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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Morality: Answering "What Makes You Think You Know Better?"

When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling on Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, they tacitly approved the actions of the state of Washington, who is forcing pharmacy owners to sell abortifacient drugs against their religious beliefs. In that case, the Storman family would not stock two drugs that would cause abortion either days after or weeks after conception in their general stores, which included pharmacies because they held life begins at conception.1 However, Washington state passed laws specifically targeting religious pharmacy owners, forcing them to sell the drugs according to a 2012 Federal court ruling.2

The Stormans' case has its critics. Someone recently commented on an article I wrote concerning the case. She felt that the choice of the pharmacy to not stock the drugs was what was limiting freedom:
How is it that you see it as ok for a pharmacist to second guess a prescription ordered by a doctor? The pharmacist is not the one treating the patient, he has not evaluated the patient and likely has no knowledge of other conditions the patient may have. If the pharmacist has a problem with a d[r]ug a doctor prescribes he should discuss it with the doctor, just as he does when he catches a potentially dangerous drug interaction that the doctor may have missed. It seems highly unprofessional to just refuse to fill the prescription.
I simply replied that her description of the situation was euphemistic. I noted the drugs weren't simply a "prescription ordered by a doctor." They were designed for a very specific purpose: to cause an abortion. I also noted that a prescription is not sacrosanct. I would have a problem selling drugs designed for the purpose of euthanasia, which is also wrong. She challenged my objection, stating:
When a person, in consultation with their doctor, decides that ending their own life or terminating a pregnancy is the best course of action for their unique situation, what make you think that you know better?
There are two problems with such a question. First, it seems to assume that ethics are only situational and closed to only those who know the intimate details of the situation. But that isn't true at all. Imagine if I were to say "If a person in consultation with their doctor decides that killing their two year old is the best course of action for their unique situation, what makes you think that you know better?" Such a question would rightly be considered absurd. In such a circumstance it isn't necessary we know all the details; killing an innocent human being is wrong full stop. Unique circumstances don't change that.

Who Gets to Decide What's Moral?

But this isn't even the main problem in the Stormans' case. I get that my interlocutor holds a different points of view on abortion. At issue in the Stormans' case is the right of individuals to freely follow their consciences and their religious beliefs. By forcing them to sell drugs they see as immorally ending a life, the state deems its own interpretation of morality more valid than that of its constituents. This is wrong. It is well within one's rights to not engage in commerce when it violates one's conscience on clear grounds.

I can offer a real world example to make my point. Capital punishment has been authorized in 31 states with lethal injection being the primary way the sentence is carried as the Supreme Court declared a three-drug cocktail as being legally acceptable.3 However, many activists both here and across Europe object to any form of capital punishment. Pressure from several European countries has led drug manufacturer Pfizer to not allow its drugs to be used in lethal injections.4

These are almost parallel situations. According to the logic of the 9th Circuit ruling, Pfizer should be legally compelled to sell its drugs to all states for use in lethal injections. Who is Pfizer to override the will of the people who voted in capital punishment? How can any activist who is believes capital punishment is morally wrong and applied pressure to Pfizer to stop selling the drugs to correctional facilities claim that other companies must be forced to sell abortifacients to whomever walks in off the street?

Should State Fiat Overrule Conscience?

Of course, even in this instance, Stormans' has the more defensible position. While Pfizer's primary motivation for banning the purchase of its drugs for lethal injection is economic (Pfizer doesn't want to lose the significant customers of several European national health systems), the motivation for the Stormans family is based on strongly held personal conviction which could actually cause them to lose money by not making a sale.

If the Washington case is indicative of how matters on conscience are to be treated in the future, all Americans can be forced to participate in actions they deem immoral. If the state gets to decide which moral issues may be worthy for objection and which hold mandatory participation, then it isn't our consciences that matter. We become the pawns of the state; which is the very thing our founders fought against.


1. Alliance Defending Freedom. "Stormans v. Wiesman." Alliance Defending Freedom, 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
2. Harkness, Kelsey. "Alito: Value Religious Freedom? You Should Be Worried." The Daily Signal. The Heritage Foundation, 28 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
3. "States and Capital Punishment." National Conference of State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.
4. Eckholm, Eric. "Pfizer Blocks the Use of Its Drugs in Executions." New York Times. The New York Times Company HomeSearchAccessibility Concerns? Email Us at We Would Love to Hear from You., 13 May 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Identifying Impostor Christianity (podcast)

What really defines Christianity? Mormons claim that they are Christians, simply another denomination. So do others who differ on Jesus' identity. What are the essentials of the Christian faith and how can we identify orthodox beliefs from heterodoxy or heresy? In this series, we will examine the clear lines separating true Christianity from its impostors.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Islam, Jihad, and Claims of a Religion of Peace

Is Islam a religion of peace? Realize that is not the same question as "are Muslims peaceful?" I have many Muslim friends and I can answer with assurance that they are not only peaceful, but they stand aghast at the various terrorist atrocities taking place in the name of Islam across the globe. They hate the fact that the religion with which they identify would be associated with such wanton evil.

While it is possible that for the most part the second question may be answered affirmatively, it doesn't follow that the answer to the first question is also yes. Islam has a history and an ethic beginning with the teachings of the Qur'an  and continuing through the lives of Muhammad and his successors that must also be weighed.

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a devoutly Muslim home. He was passionate about his faith, frequently engaging Christians in conversations and defending his faith against any detractors, usually with considerable success. However,when Nabeel went to investigate the teachings of Islam regarding jihad, he discovered a disjunct between what he thought his faith held versus its enshrined teachings. In his book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. he explains how the monumental event of September 11 caused a seismic shift in his understanding of his faith:
When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. I sincerely believe September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims like my family than for the average American. Not only did we newly perceive our lack of security from jihadists, as did everyone else, we also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. It felt as if we were hemmed in on all sides. In the midst of this, while mourning our fallen compatriots and considering our own security, we had to defend the faith we knew and loved. We had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as we had always known. I remember hearing a slogan at my mosque that I shared with many: "The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam."

Many Americans proved understanding and received our responses graciously. They joined us in denouncing terrorists, asserting that they were not representative of Islam. Others, including friends at my university, were not so compliant. They pushed back, pointing to the violence in Islamic history. Given the prevalence of warfare throughout the history of Islam, they asked how I could argue that Islam was a religion of peace.

In that defensive posture, discussing the matter with people who appeared unfriendly to my faith, it was a knee-jerk reaction for me to say whatever I could to defend Islam. But when I was alone with my thoughts, I could ask myself honestly: What does Islam really teach about jihad? Is Islam really a religion of peace?

I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad's life, and to my genuine surprise, I found the pages of Islamic history dripping with violence. How could I reconcile this with what I had always been taught about Islam? When I asked teachers in the Muslim community for help, they usually rationalized the violence as necessary or dismissed the historicity of the accounts. At first I followed their reasoning, but after hearing the same explanations for dozens if not hundreds of accounts, I began to realize that these were facile responses. Their explanations were similar to my own knee-jerk responses to non-Muslims who questioned Islam. Of course, I understood why they were doing it. We truly believed Islam was a religion of peace, and we were interpreting the data to fit what we knew to be true.

But was it true? After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take.1
Many Muslims, especially those in the West, have been deeply influenced over the centuries by Western thought and ideals. It shouldn't surprise people if Muslims then interpret Islam in a more peaceful way, even if that isn't the authoritative teaching of the faith. I've made the point before that since the Qur'an calls for violence and Muhammad—the model of living out the Islamic ideal—practiced it, it is more reasonable to understand Islam as a violent warrior faith.

I recommend Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. It provides a sensitive yet clear understanding of Islam's teaching on Jihad and how Christians can respond to such an important topic.


1. Qureshi, Nabeel. Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Kindle Edition. 15-16.
Image courtesy Day Donaldson and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-by-2.0 license.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Five Reasons Why God's Hiddenness is a Good Thing

"If God exists, why doesn't he make himself more obvious?" I've heard this question countless times from atheists and skeptics of Christianity. They seem to think that what is known as the hiddenness of God is an argument against his existence. Many claim one should only accept what they have evidence to believe. Of course, you may then ask what evidence they've examined which proves that criteria is true, the lack of which highlights the arbitrariness of applying their own principle.

However, God's hiddenness is an important point to consider for even Christians struggle with God feeling distant at times causing believers to become unsure of what God's will could be for this or that particular situation. If God wants his faithful to follow him, why doesn't he make himself and his desires more obvious?

The hiddenness of God is actually important. God doesn't simply want us to believe he exists. James tells us even the demons believe and tremble. He wants us to trust him and form a deep bond with him. I can think of five ways God's hiddenness benefits us through trust:

1. In order for love to be real, one must have some trust in the beloved.

First, because we recognize that God is the creator of humanity, it doesn't do for humans to demand evidence from him. It would be as inappropriate for us, as children of God, to demand proof of God's actions as it would be a young child demanding proof that her parents are not torturing her because of their demand to have her eat her vegetables or to not cross the street alone. Such a child is self-centered and spoiled.

Human nature is such that disobedience will manifest itself in all children. Human beings in their fallen state naturally become selfish and demanding. Maturity may be measured in deferring one's current desires for a better outcome down the road. God knows trust must be practiced to become mature, and trusting God helps us develop that virtue.

2. Trust allows us to develop an honest relationship with God

Imagine a man who marries an attractive woman, one who seems to be hit upon by almost every man she meets. Right after marriage, he continually tracks her whereabouts via her cell phone's GPS, he places hidden cameras in her car and in the home, and makes her prove that she hasn't had an affair.

What kind of relationship would they have? Does such a man truly love this woman, or does he simply want to control her? Surely she can provide evidence to her husband that she hasn't been unfaithful, but that isn't a loving relationship. His love for her is better reflected I his trust that she is devoted to him. Similarly, trust is the key to faith for the Christian. It shows that we are committed to him in a loving relationship, one where he has made himself real through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in his written word, and in the witness of the Spirit in our hearts. As we devote ourselves to him, trusting him more and more, our relationship with him grows more deeply.

3. Trust allows us to survive the dark times

We live in a fallen world where each of us will face difficulties. The person who trusts God and his word has confidence that such difficulties are able to be overcome. A believer can more bravely face his trials knowing that God is sovereign over them and that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom 8:18).

Without trust, one is faced with desperation and despair. Dark times test the trust one has in God and can steel their hearts to trust him.

4. Trust allows us to be more effective in our walk with God

Trust allows us to be effective Christians in the world. As a hockey fan, I know that a team needs trust to succeed. The forwards must trust their defense in order to be aggressive enough to rush the net. The defense, in order to block the player coming down the center, must trust their goalie to stop the outside shots. Everyone on the team has to trust their training and coaching to execute plays properly.

Likewise, Christians who are the most effective for the kingdom are those who trust that God will help them with the tasks he has called them to do. They can take some risks, they can work through the difficult times with the hope of better days and they can see how much God has done for them to this point.

5. Trust allows us to be blessed by God's faithfulness

To look back over your life and see God's hand working through the tough times and the times of blessing draw us ever closer to our Lord. Jesus said as much to Thomas who, after missing the Lord's first appearing, wanted to see the evidence of his crucifixion before he would believe. Thomas asked for no evidence that Jesus hadn't already provided the other disciples. Yet, when Jesus then appeared again he drew a distinction between the demand for evidence and the exercise of faith: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

One final point: only those who trust God have the blessing of seeing their trust rewarded.

When God answers prayer, delivers one from a trial, or provides success in ministry, the one who trusted him can look back and glorify the God who keeps his promises. The blessing of seeing God work to the good of his people is impossible for someone who would never trust that God would make good on his word.

God's hiddenness allows each of us to trust him and grow as human beings. The atheist, like the insolent child, demands that evidence must be presented. But meeting that demand would stultify the person, lessening his ability to grow his relationship with God.

Image courtesy PiccoloNamek and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Necessity of Humility for Racial Healing

It's no secret that racial tensions in this country are the highest they've been in many years. The different high profile shootings of black men and of police officers have raised tensions to extreme levels and both black and white Christians are trying to understand how they should respond.

It's clear that Christians should have a response. Christianity holds to a very clearly defined moral understanding of the nature of human beings as ones who reflect God's image, and the sanctity of life. Both issues are central to this crisis. Further, Christianity has always taught that differences of race, culture, sex, or socio-economic backgrounds matter little in the inherent worth of an individual (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:12-13).

I've previously written that the church should be the place where blacks can turn in their pain and fear. How we as Christians can reach out to our community and begin to promote healing is a little tougher question. Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Sandals Church and Pastor Matt Brown entitled "A Real Conversation About Race and the Church" that brought together several black pastors as well as law enforcement and local government officials to talk about the role of Christians in bridging the divide that seems to grow wider with each news cycle.

Stop Asserting Your Individuality

One of the more common themes mentioned by the participants throughout the evening was that of humility. Pastor Jonathan Bilima of Relevant Church told of how he would intentionally reach out to others in his community by not exercising his preferences or his freedoms, but by trying to present an atmosphere where others would be more comfortable. He said even in his church services, he would prefer more musical styles associated with traditionally black churches, he chose to "turn down a little bit of my identity in order to bridge the gap of ignorance."

I think Pastor Bilima put his finger on a key factor in reconciliation and healing. As Christians we have an amazing amount of freedom to worship and live. However, if we elevate those freedoms to be primary over the needs of another, we sin. The Corinthian church had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as that's pretty much the only meat one could buy. The Apostle Paul understood that those idols were not real gods and told them they could do so. However, he added that if their freedom to eat the meat might stumble another, they should spit it out of their mouths. He wrote "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:31-33).

The Ultimate Model of Humility

Jesus modeled such humility more than anyone else. He didn't regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself so much that he submitted to his own torture and death in order to save those who were doing the torturing and killing. He understood that placing the needs of those who were in the wrong above his rights was the only way to reach them and heal them. This is the model we as Christians are called to follow.

Certainly, the pursuit of justice is important. I do not believe we as citizens should dismiss wrongdoing. However, that doesn't mean as Christians when engaging others in conversation, even in conversations online, we should begin our conversation with calls to justice. Perhaps beginning with calls for understanding and empathy would be better. Empathizing is a great way to build real relationships because it tells the other person you value their feelings and experiences. It is one way each of us can make a difference in the lives of those who see things differently from us. It is one way we can draw each other closer to Christ instead of drawing distinctions.
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