June 2007

“We are not talking here about the postmodern conception of Christianity that minimizes truth. We are not talking about Christianity as a mood or as a sociological movement. We are not talking about liberal Christianity that minimizes doctrine nor about sectarian Christianity which defines the faith in terms of eccentric doctrines. We are talking about historic, traditional, Christian orthodoxy.

“Once that is made clear, the answer is inevitable. Furthermore, the answer is made easy, not only by the structure of Christian orthodoxy (a structure Mormonism denies) but by the central argument of Mormonism itself – that the true faith was restored through Joseph Smith in the nineteenth century in America and that the entire structure of Christian orthodoxy as affirmed by the post-apostolic church is corrupt and false.

“In other words, Mormonism rejects traditional Christian orthodoxy at the onset – this rejection is the very logic of Mormonism’s existence. A contemporary observer of Mormon public relations is not going to hear this logic presented directly, but it is the very logic and message of the Book of Mormon and the structure of Mormon thought. Mormonism rejects Christian orthodoxy as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith.

“Without doubt, Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects that very tradition.

“Richard John Neuhaus, a leading Roman Catholic theologian, helpfully reminds us that ‘Christian’ is a word that ‘is not honorific but descriptive.’ Christians do respect the Mormon affirmation of the family and the zeal of Mormon youth in their own missionary work. Christians must affirm religious liberty and the right of Mormons to practice and share their faith.

“Nevertheless, Mormonism is not Christianity by definition or description.”

Albert Mohler, “Are Mormons Christians? — A Beliefnet.com Debate”; available from http://albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=969; Internet; accessed 29 June 2007.

I’ve heard a lot of pro-human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) politicians talking about the need for “ethical stem cell research” lately. But this begs the question, and ignores the ethical portion of the debate. The ethical debate centers on the way embryonic stem cells are obtained: by killing human embryos. If the anti-ESCR group is right, and killing embryos for their stem cells is morally wrong, then there is no ethical way to conduct ESCR, because it kills the embryo every time. From an anti-ESCR perspective, when a pro-ESCR advocate talks about the need for ethical ESCR, it is as morally intelligible as saying we need an ethical way of killing minorities. There is no way it could ever be ethical, because the act itself is morally wrong!

If one doesn’t see killing a human embryo as unethical, I don’t know what other aspect of ESCR could be considered unethical. A pro-ESCR advocate might respond that how scientists procure eggs for the research might be unethical (paying women for their eggs), but this confuses cloning (in which eggs are needed) with ESCR (in which embryos, not eggs are needed). Of course, conflating the two distinct arms of research is a strategical move on the part of cloning advocates, in which they hope to gain support for cloning (which lacks popular support) by trying to play it off as part and parcel of embryonic stem cell research (which has popular support). But I digress. The fact of the matter is that apart from killing the embryo, there are no substantive ethical concerns with ESCR (excluding those concerns that accompany all medical research).

Of course, as I reported a few days ago, scientists are starting to discover possible ways to obtain embryonic-like stem cells without having to create, or destroy an embryo. That would be the only ethical way to conduct ESCR. Unfortunately, that’s not what the politicians have in mind when they talk about ethical stem cell research, and that’s not the type of research they are trying to pass legislation for.

Read the article.

The concept is not new. The technology is not new. But when the American Medical Association is talking about its use in humans, that’s a big deal.

Many Christians believe similar technology will be used as the Mark of the Beast. Others believe this technology is the Mark of the Beast. What do you think?

Check out this article in The Brussels Journal about how Europe is silencing conservative viewpoints. Last week a German pastor was sentenced to one year in jail for pro-life statements. His crime? He compared abortion to the Holocaust. He’s not the only pro-lifer to be convicted for being public about his views either. Even calling abortion unjust can land you in jail in Germany.

The Council of Europe (human rights organization) is set to vote on whether to allow Creationism and Intelligent Design. Some are arguing these viewpoints should not be tolerated because they are connected with religious extremism, and detrimental to democracy and human rights.

Read the article for details, as well as other views Europeon countries are trying to silence.

Update: The Council of Europe vote regarding Creationism and Intelligent Design has been called off. I also discovered that even if it had been voted on, and passed, it would not be binding on the 47 member states.

Update: LifeSite, who issued the news about the pro-lifer jailed in Germany, has retracted the story. Apparently their source was bad. The man was jailed for denying the Holocaust, not for comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Although he has been jailed in the past for pro-life activities.

N.T. Wright offered some insight to Acts 23:7-9 in his tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Luke said the Sadducees deny the resurrection, angels, and spirits, whereas the Pharisees confessed them all. What is meant by resurrection is quite clear (a return to bodily life after death), but what is meant by angels and spirits? We usually interpret these to be a reference to angelic beings, of both the good and bad sort. The problem with this interpretation is that the Sadducees believed in angelic beings. Did Luke make a mistake? No.

Wright points out that “angel” and “spirit” were terms used in that day to refer to the immaterial part of man that survived death. Think back to Acts 12:14-16. Peter was imprisoned. Believers had gathered at Mary’s house to pray (presumably for him). When Peter was miraculously delivered from the prison, and showed up at Mary’s door, in disbelief the people said it was not Peter, but his “angel.” Apparently they thought he had been executed, and his spirit had come to visit them.

When Luke says the Sadducees deny the resurrection, angels and spirits, what he means is that they deny both an intermediate state, and a final resurrection of the body. The Sadducees were anthropological materialists, if you will. They believed the body and soul terminated at death.

Some bioethical issues are pretty cut and dry, such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and so-called “therapeutic” cloning. Other bioethical issues aren’t, such as in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood. While I tend to fall on the pro side of the first issue, and the con side of the second, I think good arguments can be made for both sides of these issues.

I would like to focus this post on surrogate motherhood. What do you think of the practice? Is it moral or is it immoral? Why or why not?

“We should respect other people’s religious views.”

While we should respect the person holding false beliefs, why respect the beliefs themselves? Would we respect the belief that grass is purple, or water freezes in the oven? No, we would consider the beliefs irrational. We might even confront the individual about the absurdity of their beliefs. So why not do the same when it comes to false religious beliefs? As Richard Dawkins wrote in A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love:

Why has our society so meekly acquiesced in the convenient fiction that religious views have some sort of right to be respected automatically and without question?” Dawkins asks. “If I want you to respect my views on politics, science, or art, I have to earn that respect by argument, reason, eloquence or relevant knowledge. I have to withstand counter-arguments. But if I have a view that is part of my religion, critics must respectively tiptoe away or brave the indignation of society at large. Why are religious opinions off limits in this way? Why do we have to respect them simply because they are religious?

“I just prefer to focus on faith.”

Faith is not a blind commitment of the will in the absence of reason. Faith is a reasoned judgment in reality. Faith’s proper object is truth. If what we have faith in does not correspond to reality, our faith is in vain. You see, faith is not virtuous in itself. It derives its value from its content. Faith is virtuous if (and only if) its contents correspond to reality. If it doesn’t, it can be destructive. To survive in the physical world we must determine what is true and false, good and bad. When we fail to properly distinguish between the two the results can be disastrous. If true beliefs help me survive in the real world, why should we think true beliefs are irrelevant to our survival in the spiritual? If false beliefs can be destructive in the physical realm, why not believe that they can be equally destructive in the spiritual realm (assuming both realms are real)? If one’s faith is in Allah, and yet Islam’s description of Allah does not correspond to the way God really is, then faith in Allah is faith in a non-reality. While one may sincerely believe in this non-reality, it is a non-reality nonetheless, no less fictional in nature than Superman. Sincerity does not make an untruth magically become true. So the issue is not faith, but the content and object of faith. If we have no reason to believe the content of our faith is true, or that the object of our faith corresponds to reality, then our faith is vacuous.

“Everyone is an individual, and I feel God respects that and works with us right where we each are in our lives.”

Why should I believe that? Why should I believe that is what God thinks? Just asserting it does not make it so. I could equally assert that God is angered with those who think He is accepting of whatever anyone chooses to believe about Him, and however they choose to seek Him. Would you find that persuasive? Of course not, because I did not supply you with any reason to accept my assertion as being true. All I did is tell you what I feel. But what I feel and what God thinks may be two very different things.

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