April 30, 2009

Humanist Ethics & Arrogance

In her post, Is Humanism Arrogant?, Terri Murray offers an undergraduate level textbook recitation of divine command theory, attributing the position to Christian "theocrats", theologians and otherwise, who engage in a worldview analysis that draws the conclusion that humanist ethical theory represents arrogance because it ultimately lacks any epistemic foundation. Oh yeah, she never explained the reasoning of these "theocrats."

Terri fails in this post, not because she created a strawman--yes, there is much more to Christian ethics than divine command theory--not because she doesn't answer the "theocrat" according to the strawman she set up in the first place, but because she never actually offers an explanation for how humanists "understand" ethics. Frankly, I'm not even sure what "understand" means, unless she is referring to how they ground ethics. If this is the case, she might have better expressed it as an accounting of ethics. So how do humanists account for ethics?

Every worldview has a self-sufficient. In biblical Christianity, the self-sufficient is the God of Scripture. In humanism, the self-sufficient is man who, through the use of reason, locates right and wrong, the ethical and unethical. But in the history of humanity, man has proven that the use of reason never yields the same conclusions among all men. Reason fails. Science is not ethics, science is a descriptive discipline, ethics is a prescriptive discipline. Science can never speak for ethics, it can only offer choices to ethics. Humanism fails the test for objective ethics, and with relativism as that which remains, humanist ethics can never speak for everyone, nor would it ever try to. The fact remains, humanism simply cannot account for right and wrong, because humanism cannot escape relativism. And that's why the charge of arrogance hovers over humanist ethics.

Abortion: The Debate's Transition to the Private Realm

During last night's 100 day press conference, President Obama declared--almost word for word to previous statements--his position on abortion. Even though he isn't a great speaker, he likely is a wordsmith on paper and has framed this language in such a way that it sounds logical, caring, respectful of religion, and dare I say, even centrist.
You know, my view on abortion I think has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they suggest — and I don’t want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with, and families and individual women have to wrestle with.
There is some serious strategy going on here. I believe what Obama is trying to do is de-politicize abortion for the sake of the pro-abortion position. By referring to it as a moral issue that "families and women have to wrestle with" he is eliminating the notion of objective morality and linking abortion instead the realm of private values. But if the debate remains tied most dominately to the extreme feminist, reproductive rights movement, abortion remains open to public debate amongst ideological foes, each with the assumption that there is an objectively correct answer. And if that debate continues to rage, Obama can't appear as if he is taking no side. But there is more.
The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day, and I think they are in a better position to make these decision ultimately than members of Congress or a President of the United States — in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy. So that’s been my consistent position.
There is a ton to address in this portion of his statement, but what I want to focus your attention to the "private" relationships he mentions, between a woman and her family, doctor, clergy. His administration's work to mute the public abortion debates leaves it in the realm of these private relationships...and take note that religion is removed from the public realm (no surprise) into the private life of the woman. This is the only place where religion has a voice in the matter.

This statement he makes is clearly driven toward a removal of religious voices from the public square, and the fact that he consistently makes his position known suggests his words need to be closely examined. If the Obama administration succeeds in muting the debate, even if only on the side of the pro-aborts, religious voices will be even further marginalized and secularism will be the default worldview, even among those who identify themselves as Christian. And we see a lot of that occuring already.

April 16, 2009

Mama's Got a Fake I.D. (Book Review)

Mama's Got a Fake I.D. (Book Review)
Author: Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
Waterbrook Press, 204 pages

This is not a book about egalitarianism vs complementarianism, career women vs. stay-at-home moms. It is also not a treatise against feminism. But before I even opened the pages of the book, I was struck by the blurb on the back cover. Check it out:

"No one begins life as a mom. Before you have children, you are an amazing combination of friend, daughter, confidant, visionary, encourager, and thinker. You start out in life using your gifts and abilities in a surprising variety of settings. Then you have children and the role of mom-as wonderful as it is-seems to consume you. It's easy to lose your identity when others see you as a mom and little else. What happened to the artist, the teambuilder, the organizer, the entrepreneur, the leader--the person you lost touch with?"

Frankly, if this is all anyone read of the book, they would understand clearly the author's intention is grant moms the permission to use their gifts and talents to the glory of God, to remind them that they can be a mom and a writer, singer, cook, puzzle solver, or trumpet player. These moms have teaching gifts, communication gifts, leadership abilities, can enjoy fixing small appliances, and planting a garden. To remember that these things contribute to your identity, including who you are as a mom, is neither to elevate them over motherhood or to intice women to leave the home to pursue a career. They simply are....and all that from the back cover!

I eventually want to get to some of the actual meat of this book, but knowing what so many women in the church are reading and believing, I find it necessary to deal with the ideas associated with the confusion many women will no doubt have about this book. Let me be clear, this is not pop-psychology baptized in scripture, but it offers a real biblical alternative to the spiritualized ascetism that has been mandated for women in the evangelical community. Being a mom, a mom who loves being a mom, a mom devoted to her family and her Lord, need not be a woman who buries her gifts, hides her interests, and squanders her talents.

"When we wrestle with our identities, we want to know who specifically we are. Who we were made to be. Why we're gifted the way we are--and how that fits into our role as mom as well as our lives as women who follow Jesus."

When conversations ensue about women's roles, I believe a great deal of equivocating is done. When we talk about the identity of a woman there is no necessary denegration of her role as mom. Yet the two are often confused. As well, I believe the encyclopedic fallacy is committed when we speak of the lives of women. The Bible simply does not provide exhaustive details of how women's lives ought to manifest day to day. Caryn points out in this quote, clearly not pitting our identities against our roles, how God created us in his image, yet unique in desires, gifts, and talents to function in our own unique life circumstance. Sure, many women are mothers, but not all women are married to the same man in the same house with the same income. Our lives are as unique as our identities. As I believe this book aptly addresses, our role as mom can often overshadow how we are moms.

There are no generic Christians and that moms are getting stuck with generic identification inhibits the disciple-making and fellowship of the church. While our faith represents for us the only worldview that believes in a personal God in touch with the intimate details of our lives, our church life often communicates otherwise. Caryn implores us to adopt a refreshing alternative:

"We love who your kids are, and we love who you are. We can't wait to see what God has in store for you. We know that your gifts, your personality, your passions, and your whole self can enhance this community."

Mama's Got a Fake I.D. will give you the courage to be who you are, not because you have any particular rights or demands that ought to be heard, but because God created you to serve your family and the body of Christ in very unique ways. Generic products have come a long way over the years, but the labels simply hide the essence of the product within. This book is as much for the church as it is for women who might be struggling with their own identity, or wondering if it is ok for them to retain the gifts and interests God has poured into them. WFC

April 9, 2009

Secularism Need not be the Death Knell of Christianity

Newsweek’s proclamation of The End of Christian America leaves a sense of despair in the minds of many Christ-followers this Holy Week. We have heard President Obama state recently that America is neither a Christian or Muslim country, and now we read in the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) that the percentage of individuals claiming no religious affiliation has almost doubled. But there is more. The northeast quadrant of the United States is identified by the survey as a new “stronghold for the religiously unidentified.” This is not entirely unexpected as we have seen the ongoing decline of religious influence in academic institutions located in this region, institutions that were originally established to some extent to advance God’s Kingdom. And the concentration of liberal politicians in this region of the country has been noticeable for many years.

Observing that the momentum of the current political climate is resulting in a greater secularization of the American mind, I suspect that the numbers presented in this ARIS report will likely increase in the next five years. As Christian doctors continue to have their right of conscience threatened, as institutions like Notre Dame make an impractical distinction between the office of President and his ideology, and as common, every day believers hand over their religious freedom of expression for a mythical notion of neutral language and practice, I think we will see these numbers increase throughout the country. But this is not the end of Christianity and God is not dead. America may no longer be easily identified as a “Christian nation,” but the work of the church has not ceased.

American Christians do not really know what it means to be persecuted. Yet on a relative scale, I do believe that the infractions against conservative religious voices will motivate an uprising of American Christians willing to challenge the rising tide of intolerance. The question for Christian conservatives is, are we willing to work harder AND smarter to impact individual’s lives that will ultimately have an impact on the overall worldview of our society? In theory, we are all willing, but are we willing to stake our lives and reputation on an explicit expression of the Christian worldview? Perhaps we can even take some responsibility for the problem of secularization for preferring a godless conservative language and approach over that which is consistently and unabashedly Christian. That is not a battle between the conservative vs. the secular, but the Christian vs the secular.