Sunday, December 25, 2011

What Makes Christianity Different?

     It has been imagined by some that Christianity is no different from any other religion.  All one has to do is to switch the labels around and one comes up with the same result.  Since the world's different religions cannot all be true at the same time then at least some must be false.  And if one is false then all are false, since no one of them has a better claim to validity than the rest.  All religion is nonsense.
     If it were not for one thing: Christianity is radically different from the rest in two essential characteristics: 1) it's analysis of the human condition, and 2) its proposed solution to the problem.
     Christianity has a distinctive theology of sin and redemption.  It begins with an acute analysis of human nature.  It is not just simply that we occasionally make mistakes through human frailty.  Rather, evil is embedded in the human psyche.  Our hearts are filled with lust, envy, greed, malice and pride.  We may look respectable enough outwardly, but inwardly we are incurably self-centered.  We often do the right thing for the wrong reasons.  Our good actions conceal bad motives.  The ultimate source of evil in the world is ourselves.  Human nature is corrupt.  And if it is true that someday we must face a just and holy God then our situation is desperate indeed.
     But Christianity also proposes a startling remedy for the problem.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16; NKJV).  Most other religions base salvation on some form of human effort -- typically self-mastery or ritual observance.  But we are too far gone for that.  What we need is redemption through a Savior.  This God has provided in the Person Who was uniquely qualified to fill the role, the God-man Jesus.  His death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice for sin.
     Biblical scholar Merrill C. Tenney put it like this: "The Christian church was born into a world filled with competing religions which may have differed widely among themselves but all of which possessed a common characteristic -- the struggle to reach a god or gods who remained essentially inaccessible. . .The current ethical standards were superficial, despite the ideals and insights possessed by some philosophers, and when they discoursed on evil and on virtue, they had neither the remedy for the one nor the dynamic to produce the other. . ."
     "Paganism is a parody and a perversion of God's original revelation to man.  It retains many basic elements of truth but twists them into practical falsehood.  Divine sovereignty becomes fatalism; grace becomes indulgence; righteousness becomes conformity to arbitrary rules; worship becomes empty ritual; prayer becomes selfish begging; the supernatural degenerates into superstition" (New Testament Times, Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 107-108).
      But how can we know that the claims of Christianity are true?  On the first point, the human condition, it is a matter of simple observation: all we need to do is to look at ourselves honestly in the mirror.  On the second point, the proposed solution, we are dependent on revelation.  We can infer from nature that God exists; we cannot infer that He is forgiving, much less that He would sacrifice His own Son to secure that forgiveness.  Jesus said that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. How do we know that His claims are true?  He rose from the dead.
     On this special day Christianity offers the world something it desperately needs but cannot find elsewhere: salvation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Science Committed Suicide

    In his book Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry A. Coyne begins by discussing a court case that involved the teaching of evolution in a public school. The school board of the Dover (PA) Area School District had adopted a simple statement to be read by high school biology teachers to their classes which said, in effect, that evolution is a theory and that Intelligent Design is an alternative explanation as to how life began. Some parents protested, and the matter eventually went to a federal court. The judge ruled that Intelligent Design was a religious belief and therefore could not be presented in a public school classroom.

    Professor Coyne's comment on the case is that the decision was "a splendid victory for American schoolchildren, for evolution, and, indeed, for science itself" (p. xiii). He then goes on to say that the battle for evolution "is a part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers society."

    But was the court's decision really a triumph for rationality? Frankly, it is hard to see how squelching debate and withholding information from students furthers the spirit of free inquiry. But beyond that, it can be shown that, ironically, the theory of evolution itself leads ultimately to irrationalism.

    To understand why, one must go back to the situation that existed before 1859, when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. It was widely believed then that the world was created by God and that therefore it had a rational structure and order. This viewpoint was ably stated by an English theologian and philosopher named William Paley, who argued that the marvelous adaptation of living things to their environment was evidence that they were designed by an Intelligent Being. Nature obviously has a Designer.

    According to Prof. Coyne, it was Darwin's great achievement to demolish Paley's argument by showing that the appearance of design in nature was really the result of natural selection. ". . .the concept of natural theology, accepted by most educated Westerners before 1859, was vanquished within only a few years by a single five-hundred page book. On the Origin of Species turned the mysteries of life's diversity from mythology into genuine science" (p. 3).

    To understand the impact that Darwinism has had on Western culture it must be noted that not only had Darwin gotten rid of the Designer, he had gotten rid of the design itself. But then what kind of world do we live in? Prof. Coyne tells us: "The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism. Darwinism tells us that, like all species, human beings arose from the working of blind, purposeless forces over eons of time" (p. 224).

    But if that is the literal truth of who we are and how we got here, doesn't that mean that our lives are essentially meaningless and purposeless? Prof. Coyne does not exactly deny this, but does make what is apparently intended to be a helpful suggestion: "And although evolution operates in a purposeless, materialistic way, that doesn't mean that our lives have no purpose. Whether through religious or secular thought, we make our own purposes, meaning, and morality" (p. 231).

    This last statement is worth weighing carefully, for it gives us the key to understanding the dramatic changes that have taken place in Western culture over the past century and a half. In Prof. Coyne's view, purpose, meaning, and morality have no basis in objective reality. Rather, they are artificial and man-made. To put it crudely, we make them up as we go along. And therein lies the whole problem. For if they are essentially artificial and man-made, then they carry no real weight or authority, and frankly, people are free to ignore them as they please. To a militant secularist like Prof. Coyne this may seem tremendously liberating. But it means that there are no absolute standards of right or wrong, and consequently no such thing as justice or human rights. All we are left with, in effect, is the law of the jungle, a world full of organisms competing for scarce resources, governed by the blind forces of nature, and locked in a struggle for survival.

    But what then becomes of science? If there is no such thing as Intelligent Design, if the only intelligence is human intelligence, then rationality exists only in the human mind. When the scientist seeks to interpret the facts and make generalizations, he is imposing structure and meaning on a reality that does not possess these qualities in itself. Even the very concept of a "species" becomes suspect in a world where everything is changing and in a state of transition. How then can any generalization, any theory, be valid? Prof. Coyne (and his master Charles Darwin) have left the door open for Post-Modernism's radical critique of science.

    Nor is this scenario the idle speculation of a desperate creationist. This has been the actual course of Western philosophy since the time of Darwin. Virtually the whole story of philosophy since that time has been the attempt to do exactly as Prof. Coyne has suggested: make our own purpose, meaning, and morality. Post-Modernism has simply taken his suggestion to its logical conclusion: all truth and rationality are artificial. The theory of evolution itself is just one more "metanarrative," and deserves no more respect than any other.

    In the final analysis there is no objective rationality apart from God. Science can function only because it works in a structured cosmos created by an Intelligent Being, and because scientists themselves were created in God's image and therefore have the ability to think and reason. To reject God is to commit intellectual suicide. Ironically, Darwin the scientist destroyed the basis for science.

    Christianity was the basis of a civilization. It held that there is a rational order to the cosmos, put there by an intelligent Supreme Being. Morality originates in the mind of God and is binding on all human beings. Justice and human rights are real qualities and are worth pursuing and protecting. Christianity motivated a multitude of social reformers to devote their lives to the pursuit of an ideal; making the world a better place in which to live. It inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature in human history – the music of Bach and Handel, the paintings of Rembrandt, the poetry of Milton. And what does atheism have to offer? A meaningless existence followed by the cold grave.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Faith and Reason: the Basis for Knowledge

In our last blog post we discussed the limitations of science and the empirical method. That raises the question, then, of how we can know reality. If science cannot give us all the answers we need, what can? We would suggest a simple, common sense solution to the problem. Our knowledge of God and the world is based upon the agreement of several independent lines of testimony.

    The first line of testimony is nature itself. It is our contention that we are surrounded on every hand by the evidence of Intelligent Design. The intricate complexity of nature, far exceeding anything that human engineering can produce, points to an intelligent Being behind it. Every mathematical equation, every Beethoven symphony bears testimony to a rational order in the cosmos. It somehow all fits together in a beautiful harmony and symmetry. Science itself is based on the premise that some kind of order exists in nature.

    The question is, where does this order come from? At this point our atheist friends will be quick to answer, from evolution. The gist of Darwin's theory is that natural selection can account for the appearance of design in nature. But this leads to a startling conclusion: there is no rational order in nature. Moreover, there are no fixed categories in nature: everything is in a constant state of flux. On this premise it is hard to see how one can speak of a "law" of nature. A "law" implies a fixed order to things. But in an evolutionary scenario, there is no fixed order. Two thousand years of Western thought have seemingly been overturned.

    Space prevents us from a detailed rebuttal here of evolution – readers are invited to see our previous blog post "Why Evolution Is False" (Oct. 5, 2011), a review of Prof. Jerry A. Coyne's book Why Evolution Is True. Suffice it to say here that there are several things about the evolutionary hypothesis that strike us as highly improbable. It would require us to believe that life evolved from non-life, that order evolved from chaos, and that intelligence evolved from non-intelligence. Somehow the normal laws of heredity and genetics are routinely overcome by a constant succession of successful gene mutations. In order for the whole process to begin there had to have been a hospitable environment already in place. The process itself would require the creation of new genetic material as evolution proceeded from lower forms of life to higher. Once we arrive at the point of sexual reproduction, there would not only have to be a viable specimen of the new species but also a compatible mate of the opposite sex at the same time and the same place. (The fact of the matter is that every time a couple engages in sex it is a testimony to the wisdom of the Creator – it is highly unlikely that the act would even be possible were it not for Intelligent Design.) No one has ever observed macroevolution take place in nature and no one has ever duplicated it in a laboratory. Which is easier to believe: that the world was created by an intelligent Being or that it somehow brought itself into existence through a completely impersonal process? The whole evolutionary scenario strains credulity. When one sees a garden one naturally assumes the existence of a gardener!

    The second line of testimony is direct revelation in the form of Scripture. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New claimed a special kind of inspiration that enabled them to communicate messages from God Himself. They saw visions, they dreamed dreams, they heard voices, they were seized by the Spirit of God. God, it seemed, spoke to them and through them.

    The obvious objection to this, of course, is why the Bible alone? Why not the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the Hindu Vedas? Do they not make similar claims to divine inspiration?

    There are many ways in which the Bible is a highly unusual, if not to say unique book. It was written by many authors over long periods of time in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), yet it maintains a remarkable consistency of message. Its monotheism, lofty ethics, and unflattering view of human nature (there are very few unblemished heroes in the Bible) all point to a supra-human authorship. Its simple, straightforward style bespeaks of honesty and integrity. Where clear evidence is available archaeology confirms its historical accuracy. Unless one dismisses out of hand the accounts of the miraculous there is no real reason to doubt the Bible's integrity and trustworthiness.

    The third line of testimony is the human conscience. It is a curious fact of human nature that we universally have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. We instinctively believe that there is something wrong with killing and stealing, and that belief is reflected in the civil laws of most civilized human societies.

    The obvious objection here is that an intuitive sense of something, let's say of God or of morality, does not mean that the thing itself actually exists. By itself an intuition does not prove anything about external reality. But it does raise an intriguing question: how did we acquire such an intuition in the first place? The Darwinian explanation is that as our brains evolved we acquired a social instinct that enabled us to function in groups, and that morality is a reflection of our desire to be accepted by the fellow members of our group. But there is a problem here. Sometimes our conscience bothers us when we somehow have the feeling that what the group is doing is wrong. If the Darwinian explanation were correct, we would have become slaves of public opinion. Evolution would have produced in us a kind of herd mentality. The rugged individualists and non-conformists, our heroes and martyrs, would eventually have been bred out of the species by a kind of natural selection. But history is filled with examples of courageous men and women who did what they thought was right in spite of public opinion, and sometimes suffered fearful consequences as a result. Is this some form of mental derangement, a fluke of evolution? Do conscientious objectors and political protestors belong in mental institutions? Or is it possible that the conscience is a part of our God-given humanity, part of what separates us from the animal kingdom, the "Law of God written on the human heart"?

    It is the concurrence of these three things, nature, Scripture and conscience, that gives us a basis for knowledge. Each one taken by itself if fatally weak; each by itself is insufficient to stand on its own. But taken together they act to confirm each other, and it is their combined testimony that is persuasive.

    St. Anselm summed it up like this: "credo ut intelligam" – I believe that I might understand. On the basis of the Christian revelation it is possible to make sense out of the world and of life. It has enabled untold multitudes of people to live happy, productive and fulfilled lives. It is not that we can answer every question – Christianity accepts the fact that there is more to reality than what the human mind can comprehend. But it gives us what we need. "For with You is the fountain of life;/In Your light we see light." (Psalm 36:9; NKJV).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Faith and Reason: the Limitations of Science

One of our fellow bloggers,Tildeb ( recently posted several comments on this blog challenging our belief in the existence of God. According to Tildeb, "The most sympathetic and intellectually honest mind-independent answer to the important question Does god exist? is "I don't know.' That is as good as it gets given the available evidence. . ." Tildeb then goes on to define "faith" as "belief that something is true without compelling evidence existing independent of mind . . . the motivation to believe that god exists and is real does not come from reality itself (where the evidence should be overwhelming) but from within the person who wishes to believe."

    We beg to differ. The evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming. We are surrounded by it.

    People have different reasons for embracing Christianity, some more rational than others. But down through the centuries there have been a significant number of intelligent, well-educated people who have given attention to the question, "does God exist?" and have concluded that there is a rational basis for faith -- from Justin Martyr in the Second Century to C.S. Lewis in the Twentieth. Lewis, in fact, gave up atheism to become a Christian.

    Part of the problem is Tildeb's definition of "faith": "belief that something is true without compelling evidence" – evidently a kind of "Sprung ins Dunkel," an existential leap of faith into the dark. But Christian apologetics has traditionally appealed to evidence. Faith is the trust one puts in Christ when one thinks that the evidence is convincing. You weigh the evidence, you become convinced that Jesus really was and is Who He said He is, and you trust in Him as your Savior. It is, for the thinking Christian, a completely rational decision.

    Probably most modern atheists base their skepticism on science, insisting that no evidence exists in nature to indicate the existence of God. The "God hypothesis," they say, is unnecessary. We need, however, to be aware of the limitations of science.

    First of all, science is based on the empirical method. But since science will never have all of the facts at its disposal, its conclusions will always be tentative. The possibility always exists that some new discovery tomorrow will invalidate the conclusions of today. Science can invalidate a truth claim, proving it false, but it can never entirely validate one.

    Secondly, since the empirical method is based solely on what comes through the senses, it generally cannot take cognizance of any possible spiritual or immaterial reality. This means that a philosophy based on science will naturally tend toward materialism, the view that matter and energy are the only reality. It is little wonder , then, that many scientists are skeptical about the existence of God. But that may only point to a defect in their method.

    Moreover, it is exceedingly difficult for science to deduce an "ought" from an "is." Science can give us a description of the way things are; it cannot tell us what they ought to be. Thus in a philosophy of naturalistic materialism the whole matter of morality and human rights becomes problematical. Genocide is an observable fact of life. That it is somehow morally "wrong" is a value judgment that science cannot make. If we are looking to science for answers as to what we should do, we are likely to come up empty.

    But science has an even more severe problem. As noted above, the empirical method is based on sense perceptions. But how do we know that our senses are giving us an accurate picture of reality? How do we know that we are not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses? This was the question raised by David Hume, and it has vexed philosophers ever since. Thus science itself, in the last analysis, is a prisoner of the mind, not sure if anything actually exists externally.

    As a naturalistic method, science is completely compatible with Christianity; science is simply the study of the natural phenomena created by an all-wise and all-powerful God. But when science becomes an all-encompassing worldview, an naturalistic ontology, it comes into direct conflict with religion. And it is as a worldview that science has severe limitations and drawbacks.


[More later]



Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Gender Neutral Bible?

In recent days there has been much controversy over "gender neutral" translations of the Bible. This year saw the publication of the most recent edition of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). This latest revision has caused a storm of controversy because it incorporates many of the gender neutral readings of the ill-fated "Today's New International Version" of 2001. That version retained masculine pronouns to refer to God, but the word "brethren" used in traditional translations became "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV. It looked like an accommodation to Political Correctness.

    It has to be admitted that the English language has come peculiarities that make it difficult to render certain passages into English. Greek, like other languages, has one word (anthropos) to refer to a generic human being regardless of gender, and a different word (aner) to refer specifically to a male human being. English, however, does not. Traditionally the English "man" would be used to translate either Greek word, thus creating a certain ambiguity. But then again the English language is filled with ambiguities like that.

    The NIV relies on a principle of translation known as "dynamic equivalence," and critics have complained from the very beginning that this method tends to lead to excessive paraphrasing. It could be argued, however, from a translator's standpoint, that "brother and sister" is a legitimate dynamic equivalent of "brethren." When Paul used the underlying Greek word (adelphoi) he clearly meant to include all the members of a given local church, regardless of gender. The problem, if there is one, lies in the translation method itself.

    The real question, however, is this: do gender distinctions exist in the Bible itself? So-called "Biblical Feminists" insist that they do not. Appealing to Gal. 3:28 (". . .there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." – NKJV), they argue that gender distinctions have been obliterated by the gospel.

    But what about all those passages in which the apostle Paul tells women to be subject to men? The Feminists reply that Paul was mistaken, that these passages merely reflect his cultural background, or perhaps his own distorted personality. The genius of the gospel is gender equality; the other passages do not apply to us today.

    There are, however, serious objections to this interpretation. First of all, it was not just the apostle Paul who said those things. Peter also made similar statements (I Pet. 3:1-7). In fact, a comparison of I Pet. 2:18-3:9 with Eph. 5:15 – 6:9 and Col. 3:12-4:6 suggests that this was a standard form of teaching throughout the early church. And that it was not confined to any one personality or locale.

    Secondly, in making his argument, Paul frequently appeals to the basic facts of creation, as in I Cor. 11:8-12 and I Tim. 2:13,14. Male/female distinctions are rooted in nature itself and reflect God's creative will. The basic principle is this: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27). Both men and women are created in the image of God – in that sense they are completely equal. But God did create them "male" and "female" – in that sense there is a difference.

    Thus gender relationships are contained in Scripture. God did make men and women different from each other, and understanding these differences is the key to maintaining harmonious relationships.

    But we have to be very careful here. Male headship does not give men the license to mistreat or abuse women. As we will see in a future blog post, husbands are to love their wives and that means to treat them in a gentle and understanding way.

    We must also be careful not to engage in stereotyping! Each person has a unique personality and background, which makes it difficult (and treacherous!) to make generalizations about the opposite sex. The Bible prescribes the general roles for women in the family and the church, but beyond that there is tremendous latitude for individual interests and talents.

    The point of it all is this: we live in a world that was created by God, a God Who is infinitely powerful, wise, good and just. He knows what is best for us. Both men and women are called upon to live their lives in humble submission to His will. Our happiness and sense of fulfillment come when we conform to His created order, and that order does, in fact, include gender differences.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The “F” Word

    When I was in the Army I probably heard the "f" word and the "s" word about as often you could count off the minutes on a clock (military time, of course!). In civilian life these words are used mostly for their shock value, but in the military their edge has been dulled and blunted through long overuse. But I still hated these words nonetheless.

    The problem is that once you become accustomed to hearing the words, you begin to realize that they almost always express feelings of anger or contempt. They invariably betray an attitude of hostility on the part of the speaker, and it is that underlying hostility that makes the words vulgar and obscene.

    Jesus once made what seems like an extreme comment: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'you fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matt. 5:22; NKJV). The word "raca" is an Aramaic word meaning "empty one," and was used as a term of abuse.        

    Why would Jesus consign someone to hell for calling someone else names? It seems incongruous to us. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me," we tell our children. God, however, seems something entirely different. He sees what is going on in the heart.

    On another occasion Jesus put it like this: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matt. 15:11). Pressed for an explanation, Jesus elaborated: "Do you not understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man . . ." (vv. 17-20). In other words, the problem, strictly speaking, is not the mouth; it is the heart, and the mouth merely reflects what is in the heart.

    The real problem is that the intent of the heart is evil. In our hearts we harbor malice, lust, envy and greed. Because we do not express all of our feelings openly, the tongue is only a small measure of what is really inside of us. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible does not present a flattering view of the tongue: "Their heart is an open tomb:/ With their tongues they have practiced deceit." "The poison of asps is under their lips." "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." These verses, all taken from the Book of Psalms, were quoted by the Apostle Paul in his stinging indictment of human depravity in Romans 3:19-18 The filth that actually comes out of the mouth is only the half of it.

    Will God simply let all of this go by? By no means. On yet another occasion Jesus warned the Pharisees: "But I say to you that for every idle word that men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt.12:36,37). In God's sight it is the motive and the intent that count. If we feel intense anger and express that anger verbally, then we have the same evil desire as the reckless fool that actually goes out and actually commits homicide. The fact that we did not act on our desires through fear of punishment hardly makes us moral persons. We are simply cowardly would-be murderers.

    Thus the profanity and verbal abuse that we hurl at each other is a symptom of a deeper problem: a depraved heart that is essentially wicked and godless. Profanity is not just a harmless amusement; it is a symbol of all that is wrong with the human race. May God have mercy on us all!    

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Should Abortion be Legal?

Roe v. Wade (1973) will surely go down in history as one of the most infamous decisions ever made by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was marked by a strained, if not to say tortured exegesis of the Constitution, and led to a morally outrageous conclusion.

In Roe the court took up the question of the constitutionality of state anti-abortion laws. The case basically involved two separate questions: 1) Is the life of an unborn child protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and 2) Does the Constitution grant a woman the right of privacy which includes the right to have an abortion? On the surface one might have thought that the case would have been an easy one to decide. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments explicitly forbid the taking of anyone's "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." On the other hand there is no mention of abortion anywhere in the Constitution at all. If it can be demonstrated that an unborn child is a living human being, then surely its life must be protected by the law.                    

Surprisingly, the court arrived at the exact opposite conclusion. What made the decision so bizarre is that the court took two completely different approaches to answer the two questions. On the first question they took a very narrow, legalistic approach: an unborn child is not a legal "person," and therefore is not included in the Fourteenth Amendment protections. On the second question they took the exact opposite approach, interpreting the Constitution in a very broad, expansive manner: the right of privacy, which is not spelled out anywhere in the Constitution, supposedly includes the right to have an abortion. Mr. Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, admitted that a generalized right of privacy was not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the document, but he thought it might be implied in any one of a number of different provisions. But whatever it was and wherever it was, he was sure that it included the right to have an abortion. One cannot help but wonder if the outcome was dogmatically contrived: the justices found in the Constitution what they wanted to find.    

    In a sense we do hope that the Constitution does at least imply a right to privacy, but the right to privacy does not include the right to commit a crime. You do not have the right to kill your mother-in-law, even if it is done in the privacy of your own home. The right of privacy merely protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    Perhaps the most disturbing feature of Roe v. Wade is the tacit implication that there is no longer any sanctity to human life. Mr. Justice Blackmun asserted that "we need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins," and then went on to argue that the State of Texas may not, "by adopting one theory of life," override the rights of a pregnant woman. Thus he tacitly admitted the possibility that life might begin at conception, but argued that it does not matter if it does. The unborn child still does not have a right to life. The sanctity of human life perished on that cold, wintery day in January, 1973.

    Each year almost a million legal abortions are performed in the U.S.*

    What does God think about all of this? One clue is what He thought of the ancient Canaanites. One of the reasons He condemned them was because of a practice connected with the worship of a deity named Molech. The worship of Molech involved human sacrifice, specifically by making children pass through a fire. What God told Israel about this practice was instructive.

    First of all, the practice had the effect of polluting or defiling the land. When Cain slew Abel God said to him: "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand" (Gen. 4:10,11; NKJV). And so it was with regard to the Canaanites. "For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants" (Lev. 18:25).

    Secondly, this and other like practices are called "abominations" (vv. 26,27,29,30). An "abomination" is something that God considers loathsome or detestable. Nowadays we might say that it is something that "grosses you out." It is an offense that is particularly flagrant and serious.

    Child sacrifice was a barbaric and inhumane practice, something that runs counter to the natural sympathy that should exist between parent and child. God made it clear that Israel was to live by a different standard. Leviticus 19, which falls right in the middle of God's indictment of the Canaanites, contains exhortations to regard the poor, the deaf, the blind, the elderly and the foreigner. In a word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 18).

    The fate of the Canaanites raises some disturbing questions about the possible fate of America. If God regards abortion as a moral outrage, and if our destiny is ultimately in His hands, it bodes ill for the future. All around are signs of impending doom: mired in foreign wars, sinking beneath a mountain of debt, a crumbling family structure, even erratic weather patterns and appearance of invasive species, we show every sign of a civilization in decline. Could it be that God is telling us something?


*estimated annual average for years 2001-2006=985,685

Thursday, December 1, 2011

American Militarism

The United States is currently the world's greatest military power. In 2008 alone we spent a total of $693 billion on defense, more than the next 29 most heavily armed countries combined. Compared with our six most heavily armed NATO allies combined we have almost as many tanks, more submarines, more aircraft carriers, and more than twice as many warplanes. We have at least 1,000 troops each stationed in thirteen different countries around the world.

    The Founding Fathers would be appalled. While they did give the Federal Government the power to raise and maintain a professional military, they were well aware of the dangers of a standing army. Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist Paper #8, noted that standing armies "bear a malignant aspect to liberty and economy." War, he said, creates "a progressive direction to monarchy. It is the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority." How a modern president can create an "imperial presidency" and send American troops into combat without a declaration of war, and still call himself a "conservative," is utterly beyond us.

    It should be obvious that war is a gravely moral issue. The sanctity of human life is grounded in the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. After the Flood God told Noah: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6; NKJV). It is noteworthy that this text forbids murder but enjoins capital punishment at the same time. The two, in fact, go hand in hand. The punishment is the measure of the gravity of the crime. It is also apparent from other legislation in the Torah that a just war is also permissible. But what exactly makes a war just?

    The basic premise behind the just war theory is that killing is justifiable only when absolutely necessary. That means that in order for a war to be just several conditions must be present:

  1. There must be a just cause. The adversary must be guilty of a crime worthy of death, i.e., the adversary must be guilty of armed aggression or of the gross violation of human rights. Moreover, war should be undertaken only as a last resort, after all diplomatic and political solutions have failed.
  2. The good must outweigh the bad. We must have a good intention, there must be a reasonable chance of success, and the good to be achieved must be greater than the destruction caused by the war itself.

Moreover, moral considerations are involved in the way the war is conducted well. It is manifestly not true that "all is fair in love and war." War crimes are never justified. Even in the actual course of war itself we have a moral obligation to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. In particular,

  1. We must avoid killing civilians and other non-combatants.
  2. Deadly force should be used only in proportion to the objective. For this reason weapons of mass destruction are almost always immoral by their very nature, because they involve the massive and indiscriminate destruction of human life.
  3. Ideally, military strategy should be aimed at disarming the enemy (i.e. destroying his capacity to wage war) and at maneuvering him into surrendering (i.e., cutting supply lines, routes of escape, etc.).

It should be apparent from all of this that foreign wars are especially hard to justify. If we have not been attacked here in our homeland, the war generally cannot be considered defensive. Trying to export democracy to a non-Western society is often an exercise in futility, and projecting military force to achieve some sort of geo-political balance or hegemony is positively immoral.

    Unfortunately, if we honestly evaluate each of the wars in which the United States has been involved, we would probably have to conclude that the majority of them were unjust. Our current position as the world's leading military power carries with it an awesome responsibility and a good deal of temptation. The blood of every person we needlessly kill will be required of us by the righteous Judge of all the earth. "The also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." (Gen. 6:11).