Sin


Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Let me give you two examples where Christians cannot seem to win with non-Christians.

Non-Christians will often complain that Christians are hypocrites, by which they mean we do not live up to our own moral codes. While we say people should do X, we ourselves fail to do X. And yet, these same people will complain when one Christian calls out another Christian for their immoral behavior. Now the complaint is “you shouldn’t judge” (not recognizing that they themselves are making a judgement when they say “you should not judge” – and thus being hypocritical themselves – and that they make a judgment when they say Christians are hypocrites). So let me get this straight. Christians are damned if they fail to live up to their own moral standards, and they are damned if they try to encourage each other to live up to their own moral standards. Can we win?

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Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Our eternal destination is not determined by our sin, but by our Savior. If no good work can earn salvation, then no evil work can forfeit our salvation. All Christians commit sin. We are saved, not because we stop sinning, but because we trust in the One who never sinned.

Part of our theodicy for the problem of evil includes the point that it was logically impossible for God to create a world in which humans enjoyed free will (a good thing), and yet were unable to use that freedom to choose evil as well as the good. I accept that as true, and yet Christianity proclaims there is coming a day in which there will be a world consisting of humans with libertarian free-will, who will never choose evil: heaven. The future hope of Christians seems to undermine one of the central premises in our theodicy. Can this be reconciled?

Some have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because we’ll be in the beatific presence of God. Presumably, the angels exist in the beatific presence of God, and yet many of the angels chose to rebel against God in that state. This alone, then, cannot explain why humans won’t sin in heaven.

Others have suggested that we will not sin in heaven because God will glorify our humanity. But this is not a solution; it is an admission of the problem. Glorification is being put forward, not to show that such a world cannot exist, but rather to explain how it will become a reality. If in the future God is able—through glorification—to make human beings such that they have free will, and yet will not choose evil, then it falsifies the claim that God cannot create a world in which humans enjoy libertarian free will, and yet never choose evil. Indeed, He will do so in the future. In light of such, we might ask why God did not do this from the onset. Why didn’t He create humans in a glorified state to begin with, if glorified humans can exercise free will and yet not choose evil?

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smoking-nuns11Most American Christians have identified smoking or chewing tobacco as sinful, but what is the Biblical basis for this conclusion?  There is no verse that says “Thou shalt not smoke.”  So why should we think it’s morally wrong?

The two reasons I typically hear are related to (1) health and (2) addiction.  Regarding health, the verse appealed to is often 1 Corinthians 3:17 in which Paul says God will destroy those who defile the temple of God.  The temple is understood to be the human body, so anything that destroys the human body is sinful.  I’m not convinced this is the right interpretation of the verse, but let’s run with it for the sake of argument.  There’s no question that smoking cigarettes is not good for the body.  It’s unhealthy and thus unwise, but is this enough to warrant considering it sinful?  How many other things do we consume that are unhealthy for us?  Are we prepared to call too much consumption of chocolate, ice cream, soda, red meat, and the like sinful as well?  These are also unhealthy when consumed too much.  One may object that while these things are unhealthy, they do not typically kill the person who consumes them.  That may be true of each item individually, but not necessarily as a whole.  A person who consumes too much sugar, fat, etc. often develops diseases such as diabetes or cancer, and some die as a result.  If we’re not prepared to consider it a sin to eat too much ice cream  or drink too much soda, then why are we so quick to consider smoking a sin?  Perhaps we should consider both to be sin, but I doubt most would see it that way (you can pry my ice cream container away from my cold, dead hands!!).

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I am no prophet, but based on the current trends in our culture, I think the following may be the cultural and moral battles of the near future:

  1. Normalization of sex between adults and underage teens (age ~14-17)
  2. Genetically modified designer babies (for health, longevity, intelligence, etc.)
  3. Sexual reproduction to be replaced by the scientific engineering of babies (babies created and grown in the lab – artificial wombs)
  4. Temporary marriages
  5. Marriage to robots and animals
  6. Normalization of adultery and open marriages
  7. Parental “ownership” of their children will be denied
  8. Some animals will be deemed “persons” with rights
  9. Nature rights will spread
  10. Infanticide

Do you agree or disagree?  Any items you would add to or remove from the list?

Finally, something has been done about the Episcopalian Church’s flagrant acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in defiance of Church of England’s teaching. The pessimist in me thinks this disciplinary action is not enough, is just delaying the inevitable split of the church, and was probably forced upon the Church of England’s native leaders by its conservative bodies abroad.  I would love to hear the thoughts of anyone living in England or part of the Episcopalian Church.

Cohabit - Not MarriageThe American College of Pediatricians explains why cohabitation is bad for society in just about every way imaginable.  And yet cohabitation continues to rise as the folk wisdom says it will increase one’s chances of marital success.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The most happiness does not come from receiving the benefits of marriage (sex, playing house) without actual marriage, but from marriage itself.

 

See also: The sociology of cohabitation: “Shacking up” isn’t such a good idea after all

Empty BedThe predominant sexual ethic today is built on three moral principles: 1) Consent; 2) No harm involved; 3) Whatever feels good.  As long as it feels good, no one is getting hurt, and those involved are consenting to it, it is deemed to be morally acceptable.  Timothy Hsiao has written a great article showing why consent and harmlessness are not sufficient to justify a sexual behavior.

Regarding consent, Hsiao argues that consent ought to be based on what is good for us (not just desired by us), and thus the inherent goodness of the act – not just consent – is required. Furthermore, to give consent is to give someone moral permission to do what they would not be justified in doing absent the consent. Giving consent, then, presumes that one has the moral authority to give that permission to another. But if one lacks the moral authority to grant such permissions, consent is not sufficient to make an act ethical. If the act in question is not morally good, then the consenter lacks the proper authority to give consent.

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LifeWay Research conducted a survey of 1000 American adults and 1000 Protestant pastors to get their take on what is considered a justifiable divorce and what is not.  Only 38% of Americans think it is a sin to get a divorce on the grounds that a couple no longer loves one another.  It’s no wonder we have so much divorce.

Ironically, the percentage of American people who see divorce as being wrong is consistent, despite the reason.  For example, 39% think it is sin to divorce one’s spouse for adultery, and 37% think it’s a sin to divorce one’s spouse due to physical abuse.  Protestant pastors, on the other hand, were much more discriminate.  Here is a chart detailing the responses:

divorce-is-a-sin-when-1024x950

CohabitationCohabitation – the politically correct term for what used to be called “shacking up” – has become very common in our day.  Nearly 8 million opposite-sex couples live together today, compared to less than 1 million 30 years ago.  Nearly 10% of all opposite-sex couples are cohabiting, and over half of all first marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation.

How did we get here?

How did cohabitation go from being illegal in all states prior to 1970 and held in moral contempt by society at large to being so ubiquitous and accepted today?  There are several reasons:

  • The sexual revolution removed the moral stigma of premarital sex.
  • Our culture has moved from a culture of traditions and social conformity to a culture of individualism and personal gratification.
  • We shifted from a deontological view of morality to a pragmatic and relativistic view of morality in which any activity that does not cause harm to others is morally permissible.
  • The recognition of the fragility of marriage, and a corresponding fear of divorce.
  • The rise of feminism which rejected the traditional roles played by married women. Cohabitation promised personal autonomy and more relationship equity.
  • The increasing economic independence of women made marriage less necessary for them. And men, who are generally more fearful of commitment, supported the arrangement since it still provided for their needs of sexual gratification and domestic support.[1]

Cohabitation is not what it seems

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The evidential problem of evil points to the improbability that the amount of evil we see in the world – particularly gratuitous evil – would exist if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists.  The argument usually takes the following form:

(1)   If God exists, gratuitous evil would not exist
(2)   Gratuitous evil exists
(3)   Therefore God does not exist 

Many theists attempt to undermine this argument by attacking the veracity of premise two.  For example, William Lane Craig and William Alston argue that humans are not in an epistemic place to judge any act of evil as gratuitous since we cannot see the big picture of history.  For all we know, an act of seemingly gratuitous evil will result in a greater good years or even centuries from now, either in the life of the person who experienced the evil or in the life of another person in another country.  Our cognitive limitations should not be used as evidence that gratuitous evil exists.  At best we must remain agnostic on the question.

This is an appeal to the Greater-Good Defense, which argues that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all evils—including those that appear gratuitous to us—such as using them to bring about some greater good that could not have been brought about apart from those evils.

In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi, Kirk R. MacGregor provides some reasons for thinking that this response to the evidential problem of evil is misguided.  Just because our cognitive and temporal limitations make it impossible for us to prove that any act of evil is truly gratuitous does not mean that gratuitous evil does not exist.  He argues that the belief that some evils are gratuitous is a properly basic belief.  For example, we do not believe that every time we are bitten by a mosquito or stub our toe, that these evils have some greater purpose or will be used to accomplish a greater good.  Such things make virtually no difference in our own lives, yet alone on the grand scheme of things.  Given the proper basicality of belief in gratuitous evil, MacGregor says the burden of proof is on those who would deny the existence of gratuitous evils, and to meet their burden of proof they must explain how every instance of gratuitous evil actually results in some greater good.  This is not possible, and thus the person who believes in the existence of gratuitous evil is prima facie justified in maintaining that belief, even given his cognitive and temporal limitations.

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I have a theory about racism.  While I know racism is real, I think a lot of what passes for racism is actually a misdiagnosis of ethnocentrism (the idea that one’s culture is superior to others).

Each culture has its own unique worldview, values, and practices.  Humans tend to be suspicious of worldviews/values/practices that differ from their own.  In some cases, we can even despise all or some aspect of certain cultures (often for illegitimate reasons such as “I had an experience in which a person of X race did me wrong, therefore I don’t like people of X race”).  Many times, the skin color of the people in the culture we despise differs from our own as well.  But is the color of their skin the cause of the animosity?  No, I don’t think so.  The person from culture A with skin color B despises people from culture X with skin color Y, not because he hates skin color Y, but because skin color Y serves to identify the people who belong to the culture who thinks/acts in ways he despises.  In other words, race is incidental to the animosity, not the source.

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People often talk about “struggling” with some particular sin.  What they want you to believe is that they are really trying to stop doing X, but keep being overcome by the sin despite their strong desire to the contrary.  It’s not their fault; sin made them do it!  While there is no question that we genuinely struggle with sinful desires, when we sin, we always sin by choice.  So the next time someone wants to make excuses for their sin by labeling it a struggle, call them on the carpet.  What they are really struggling with is the conviction they feel whenever they choose to sin.  To lessen the guilt they call it a “struggle,” and claim to be sin’s victim rather than its perpetrator.  Do they want to stop sinning?  But if one continues in the same sin, it is probably due to the fact that their desire to keep sinning is stronger than their desire to stop sinning.  None of us is forced to sin.  Paul said God will always provide a way of escape when we are tempted.  We sin by choice.  Let’s not try to kid ourselves or others by continuing in our sin and labeling it a “struggle.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.  I’ve long suspected that this is a myth driven by a poor definition of “Christian.”  Many people are only nominal Christians; i.e. while they profess to be a Christian, there is little evidence from their conduct and beliefs that they are.

It seems my suspicions are correct.  The Pew Forum released a summary of recent reassessments of the data that found a strong correlation between church attendance and divorce rates. Brian Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, concluded that “Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.”

Switzerland wants to de-criminalize adult, consensual incest.  What do you think of this move?  Do you think incest should be de-criminalized?  All of it, or just certain forms (e.g. de-criminalizing incest between siblings, but keeping father-daughter incest illegal)?  

For Christian readers of this blog who may disagree with it, I would like to know how you reconcile your opposition to incest with examples of incest in the Old Testament.

In May of this year Gallup polled Americans to determine what behaviors they found morally acceptable and unacceptable.  Sixteen behaviors were evaluated, and here are the results:

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One of the objections against studying and using apologetics I often hear from fellow Christians is, “It doesn’t work.”  Why do they think this?  Because they learned a few evidences for the Christian faith, tried them out on unbelievers, and discovered that it didn’t make everyone immediately fall down on their face in repentance.  So, they concluded apologetics do not work.  If by “work” they mean successful 100% of the time in causing conversion, I would agree.  But surely this can’t be the standard by which we judge success.  If it is, then we would also have to deem the simple Gospel presentation a failure as well since the majority of people who hear it do not convert to Christianity.  Even Jesus failed to persuade the vast majority of all those He encountered.

The problem is not with the message/method/evidence, but with the heart of man.  According to Paul, unbelievers suppress the knowledge of God so they can continue in their moral rebellion (Romans 1).  Unbelief is primarily moral and volitional in nature, and only secondarily intellectual.  It should be no surprise, then, that intellectual arguments fail to persuade some people: they do not want to be persuaded.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”  And yet, rational arguments for the Christian faith can be instrumental in leading the open-hearted to faith in Christ.  Indeed, many former atheists can testify to the fact that apologetics “worked” to bring them to a belief in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is no magic bullet, but it is a valuable tool in our evangelistic tool box.

This is a travesty of justice.  A woman killed her neo-Nazi husband while he was sleeping, and will not serve any jail time for doing so.  And it’s not because she was found to be mentally insane.  It’s because her husband was seen to be such a bad guy.  Indeed, he was.  He was a white supremacist, a child pornographer, an abuser, and had the materials to make a bomb.  Nevertheless, he was a human being.  He needed to experience justice for his crimes, but being killed was not the appropriate form of justice, and his wife was not the appropriate person to determine his punishment.  There is no question that she needed to remove herself and her daughter from this man’s influence, but divorce and/or relocation could have accomplished this.  Killing him was not necessary.  Given the woman’s circumstances I could understand if the court might have lessened her prison sentence, but to let her go scot-free is wrong.  This sends a message to society that murder is justifiable so long as the person you are murdering is a bad person.  How many other women might be emboldened to kill their abusive or crazy husbands as a result of this case?  This is what happens when sentimentalism is elevated in a society.  It can even trump the rule of law.

Scott posed an interesting question to me that both of us thought would be a good blog topic: Would it be moral for a man to marry a conjoined twin, or would such constitute polygamy, or even adultery?

Let’s call the conjoined girls Mary and Martha.  You wish to marry Martha, but not Mary.  Martha accepts your proposal, and Mary has consented to the relationship you’ll have with her sister (she even promises to be at your wedding J ).  Would it be immoral to marry Martha under such circumstances.  Why or why not?

This past weekend I flew to Virginia.  On the lavatory door there reads a sign: “No smoking in lavatory.”  Anyone who knows the English language would interpret this as a clear message prohibiting smoking.  But what if there was another sign on an adjacent wall that read, “If you smoke, please dispose of your cigarette butt in this receptacle, not the trash can”?  Surely I would think the airline did not take its no-smoking rule too seriously.  I would see the sign as a sort of wink-wink that it is really ok to smoke in the lavatory, even if the airline would prefer that I don’t.  In other words, the second sign demotes the meaning of the first sign from a command, to a mere suggestion.  

I see a parallel to the sex education we offer children and students in many parts of this nation.  We tell them they should abstain from sexual relations prior to marriage, but then give them condoms and birth control.  Wink-wink.  Handing them the condom/pill negates the authority of the first message. 

Some will argue that we’re only passing out condoms and birth control to protect teens who have no intentions of obeying the “no sex rule.”  It’s the “they’re going to do it anyway so we might as well help them do it safely” objection.  But why think they are going to do it anyway?  Maybe if they thought their parents and educators were serious when they say “don’t have sex,” they wouldn’t “do it anyway.”  The didn’t “do it anyway” 50 years ago, because they knew the culture was serious about its no-sex rule.  But how can they take that command seriously today, when we utter the same rule, but give them a condom right afterward?  

I know this is a controversial topic, even among Christians.  I myself have been conflicted about it.  On the one hand, I don’t want to send mixed messages, taking back with one hand what I gave with the other.  On the other hand, I know some kids are going to have sex no matter how strongly we preach a no-sex-until-marriage message, and I would rather that they don’t get STDs or pregnant in the process.  So I see some wisdom in both approaches, but I see more wisdom in setting the proper expectations of our children.  No one smokes on airplanes anymore because the airlines couldn’t be more clear about their prohibition on smoking.  Even the chain-smoker-though he may be dying for a cigarette-won’t light up on that four hour flight because he knows there will be consequences for his actions.  Isn’t the same thing possible for our sex-crazed teens if they know society means what they say when they tell them not to have sex?  I’m not so idealistic as to think we’ll eliminate the behavior, but I’m not so stupid to think we’ll get teens to curb their sexual desires by giving them the tools they need to engage in them a little more safely.  At least, that’s the way I see it.

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