Monday, October 28, 2013

Phound Philosophy

Scrawled on a fence between a low-rent apartment complex and a dilapidated motel.  Given the other messages surrounding it, this brief exhortation to virtue arrests my attention.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tim Staples' "Why Be Catholic?"

I just love Tim Staples; he’s so engaging, he’s so much FUN.  His exuberant, apparently inexhaustible energy combined with his obvious “fire for the Lord” are just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  I think my Pentecostal friends would particularly love this exhortation to believe, including arguments to draw the atheist, as well as reasons why this former Protestant, “spirit-filled, fire and brimstone youth pastor” came home to the Catholic church.  Over and over during this presentation, I just kept thinking, “He is SO Pentecostal!”  That is, of course, one of the beauties of the Catholic church—it is CATHOLIC, it is universal; “y’ALL come!”  You don’t leave your identity behind when you are received into Catholic communion; you find a home that will finally, fully nurture you into all God gave you the potential to be.

Staples begins here with some good, concise arguments for the existence of God, making joyfully apparent the foolishness of atheism.  He then leads the listener right up the narrow path into Christianity (and ultimately, as he says, “to Rome”).

As much as I love Tim (and love this presentation), I do have one significant bone to pick:  it has to do with his assertions and conclusions about animals, and, related to this, some confusing and unclear teachings about just what the Bible means by the human “soul.”

Staples is adamant that animals do not have eternal existence, and that they are here only for our use.  He is missing the clear statements in the Bible that say that animals DO have spirits—“the breath of life” that God breathed into Adam as well (we see the picture of this happening to Adam in the Bible, because it is written for people; we don’t see that happening with the animals, but the Bible tells us it does in the Psalms—and, for those who insist that “if the Bible doesn’t SHOW it happening for animals, it doesn’t apply to them,” remember that the Bible doesn’t show us that happening for EVE, either!).  Because they do have spirits, animals are thus capable of praising Him in their own way (have a relationship with Him)—“all that has breath praise the Lord!”

Animals were also clearly a (large!) part of God’s perfect plan in Eden, animals are shown to be both messengers for God (e.g., Balaam’s ass) and caring servants to His people (e.g., the birds that brought food to some prophets), and the glimpses of eternal Paradise that John has in his Revelation also include animals.  So to conclude that they are merely temporary objects here for our earthly use is, at the very least, to be missing some importance that is clearly in the Bible (despite the fact that the Bible is obviously written for people, so it could be assumed that it wouldn’t have much to say about animals).  And to conclude that “your cat doesn’t love you” (with clear implications that no other animal does, either—he says, “ESPECIALLY your cat!” with obvious anti-cat sentiment) is to deny the myriad examples of animals (most often dogs, but sometimes cats, other pets, and even wild animals) that risk and even give their lives in the service of and for the safety of humans.  “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend.”  Sacrificing self for the good of the other is the definition of true (godly) love.  Perhaps no cat has ever loved Tim Staples, but that doesn’t mean no cat (or other animal) has ever loved.

A major source of the confusion is that Staples is conflating the concepts of “soul” and “spirit,” which the Bible makes clear are two different things.  God created people with “spirit, soul, and body”—“in His image” as a kind of “mini trinity,” and the soul is not the same thing as the spirit (clearly, or the Bible wouldn’t list them as separate).  Animals have spirit (the breath of life, the quality of living/being that comes directly from God:  “and when he withdraws His breath from them [people or animals], they die”); what they do not seem to have is the soul/WILL which is capable of choosing to be something other than what they were created for.  We can do that—choose to reject God, and thus to reject the very purpose of our creation, to be in relationship with God.  Animals do not (and, it seems, cannot) do this; they are what God made them to be, thus are ever in right relationship to Him (what relationship God made for them, which clearly and admittedly is different from the relationship He intends for us), thus don’t need a Savior (as we do) to rescue them from rebellion.  They suffer with us now, because our rebellion breaks the whole world and thus makes things wrong in general (thus wrong/bad for them as well as us), but their suffering comes from Man’s rebellion, not their own.

Nevertheless, although cows (to use this Texan’s fond example) may well be (certainly are) available for us to “use,” it behooves us to respect them as bearers of the breath of life, and to give them the life God intended for them, up to and including a respectful and humane death and respectful and grateful (to God the Provider) use of the resources of their bodies.  The way animals are ABUSED (literally, “wrong use”) in the current factory-type food industry harms humans: 

1)  directly, for those who participate in the industry (animal processing plants are among the most dangerous places for people to work),

2) directly, for people who consume the meat (eating the meat of animals that have been fed food that makes them chronically ill, kept in conditions that do not allow them to develop as they were made to and require them to be constantly mired in their own waste, and are steeped in antibiotics, growth hormones, and STRESS hormones all their lives, will have deleterious effects on your health), and

3) indirectly, for all people in a culture that allows and even supports such an industry of horror, by degrading our respect for the sacredness of life itself (“the breath of life” which is imparted by God to “all that breathes”). 

God’s very breath is in them, as in us.  That alone should be reason for believers to strenuously uphold respectful care of animals.  “The righteous man cares for the well-being of his animal.” (Proverbs 12:10)

So, I still love Tim, and love this presentation, but I’ll pray for his continued growth in his understanding of the place of animals in God’s plan for us all.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Free Market Leads to Slavery

Today’s Old Testament reading described the system of the Jubilee, where God commanded that, every 50 years (among other things), any land that had been bought or sold during that time would revert back to the original families.  This, our pastor explained, is because the earth belongs to GOD, and no one has the right to own it indefinitely.  No one has the right to keep and accumulate more and more material wealth ad infinitum, ad nauseum, while (of necessity) others thereby have less and less.  This necessarily leads to practical, if not literal, slavery.

And, as Christians, we are called BEYOND the requirements of mere law—we should walk not just the one required mile, but two; we should not only not kill our enemy, but love and bless him.  The first Christians didn’t accept the system of “7-year Sabbath for the earth, and every 50 years a Jubilee”—they went above and beyond, and “everything they shared in common, according to their needs.”  That’s right, they were communists!  Not the screwed-up, morally-bankrupt modern version of “communism,” which still involves some few at the top lapping up the cream while the peasants stand in line for bread—but true communal living; sharing that springs from mutual love in Christ.

That’s why it always shocks me to hear people who wrap themselves in a “Christian” veneer chuntering on about Capitalism (a system based upon and extolling the deadly sin of greed) and a “Free Market.”  In a market without limits, without right relationship to God and others, you inevitably end up with Pharoah building his palaces on the backs of whip-striped slaves.  So, you either need to shut up about a “Free Market” and work passionately for conversion for all—so that we can all be truly FREE, and thus our “market” will be, too—or shut up about a “Free Market” and make sure there are regulations that truly prevent both the tragedy of the commons and the “company store” enslavement of the have-nots.  One or the other, and either way, “Christian” pundits, you need to shut up about a “Free Market.”  Period.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Give Me Everything You Have

Give Me Everything You Have:  On Being Stalked, by James Lasdun

Like probably everybody else, I read Lasdun’s book out of a kind of morbid curiosity; although, having been similarly stalked some years ago myself, perhaps with a bit more empathy than some.  My primary curiosity was somewhat disappointed, as my real interest was in the mind of the stalker herself, so I would have liked to read more of her communications, and heard more about her machinations, rather than sweeping statements summarizing her actions, but my strongest reaction was to conclude that both of these people’s lives would have been vastly different, and immeasurably improved, had they been in right relationship to God.

For the stalker, she was clearly engaging in rampant idolatry, making Lasdun the focus and center of her life.  I was powerfully struck by the sense that, had she applied her obsessive zeal to the pursuit of God, rather than of a hapless writer, her story might be one of an astonishing modern saint, rather than of a pathetic “sick girl” who wasted years of her life trying to ruin somebody else’s.

But this is also true of Lasdun himself.  He describes how the stalker’s actions impaired and damaged every aspect of his life, both personal and professional; even how, over time, the stalker became the center and focus of his life.  Again, I couldn’t help feeling that, had Lasdun firmly centered his life on his relationship with his creator, her ability to wreak such havoc would have been greatly reduced.  While being in right relationship with God does not mean that nobody will attack you (indeed, it is clear that we should prepare ourselves for quite the opposite), or even that such an attack will not result in injury, having God as the center of our lives through the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ does mean that any such attack can never ruin you, and indeed, will through God’s grace work for your ultimate benefit.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).  All things. 

The book is therefore an instructive cautionary tale, urging each of us to examine carefully just Whom we ought to give “everything we have.”   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Germany vs. France

Looks like she needs some medical attention.

Heard a news bit this morning that stuck in my mind; a German pop group, Cascada, was fussing about how they got a score of absolutely zero in the Eurovision contest.  “How could this have happened?” the reporter opined, then went on to speculate about some kind of political retribution for austerity.  Well, could it be that they were just, you know, um, TERRIBLE?  I mean, you’ve heard the old joke, right:  In heaven, you get French food, German engineering, and English pop music.  In hell, you get English food, French engineering, and German pop music.   

The non-commercially viable plans; German input welcome.
The same media outlet also ran a bit about some French guys doing an around-the world flight with a solar plane, but concluded with a quote from one of the fellows saying they never expected it to be useful for commercial flights, just to inspire people to think about alternative energy.  

Maybe the members of Cascada just need to go back to school and learn how to help these French guys make their solar plane technology commercially viable. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Arkansas Abortion Bill Not Pro-Life

Human fetus, 7 to 8 weeks of gestation

In all the controversy surrounding the Arkansas bill that would prevent abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, we’ve consistently heard it described as a “pro-life” measure.  This is one thing it isn’t. 

The bill would, if enforced, curtail some abortions that otherwise would occur, so it could fairly be described as at least somewhat “anti-abortion,” and certainly any abortion advocate who believes that any limits to abortion on demand constitute a threat to “abortion rights” could correctly label it thus, but to call this bill “pro-life” is misleading and just plain wrong.  By making it illegal to end the life of a human fetus—unless that fetus is less than 12 weeks old—it continues to affirm our culture’s current view that denies the human life, the personhood, of an individual, as long as they are immature enough. 

Let’s be clear:  any individual human life begins when the egg and sperm unite to start the life process that progresses through prenatal development to post-natal development; through however much of life that given individual ends up experiencing.  If we trace your personal life backwards, the moment when your life ceases to be recognizably you would be that moment before sperm and egg were united, when some other sperm might potentially fertilize that egg and thus begin a life that would be genetically somebody else.  This is not some far-“right” religious viewpoint.  This is the only definition of an individual human life that holds any kind of water, from a strictly scientific, biological perspective.  Your life began with the union of that egg and sperm; at no time after that is there a qualitative moment when you were not biologically recognizable as you, and then you were.  Biologically speaking, the ongoing process that is your life began with the fertilization of that egg by that sperm, period.

Thus, no scientist could reasonably argue now that a living human fetus does not constitute a living human organism.  A dependent one, certainly, but a newborn infant is also entirely dependent upon others for its survival; the only difference is that it need not necessarily be its biological mother that provides for it, whereas before it is born, that is necessarily so.  So upon what basis of argument can it be "not okay" to end the life of a child who is in the developmental position of being entirely dependent upon someone else for its survival, where that "someone else" might be a range of people, but "okay" to end the life of the same child in a somewhat less developed stage, where it is entirely dependent upon one given person for its survival?  

Indeed, ironically, the only people who would have a leg to stand on in arguing that an individual human life begins any later than with its biological conception would be people who hold the “human life as spirit” view—that the individual human life is entirely contained within a disembodied spirit, the body no more part of that human life than the clothes you happen to be wearing—and who believe that that spirit is somehow added to the fetus at some point after conception; for example, at the “quickening,” when the mother first begins to feel the movements of the child within the womb.  So perhaps people holding these religious views could argue that, since the quickening generally happens sometime after 12 weeks, this bill (if enforced) would prevent the ending of human lives. 

The Catholic Church, which has provided the most systematic reasoning and debating and clarification of this issue, does not hold such a spiritistic view; it clearly teaches that a human life is an embodied spirit; that when our bodies are formed in the womb, we are formed—our personhood is formed—as one integrated person.  The church’s teachings thus align with science’s confirmation that each individual human life begins at conception.  I suspect that most Christians would agree with this, even if their denominations’ teachings were less clear (or quite unclear) on the subject, and certainly the Bible’s repeated mentions of God “forming me within the womb” tend to confirm (the Bible doesn’t speak of a separate “forming” for the spirit and the body, but the “forming” of the person—of “me”). 

This means—returning to the issue at hand—that any law that continues to allow abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy, however early, is continuing to reinforce the prevailing notion in our culture that it is okay to end a human life as long as it is sufficiently undeveloped.  As long as it is sufficiently helpless, unable to defend itself; sufficiently silent, unable to cry for help; sufficiently out of sight--we do tend to have at least momentary qualms when confronted with pictures of tiny human body parts torn to pieces, but of course by that time it is too late for the baby in question—but basically, yeah, if we can’t see them, we don’t (as a culture) really care.  But doesn’t that fly in the face of our usual American drive to defend the helpless and innocent?  One little girl trapped in a well in Texas and the whole country turns up to get her out, or at least tunes in to watch the rescue, with baited breath—can they get her out?  will she survive?—but 55 million helpless babies trapped in the wombs of women who don’t want them. . . ?  Is it really that we are so completely driven by visual media that if there isn’t a PICTURE available, we just can’t connect to the baby in question?  

Some may argue (an evangelical Christian friend of mine, who also happened to be a geneticist, once expounded this view to me) that, since many (perhaps most) fertilized embryos don’t even make it to full-term, we can’t really say that an early-term baby would “make the cut” anyway, so they shouldn’t be considered human lives until they reach some medically set stage of viability, anyway.  But that age of viability is changing all the time, and this argument could equally be made of any person.  None of us knows how long our life will be.  We may be diagnosed with a terminal illness in the next few months, and not survive the year; we may be hit by a bus tomorrow and die; we may drop dead before reaching the end of this sentence from a burst aneurysm we never knew we had.  Does that mean that I could kill you, and argue my innocence of murder from the possibility that you may not have lived much longer anyway?  

 It comes down to this—is it wrong to end a person’s life, yes or no?  However much longer it may have lasted—and we cannot know that, not for anyone, born or as yet unborn—however small, undeveloped, or apparently “unwanted”—and bear in mind that these classifications can apply to people after birth, too—do we have the right to end that life, because it is inconvenient, or even deeply distressing, to us?  Right now, our culture says yes—yes, you can end that life, as long as it is small enough, undeveloped enough, unseen enough.  This current Arkansas law just confirms that answer. 
Myself, I stand with Dr. Seuss:  A person’s a person, no matter how small.