracles, and yet sometimes acting in the same way as those who practice philosophy. For their contempt of death and of its sequel is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women refrain from cohabitating all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers. 2
According to Robert Wilken, such a characterization is significant. By speaking of Christianity as a philosophy, he gave the faith legitimacy not for regarding abstract ideas, but also of a guiding force for living. Wilken writes, "Philosophy in Galen's day had become less a way of thinking than a way of living. Although philosophers were the inheritors of intellectual traditions that dealt with great metaphysical issues… they had gone into the streets of the cities to address the populace and to offer men and women advice on how to live."3

Living Out Your Values

When we read Galen's account of Christians, we see that it is the impact of Christianity on the changed lives of the Christians. They no longer would cohabit, they would exercise self-discipline and self-control, and they sought justice for the wrongdoings they saw in their day. Wilken himself identifies this as the significant factor in seeing Christianity more positively. "What led him to call it a philosophy was the success Christians had in leading men and women to a life of virtue."4

Christians today need to follow the model of these early believers. We need to begin by exercising our self-discipline and self-control in our own lives. That's a difficult task. We must make hard judgments in our entertainment choices. We must respect marriage and hold those in our churches to the high standard that the Bible lays out for it. As Christians we should be different from the society and it should show.

It is the integrity of the early Christians in their personal lives that gave their arguments a gravity they wouldn't otherwise have. While I understand the outrage so many believers have shown for the Obergefell decision, our first step in making a difference in our society is to make a difference in our own lives. Perhaps then our arguments may become more persuasive with our critics.

References

1. Pliny, Letters 10.96-97. Accessed at http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/texts/pliny.html
2. Wilken, Robert Louis. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print. 79.
3. Wilken, 1984.
4. Wilken, 1984.
Image courtesy Nick Thompson and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Sympathy Trumps Science

Yesterday I began a series looking at how our society has come to value feeling over both faith and reason. The Middle Ages can be described as the Age of Faith, which transitioned to the Age of Reason during the enlightenment period. Today, though, we are definitely living in the Age of Feeling, where our values and laws are being shaped by how people are emotionally affected.



There are three ways we show that feelings are the trump card in the current culture. The first is that we relinquish our rights for the sake of not offending anyone. Last time, I discussed how we are losing our free speech rights. (Make sure you read that column here.) But it isn't only the right to speak against another's point of view that is being lost. We are also abandoning our right to live according to the values we hold dear. Today, if someone holds a conscientious objection to a certain position, they may be targeted if another person claims to feel condemned. Such a scenario has played out many times in the media, usually entangling certain service providers to weddings. Bakers, photographers, and others are being sued not for insulting or disrupting a homosexual wedding ceremony, nor for refusing homosexuals as customers, but for simply refusing to provide services for that specific event. Psychology students are expelled for wishing to refer a lesbian student to another counselor.

The most recent travesty played out in Indiana, where one of the owners of Memories Pizza was asked a hypothetical question of whether the store would cater a homosexual ceremony if asked to do so. No one had asked and no customers had ever been refused, yet the owner's answer on camera sparked enough protest to shutter the shop and have them receive death threats and threats of burning down the store. We are losing the right to conscientiously object to anything simply because it may hurt another's feelings.

We Ignore Biology Rather than Recognize Our Differences

Abandoning our rights for the sake of feelings is bad enough, but that is only one way we are regressing as a society. The second piece of evidence is that we would rather ignore biology rather than realize it is biology that restricts us in certain ways. For example, there has been a continued push to achieve numeric parity across all position in all fields, regardless of whether women possess the physical strength to accomplish the tasks necessary for that position. The New York Post reports that Rebecca Wax "is set to graduate Tuesday from the Fire Academy without passing the Functional Skills Training test, a grueling obstacle course of job-related tasks performed in full gear with a limited air supply, an insider has revealed."1 The Pentagon, under pressure from women's rights groups, released a plan in 2013 to integrate women in to high profile Special Forces role like the Navy SEALS or Army Rangers. 2 However, all nineteen women who began training for the Rangers in April have washed out within the first month. 3 None of this should be a surprise given that men have 30% more muscle mass than women and are more capable of passing the various physical tests required by these positions.

Culture is also ignoring the natural fact that it takes men and women to produce children. As I've mentioned in other posts, the very concept of marriage is rooted in natural law as the joining of a man and a woman in a committed relationship for life. Governments cannot define marriage; they may only recognize marriage and confer certain privileges or responsibilities to married couples. That's because the only institution that has ever existed for the proper creation and upbringing of children is marriage. Humanity has no other organization or institution that fits this description. Again, because biology dictates that child-bearing requires two individuals, a man and a woman, marriage reflects that biological fact. It doesn't matter that not every marriage will produce children. What matters is that every child must be the product of a man and a woman, therefore some kind of institution must exist to bind that child to his or her biological parents. Yet, we push to call homosexual relationships marriage when it is impossible for homosexual unions to ever produce offspring. We ignore science for the sake of the feelings of homosexual couples. In so doing, we lose the grounding for what is the basic building block of society itself.

References

1. Edelman, Susan. "Woman to Become NY Firefighter despite failing Crucial Fitness Test." New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 3 May 2015. Web. 12 May 2015. http://nypost.com/2015/05/03/woman-to-become-ny-firefighter-despite-failing-crucial-fitness-test/.
2. Carroll, Chris. "DOD Readies Service-by-service Plan for Women in Combat." Stars and Stripes. Stars and Stripes, 18 June 2013. Web. 12 May 2015. http://www.stripes.com/news/dod-readies-service-by-service-plan-for-women-in-combat-1.226319.
3. Klimas, Jacqueline. "All 19 Women Have Washed out of Army Ranger School — in the First Phase." Washington Times. The Washington Times, 8 May 2015. Web. 12 May 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/8/women-wash-out-army-ranger-school/.

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