Saturday, March 27, 2004

Debate on Abortion, Part II (Dave & Sogn)

Sogn sent me this in e-mail:

General reply to Dave on the subject of abortion:

For the last two weeks, since I last posted in the mode of dispute over abortion, I've been wrestling with profound misgivings and, with considerable pain, trying to reevaluate my beliefs. I've reached some provisional conclusions, which I will now disclose.

I have come to believe that abortion is invariably the destruction of an innocent human person regardless of whether the fetus has developed sentience yet. This means that virtually all abortions are wrongful killings and may legitimately be proscribed by law, with the exception of certain rare cases. I am thus recanting more or less the entirety of my previous contentions on this subject, with further details to be addressed below.

One item I found especially helpful in this reconsideration process was an essay by Peter Kreeft, which I found among Dave's many links on the topic: 'Human Personhood Begins at Conception'. It is a good analysis of the moral and philosophical crux of the dispute between pro-choice and pro-life partisans: Functionalism, i.e. "defining a person by his or her functioning or behavior." I have realized that, in one context or another, such as this one, I have embraced functionalism for decades - since college, in fact. I have come to realize that there is an irreparable disconnect between my functionalism and my Christian beliefs. It was the growing sense of this conflict that provoked the second thoughts I experienced almost immediately upon initiating this dispute a few weeks ago.

I have also realized that certain powerful prejudices have biased my thinking on this volatile subject for a very long time - again, since college. When I was almost 20 I had a quasi-religious (in terms of emotional intensity) conversion to radical feminism while reading a play on the subject of abortion. This dovetailed with my inherent personality traits in such a way that I became a zealous androgynist, or what has been pejoratively called, by some conservative pundits, unisexist. By that I mean that I despised the very idea of gender-based or -specific roles, and, in particular, I viewed the fact that childbearing was the unique role of women as one of nature's more grotesque injustices. I wanted men and women to be as role-interchangeable as physical reality would permit, and I assumed it would permit a great deal, especially if women could be freed from the encumbrance of unplanned pregnancy. Hence my passionate commitment to the pro-choice perspective.

Along with that ideological development I gravitated naturally to the functionalist view of personhood. I never engaged in dishonest claptrap about what was being aborted - e.g. that it was just "a clump of cells" or just "part of a woman's body." I always acknowledged the humanity of the victims of abortion, though not their personhood (functionalism again), and viewed abortion as a tragic necessity, a lesser evil when the interests of an autonomous woman (and full-fledged person) clashed with the interests of the marginally sentient proto-person within her. The liberty and autonomy of each woman was a non-negotiable, bottom-line imperative in my thinking. I wanted nothing - and no one - to get in the way of a woman - a rather abstract woman! - pursuing her dreams or her vocation.

However, like so many pro-choice ideologues, I don't believe I could ever have endorsed the abortion of my own child. The issue never arose, but neither my wife nor I could have chosen abortion (with a possible exception to be addressed later). Yet I viewed the legality of abortion as a sacrosanct prerequisite for women's autonomy and equality with men. I was edging toward the popular "I'm personally opposed but let's keep it legal" point of view. That was clinched when I embraced the cause of animal liberation. My empathy with the suffering and vulnerability of helpless creatures made it absurd to harden my heart to the plight of preborn humans. I was definitely opposed to abortion - personally - yet I could not take the further step of renouncing legal abortion. I did, however, begin to regret the unlimited abortion right bequeathed to us by the Roe v Wade decision, and I embraced the idea of some restrictions. I was especially aghast at the legality of late-term abortions. Apart from extraordinary circumstances I didn't think abortion should be legal beyond the first trimester.

One comment on Roe v Wade: From the moment I read that ruling in its entirely, I never affirmed it as constitutionally legitimate. It was transparent hocus-pocus, inventing an ad hoc "right" that has no basis in the constitution. (IMO, any time a jurist invokes a word like "penumbra" should be enough to set off the klaxons in our minds!) I had always believed that abortion should have been legalized through legislative due process, as had already happened in several states prior to the 1973 judicial fiat.

Earlier I mentioned "prejudices" - plural - that biased my thinking on abortion. One was the androgynist feminist ideology I've already mentioned (which hinged on a quasi-utilitarian functionalist view of personhood). The other, particularly ignoble, factor was my loathing of the religious right and all its self-appointed spokespersons (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly above all, for her anti-ERA stridency, as well as people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and all the usual suspects on that side what later came to be called the culture war). I also held the Catholic Church in very low esteem as one of the preeminently retrograde forces retarding the march of human progress, but evangelical Protestantism (from which I was apostate) was no better in my eyes. I was a militant atheist for most of the years I was most zealously pro-choice, and I yearned for the thorough secularization of human civilization.

Then along came God, who, in His typically unscrupulous manner, began to undermine my atheism. The first blow came when my conscience was convicted concerning animals, culminating in my embrace of vegetarianism and the broader philosophy of panzoism. A sufficiently compartmentalized mind might have been able to sustain atheistic panzoism indefinitely, but I've never been that good at isolating some parts of my mind from other parts. My emphatic rejection of ethical relativism followed closely upon my embrace of panzoism, and an ensuing chain of cogitative events culminated a few years later in my re-experience of God and renunciation of atheism. Yet I retained my repugnance of traditional, conservative religion, and my concept of God lay within the metaphysical ballpark known as process theology. I called myself a deist.

I was quite content as a deist, but God was apparently not satisfied with that status quo in which He was loving and benign but fairly safe and domesticated. Deism proved to be a kind of halfway house for me. God is always up to something, and in due course He impertinently maneuvered me into confronting the claims of Christ, whom I had thought safely dispatched to the realm of inspiring but inert myth. I had embarked upon a process of study intended to solidify my case against Christianity, but something went awry and I eventually saw the error of my apostasy. I humbly returned to faith in Christ seven years ago on March 27th (which fell on Thursday of Holy Week that year). As I noted previously (I think in the panzoism discussion) I did not convert to a church, as some Christians do; mine was a quintessentially Protestant conversion, in the sense that I was going one-on-one with Christ. As far as I was concerned, the subject of the "One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed was a wide open field awaiting investigation.

Conversion may begin in a definite moment, but it's also a painstakingly gradual process that never ends, at least in this life. When I returned to faith in Christ I carried some shoddy baggage. I retained some of the faulty philosophy (e.g. functionalism) and prejudice (e.g. against some of the more conservative elements of Christian tradition) from before. Dealing with these issues has been a very slow and sometimes unpleasant process. I'm only now getting around to the practical business of baptism, and I'm only now piecing together a more sound position on the moral status of abortion. I've been persuaded that functionalism is incompatible with fundamental principles inherent in Christian faith and discipleship. For that and other reasons, the thesis I defended only a few weeks ago is untenable.

I hope I will be pardoned for this lengthy autobiographical introduction to the resumption of our earlier dialogue, but I deemed it worthwhile to provide some background to what I have to say. It might also be interesting for some people who have never been anywhere near the pro-choice side to have a glimpse into how one fellow Christian, starting from a distant point, has been led on a long journey to the other side.

Dave: Of course, I am ecstatic over your change of mind and heart on this issue, and I express my deep admiration for your willingness to not only admit you were wrong but to write so candidly and openly about it. Way to go, brother! You have gained my respect in a profound way. I also agree with you that it is a great opportunity for those of us who have never interacted much with a "pro-choice" position to see how it is self-understood, and how it relates to Christian faith -- where that is also present. I appreciate, as always, your amiable, yet substantive writings, and I always welcome your feedback.
Note: there was much more in Sogn's letter, which I will post in the BlogBack, so as not to make my front page too long. He responds to our previous dialogue. I'll post his remarks without additional comment first. Then I will respond to some things in the next entry.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Jesus, Vegetarianism, Bambi, & Us (vs. Keith Akers)

Keith Akers is a vegetarian writer, brought to my attention by the vegetarian advocate regular to this blog, Sogn Mill-Scout. First a little background on some of Mr. Akers' religious beliefs. Though he apparently eschews formal involvement with churches (see his "About" page), he is drawn to several ideas of the Unity School of Christianity (which is not a Christian group, according to traditional notions of orthodox Christianity held by all the major Christian groups: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox). Here are some of his thoughts about this group, in his paper, "Unity and Early Christianity":

Unity School of Christianity, a New Thought denomination initiated by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore around the beginning of the twentieth century, is important because it recovers three critical pieces of early Christianity, as reflected in Jewish Christian Ebionism . . . These elements are (1) vegetarianism, (2) the "Christhood of the believer," (3) the priority of divine experience over written documents.

About the second aspect, he writes:

For Unity, it is the indwelling of the spirit of God that gives authority, and this indwelling is available to all. It is not something reserved for the unique, holy Son of God; it is for all believers. This same point of view can be found in early Christianity, among the Ebionites.

. . . There is an important corollary to this idea, which is the rejection of original sin. Unity, and indeed all New Thought churches, reject the idea of original sin — that we are somehow inherently sinful at birth.

. . . Borrowing from Luther’s terminology, I refer to the divine indwelling of Christ as "the Christhood of the believer" — everyone is his or her own Christ, reflecting Jesus’ own words, "the kingdom of God is within you." The first Christians did not think that we needed to go through Jesus in order to get to God. After Jesus had left the earth, in the upper room at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came directly to all the believers. To the early Christians, the answer to the question of whether the Christ has come, or even whether or not Jesus is the Christ, is superfluous: the believer is the Christ.

This is not orthodox Christianity. It is not Christianity at all, and I am duty-bound to point this out (nothing personal against Mr. Akers). He himself recognizes this in his final paragraph:

We certainly shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Unity and Ebionism are completely in harmony. There are stylistic and other differences between Ebionite Christianity and Unity . . . Nevertheless, we have here an example of two movements — one ancient, another modern — which both grasped key elements of Jesus’ teachings which are conspicuously missing from most of modern Christianity.

With this general approach to religion in mind, let us move on to interaction with Mr. Akers' thoughts on Jesus and vegetarianism. First, I will respond to various portions of his article, "Christian / Vegetarian Dialogue": [his words will be in italics]

[M]ost vegetarians, when confronted with the idea that Jesus at meat, will say something like this: "Jesus ate meat? Your Lord and Savior, who is God incarnate, ate meat? Why should we pay any further attention to this unethical religion?"

This illustrates the "non-negotiable" status of vegetarianism as an ethical absolute in that position (at least what might be construed as the "purist" position).

The heart of the vegetarian movement is the claim that it is wrong to eat animals killed for food. Once you stipulate that Jesus ate meat, further discussion between Christians and vegetarians on ethical issues is not impossible, but progress will be limited.

I agree.

What kind of basis do we have for ethical vegetarianism, if we stipulate in advance that Jesus ate meat? The answer I would give is simple: in practical terms, there is none; to condemn meat-eating is to condemn a meat-eating Jesus.

Consistency would seem to demand this, yes. And such a position obviously is a virtually impossible one for Christians to take: Jesus being sinless and the incarnate God.

There are ways you can consistently maintain both ethical vegetarianism and follow a meat-eating Jesus, but they are quite awkward and would have limited appeal. So let us examine, from various sources, possible arguments in favor of vegetarianism in spite of a meat-eating Jesus.

1. Different periods of history require different ethics . . .

. . . "Somehow, it was all right for Jesus to eat meat, but it’s not all right for us; somehow, we are ethically obligated to uphold a higher standard than Jesus did." Who can fail to see that this is inconsistent?

Mr. Akers is thinking consistently, according to his own premises.

2. Killing animals is sometimes necessary . . .

[Mr. Akers makes some small concessions, then concludes]:

The question is not whether we can be perfect and avoid killing every tiny bug and insect; the question is whether not eating animals for food is a both desirable and a reasonable behavior to expect from us or from the Prince of Peace in a time when we do not have to eat animals for food.

So Jesus sinned once again . . .

3. The "Factory Farming" Gambit: Jesus may have eaten meat in the first century, but with the manifest cruelty involved in the modern factory farming system, it is wrong to eat meat today and Jesus would not eat meat today.

. . . But will it convince anyone to become vegetarian who thinks that Jesus ate meat? This appears to be a rationalization adopted by conservative Christian vegetarians after the fact, rather than a serious attempt at talking with Christians about factory farming. It makes Jesus a rather inconsistent moralist; meat-eating is all right, as long as it doesn’t cause too much suffering. This argument would legitimate most meat-eating throughout history.

. . . This position of course is possible, and it is certainly more enlightened than that of most meat-eaters, but it is not an ethical vegetarian view. It is a "reformist" point of view that vegetarians and animal rights advocates often ridicule . . . it’s hard to see how anyone who believes, and feels, that meat-eating is wrong is going to be persuaded to follow such an indecisive Jesus.

All of the above analysis, presupposes, of course, that meat-eating is absolutely wrong in the first place. But Christians (or anyone else) will want to know how one arrives at such a position; on what ethical and epistemological grounds?

4. For world hunger reasons, and the inefficiency of producing meat and other animal products, vegetarianism is necessary.

Here is another argument that lets Jesus off the hook for eating meat; presumably, the inefficiency of meat production was not a significant factor in the hunger of Jesus’ day. This is indeed an ethical argument, but it is about the ethics of our treating humans. In other words, we have no obligations towards the animals themselves, but we do have obligations toward humans, and because eating meat causes other humans to suffer (they are deprived of the grain fed to cattle), we should be vegetarians. By this logic, it is all right to kill a stray dog, but it is not all right to kill your neighbor’s dog. This isn’t a bad argument to use with people who have no compassion for animals; at least this way the dogs who have owners are safe. But an ethical vegetarian is one who sees our obligations to animals as extending at least as far as not killing them for food, regardless of the economic or other factors involved in meat production.

Again, these intermediate positions are deemed unacceptable and inconsistent with a "hard-core" or "purist" vegetarianism.

5. Jesus is fallible, so perhaps he did not see the vegetarian issue clearly, though we should follow him in other respects.

This argument, as far as I know, has never been made in public, though some people have suggested it to me privately. Such an argument, while it would satisfy most ethical vegetarians, essentially takes us out of Christianity. Here is a key ethical issue, central to our lives, and central to the lives of at least some of Jesus’ contemporaries and followers. Yet Jesus himself did not understand this issue. If we are to find spiritual role models, it will either have to be Christians who saw this issue more clearly than Christ, or it will be among non-Christians. To say that Jesus was wrong about a key ethical or social issue does not logically take us out of Christianity, but it does take us beyond Christianity for all practical purposes.

Mr. Akers is absolutely correct about how such arguments rule out Christianity, and he has maintained logical consistency throughout -- as we would expect from a philosophy major (i.e., assuming the correctness of his initial premises). Vegetarianism is adopted with such conviction, that if Jesus rejected it, so much for Jesus.

Despite the arguments of some conservative vegetarian Christians, they remain largely uninterested in vegetarianism for ethical reasons, concentrating instead on the health aspects. One can also advance various reasons, such as mercy and compassion, to limit the worst abuses of meat consumption, but obviously mercy and compassion is inherently limited — it cannot be extended to the act of killing and eating an animal for food without changing conservative Christian theology. I wish them luck in their efforts. However, as a practical matter, ethical vegetarianism is incompatible with the orthodox view of a meat-eating Jesus.

This is correct (and that is why blog regular Sogn must choose between the Bible and "ethical vegetarianism." There is no cogent, sensible, intermediate position (as Mr. Akers is eloquently proving). And there is such a thing as historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity, and an absolute prohibition of killing animals (and eating them) as unethical is inconsistent with it. It can't be sustained for a second if one accepts the Bible as an infallible divine revelation.

I have met countless people in the vegetarian movement who were once Christians, or were raised as Christians, but upon becoming vegetarian found no place for themselves in the church they were raised in. They simply dropped out. They correctly perceived that their new beliefs were incompatible with the conservative Christianity which they knew. The vegetarian movement today is significantly secular, anti-religious, and anti-Christian.

Thanks for the honesty and drawing the inevitable stark contrast.

That element of vegetarianism which is interested in spiritual matters tends to be eclectic, open, tolerant, and progressive. The vegetarian subculture did not acquire this character either because of a deliberate program to exclude Christianity, nor by chance; this happened because people who are open, tolerant, and progressive in matters of food are usually also open, tolerant, and progressive about other matters as well.

I wonder how "progressive" and "tolerant" it is on the issue of abortion (child-killing, usually entailing child-torturing)?

Christianity is in ferment. The struggle to change society and the struggle to change Christianity are not two different and independent events; they are parallel and interrelated events. Everywhere, people are saying things that have not been questioned for centuries and that would have been unthinkable a century ago. The spectacular and steady popularity enjoyed by such progressive thinkers as Matthew Fox and John Shelby Spong is evidence that Christianity is changing.

Not at all; it is evidence that liberal Christians who reject historic, biblical Christianity are more numerous and currently fashionable according to the zeitgeist. That has no relation to the truthfulness or falsity of orthodox Christianity. Liberals and dissidents, like the poor, are always with us.

On the other hand, there is a strong conservative element within Christianity that wants to keep things the same.

Yes, truth has an annoying way of being quite "samey." The laws of thermodynamics or of gravity don't change according to the whims and fancies and trendy fads of a particular age. Neither do Christian doctrinal and theological truths.

. . . In the long run, this conservative element is clearly losing the battle . . .

Why didn't they lose it centuries ago, then? Why is orthodox Christianity still here if there is this mythical, inexorable "progressive" direction of history? G.K. Chesterton has a great line about, "at least five times in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but in each case, the dog died."

Efforts to promote vegetarianism within Christianity — if they are to be more than just "back door" efforts — must attack the problem at its source. Christianity has lost its way on countless issues: by making judgments on people whose lifestyles or religions are different, by advocating war and violence, by putting forward a primitive and hateful theology, and by ignoring consumerism in a rich and wasteful society. Vegetarianism cannot be separated from these other issues. If we are committed to Christian renewal, we must start with the practice and teaching of Jesus and must radically reinterpret the nature of Christianity.

Thanks to Mr. Akers for another clear statement of the inherent anti-Christian nature of this philosophy, complete with the inevitable "tolerant hatred" of Christian thought, assumning it is hateful because certain ethical distinctions are made, and some behaviors are deemed sinful. It's okay to assume killing an animal is sinful, but how dare we say that homosexuality is!!! That must be hatred and could be no other . . . so suddenly (but not surprisingly, Mr. Akers becomes quite unreasonable (in terms of internal consistency -- his premises already were unreasonable, in my opinion).

Now onto his article, "Was Jesus a Vegetarian?":

Was Jesus a vegetarian? This issue is too complex to be answered with just a few Bible verses. In fact, it cannot be fully answered in a short article . . . The New Testament takes contradictory stands on this issue, sometimes seeming to condemn and sometimes seeming to support vegetarianism.

Ah, of course; so those terrible "conservative" Christians who came after the apostolic period obviously changed the Bible and perverted it into a contradictory document: half-enlightened and so-called "progressive," and half-"fundamentalist" . . .

. . . The letters of Paul give clear evidence of a controversy over vegetarianism. Paul believes that it is not necessary to be a vegetarian in order to be a Christian.

Good. Jesus agrees, since He ate fish and lamb, as I showed in my exposition on the biblical perspective on meat and vegetarianism.

The Jewish Christians are alone in early Christianity in placing heavy emphasis on the rejection of animal sacrifice. Yet the historical Jesus was clearly opposed to animal sacrifice, as we can see from one of the key events in Jesus’ life — the last week of his life, leading up to his crucifixion. According to all of the gospels, Jesus went into the temple and disrupted the animal sacrifice business:

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written: ‘my house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13; parallels at Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17)

Who were the ones who bought and sold in the temple, and why were they selling pigeons? The animals which are being sold are sacrificial animals, and it is these dealers in animals whom Jesus is angry with. The primary practical effect of this confrontation was to disrupt the animal sacrifice business — chasing out the animals to be sacrificed, or those who were selling them to be sacrificed. "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation.

This is sheer nonsense. If Jesus had rejected the system of animal sacrifice, then He wouldn't have observed the Passover, and Scripture tells us in several places that He did that (the Last Supper was a Passover meal). He wouldn't have included in his parable of the prodigal son a reference to killing the "fatted calf" in order to celebrate the wayward son's return (see my above-mentioned paper).

This is a classic example of an otherwise intelligent person becoming quite the special pleader and irrationalist when it comes to sensible Bible interpretation, committing massive eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one's preconceived notions rather than letting it speak for itself). "Fundamentalists" aren't the only ones who engage in shoddy and specious hermeneutics. Those who disbelieve in the inspiration of the Bible do far worse.

Most of the rest of this article involves the usual higher critical arbitrary and by no means proven historical theories, culminating in the obligatory (but equally unproven) conclusion:

Later editors of the New Testament further distorted and confused Jesus’ views on animals.

Of course, all the evidence I have brought to the table (no pun intended) contrary to the position of "ethical vegetarianism" would be part of these cynical, self-serving distortions by these "later editors." No one has any cogent, consistent method by which we determine such additions, of course, but that is unimportant; a mere trifle. The main thing is to have some means by which we can disagree with and "diss" any biblical passage that we don't personally care for.

Jesus was undoubtedly vegetarian, since this was the original teaching of Jewish Christianity.

He was? I thought the question was so complex it couldn't be dealt with in an article? Hmmmm.....

For Jesus, the law commands nonviolence; we are not to shed blood, whether the blood of humans in warfare or the blood of animals in meat consumption or animal sacrifice.

No matter how many texts to the contrary are produced . . .

Jesus risked and gave his life to disrupt the wicked and bloody animal sacrifices in the temple.

That's one of the silliest claims about the Bible I have ever heard, which is really saying something, since I have seriously studied the Bible for over 23 years now.

But the religion of Jesus has been lost from modern Christianity.

So you say (and wish). Others think quite differently.

Thanks for the debate.

Reformed Protestants Take on the "Invisible Church"

Another of my series of posts designed to show the significant "common ground" that Catholics and many of the more thoughtful and reflective Protestants (particularly of the Reformed variety) have; in this instance, pertaining to the nature of the Church. The following excerpts come from Reformed pastor Tim Gallant's sermon: Ephesians 2.19-22: "God's New Temple Under Construction"


We live in a time when even those who call themselves Christians have given themselves over to a very extreme individualism and all the sloppy thinking that that entails. Baptism is not seen as necessary. The Church is not seen as necessary. Salvation is understood as a personal, invisible encounter between the detached, individual soul, and God. Church is at best a support, something helpful to boost our faith, a place where we can learn things that we have difficulty learning at home. In other words, going to church is simply pragmatic - it's helpful.

It's kind of like taking vitamins. You really ought to be able to eat healthily on your own with a well-balanced diet, but since that is so difficult, vitamins are a really good idea.

It has become very popular to speak of belonging to "the invisible Church." What matters, we are told, is not whether you belong to a visible, tangible body of believers, but whether you belong to "the invisible Church."

And of course, belonging to an invisible Church is completely untestable and unchallengeable. Make the claim, and who can doubt you?

People who belong to the invisible Church lay all their stress upon things that are unidentifiable and therefore not open to question. "I don't go to church, but I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I know that I'm saved. I trust Jesus Christ." "I don't need a church telling me what to do; I can serve God on my own; I can worship God at home or anywhere."

I challenge you go to your concordance when you get home, and look up the word "church." Look at what's happening in the context. You will discover that the overwhelming majority of references could not possibly refer to an invisible church. They refer to identifiable groups of people. And the rest of the few references that remain could only theoretically be applied to an invisible church; they are far better understood in context as referring to recognizable congregations, or the sum of recognizable congregations.

. . . The temple that God is building does not yet look like it will after the return of Christ, to be sure. This temple is now imperfect and marred by weakness and even peopled with hypocrites. But it is nonetheless a visible body, not a hypothetical "spiritual" "uncollected collection" of all people who deep in their hearts believe in Jesus.

You see, we need to get beyond the North American "me and Jesus" mentality. The "Jesus" that by-passes everything else and just deals directly with individuals. . . is a figment of individualistic imagination. It is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Scripture is the Head of the Church.

'Twas the Month After Election

- A Satirical Poem -

I know; it isn't Christmas, but it is an election year, so I thought it would be worthwhile not to forget the fathomless imbecility of our last Presidential election in the United States:

[be forewarned: not for the faint of heart of Democratic persuasion; remember, this is humor!]

An admittedly highly partisan take-off on the lunacy of the 2000 presidential election, with a doubly Christmassy twist . . .

'Twas the month after election, when all through Florida land,
Not a single vote was certain, from pencil, stylus, or hand.
The chads were all hung on the ballots by a hair,
In hopes that Democratic canvassing boards soon would be there.
Palm Beach ladies wrestled with senility, all smug in their views,
With visions of conspiracy; "Buchanan we didn't choose!"
Some counties had butterfly ballots, or pregnant dimples "clear,"
And liberals wracked their brains for a long bleeding-heart's smear.

When on the White House lawn there arose such a stink,
They sprang from voting booths to loathe conservative rat finks.
Away to the media crusading Algore flew like a flash,
And tore open honesty and truth, evil Republicans to bash.
The moon and the sky, like Chicken Little, were caving in,
Giving a lustre of "plausibility" to cynical Democrat spin.

When what to our disbelieving eyes should appear,
But a grown-up whining crybaby, as certification drew near.
With a little old Supreme Court, honorable, liberal, and slick,
To legislate on a whim: this kangaroo court so quick.
More rapid than eagles, Algore's counselors came,
And he whistled through fake smiles and called them by name:

Now Daschle! now Daley! now St. Christopher! now silly Boies!
On, Lieberman! on, Jennings; I'd Rather have Brokaw media ploys!
To the brink of shamelessness! To the very pinnacle of folly!
Now Daschle and Gephardt: dash away objectivity & fairness, by golly!

As the Constitution before the wild propaganda campaign died,
Faced with the obstacle of rule of law, they circumvented and lied.
So to thrice-counted punch cards salivating canvassers they flew,
With bags full of dirty tricks and chads; arrogant and self-righteous too.

And then, in a twinkling, Algore heard in his head,
The prying and gnawing of conscience's dread.
While practicing Reaganisms, in the mirror saw he with squinting eyes,
Three luminous Ghosts of Close Elections Past, in but slight disguise.
They were covered in greasy ballots and dollars, from head to foot,
And their reputations were all tarnished with compromise and soot.
Like a bundle of risky schemes, Algore -- dazed -- fell flat on his back.
He looked like the Gipper, but dumber, less wrinkly; as if high on crack.

Richard Nixon's eyes: how they twinkled! his jowls: how merry!
His fingers made the "victory" sign (McGovern he buried).
His droll little mouth said: "Let me make this perfectly clear.
I put country above ambition, in '60 and '74: what a year!"

Old Rutherford Hayes' beard was long and white as fleece.
A stump speech from long ago he held tight in his teeth.
The smoke-filled rooms encircled his head like a scarf:
"When they called me 'Your Fraudulency,' it made me wanna barf!"

Then handsome JFK told Algore: "I won because of debates on telly,
But old man Daley's Chicago shenanigans made victory kinda smelly.
Even Tricky Dick gracefully, manfully conceded, like a jolly old elf."
With a wink he warned: "So should you, in spite of your devious self."

Algore suddenly arose, rubbing his eyes and twisting his head,
Soon giving hostage America to know it had nothing to dread.
He spoke no more lies and half-truths, but went straight to work,
Selling all his big oil stock(ings); no longer the big jerk.
And pointing his finger at himself instead of patient W. Bush,
He resumed his former pro-life views, and racial strife wouldn't push.
He sprang to the congress; to fellow Democrats giving a call,
And urged upon them statesmanship; ugly bickering to stall.

And we heard him exclaim, as he conceded by the book,

Life means far more than stealing elections by hook or crook.
Jesus said: "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."
So for the good of the country, my ruthless ambition I will burst.
I've been a chameleon, exaggerated, and torn groups apart;
Now it's time to stop demagoguing; I'll examine my own heart.

And all marveled at Algore's classy cry, ere he finally faded out of TV sight:

Happy Christmas to all, and to Dubya, you put up a good fight!

Written on 9 December 2000, before the election was decided.

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura ("Bible Only")

Catholics accept Church authority and a reliable, divinely-protected Tradition, whereas Protestants "pick and choose" which traditions are to their own particular denominational taste. This is arbitrary in two ways:

1) There is really no cogent, non-arbitrary method for Protestants to determine which tradition is true (e.g., NT Canon) and which is false (e.g., Marian doctrines);

2) The notion of "authority," where present at all in Protestant ecclesiology, is inadequate for the task of proclaiming "authoritatively" which tradition is true, and the grounds will be circular in any event:

Protestant (P): X is a true, biblical doctrine because it is biblical.

Catholic (C): According to which denominational tradition?


C: How do you know your tradition is true, while others which contradict it are false?

P:Because we are the most biblical.

C: How do you know yours is the most biblical?

P: Because our exegesis is the most all-encompassing and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.

C: But the other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .

P:I must say in love that they are wrong.

C: How do you know they are wrong? I thought that Protestants were supposed to be tolerant of each other's "distinctives," especially in "secondary" issues, yet you are calling fellow brothers in Christ "wrong."

P:I am compelled to because they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm
for biblical truth.

C: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?

P:By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries, and because R.C. Sproul said so [ :-) ]

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

P:Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.

C: How do you know that?

P:Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous biblical data.

C: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination is true to the Bible?

P:The one which is most biblical . . .

C: Now, don't start that again [smiling]. They all claim that.

P:Well, then, the one which is apostolic and has roots in the early Church.

C: Then the Fathers must be studied in order to determine who has the early Church, "apostolic"

P: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].

C: But what if it is found that the great majority of Fathers have an opinion on doctrine X contrary to yours?

P:Then they are wrong on that point.

C: How do you know that?

P:By studying Scripture.

C: So when all is said and done it is irrelevant what the early Church, or the Fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?

P: Not totally, but I must judge their beliefs from Scripture.

C: Therefore you are - in the final analysis -- the ultimate arbiter of true Christian Tradition?

P: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.

C: Isn't that a bit arrogant?

P: Not as much as the pope and a bunch of celibate old men in red hats and dresses telling me what I should believe [scowling].

C: You make yourself the arbiter of all true Christian doctrine, down to the smallest particular, yet you object to a pope who makes an infallible pronouncement about every hundred years or so!!!! Most remarkable and ironic! I say you are obviously a Super-Pope, then.

P: You can say that if you like. We call it the primacy of the individual conscience.

C: So you think that your own individual opinion and "conscience" is superior to the combined consensus of hundreds of years of Church history, papal pronouncements, apostolic Tradition, Councils, etc.?

P: Yes, because if a doctrine is biblical, I must denounce any tradition of men that is otherwise.

C: For that matter, how do you know what the Bible is?

P:Well, I'll quote from John Calvin: "Scripture is indeed self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning . . . Illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God . . . We seek no proofs, . . . Such, then, is a conviction that requires no reasons . . . I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself."

[Institutes, Book I, chapter 7, section 5 / vol. 1, pp.80-81 in Battles/McNeill ed.; emphasis added]

C: That seems intrinsically unreasonable, by Calvin's own stated criteria. Yet you've attempted to give me reasons and logic throughout this whole conversation!

P: Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.

C: Well, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. But I would say that you would not know what NT Scripture was for sure, if not for the Catholic Church. Calvin's criteria is essentially no different than the Mormons' "burning in the bosom" as a justification for their beliefs. Besides, on what
grounds do you trust Calvin, when he contradicts earlier Church Tradition? Scripture is not self-authenticating, in the sense of its determining the extent and parameters of itself. This is clearly shown in the divergences in the early Church on the question of the NT Canon.

P: There was a broad consensus among the Fathers.

C: I'll grant you that . . . very broad. But there is more than enough difference to require an
authoritative decree by the Church to put the matter to rest.

P:But God guided those Christians specifically because His Word was at stake.

C: Oh? First of all, I'm glad to hear that you acknowledge the 4th century Church as "Christians." Many Calvinists and other Protestants think the Church was already off the rails by then!

P: Well, that's silly, because Chalcedon was a good Council, and that was held in 451. So was Ephesus in 431.

C: Good. So you agree that God guided the early Church. But not in all matters?

P: No, not when they talked about the papacy, Mary, bishops, the Real Presence, communion of saints, penance, purgatory, infused justification, baptismal regeneration, confession, absolution, apostolic Tradition, apostolic succession, and many other erroneous doctrines.

C: How do you know that?

P:Because those doctrines clearly aren't biblical.

C: According to which "clear" denominational tradition?

P: Ours . . .

C: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in despair]

And so on and so forth. Yet Protestants claim we are the ones with an epistemological problem!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Jesus Would Support Child-Killing???!!!

Forwarded to me by blog frequenter Sogn Mill-Scout:


"Abortion Provider's New Chaplain Posits Pro-Choice Jesus"

Jim Brown and Jenni Parker
Agape Press

A conservative Protestant activist says he is appalled but not surprised that a United Methodist minister has been hired to serve as chaplain of the nation's largest abortion provider.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has selected Pastor Ignacio Castuera to fill the newly created position and communicate "the theological justification for choice, sexuality, and contraception."

Castuera serves as pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California, and has been a member of Planned Parenthood's clergy advisory board for the past ten years. A longtime, strong supporter of abortion rights, he has worked with California Abortion Rights Action League on numerous pro-abortion campaigns, and once headed an outreach project of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that has honored him for his commitment to "reproductive freedom."

Castuera even promoted the Planned Parenthood's pro-death ideology in print. In a May 2003 article in the pro-abortion organization's Clergy Voices newsletter, Castuera commented that one can extrapolate" from all the other life-affirming stories about Jesus in the Bible that he "would indeed support a woman's right to choose."

The pastor has written numerous articles in professional journals and newspapers, and in his new capacity, he will continue to promote Planned Parenthood's mission and vision as an official spokesperson.

Mark Tooley is director of the Institute of Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action steering committee. He says Planned Parenthood has for some time used its clergy advisory board and members like Castuera to provide a religious veneer for the agency's promotion of unrestricted abortion rights. But UM Action's director contends that the abortion mill's new ministerial mouthpiece does not speak for the traditional Church.

"Rev. Castuera and others who are willing to serve the cause of Planned Parenthood represent very much a limited aberration within Christianity. Certainly they don't come from the mainstream of Christianity," Tooley says.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy works to reform the social and political witness of the American churches, and Tooley's committee specifically seeks to defend Church beliefs and practices in the spirit of John Wesley, the father of Methodism.

Tooley says the hiring of Castuera comes as no surprise to him and is all part of pro-abortion activists' divisive political strategy.

"Planned Parenthood is trying to show that Christianity is divided over the issue of abortion," he says, "and that's why they have their clergy advisory board, and that's why they have the chaplain -- only for that political purpose. But in fact, for 2000 years Christianity has been almost entirely uniformly on the side of defending the sanctity of all human life, including unborn life."

Tooley believes Castuera is unlikely to be disciplined by the United Methodist Church, especially considering the fact that the denomination's leadership and national bureaucracy have supported abortion for the past 30 years. While the United Methodist Church officially opposes partial-birth abortion and the use of abortion for birth control and gender selection, it officially defends the individual's right to access abortion services.

Catholicism and Capital Punishment (Avery Cardinal Dulles)

Abridged version of the article from First Things (April 2001). 


The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1–11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, . . .

Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.

Yet, as we have seen, a rising chorus of voices in the Catholic community has raised objections to capital punishment . . .

The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the “Consistent Ethic of Life” at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the “classical position” that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

Although Cardinal Bernardin advocated what he called a “consistent ethic of life,” he made it clear that capital punishment should not be equated with the crimes of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed in Evangelium Vitae (1995) that “the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.” But he wisely included in that statement the word “innocent.” He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty.

. . . it seems safe to conclude that the death penalty is not in itself a violation of the right to life. The real issue for Catholics is to determine the circumstances under which that penalty ought to be applied. It is appropriate, I contend, when it is necessary to achieve the purposes of punishment and when it does not have disproportionate evil effects. I say “necessary” because I am of the opinion that killing should be avoided if the purposes of punishment can be obtained by bloodless means.

The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution. Granted that punishment has these four aims, we may now inquire whether the death penalty is the apt or necessary means to attain them.

The death penalty, we may conclude, has different values in relation to each of the four ends of punishment. It does not rehabilitate the criminal but may be an occasion for bringing about salutary repentance. It is an effective but rarely, if ever, a necessary means of defending society against the criminal. Whether it serves to deter others from similar crimes is a disputed question, difficult to settle. Its retributive value is impaired by lack of clarity about the role of the State. In general, then, capital punishment has some limited value but its necessity is open to doubt.

There is more to be said. Thoughtful writers have contended that the death penalty, besides being unnecessary and often futile, can also be positively harmful. Four serious objections are commonly mentioned in the literature.

There is, first of all, a possibility that the convict may be innocent. John Stuart Mill, in his well–known defense of capital punishment, considers this to be the most serious objection. In responding, he cautions that the death penalty should not be imposed except in cases where the accused is tried by a trustworthy court and found guilty beyond all shadow of doubt.

It is common knowledge that even when trials are conducted, biased or kangaroo courts can often render unjust convictions. Even in the United States, where serious efforts are made to achieve just verdicts, errors occur, although many of them are corrected by appellate courts. Poorly educated and penniless defendants often lack the means to procure competent legal counsel; witnesses can be suborned or can make honest mistakes about the facts of the case or the identities of persons; evidence can be fabricated or suppressed; and juries can be prejudiced or incompetent. Some “death row” convicts have been exonerated by newly available DNA evidence. Columbia Law School has recently published a powerful report on the percentage of reversible errors in capital sentences from 1973 to 1995. Since it is altogether likely that some innocent persons have been executed, this first objection is a serious one.

Another objection observes that the death penalty often has the effect of whetting an inordinate appetite for revenge rather than satisfying an authentic zeal for justice. By giving in to a perverse spirit of vindictiveness or a morbid attraction to the gruesome, the courts contribute to the degradation of the culture, replicating the worst features of the Roman Empire in its period of decline.

Furthermore, critics say, capital punishment cheapens the value of life. By giving the impression that human beings sometimes have the right to kill, it fosters a casual attitude toward evils such as abortion, suicide, and euthanasia. This was a major point in Cardinal Bernardin’s speeches and articles on what he called a “consistent ethic of life.” Although this argument may have some validity, its force should not be exaggerated. Many people who are strongly pro–life on issues such as abortion support the death penalty, insisting that there is no inconsistency, since the innocent and the guilty do not have the same rights.

Finally, some hold that the death penalty is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness. This argument is complex at best, since the quoted sayings of Jesus have reference to forgiveness on the part of individual persons who have suffered injury. It is indeed praiseworthy for victims of crime to forgive their debtors, but such personal pardon does not absolve offenders from their obligations in justice. John Paul II points out that “reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.”

The four objections are . . . of different weight. The first of them, dealing with miscarriages of justice, is relatively strong; the second and third, dealing with vindictiveness and with the consistent ethic of life, have some probable force. The fourth objection, dealing with forgiveness, is relatively weak. But taken together, the four may suffice to tip the scale against the use of the death penalty.

The Catholic magisterium in recent years has become increasingly vocal in opposing the practice of capital punishment. Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae declared that “as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system,” cases in which the execution of the offender would be absolutely necessary “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Again at St. Louis in January 1999 the Pope appealed for a consensus to end the death penalty on the ground that it was “both cruel and unnecessary.” The bishops of many countries have spoken to the same effect.

The United States bishops, for their part, had already declared in their majority statement of 1980 that “in the conditions of contemporary American society, the legitimate purposes of punishment do not justify the imposition of the death penalty.” Since that time they have repeatedly intervened to ask for clemency in particular cases. Like the Pope, the bishops do not rule out capital punishment altogether, but they say that it is not justifiable as practiced in the United States today.

In coming to this prudential conclusion, the magisterium is not changing the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine remains what it has been: that the State, in principle, has the right to impose the death penalty on persons convicted of very serious crimes. But the classical tradition held that the State should not exercise this right when the evil effects outweigh the good effects. Thus the principle still leaves open the question whether and when the death penalty ought to be applied. The Pope and the bishops, using their prudential judgment, have concluded that in contemporary society, at least in countries like our own, the death penalty ought not to be invoked, because, on balance, it does more harm than good. I personally support this position.

In a brief compass I have touched on numerous and complex problems. To indicate what I have tried to establish, I should like to propose, as a final summary, ten theses that encapsulate the Church’s doctrine, as I understand it.

1) The purpose of punishment in secular courts is fourfold: the rehabilitation of the criminal, the protection of society from the criminal, the deterrence of other potential criminals, and retributive justice.

2) Just retribution, which seeks to establish the right order of things, should not be confused with vindictiveness, which is reprehensible.

3) Punishment may and should be administered with respect and love for the person punished.

4) The person who does evil may deserve death. According to the biblical accounts, God sometimes administers the penalty himself and sometimes directs others to do so.

5) Individuals and private groups may not take it upon themselves to inflict death as a penalty.

6) The State has the right, in principle, to inflict capital punishment in cases where there is no doubt about the gravity of the offense and the guilt of the accused.

7) The death penalty should not be imposed if the purposes of punishment can be equally well or better achieved by bloodless means, such as imprisonment.

8) The sentence of death may be improper if it has serious negative effects on society, such as miscarriages of justice, the increase of vindictiveness, or disrespect for the value of innocent human life.

9) Persons who specially represent the Church, such as clergy and religious, in view of their specific vocation, should abstain from pronouncing or executing the sentence of death.

10) Catholics, in seeking to form their judgment as to whether the death penalty is to be supported as a general policy, or in a given situation, should be attentive to the guidance of the pope and the bishops. Current Catholic teaching should be understood, as I have sought to understand it, in continuity with Scripture and tradition.

For further reading, see:

Why the Death Penalty? Capital Punishment and the Catholic Tradition, by Christopher Kaczor (philosopher).

Capital Punishment and Church Teaching (Part 2),
by Fr. William Saunders.

Issue of the Catholic Dossier devoted to capital punishment (Sep/Oct 1998; includes articles by Msgr. William Smith, Charles E. Rice, Gerard V. Bradley, James Hitchcock, and Janet E. Smith).

Monday, March 22, 2004

Lenten Meditation #3: Suffering and Comfort in the Psalms

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Psalm 9:9-10 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know thy name put their trust in thee, for thou, O LORD, hast not forsaken those who seek thee.

Psalm 23 (all)

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD!

Psalm 30:5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 31

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. In thee, O LORD, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline thy ear to me, rescue me speedily! Be thou a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
3 Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress; for thy name's sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for thou art my refuge.
5 Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love, because thou hast seen my affliction, thou hast taken heed of my adversities,
8 and hast not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; thou hast set my feet in a broad place.

Psalm 33:20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.

Psalm 34 (all)

1 A Psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 O fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no want!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 What man is there who desires life, and covets many days, that he may enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalm 37

1 A Psalm of David. Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

Psalm 40

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods!

Psalm 41:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. Blessed is he who considers the poor! The LORD delivers him in the day of trouble;

Psalm 46

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. [Selah]

10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!"
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. [Selah]

Psalm 50:15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 59:9 O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee; for thou, O God, art my fortress.

Psalm 62

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 71:20 Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again; from the depths of the earth thou wilt bring me up again.

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

Psalm 94

12 Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O LORD, and whom thou dost teach out of thy law
13 to give him respite from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
16 Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, "My foot slips," thy steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many, thy consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 119

50 This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep thy word.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.
75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.
93 I will never forget thy precepts; for by them thou hast given me life.

Psalm 126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!

Psalm 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

Psalm 138

3 On the day I called, thou didst answer me, my strength of soul thou didst increase.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou dost preserve my life; thou dost stretch out thy hand against the wrath of my enemies, and thy right hand delivers me.

Psalm 145

14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
16 Thou openest thy hand, thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Beautiful Irish Songs and the Longing of Sehnsucht

I swear that two of the most beautiful melodies / songs I have ever heard in my life are on one album: a compilation of current-day Celtic artists, called Celtic Legacy (Narada, 1995).

Here I am typing away, after having gone for an hourlong stroll on this Spring-like day with my precious and sweet 2 1/3 year-old daughter, and playing Irish music (as I am highly prone to doing this time of year).

Merciful heavens!: the wistfulness and longing these songs evoke . . . (one review described it as "the sweetly despairing type so familiar to lovers of Irish music"). Is it because of having Irish and Celtic blood, or being a Romantic, or just being weird? Or all of the above? LOL

Nothing can bring forth in me more quickly than traditional Irish music, that inexpressibly powerful, painful yet simultaneously strangely ecstatic feeling of what C.S. Lewis called "Joy" or what has been called sehnsucht (a term, I believe from the Romantic literature). Lewis made an argument from this longing for heaven itself.

I believe it, because I can feel it so deeply -- soul-deep. It makes no sense that mere music can evoke such feelings and senses, unless there is something deeper to it: God Himself has put inside of us this longing for beauty and fulfillment in ways that nothing on earth (not even the greatest things, like my lovely daughter and wife and three sons whom I adore) can fulfill. When I listen to these songs, it is an experience. I "see" (feel?) Irish sunsets and mists and green fields and Romantic medieval-ish and fairy-tale like vistas.

The only other music that can immediately usher me into the fantasy (or hyper-real) land of sehnsucht is Van Morrison's (himself an Irishman) and Richard Wagner's.

Anyway, the songs are If Ever You Were Mine, by the fiddler from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Natalie MacMaster (it is reminiscent of the lovely folksy string music in Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War), and An Cailin Gaelach, by Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, from Ireland. As the latter is sung in Gaelic, I don't understand a word of it, but who cares? Music (like love) can carry all sorts of meaning without words (which is part of its great wonder and unique pleasure).

Even if you think I am a hopeless Celtic Romantic Nut (which is fine; I would take that as a high compliment!), if you want some gorgeous, first-rate Irish traditional music, buy this album. And no, I don't work in the advertising department for Narada . . . LOL

You might want to check out Natalie MacMaster's official website.

And a Barnes and Noble Index page for seven of Natalie's albums (all with sound clips).

Check out the website for Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill's album Gan Dha Phingin Spre (No Dowry) (1991), where the above song appears. You can hear sound clips of all the songs.

I defy anyone to listen to this and deny that it is one of the most gorgeous things you ever heard . . .

And here is another page with sound clips for her album, Idir an Da Sholas (Between the Two Lights)

Enjoy and let me know what you think. You're allowed to comment even if you're neither part-Irish nor a fantasy-immersed romantic . . . :-)

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism

Atheists are currently denying that what they believe about the actions of matter in a universe without God is "pure chance" or "randomly colliding atoms," as their earlier forebears might have boldly and proudly described it. Logical positivism is now decidedly out of fashion. But this is ultimately only semantics and avoidance of the relevant philosophical issues. Natural "laws" (themselves metaphysical abstractions in a large sense, even though they have to do with matter) still have to attain their remarkable organizing abilities at some point. One either explains them by natural laws or by humbly bowing to divine teleology at some point as an explanation every bit as plausible as a scenario which boils down to materialism any way you cut the cake (everything is explained by material processes).

Matter becomes god in the atheist/materialist/naturalist view, as far as I am concerned, and this is patently obvious, because in the godless universe, matter has the inherent power to do everything by itself, which Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, being their ultimate Creator and even Ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

Quite obviously, then, since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design. Indeed, this is faith of the most un-rational, childlike kind. It is quite humorous, then, to observe the constant charge that we Christians have the blind, childlike, gullible, fideistic faith, rather than "rational, intellectual, sophisticated" atheists who possess it in far greater measure.

Such belief is, in effect and in substance, closely-examined, a kind of poytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, which puts to shame the pagan worship and incredulities of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other primitive groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish. The polytheistic materialist is far, far more religious than that: he thinks that trillions of his Atom-gods and their distant relatives, the Cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, of their own power, possessed eternally either in full or in inevitably-unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Deo-Atomism ("belief that the Atom is God"). The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, ubiquitous (if not omnipresent) Atom (especially trillions of them) can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason which we can understand (i.e., why and how the Atom-God came to possess such powers in the first place). The Deo-Atomist worships his trillions of gods unreservedly, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He is what sociologists call a "true believer."

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Time-goddess as well. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. The Time-goddess might be said to be the highest in the ranks of the Deo-Atomist's wonderfully-varied hierarchy of gods, since she is one, rather than trillions (sort of the "Zeus" of Deo-Atomism). One might call this belief Deo-Temporalism.

Deo-Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it "must be" what it is. How is this at all different from monotheism, where certain things are taken for granted as basic beliefs? There is no epistemological difference. The atheist's and materialist's or positivist's or naturalist's religion is Deo-Atomism; mine is theistic Christianity. Matter is their god; a Creator Spirit God is mine. The Deo-Atomist simply reverses the error of the Gnostics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Deo-Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only "evil" (metaphorically-speaking), but beyond that: non-existent. In a certain remote sense, on one level, the Christian reacts to such profound religious belief with the thought, "Who am I to endanger by rational argument such a sublime fideism and Absolute Trust in a Teleological Argument vis-a-vis trillions of Atom-gods? I can only stand in awe of such Pure Faith."

Deo-Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism.

Some Deo-Atomist utterances even have the "ring" of Scriptures, such as an appropriate humility urged in man's opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if material or spatial largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. One Deo-Atomist told me that "order is in the eye of the beholder." That reminded me of the biblical Proverbs (perhaps he was the Deo-Atomist equivalent of Solomon).

Of course, in Deo-Atomism, each person is gods too, because he is made up of trillions of Atom-gods and also lots of Cell-gods, so there are lots of gods there indeed! When you get trillions of gods all together in one place, it stands to reason that they can corporately perceive the order of which any one of them individually is capable of producing. So within the Deo-Atomist faith-paradigm, this makes perfect sense. But for one outside their circle of religious faith, it may not (just to warn the devout, faithful Deo-Atomist that others of different faiths may not think such things as "obvious" as they do). The Deo-Atomist manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without mere explanation.

In other words, the "why" questions in the context of Deo-Atomism are in and of themselves "senseless." And the reason why that is (i.e., for the Deo-Atomist), is because the question impinges upon the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Deo-Atomist possesses. If the question of "Why does God exist?" is senseless, then it follows straightforwardly that likewise, the question, "Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?" is senseless, meaningless and oughtn't be put forth. One simply doesn't ask such questions. It is bad form, and impolite in mixed company. We know how sensitive overly-religious folk are.

Instead, we are asked to bow to the countless mysteries of Deo-Atomism in humble adoration and awed silence, dumbstruck, like the Magi at the baby Jesus' manger, offering our "scientific" and "philosophical" allegiance like they offered gold and frankincense and myrrh. The very inquiry is senseless and "intrusive." And so rational examination is precluded at and from the outset. It is, indeed, an ingenious, self-contained system: hopelessly irrational and self-defeating; ultimately incoherent, of course, but ingenious and admirable in its bold, brilliant intellectual audacity and innovation, if nothing else.

In other words, it is an immensely enjoyable game to play, like much of modern philosophy-cum-religion. Deo-Atomism might go by many names, but when the rubber meets the road, it is all pretty much the same: Boundless Faith in Matter-gods, Cell-gods, and the Time-Goddess.

An Exposition of Christian Panzoism (Sogn Mill-Scout)

Panzoism: A philosophy of peace for all animals

(Panzoism: From Greek pan="all" and zoion="living being")

Most people in our society would agree that peace is a laudable goal toward which we should exert considerable effort. It is self-evident to most of us that peace is intrinsically desirable, largely because human beings flourish in peaceful conditions.

In the history of humanity we can discern a series of advances in terms of popular understanding of what peaceful coexistence implies. At one time it was normal to regard only the members of one's own tribe or clan as legitimate objects of moral concern. All others were outside the circle of moral obligations.

Gradually people learned to look outside their local groups to regard others who were previously outcasts as worthy of concern. In our nation's recent history, blacks were long considered inferior to the white majority. Similarly, women were second class citizens in a male dominated society. Now, however, there is a more widespread inclusion of formerly outcast groups within our consensual circle of ethical concern.

In the eyes of most people, humanity still defines the outer limit of their moral obligations. I submit that this fixation on our own species is an arbitrary and unjustifiable boundary to our moral sensibility. Just as our civilization has gradually expanded the perimeter within which individuals and groups are recognized as making moral claims upon us, now we have the opportunity to see ourselves as members of a much larger group. We can choose to recognize that we are all part of the vast number of sentient beings that are united in our capacity to suffer and feel pain. It is our unique privilege as a species to be able to choose to refrain from inflicting suffering upon our fellow sentient beings. The challenge we face is to recognize that there is no morally compelling reason not to take this step into moral solidarity with non-human beings. We have the great opportunity to enlarge the circle of our moral concern to its logically utmost extent.

Panzoism is the term my wife and I coined for this philosophy of life that embraces all sentient beings as worthy of our compassion and concern. It is a way of life that strives to bring about genuine peace on earth by renouncing violence and, to the best of our ability, eschewing participation in all activities and commerce which rely upon or promote the suffering or exploitation of not only fellow humans, but all sentient beings.

What I've written here to this point does not depend on any particular religious or philosophical outlook. It presupposes nothing more than the capacity to feel compassion for any being capable of suffering. Much of the preceding material was written before my wife and I became Christians. It was our panzoism which, in part, paved the way for our return to faith in Christ, the Savior who bore the suffering of creation in His own body. Since our conversions we have realized that the Christian faith provides the most reasonable and consistent basis for the panzoist way of life. This makes it all the more tragic that Christendom - i.e. Christianity as a set of denominational institutions - has failed to fulfill its proper role in the vanguard of those who would bear the love of Christ in their hearts and bodies, and bring peace to a blood-soaked world.

Most meat-eating people in our society are able to live in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the violence inflicted on thousands of innocent beings every day in the routine course of providing the masters of the food chain with the meat they crave. Most of us never have to handle or interact with the animals we devour, much less kill and dismember them. But if we dare to inform ourselves about the industry of mass-slaughter, and if are hearts are not hardened and dead to compassion, we will be sorely troubled by the way humans treat weaker beings. And if we already love an animal companion, such as a cat or dog, the haunting question is inevitable: why is it wrong to kill and eat my pet but appropriate to slaughter cows and pigs? (or pay people to do it for me!) For me, vegetarianism requires no more basis than that; the mere fact that I can and do love even one animal dictates that I refrain, if at all possible, from harming any of them. And to be the cause of suffering after having tasted the boundless love of Christ would be an act of sacrilege.

In my experience of discussing panzoism with other Christians I have found all too many of them far more interested in finding biblical excuses to continue their carnivorous habits than in honestly confronting the magnitude of suffering to which they contribute with their blood money. Instead of asking, "Is this an opportunity to show the merciful love of Christ," their question seems to be "what can I get away with in the name of some bible verses?" It fills me with sorrow and bewilderment that fellow Christians who talk so easily of the love of Christ can so harden their hearts as to be stone-deaf to screams of pain and terror just because they don't come from humans.

It seems to be enough for many Christians to simply say, "look, Christ ate fish," and happily resume eating the steak on their plate, serene in their toothsome joy. Such cynical use of scripture is a transparent rationalization, as shown by the preference for looking historically backward through scripture rather than prophetically forward to the peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah. I often wonder why Christians don't want to do whatever lies within their power to anticipate the promised Kingdom by renouncing violence and harm here and now. The habits of the palate are indeed powerful and hard to escape; it is no wonder that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

As for Jesus' consumption of fish (the only flesh he his documented as eating, the sometimes-assumed Passover lamb being nothing more than conjecture), it is irrelevant for us today, in American society, unless the only meat you ever eat is fish. Consider the recently popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) motto and then ask yourself: How do you imagine Jesus would react if you accompanied Him on a tour of a modern slaughterhouse? The rubber meets the road here. Christians who seriously consider the issue of vegetarianism need to confront their beliefs about Jesus and his compassion. I think in order to justify continuing one's economic participation in our carnivorous culture, such a Christian would have to conclude (most implausibly) that Jesus would give his blessing to our industrial abattoirs. If you can believe that, I can't imagine anything that could change your mind, and wouldn't waste my time trying.

Another point to be made to meat-eaters who cite Jesus' fish-eating in their defense, is that Jesus - and the Bible in general - tolerated slavery, yet virtually no Christian today would dream of defending slavery on that basis (though, sadly, this was done not so many generations ago). In general I find that the use of Scripture in defense of one's preferences or habits is extremely selective.

The simple question I pose to anyone who is genuinely willing to face this issue is this: Why should we continue needlessly to do violence to innocent beings? It is a plain fact that we in the technologically advanced nations do not need to harm other creatures in order to pursue our lives happily. Therefore, we all ought to answer this question: Is there any reason which could possibly justify such practices? I believe that most people, when they openly and honestly grapple with this question, will find it difficult if not impossible to continue a violence-based, exploitative lifestyle. And if they are also Christians, they must bear an extra burden of conscience whenever the subject of innocent suffering is raised.

Having asserted that there is no need to harm other beings, I may be challenged to defend this claim. Let us consider the issue together. First, it is certainly true that we do not need to eat the flesh of animals to survive. We are not carnivores. We are omnivorous in the strict sense, in that we are capable of digesting both vegetable and animal foods. However, it is becoming increasingly clear in the light of medical research in recent years that humans are generally healthier on a vegetarian diet than when regularly consuming meat. Our digestive system is not optimally suited for digesting meat, and we see widespread consequences in high cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease. (There may be cases of medical conditions - Dave Armstrong cited his own situation - in which an individual is unable to thrive on a vegetarian diet, but this is rare and of no avail to the vast meat- eating majority.)

Secondly, it is not necessary to wear clothing derived from animal products, though avoiding all such clothing does pose a much greater challenge than abstaining from meat. It is gradually becoming more feasible to do this because there are synthetic alternatives to every essential article of animal-derived attire. However, whether it is feasible for any particular person to completely avoid animal-derived clothing depends on how this would affect that individual. For example, a person whose feet are uninjured and of a typical size may easily obtain appropriate synthetic shoes, but if one needs an unusual size shoe, or orthopedic shoes, or must use orthotic devices, the search for synthetic shoes can be almost impossible (just as it might be for leather shoes).

It is also very feasible to reject many common items of everyday use that are derived from animal byproducts and/or tested on animals. Cruelty-free alternatives are widely available for cosmetics, household chemical products like detergents, shampoos and deodorants, and sundry other such items taken for granted in our civilization.

Beyond that point the issue becomes more challenging and controversial. What about medical drugs and medical procedures that have been tested on animals or manufactured with animal byproducts? This is a very divisive issue, and understandably so. People are inclined to pose the issue in stark terms, as, for example, a choice between the life of my child and the life of a rat. Although this is a simplistic and rhetorically charged view of the problem, we can't deny that there is a real ethical issue that is confronted by anyone who wants to forego all violence, yet must turn to medical science when seeking relief for the suffering of themselves or their loved ones. CS Lewis, for example, was an outspoken anti-vivisectionist and Christian, but I doubt that he abstained from medications - and, in any case, he (inexplicably!) ate meat.

There are some proponents of animal liberation that are intransigent on this issue no less than on vegetarianism: animals must not be harmed - period - for any purpose. However, while it is true that the suffering of any creature is never good or innocuous in itself, it seems at least arguable, in Christian terms, that compensatory goods for humans might outweigh the evil of our sacrifice of innocents in the cause of medical research. One might even try to draw an analogy to the horrific death of Christ, which was, paradoxically, our greatest good. This is why I would assign this issue the lowest priority of moral persuasion, and vegetarianism the highest.

Nevertheless, I believe that in an ideal world it would not even occur to any sensitive person to exploit another sentient being for any purpose, just as most people now would never even consider harming another human even if that was the only means of saving someone else's life. In such a world the present situation could not even arise, where we are faced with the option of availing ourselves of medical methods of dubious moral status when we face desperate situations.

Honest disagreement over this particular issue need not and should not be a cause of strife among people who can at least be united in their concern that the unnecessary infliction of suffering is to be avoided
to the utmost degree consistent with conscience. Ethical choices are faced every day in whether to consume medications that are tested on animals or whether to allow an operation that was tested on animals, etc. When no other alternatives exist or when the alternatives have not worked, we are left with difficult decisions. We may differ in some of the particulars of our choices while nevertheless sharing a common ultimate goal. Surely our goal should be a peaceful world where no sentient beings are intentionally harmed, and where the temptation to do so is a thing of the past because we have found means of promoting our welfare that do not depend on such violence. Emotions run high from all who are concerned but the one thing we should be able to agree on is to actively promote the search for alternatives to animal research methods.

I recognize the difficulty involved in making sweeping changes in one's everyday lifestyle and behavior, especially when living in a society that is generally so hostile to the commitment to peaceful existence.
It is nevertheless imperative that we all take some steps toward establishing our civilization on a foundation of peace among all the inhabitants of our planet. The cost to each of us, especially for vegetarianism alone, is some inconvenience and psychological adjustment. The cost of rejecting this noble goal, however, is continued bloodshed and suffering on a terrifying scale.

Dave Armstrong has recently written: "Christians ought to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals (e.g., painful traps, excessive hardships in research and caged environments ..." Yet he views vegetarianism as optional. Any informed person knows that meat obtained by typical means (bought in stores) is derived from conditions of unspeakable cruelty to the animals on whose flesh we feast. No fair and reasonable person who uses English in a normal way could possibly claim that the savagely cruel methods of today's industrial slaughterhouses are necessary. Therefore, for a Christian living in typical urban or suburban circumstances, vegetarianism is a no-brainer, and anything but optional.

I wonder if so many conservative Christians would be so antagonistic to animal liberation if they really believed, like Dave Armstrong, that it's a biblical idea that people have a moral obligation to treat animals well and minimize their suffering, "to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals." Clearly most Christians do not believe that. Does any informed person seriously believe that industrial
slaughterhouses treat animals well, much less minimize their suffering? What I often observe is Christians giving lip-service to an ethic of kindness to animals, while continuing their habit of procuring meat from the local supermarket. This is, at best, culpable ignorance, and, at worst, hypocrisy in need of repentance.

I'm sure that most Christians, if asked by a pollster, would say they care about animals and would claim to treat animals well and avoid unnecessary cruelty. People do like to feel good about themselves, after all, so if forced to confront this issue, most Christians would say what one 'should' say. But after the question or discussion has passed, they resume their typical American consumer lifestyle and give nary a thought to how that meat in the supermarket was treated while it was still alive.

Furthermore, even if, as Dave Armstrong and countless Christians contend, we are permitted by God to eat animals, and thereby permitted to kill them for that purpose, it by no means follows that we are permitted to give financial support to the meat industry. After all, as Dave says, we shouldn't support "unnecessary cruelty." And thus the typical American lifestyle is indicted simply by the biblical ethic mandating treating animals with kindness. In other words, even if we believe we can continue to take their lives under SOME circumstances, the question is, WHAT circumstances? Do those particular circumstances conform to the biblical ethic of kindness in which we purport to believe? If not, we are presumably called upon to make certain sacrifices, certain inconvenient adjustments, lest our profession of a vital biblical principle be exposed as empty rhetoric.

I don't mean to single out Christians for criticism; most people, Christian or not, conduct their lives in terms of relatively unreflective convenience. The reason I'm discussing Christians specifically now is because of Dave Armstrong's invitation to me to hold forth on the relation between Christian faith and panzoism (vegetarianism and/or animal liberation).

I have also observed that some Christians who oppose the cause of animal liberation (Charles Colson comes to mind) like to characterize panzoism as an anti-Christian, even naturalistic and Darwinian, philosophy. This would be funny if the slander weren't so widely accepted. The truth is that no ideology could be less conducive to panzoism than Darwinism. And I don't know where one would get the idea that panzoism is essentially naturalistic. Of course it's true that there is not a singular and consistent metaphysical philosophy underlying the animal liberation movement. For example, Peter Singer, a utilitarian and atheist, is one of the principal philosophers behind the movement. However, there is nothing essentially naturalistic about panzoism, any more than it's essentially theistic.

In fact, I believe panzoism's proper and logical foundation is Christian theism and the biblical concept of humans as benevolent stewards of God's creation. It is our glory as creatures bearing the divine image - albeit tarnished - that we can choose not to kill or harm weaker creatures. You can't get less Darwinian and more Christlike than that. And I'm happy to see that Christians are increasingly coming to the awareness that they belong in the vanguard of the animal liberation movement, just as they once were in the anti-slavery movement, and are now in the anti-abortion movement.

I urge you to take steps, if you haven't done so already, such as adopting a vegetarian diet - no meat of any kind -and ideally, if feasible, a vegan diet and lifestyle. (Veganism is abstention from consumption or any kind of use of animals or animal byproducts. This has ramifications for choices of clothing, household products, and so forth, as well as dietary change.) This rejection of socially sanctioned violence has been embraced by an increasing number of people in recent years. My wife and I are trying to do our small part to further this transformation of civilization. These words are not intended to demean anyone nor to emotionally manipulate anyone. I only want to provide people - especially my fellow Christians - with the challenging opportunity to think long and deeply about the malignant effects of maintaining a society based on violence to innocent beings, and consider the glorious possibility of extending the love and grace of our Lord and Savior to the weaker of earth's inhabitants, who have suffered so much and so long at human hands.

May God grant us wisdom!
Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:19-22

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