Thursday, June 29, 2006

Barack Obama on Religion and Politics

Illinois State Senator Barack Obama (D) recently delivered the keynote address at a conference sponsored by Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty in America. He candidly expressed his wrestling with the relationship between his politics and his professed Christian faith, including internal turmoil stirred by Alan Keyes's claim toward the end of his 2004 campaign that Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama:
Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, and his arguments not worth entertaining. And since at the time, I was up 40 points in the polls, it probably wasn't a bad piece of strategic advice.

But what they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? Should I say that a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? Should I say that Mr. Keyes, who is a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?

Unwilling to go there, I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates - namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.

But Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.
From his address, it seems that Senator Obama's is relativistic when it comes to religious claims. All are valuable and valid to the extent that they offer their adherents community, meaning, and moral guidance. I'm pretty sure that the senator would be quick to add "for me" to any assertion he made about Christianity being true. Nevertheless, his address raises critical issues about how we engage in moral discourse in a pluralistic society and why the demand that religious beliefs be excluded from those conversations is historically unprecedented and practically impossible:
But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Senator Obama has always struck me as a reflective, intelligent, and judicious man. I'm glad he's thinking and talking about these matters and hope he will continue to do so.

UPDATE 6/30/06: Al Mohler identifies an internal contradiction in Senator Obama's position in his post Secularism With A Smile.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why the Born Again Need a Renaissance

When asked in an interview with Relevant Magazine what area of Christian media most concerns him, radio personality and author Dick Staub replied:

C.S. Lewis said, we don't need more Christian writers; we need more Christians who can write. Lewis and Tolkien wrote 50 years ago and are still influential today because their work had spiritual, intellectual and creative ballast. They would not have imagined operating in the kind of parallel universe that Christian media has become. They were mainstreamed. Last year alone their works sold in the millions.

At the risk of sounding uncharitable—50 years from now, how many copies of Left Behind and the Purpose Driven Life will be sold? Our popular culture is impoverished and the "Christian media culture" is satisfied to make money by serving crumbs off the table of that fallen culture, often dumbing down our faith in the process. Until we experience a spiritual, intellectual and creative renaissance, both culture and the parallel universe of Christian media will serve thin gruel, entertaining ourselves to death. I'm concerned about the whole Christian media enterpris
Another of my favorite quotes from the interview: "Hans Rookmaaker said Jesus didn't come to make us Christian, Jesus came to make us 'fully human.' Those who are fully human have no appetite for the crap pumped out in culture and the Christian subculture."

The entire exchange is relatively brief and well worth reading.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thinking about Humility

In the comment section of a post I wrote about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, a thoughtful reader repeated a popular saying about the nature of humility: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less" (a variation says it's not thinking of yourself at all). She concluded with the following query:

I wish a Christian would write a book on how to know when you've bought enough Christian self-help books. I think I have about 1,000 now. I'm including expositions on scripture, so I don't know if that would also qualify as self-help. Self-help sounds selfish but yet it is self that needs help because self-desire is the source of temptations.

I'm not sure if there is anything so confusing as knowing if answers to improving self can come from books apart from the bible. They are interesting to ponder over, but the huge problem that seems to arise from the whole principle is that it does not have the reader thinking of herself or himself less. How do you read a self-help book without thinking about yourself? I'm curious as to if and how you'd comment on that.
Here's a slightly edited version of my reply:

I think that for many reasons it's advisable not to think in terms of self-help though I understand the qualification you made. Likewise, I think it can be confusing to speak of self improvement. Both phrases, because of their pop-psychological association, give the impression that the self is autonomous and has the innate capacity to determine the ideal to which it should be moving and to effect the necessary change. I think it better to speak of maturing in Christ, growing in holiness, conforming to the likeness of Christ, etc. In other words, the language of progressive sanctification. This puts things in a gospel-centered context which keeps us focused on the grace of God and His goal - that we more accurately reflect Christ who is the true image of God.

Catchy, memorable sayings can sometimes prove helpful but more often than not I think they make things more cloudy. An example is the saying you mentioned: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." Thinking of myself less can mean one of at least two things. Usually, when we say that someone is always thinking of himself, we mean that he is in the habit of seeking pride of place. He selfishly seeks to get ahead, make a name for himself, and enjoy comfort and ease even at the expense of others. His satisfaction trumps all other considerations. In this sense, to think less of oneself would be to heed Paul's command in Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." As he goes on to explain, Christ is the exemplar of such humility in his willingness to obey his Father and serve us (despite his rightful claim to glory)even to the point of a shameful death. In light of this, thinking of myself less means being increasingly motivated by love for God and neighbor as opposed to exclusive self interest that makes the fulfillment of my desires the ultimate end for which I'm living.

Thinking of myself less could also mean that I have fewer episodes of self awareness. Humility, from this perspective, would manifest itself in my not having any consciousness of myself whatsoever. From your question about how you can read a self-help book without thinking about yourself, I take it that this is the sense you're assuming. But I don't think this is biblical let alone possible. It seems to have much more in common with Eastern philosophy in which the aim is to be absorbed into the impersonal One than with biblical Christianity.

God created us as self-conscious beings so thinking about ourselves is not inherently wrong. In fact, the Bible teaches us how we are to think about ourselves in relationship to God, others, and the rest of creation. Thinking about myself is a prerequisite to my obeying Jesus' command to treat others as I would have them treat me. I can't think of anywhere in the Bible that a complete void of thoughts about oneself is presented as a commendable goal. The critical issue is not one of the frequency with which I think about myself but that when I am thinking about myself it is with sober judgment (Romans 12:3)and not the exaggerated self-importance to which I am prone. The only way this will be accomplished is by my mind being renewed and reoriented by God's Word.

Since part of Christ's plan for building his church involves endowing some with the gift of teaching, I do believe that we can prosper from books other than the Bible. (Odd that people never question the value of sermons. It's always books for some reason.) to the extent that they help us understand and apply biblical truth.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Making the Most of College

One of six suggestions to Christian college students at secular universities from philosopher Calvin Seerveld:

Find a group of kindred spirits with whom to read books of Christian philosophy together, any kind of communal deeper reflection on current problems, so that you exercise in community how to pin down the idolatries of our day in theory. We need to help one another detect ideas that lead thinking programs into dead ends, or unpack concepts that foster self-righteousness.
(HT: Steve Bishop)

A Very Great Mercy

In a section of his A Christian Directory addressed to new converts, Richard Baxter beautifully describes the power and value of godly friends to aid us in our spiritual maturing:
If you have a familiar friend that will defend you from error, and help you against temptations, and lovingly reprove your sin, and feelingly speak of God, and the life to come, inditing his discourse from the inward power of faith, and love, and holy experience; the benefit of such a friend may be more to you, than of the learnedest or greatest in the world. How sweetly will their speeches relish of the Spirit, from which they come! How deeply may they pierce a careless heart! How powerfully may they kindle in you a love and zeal to God and his commandments! How seasonably may they discover a temptation, prevent your fall, reprove an error, and recover your souls! How faithfully will they watch over you! How profitably will they provoke, and put you on; and pray with you fervently when you are cold; and mind you of the truth, and duty, and mercy, which you forget! It is a very great mercy to have a judicious, solid, faithful companion in the way to heaven.
I can think of two possible responses to that description. Baxter's words will either elicit a yearning for the kind of friendship he portrays or sincere gratitude for the friend(s) who serve us in the manner he describes. Yesterday I enjoyed the fruits of such a relationship with my good friend Sean. Sean and I have known each other for about 17 years. In that time we've ministered together and shared our fears, joys, anxieties, hopes, temptations, sins, and offbeat sense of humor with each other. We've tried to help each other live in the grace of God and live out our newness in Christ.

Yesterday I told Sean about some weights on my soul and asked him to pray with me which he did readily. He prayed for an extended period of time with remarkable thoroughness. His was not a prayer of vague generalities and well-worn cliches but one of specificity that evidenced both his knowledge of and concern for me. From early on in our friendship Sean's uncanny ability to read people struck me and it continues to do so. His discernment is extremely keen. In the course of his prayer he ministered to me in a number of the ways Baxter depicts, exposing and encouraging my heart with the truth of God's goodness and the full and finished work of Christ on my behalf. He didn't shirk back from praying for change I need to undergo out of fear of possibly hurting my feelings yet there was not the slightest trace of judgment or condemnation in his voice or words. His prayer left me thinking, "God is so much better than I can ever fathom."

While Sean was praying I got a brief glimpse into life as it should be. This was aided by the fact that his toddler son was in the same room of Sean's home, periodically squealing and laughing as he played with one of his toy trucks whose engine and horn sounds are pretty loud. Initially I found this distracting but it didn't take long for me to realize that this is what real Christian spirituality consists of - people who love each other acknowledging God's presence in the course of life's routines. A very great mercy indeed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Faith's Psychology and the Psychological Faiths

Last year the Christian Research Journal published an article by David Powlison by this post's title. It's available online in either html or pdf. Here's the journal's synopsis:

What does the word psychology mean? How does psychology interact with the Christian faith? How does Scripture’s view of human nature relate to modern social and behavioral sciences?

God’s view of what makes us tick (psychology) and His call for us to help each other through honest, loving conversation (psychotherapy) differ radically from the theories and therapies that dominated psychological discourse and practice in the twentieth century. Only a psychology that is loyal to the Christian faith will understand and cure the madness in our hearts and lives because these realities have to do with God. With a well-trained ability to think from faith’s point of view, Christians and Christian counselors can learn from, and interact appropriately with, other psychologies, other points of view, and other conversations.

Christians are called to become radical reformers within the institutional structures and cultural mindset of a psychologized society in which everything is explained by secular psychological principles. We are called to become well-tuned instruments of Christ’s grace to the out-of-control, the needy, and the confused. As we develop and hone faith’s distinctive message, methods, and institutional structures, faith’s psychology will again be seen as radical, satisfying, and true, and it will carry the day against its worldly competitors.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Characters in Search of an Author

"In the redemptive-historical interpretive tradition of the Reformed churches, Scripture is a cumulative, God-directed narrative. Its successive acts (creation, fall, redemption and future hope) comprise a cosmic drama in which all persons, whether consciously or not, are players...

"...seeing Scripture as a redemptive-historical drama implies...that all persons are 'characters in search of an author,' that is, fundamentally worshiping beings who, if not committed to the one true God, will inevitably end up revering some substitute within God's creation--material goods, social status, political power, personal pleasure, or even art and scholarship."  --Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. "Five Uneasy Questions, or: Will Success Spoil Christian Psychologists?" Journal of Psychology and Christianity 15 (1996): 150-160.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Disney's Teen Idols and Their Young Worshipers

Parents and youth workers should read this article by Kirsten Scharnberg in yesterday's Chicago Tribune (free registration required) while it's still available. It describes the increase of celebrity obsession among children 15 and younger. The objects of this "worship" (the word is used frequently throughout) are the stars of kids' programs like Disney's "That's So Raven," "Lizzie McGuire," and "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody."

Ms. Scharnberg notes that the existence of overzealous fans is nothing new (she points to the David Cassidy craze in the days of "The Partridge Family"). What
is new is a media saturation (Cassidy was only on once a week compared to up to seven daily airings of "That's So Raven") and related cross-marketing strategies that lead many youngsters to believe that they have an actual relationship with their onscreen heroes and heroines.
They can worship their chosen stars nearly round-the-clock, with many youth-geared sitcoms aired nightly and offered for download onto iPods for mobile viewing. Fan clubs offer e-mail alerts that can be sent to children's cell phones should news about their favorite celebrity break. Elementary school kids log on to Web sites where debates center on issues such as whether [Hillary] Duff would ever accept a role that required nudity, whether heartthrob Zac Efron of the Disney TV movie "High School Musical" is gay, whether a Connecticut girl is truthful in her claims that she "made out with" Dylan Sprouse, one of the twin 13-year-olds who star in "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."

There is a solid reason that Disney--and other networks such as Viacom's Nickelodeon--are working so hard to ensure young viewers are addicted to not just their shows but to their shows' stars. Marketing research indicates that the nation's 26 million children age 9 to 14 have a spending power of $39 billion to $59 billion, so when stars are found to be popular with kids, they are put in as many shows as possible.
The following fact is sorrowful anytime but reading it on Father's Day, as I did, was especially sad: " study conducted in England shows that while youngsters a decade ago tended to describe parents or other family members as their heroes, today they are more likely to cite a teenage celebrity."

A sidebar to the article lists tips for parents from the Center on Media and Child Health:

  1. Reduce media exposure
  2. Co-viewing
  3. Remove media from kids' bedrooms
  4. Recognize that your media use influences your children
  5. Instill critical viewing skills
  6. Encourage media production

Saturday, June 17, 2006

My Brief Stint as a Juror

This is where I spent the last two days - the Richard J. Daley Center in downtown Chicago. The 31-story building houses over 120 court and hearing rooms as well as the city's official law library. My number came up to serve as a juror in the Cook County Circuit Court system and for the first time I was actually selected to sit on a jury.

From the introductory video we watched in the potential juror waiting room to the judge's remarks prior to and following the case, the importance of our contribution to our judicial system was emphasized. I'm glad I could play my small part but if you ask me (which no one did), if the county really wanted to do everything in its power to guarantee that jurors are alert and able to give their undivided attention to the proceedings, it would summon jurors to serve closer to their homes. I had to be at the Daley Center at 8:30 Thursday morning which meant catching a 6:51 train from home. The train ride is roughly an hour followed by a 10-15 minute walk. Friday wasn't so bad since I didn't have to get there until 9:15. But that still meant catching a 7:34 train.

Do you know how restless your sleep is when you have to wake up early? You're so anxious that you might oversleep that you keep waking up and when the time to get up actually arrives, you're exhausted. That's what happened to me Wednesday and Thursday nights. I had a flashback to my college days when in the course of taking notes during the trial I kind of nodded and my hand slipped, leaving a trail of ink from whatever word I had started to a line or two below.

Despite the minor inconveniences, however, I was glad for the overall experience. I rarely ride the train or visit the city and I enjoyed both. Walking around Chicago reminded me of time I spent in New York. (The summer before I went away to college I worked as a messenger for a law firm in Manhattan.) There was something invigorating about the fast pace and crowded streets and sidewalks. The ethnic diversity, wide selection of stores,restaurants, theaters, and other attractions made me determined to take greater advantage of our proximity to the Windy City.

Here are some other points of interest gleaned from my foray into the legal process:

  1. According to the judge, the U.S. is the only country that uses a jury system for civil suits.
  2. At least in Cook County, as a juror you can select one of the following for breakfast: a bagel, a danish, a muffin, or a donut. For lunch you can have either a sandwich or a salad but not both.
  3. I'm not sure if this is the case for all of the court rooms but at least in ours the words "In God We Trust" are situated on the wall directly across from the juror box and are visible to everyone seated in the room except the lawyers whose backs are turned to them. Coincidence?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Horrifying Vision

James Kelly, biotech writer for The Seoul Times, explains what changed his mind about backing embryonic stem cell research:

In 2002 I changed my stem cells course because of a horrifying vision – the image of millions of desperate and trusting humans holding plates of hope to an empty sky.
The actions of scientists have confirmed my course. While telling the American people that they only want "to keep all research options open," science and industry convinced the people of California to commit three billion dollars to ES cell research and human cloning – ten times the annual NIH budget for adult stem cell research. They're pursuing an additional billion dollars in public funds in both New York and Illinois, and another $750,000,000 from Wisconsin.  Under the guise of "keeping all options open," colossal resources are being siphoned away from practical and foreseeable causes for medical hope.
Kelly, who has testified before Congress and debated the late Christopher Reeve, has been paralyzed since 1997 and is Director of the Cures 1st Foundation in the US. His article reveals numerous ways that the public is purposefully misinformed and misled by backers of embryonic stem cell research. Here's an example:
One Washington-based science reporter, an avowed atheist, often writes that embryonic stem (ES) cells "can become every cell in the body." But he fails to mention that nine months of fetal development in the fetus are needed to do this. Nor does he report that ES cells matured in vitro (in a petri dish) tend to be genetically unstable and often function abnormally. Yet issues such as these determine whether publicly funded science leads to medical treatments in a foreseeable future, in a decade or two, or never.
Kelly has come to the conclusion that embryonic stem cells are of little practical worth for therapeutic purposes and gives ample support for his position. His thoughtful article should lead us to question who is really being anti-scientific and dispassionate. (HT:

Monday, June 12, 2006

Crossing the Line: A Harvard Grad Speaks Out

In today's Boston Globe, James Sherley, a stem cell biologist and Harvard graduate, critiques his alma mater's new stem cell institute (which I blogged about last week). Here's a sample:
The provost and board members had better get ready to answer to their decision to vacate their responsibility to protect and safeguard the life and health of human research subjects. Harvard scientists who wish to clone human embryos now face a better-informed public that is increasingly aware of the vast gap between promises from human embryo research and scientific reality.

In particular, there is more awareness that embryonic stem cells, whether derived from natural human embryos or cloned ones, cannot be used to treat diseases in adults or children. To get permission to enter the human embryo cloning race, scientists at Harvard and other planned centers for human embryo cloning in this country are now feeding their review boards and the public a new line. They promise that cloned embryos will allow determination of the cause of a person's illness by analysis of embryonic stem cells derived from the person's own cloned embryos. They pronounce that this research is too important to not do.

However, they fail to disclose that pigs will grow wings and fly before this approach leads to successful medical therapies. Besides being a falsehood hidden under research future-speak, their promise is also logically inconsistent with their past statements.

Using cloned embryos to investigate the basis of disease in adults and children will often, if indeed not always, require that the embryos undergo maturation. Just a couple of years ago, these same would-be-cloners told us that permitting cloned embryos to mature was exactly the line that they would never cross. What scientists on the Harvard review board allowed such an obvious contradiction to be bypassed?
Good question. But what's a little contradiction and falsehood as long as they're accompanied by good intentions?

May the leaders of this illustrious institution have the courage, humility, and integrity to heed their graduate's call to repentance:
"The members of Harvard's review board should fear the temptations of the line they're crossing, reconsider their decision, and withdraw from a race that will occur on a track littered with innocent human lives."

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Bibliophilic Habits

Though addressed to collegians, all of us can profit from heeding Byron Borger's counsel regarding learning to love good books. If you're not in college, just replace the campus-related distractions he mentions with those that apply in your context:
Still, it may seem nearly counter-cultural on some campuses to affirm that printed words still matter—deeply matter—and to stand by them in this media-drenched age. Even as we affirm the good gift of electronic culture and image-based technologies, to be faithful to God's call to develop your Christian mind by learning to "think Christianly," at some point you will have to put down the Xbox. Trust me: the late-night run for pizza will unravel to suck up your best quiet hours. The quality conversation about Syriana may feel like it is so very important but may have to wait. To read deeply, to read carefully, to enter into the rigors and joys and benefits of serious reading will mean setting priorities, making choices, and being disciplined. It will take curmudgeonly courage at times to see reading as a spiritual discipline and to go at it consistently and with firm intention. As in upholding our commitments to regular Bible study or prayer times, the 'busy-ness' of college life will demand that we regularly remember who we are, what our focal practices are, and why we do what we do. We will have to remember that we are people of the Book.
Borger concludes his essay with the following habits of the passionate book lover:
1. Make a schedule. Don't postpone your reading to the end of the day when you are most tired. Serious reading takes some serious commitments. Use the library or another favorite, quiet spot;

2. Carry a book with you almost all the time. You can dip in during 'down time' or during unexpected free time. You needn't be anti-social or a show-off about your bookwormish habits. Still, you'd be surprised how much reading you can do on the run;

3. Talk to people you trust about what they most enjoy and what they are reading. Talk about books with people you admire. Find a book-buying mentor and a bookseller who cares about you and your literacy and intellectual development. Read book reviews from a variety of sources;

4. Read in an interdisciplinary way. Wisely chosen novels can obviously enhance your non-fiction course work in pleasurable ways. Some good books come through serendipity and whim, but it may be helpful to have a plan, at least a list; and

5. Stretch yourself occasionally by reading the more serious books. Perhaps, explore a new and unexpected topic for a year, reading several similar books or books by the same author. But don't read exclusively arcane and heavy stuff. Light fare and sweets can enhance any diet.

Listen to This!

The European Leadership Forum has an impressive resource center filled with 600 hours of downloadable audio lectures on theology, apologetics, and leadership. Speakers include Don Carson, Darrell Bock, William Edgar, William Lane Craig, Henri Blocher, Amy Orr-Ewing, and 68 others. Enjoy! (HT: hughbiquitous)

Humility is Never Having to Say "I'm Certain." Not!

The following from's monthly email was too good to keep to myself:

"Humble : bethinkers know that our understanding of some truths is fallible, and will not press a point beyond what the evidence allows."

Being less sure doesn't make you humble. That's just a plain fact. In the past, humility was the opposite of pride. But now it has become the opposite of conviction. Being sure of something is now often considered a character flaw. There are three basic reactions to being challenged. Reaction one is to turn the volume up. For example Fundamentalists seemed to have more "certainties" than they could every justify from Scripture. The next reaction is to turn the volume right down. This might seem humble, however, the danger might be that we overreact with equally arrogant assertions of uncertainty when God has clearly spoken. The third and final reaction is to turn the volume to a level so that you can actually hear the conversation or challenge and interact with it, but while you still keep the music on.
In the wake of all of this we should ponder carefully this question - Do we have the humility to doubt ourselves while having the courage to witness to the truth as it has been revealed?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Veritas? Harvard's Stem Cell Initiative

Last night I read a press release announcing Harvard University's launch of a privately funded program that will create cloned embryos for the purpose of embryonic stem cell research. I wondered how the institution would handle the ethical controversy surrounding the procedure so I read this article in the Harvard Gazette. Doing so left me thinking how ironic it is that the school's seal bears the Latin word for "truth."

Consider the following quote from Lawrence Summers, Harvard's president:

While we understand and respect the sincerely held beliefs of those who oppose this research, we are equally sincere in our belief that the life-and-death medical needs of countless suffering children and adults justifies moving forward with this research.
Notice, Summers didn't identify the beliefs he claims to understand and respect. Nor did he attempt to offer any reasons why those beliefs are false. He, like many other backers of embryonic stem cell research simply evaded the issue of greatest importance - the moral status of the human embryo.

What's more troubling, however, is that a leader of a renowned intellectual center would suggest that the sincerity with which one holds a belief is sufficient warrant for holding it. Instead of offering a rational justification for Harvard's actions, Summers essentially says, "We're as convinced that we are right as our opponents are that we're wrong." So much for debate and moral discourse. What kind of example is Summers giving Harvard's young scholars when he engages in this kind of rhetoric?

Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute didn't fare any better in his attempt to address the ethical issue:

But Melton responds that "all human cells, even individual sperm and eggs, are 'living.' The relevant question is 'when does personhood begin?' That's a valid theological or philosophical question, but from the scientific perspective, this work holds enormous potential to save lives, cure diseases, and improve the health of millions of people. The reality of the suffering of those individuals far outweighs the potential of blastocysts that would never be implanted and allowed to come to term even if we did not do this research," he said.
Melton tries to blunt the force of the fact that harvesting an embryo's stem cells inevitably results in its death by likening it to any other somatic cell. But this is misleading. Yes, it's true that human cells are alive but the crucial difference between an embryo and a sperm or egg cell is that the embryo is a complete human being - not simply a part. In order to escape this, Melton evokes the artificial distinction between a human being and a person, saying that this is the relevant question. The inescapable conclusion of reasoning like Melton's is that human life has no inherent value. It is whatever qualities he thinks a human being must possess in order to qualify as a person that are actually valuable. And, of course, this has troubling consequences for more members of our species than just the preborn.

If you pay careful attention to Melton's comments, you'll also note the frequently observed attempt to trump philosophy and theology with science. Sure, philosophy and theology may ask some valid questions but they don't deal with reality like science does. Melton contrasts the philosophical/theological issue of when personhood begins with the scientific fact (?) that embryonic stem cell research holds great potential for finding cures for millions. Improving the lives of this number outweighs the cost of destroying nascent individuals. But note that this is not a scientific but an ethical (and thus, philosophical) assertion.

I'm thinking Harvard needs a new seal...again.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Model of Faith

That's what this USA Today op-ed piece calls Rick Warren for his efforts against poverty and AIDS and his being "a uniter not a divider." I found the following noteworthy:
Warren is no liberal. He backed President Bush in the 2004 election and opposes abortion and stem cell research.
But in a refreshing change from today's unhealthy norm, Warren is spending his time and clout not on the divisive issues that have come to define the Christian right--abortion, stem cell research, a supposedly anti-God judiciary and so on--but on a campaign that can bring people together and save many lives in the process.
I find it interesting that Mr. Krattenmaker on one hand lauds Warren's application of Jesus' teaching when it comes to fighting poverty yet portrays those who expend time and energy opposing abortion and embryonic stem cell research in a negative light. Both Warren and the pro-life activist are motivated by the desire to protect and secure the welfare of human beings. Are only those acts of love that are inoffensive to the masses praiseworthy? If so, Jesus is not our example.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage: Hijacking the Civil Rights Legacy

In an outstanding essay in theWeekly Standard, Eugene Rivers and Kenneth Johnson of the Seymour Institute for Advanced Christian Studies expose multiple flaws with the claim that refusing same-sex marriage is an infringement of rights analogous to racial discrimination. (HT: SharperIron) A sample:
Moreover, the analogy of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage disregards the whole point of those prohibitions, which was to maintain and advance a system of racial subordination and exploitation. It was to maintain a caste system in which one race was relegated to conditions of social and economic inferiority. The definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman does not establish a sexual caste systemor relegate one sex to conditions of social and economic inferiority. It does, to be sure, deny the recognition as lawful "marriages" to some forms of sexual combining--including polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, and same-sex relationships. But there is nothing invidious or discriminatory about laws that decline to treat all sexual wants or proclivities as equal.

The authors also appropriately lament the acquiescence of leaders in the black community to the comparison:

It is especially sad and disturbing that many self-proclaimed civil rights leaders have failed to resist corruption and co-optation by the homosexual movement. People who should be vitally concerned with promoting marriage and rebuilding the institution of marriage in African-American communities are either silent or complicit in a campaign which, if successful, will trivialize marriage.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Evangelist Accused of Counterfeiting?

After a North Carolina woman tried to deposit one of Ray Comfort's "million-dollar bill" gospel tracts in her bank account, Secret Service agents seized 8,300 of the tracts and threatened the evangelist with arrest for counterfeiting. Comfort says he won't stop printing and asks a very good question - "How can you possibly counterfeit something that is not real - a $1 million bill?"

Read the
whole story.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Resolving Conflict (Between Christian Conferences)

I'd like to propose the creation of a nationwide centralized conference scheduling organization whose impossible task it would be to insure that major Christian organizations not schedule their conferences too closely together. What a wonderful service such a group could provide, rescuing indecisive people like me from the agony of having to decide which of them to attend.My brainstorm concerning this group was instigated yesterday when I received a brochure about CCEF's 2006 Annual Conference in the mail. I've never been to one of these conferences because it's always scheduled within days of the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and this year is no different. CCEF's conference will be held November 10-12 in Philadelphia. The ETS meeting will be held November 15-17 in Washington D.C. Now, at this point I'm not sure I'll be able to attend either but one thing is certain, neither time nor money will permit my attending both.

The themes of both gatherings are of great interest to me. CCEF's is about Christ-centered hope for healing broken relationships. ETS's theme is "Christians in the Public Square." Among the pluses of going to ETS are: 1) I have some very good friends whom I only see at these meetings 2) All the major Christian publishers will be there with hugely discounted books 3) This is the second year of a new study group exploring the relationship between theology, psychology, and pastoral counseling 4) It's a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and learn of developments in my areas of interest. 5) The registration is cheaper. 6) All the major Christian publish....Oh, I said that already.

Some benefits of going to the CCEF conference are: 1) I've never been before. 2) I have the utmost respect and gratitude for the ministry of the faculty. Their work continually whets my appetite for Christ and equips me to be a better minister to others. I'm sure the general sessions and electives will be challenging and edifying. 3) It's an opportunity to meet new people committed to biblical counseling. 4) Keith and Kristyn Getty will be leading worship. 5) Carl Ellis of Project Joseph will be the guest speaker. 6) Discounted books and ministry resources will be available.

So, this is my quandary. I can't make the decision based on location. Both places are great tourist attractions but most likely I won't have time for sightseeing in either case.

Would you please let me know if you're planning to attend either of these events? You just might help me decide.

Our next project, after forming the national Christian conference coordination group, will be bringing GodBlogCon to the heartland.

Whose Likeness and Inscription Is This?

Thanks to a good friend who keeps me well-informed about the latest in Kitchianity, I learned of this fund raising effort by a local Christian television station. They're offering a set of 12 commemorative medallions (either silver or gold plated) each stamped with the image of an apostle. The description promises:
You will be inspired by this one-of-a-kind "Apostles' Call" 12 coin collection! Celebrate God’s Call to: Faith, Forgiveness, Truth, Service, Evangelism, Prayer, Courage, Transformation, Devotion, Hope, Joy and Commitment as you collect each of these beautiful medallions.
But there's more! Buy the entire apostolic band at either $50/month (silver) or $75/month (gold) and you'll get the over-sized Lord and Savior medallion free.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Regardless of what precious metals are used, some methods just cheapen the faith.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"Why I Published the Muhammad Cartoons"

Flemming Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest newspaper, explains his decision:

Equal treatment is the democratic way to overcome traditional barriers of blood and soil for newcomers. To me, that means treating immigrants just as I would any other Danes. And that's what I felt I was doing in publishing the 12 cartoons of Muhammad last year. Those images in no way exceeded the bounds of taste, satire and humor to which I would subject any other Dane, whether the queen, the head of the church or the prime minister. By treating a Muslim figure the same way I would a Christian or Jewish icon, I was sending an important message: You are not strangers, you are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life. And we will satirize you, too. It was an act of inclusion, not exclusion; an act of respect and recognition.
Rose suggests that Europe, in dealing with the challenges of immigration, learn from the experience of the United States:
In order for new Europe of many cultures that is somehow a single entity to emerge, in a manner similar to the experience of the United States, both sides will have to make an effort -- the native-born and the newly arrived.

For the immigrants, the expectation that they not only learn the host language but also respect their new countries' political and cultural traditions is not too much to demand, and some stringent (maybe too stringent) new laws are being passed to force that. At the same time, Europeans must show a willingness to jettison entrenched notions of blood and soil and accept people from foreign countries and cultures as just what they are, the new Europeans.
Stringent new laws and a willingness to accept foreigners? You mean they're not contradictory?