Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins, But Not At the Expense of Truth


Today the Supreme Court redefined marriage.  That's what the news says anyway.  For those who believe in a sovereign Lord of the Universe who is the Creator and Definer of all life and existence, we know that humans can never redefine what God has defined.  Humans can only move dangerously away from the truth.

During the arguments before the Supreme Court, one primary issue that was raised a few times by Justice Kennedy was the issue of whether marriage bestows dignity upon participants.  According to Kennedy's logic, marriage bestows dignity upon individuals and ennobles them. All people deserve dignity, no matter their sexual orientation, and that dignity is protected under the 14th Amendment. Therefore, we must allow homosexual couples to "marry," thereby bestowing dignity upon them.

The opposing lawyer argued that marriage does not bestow dignity, but rather the main purpose of marriage is centered around procreation. While I agree that this is a central purpose of marriage (not the central purpose of marriage), I believe this was a wrong move, both strategically and rationally.

Here's why: It's clear to all that marriage is a dignified institution, and those who participate in it are thereby ennobled.  So denying this runs contrary to something that's readily apparent and deeply embedded in each of us. However, the thing that makes marriage a dignified institution is not simply that we say someone is married and, "Boom!" they receive dignity from that declaration.  Rather, marriage is a dignified institution of it's very nature.  Let me elaborate.

First, marriage is dignified because at its core, marriage is the bringing together of two profoundly different and complementary individuals to become one, so that synergistically they are more complete together than they ever were apart. Genesis 2:24 says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." It's this unity in diversity that makes marriage the glorious institution that it is. And our differences extend to the very core of our being, biologically, psychologically, and even spiritually. Our gender is essential to our being. In fact, in heaven, I will not be married, but I will be male. And same-sex couples cannot experience marriage and the dignity that it confers because they are not profoundly different and complementary. They are same-sex, homo--not hetero--sexuals. As Kevin DeYoung said,
The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good. That may sound benighted, if not bigoted. But we must say it in love: codifying the indistinguishability of gender will not make for the "peace of the city." It rubs against the grain of the universe, and when you rub against the grain of divine design you're bound to get splinters. Or worse. The society which says sex is up to your own definition and the family unit is utterly fungible is not a society that serves its children, its women, or its own long term well being.
Second, and most importantly, marriage is a dignified institution because it was a established by God to picture His relationship with His people. Ephesians 5:31-32 quotes Genesis saying, "'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church." So a marriage between a man and woman profoundly pictures the gospel--the good news about Jesus. When a man sacrificially loves his wife, he pictures God's sacrificial love for us. And when a woman lovingly submits to and responds to her husband, she pictures the churches obedience and love to God. Marriage explains the gospel and the gospel explains marriage. And when we distort this by calling something same-sex "marriage" that is not marriage we only muddle people's thinking and diminish the sacredness and dignity of marriage within our culture.

Some have countered that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not take any rights away from heterosexual couples. I suspect that ultimately this will prove to be false, but more importantly this misses the larger point: When we call something "marriage" that in reality is not marriage this will inevitably lead to the erosion of the institution of marriage in our culture, and thus the erosion of a central picture of God's relationship to His people. And so our entire culture will be spiritually hurt and further bankrupted by this muddled thinking. This is why Isaiah 5:20 says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"

Some will condemn the things that I am saying as hateful and prejudiced, but that's not my heart.  In fact, if what I'm saying is true (and I believe it is), then that means that the most loving thing we can do is lovingly stand up for the truth. Those who have put their faith in Jesus are not being gracious when they capitulate on the truth. Understand this: grace is only gracious when it is not offered at the expense of the truth. That's why Paul wrote that, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6). If we really believe in Jesus, then that means that we really believe that He knows what He's talking about, whether He's addressing sexual ethics or any other subject. And so if we have faith in Jesus, then we will agree with Him that homosexual behavior is sinful, deviant, and ultimately leads down a dark path that will rob people of their joy and love. Ultimately, this sin stands in between people and their Creator Who loves them deeply, and if they don't repent they will be separated from God forever. To not tell the truth about this is the opposite of loving.

So for Christians who live in a culture that is increasingly normalizing and institutionalizing sinful behavior, let me offer five suggestions:
  1. Recognize that our hope is not in this world.  We should not feel despondent because this world is moving away from the truth. Indeed, we should expect it and expect the persecution that will accompany this. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also" (John 15:18-20). This world is not our home, and we need to remember that (Phil 3:20, John 17:15-16).
  2. Continue to uphold the picture of God's relationship to His people through biblical marriage. Christians need to uphold biblical marriage. This means that we need to be aware of what the Bible teaches about marriage, divorce and remarriage, and we must strive in our personal lives to make our marriages a clear reflection of God's relationship to His people. We must be clear that biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship. Marriage is about something bigger and more important than personal happiness (though great personal happiness is a byproduct of biblical marriage), and Christians need to understand and embrace this reality. I highly recommend the book, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller in this regard.
  3. Understand what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Christians need to be equipped to speak about homosexuality with intelligence and respect. For those who seek to be equipped in this way, Kevin DeYoung's book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? is a great place to start.
  4. Be careful to reinforce the truth with our speech. Because marriage is defined by God, there is no such thing as so-called "same-sex marriage." This is a fiction that we should not reinforce with our words. For this reason, I don't think we should use the terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage." I think in our everyday discourse, we should say "so-called gay marriage" or "so-called same-sex marriage." To use these terms only reinforces a fiction that is harming those who are engaged in it, which will make it more difficult and confusing for them should they repent.
  5. Embody both love and truth to this world that desperately needs both. We must not capitulate on the truth. But we also must be gracious and loving. Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), and Paul exhorts us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). We must love others deeply, and recognize that homosexual behavior is the result of a deep brokenness of the soul. We must be ready for same-sex couples to come into our churches and to have strategies for how we'll lovingly share the truth with them, counsel them, and walk with them as they seek to live out the truth. As a friend of mine said,
Wrestling with any form of a gender identity issue is taxing on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Struggles with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, and self-worth are all too common among those who grapple with such feelings. But, as I also know from personal experience, it is possible to struggle with gender identity issues and still live a faithful Christian life. But I have only been able to do that through knowing and experiencing both the love and the truth of Jesus Christ. And the truth is that the homosexual or transgender actions and lifestyles are sinful and God has made his attitude clear on these subjects (See Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:5). Such actions will only lead a person down a dark, dangerous, and sometimes deadly path because they do not line up with God’s intended purposes for sexuality. However, this should not diminish our kindness or affection in any capacity for people struggling with these temptations or even those who live such lifestyles out in the open. Our God and Father in heaven loves them, and because he loves them, he desires for them to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). By coming to a knowledge of the truth, they may also come to be obedient to his will in order to live a holy and pure life before him (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Christians, if we want to love those in the LGBTQ community, we have to both stand for the Truth of God’s Word and offer Grace to those who struggle with or live in that lifestyle. Only then will our love be complete and in line with God’s perfect will.
Let's resolve to love others without compromising the truth. "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6).

Friday, February 13, 2015

How To Love Someone

Paul Tripp recently posted a blog on love in which he lists 23 things that love is.  In many ways, his list could be seen as an application and exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I don't know of many people who could read this list without being convicted:

23 Things That Love Is
  1. LOVE IS... being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger.
  2. LOVE IS... actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  3. LOVE IS... making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
  4. LOVE IS... being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding.
  5. LOVE IS... being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
  6. LOVE IS... a making a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
  7. LOVE IS... being willing, when confronted by another, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
  8. LOVE IS... making a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to another is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.
  9. LOVE IS... being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged, but looking for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
  10. LOVE IS... being a good student of another, looking for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support them as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.
  11. LOVE IS... being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the relational problems you face, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
  12. LOVE IS... being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
  13. LOVE IS... recognizing the high value of trust in a relationship and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
  14. LOVE IS... speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack the other person’s character or assault their intelligence.
  15. LOVE IS... being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt the other person into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
  16. LOVE IS... being unwilling to ask another person to be the source of your identity, meaning, and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of theirs.
  17. LOVE IS... the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a spouse, parent, neighbor, etc.
  18. LOVE IS... a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your relationships.
  19. LOVE IS... staying faithful to your commitment to treat another with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when the other person doesn’t seem deserving or is unwilling to reciprocate.
  20. LOVE IS... the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of a relationship without asking for anything in return or using your sacrifices to place the other person in your debt.
  21. LOVE IS... being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm a relationship, hurt the other person, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
  22. LOVE IS... refusing to be self-focused or demanding, but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
  23. LOVE IS... daily admitting to yourself, the other person, and God that you are unable to be driven by a cruciform love without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Morning Mercies


This year I've decided to read a new devotional book along with my regular Bible reading. I've chosen the book, New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. The title of this book is based on one of my favorite passages of Scripture:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  
-Lamentations 3:21-25
Below is an excerpt from the introduction that was deeply encouraging to me. I hope it encourages you as we begin 2015!

Now, I have to be honest here—I didn’t write this devotional just for you. No, I wrote it for myself as well. There is no reality, principle, observation, truth, command, encouragement, exhortation, or rebuke in this devotional that I don’t desperately need myself. I’m like you; familiarity causes me not to treasure the gospel of Jesus Christ as I should. As the themes of grace get more and more familiar and common, they don’t capture my attention and awe as they once did. When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead. When you quit celebrating grace, you begin to forget how much you need grace, and when you forget how much you need grace, you quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give. This means you begin to see yourself as more righteous, strong, and wise than you actually are, and in so doing, you set yourself up for trouble.

So this devotional is a call for you and me to remember. It’s a call to remember the horrible disaster of sin. It’s a call to remember Jesus, who stood in our place. It’s a call to remember the righteousness that is his gift. It’s call to remember the transforming power of the grace you and I couldn’t have earned. It’s a call to remember the destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children. It’s a call to remember his sovereignty and his glory. It’s a call to remember that remembering is spiritual war; even for this we need grace.

The title of this devotional is not only a reference to the way the Bible talks about God’s grace (Lam. 3:22–23), but also an allusion to a famous hymn that I think we should sing every day.
“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They never are ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never get weary. They never fail to meet the need. They never disappoint. They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning. Formfitted for the challenges, disappointments, sufferings, temptations, and struggles with sin within and without are the mercies of our Lord. Sometimes they are:
Awe-inspiring mercies
Rebuking mercies
Strengthening mercies
Hope-giving mercies
Heart-exposing mercies
Rescuing mercies
Transforming mercies
Forgiving mercies
Provision-making mercies
Uncomfortable mercies
Glory-revealing mercies
Truth-illumining mercies
Courage-giving mercies.
God’s mercies don’t come in one color; no, they come in every shade of every color of the rainbow of his grace. God’s mercies are not the sound of one instrument; no, they sound the note of every instrument of his grace. God’s mercy is general; all of his children bask in his mercy. God’s mercy is specific; each child receives the mercy that is designed for his or her particular moment of need. God’s mercy is predictable; it is the fountain that never stops flowing. God’s mercy is unpredictable; it comes to us in surprising forms. God’s mercy is a radical theology, but it is more than a theology; it is life to all who believe. God’s mercy is ultimate comfort, but it is also a call to a brand-new way of living. God’s mercy really does change everything forever, for all upon whom this mercy is bestowed....

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jesus Loves Santa, and So Should You!


I was 7 years old.  It was Christmas Eve, and we were driving home from our annual Christmas Eve dinner with my grandparents. As I sat in the car on the drive home, looking out the window, I saw him. I saw Santa Claus!

He was flying through the sky, all lit up with his sled and flying reindeer. My brothers and sisters all clamored to see him and then we sat in amazement, talking about it for the rest of our drive home. We couldn't believe that we had seen Santa! Then when we got home, we set out cookies and milk for him (and carrots for his reindeer), and we went to bed. The next morning, we woke up to an almost-magical display of presents and colorful lights, and sitting beside the half-eaten cookies and empty cup of milk was a note from Santa. It was written in calligraphy on special stationary, and in it Santa told us that he had ripped his pants on the way down our chimney, so he was very thankful for the milk and cookies to refresh him. With a flash of excitement, I ran over to the chimney with my brother and sister and there it was: a piece of red felt. I was holding a piece of Santa's pants!

Later, I found out that the Goodyear blimp flies around with a Santa display on the side of the blimp on Christmas Eve. And I noticed that the note from Santa was written in the same calligraphy that I'd seen my mom use on special cards. But that was just a coincidence. I'm pretty sure that I saw Santa that night, and he wrote me a note, and I have a piece of his pants.

Now that I have children of my own, how to handle Santa Claus is something my wife and I have thought deeply about. We've considered the possible negative impacts of celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus. (No, I'm not talking about silly reasons like "SANTA" is an anagram of "SATAN"). There are real reasons for Christians to be cautious of Santa.
  • For one, Santa could detract from the true meaning of Christmas. There's a real danger in replacing the story of God sending His precious Son to be born into a cold, dark world with a secularized narrative about the North Pole and elves and reindeer and the like. This is an easy way to keep Christmas fun but devoid of any significant meaning or truth. In our family, we want Christmas to be about Jesus--that He came to pay for our sins and rise from the dead, conquering sin and death forever. 
  • There's also a danger that Santa can feed into our culture's commercialization of Christmas so that my children become overly obsessed with gifts and getting. Instead, we want them to feel a sense of joy in giving; to know deep within that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). 
  • And finally, Santa Claus could feed a works-based mentality--someone who checks a list and rewards good behavior while leaving coal for bad behavior is contrary to the grace of the Lord Jesus that we want our children to understand. 
But must Santa always carry this negative baggage so that he obscures the truth about Christmas? I don't think so.

I believe that Santa can communicate profound truths to children. Some stories, such as fables, fairytales, and parables are not empirically true, but still communicate profound truths about reality, God, and the human condition. Other stories are empirically true and also communicate these kind of truths. The story of the Nativity is an example of the latter, while the story of the Prodigal Son is an example of the former.  Both communicate profound truths, but only one is empirically true.

Santa embodies Christian virtues such as kindness, generosity, joy, and grace (which every child eventually realizes when they haven't been good all year long and Santa still comes through!). Of course, this depends on which version of Santa we teach to our children. Santa has been hijacked and commercialized by advertisers. So we need to be careful about focusing exclusively on Santa, allowing a wishlist to become a demand-list, or using Santa to threaten or manipulate our children. But allowing children to embrace Santa while they are young can teach them profound truths about grace and a good giver of gifts.

But what if all the excitement about Santa detracts from the excitement about Jesus?

C.S. Lewis (who, by the way, included Father Christmas in one of his Narnia books) often corresponded with readers. One youngster, 9-year-old Laurence Krieg, confessed to his mother that he might love Aslan the Lion more than he loved Jesus, and felt guilty about this. His mother wrote to the publisher, and Lewis himself responded in less than two weeks.

"Tell Laurence from me, with my love," Lewis wrote, "...[He] can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before ... I don't think he need be bothered at all." (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3, p. 1955).

Lewis's answer is brilliant. God made our imaginations and hardwired us to connect deeply with stories. Jesus himself appealed to people's imagination by telling parables—stories that communicated profound truths. He knew that stories often capture the heart and imagination in a way that rational, hard facts do not. Would Jesus rebuke someone for feeling love towards the father in the Prodigal Son? Of course not--because the very things that stir our affections towards the father in the Prodigal Son are true of God in a far greater way! And likewise Santa can stir our affections towards God. When we delight in Santa's benevolence and generosity, how much more so will we delight in the omnibeneovolent One who gave His own Son for us? Of course, our delight must not stop at Santa. But nonetheless, Santa can be a way we train our children to have their hearts and imaginations stirred towards goodness, and thus he can be a powerful way to communicate profound truths to children.

But wouldn't this mean that we're lying to our children?  

Not necessarily. For one thing, Santa Claus was a real person--Saint Nicholas. In our house, we often talk with our children about the historical person of St. Nicholas, who loved Jesus and sought to honor Jesus and be like Jesus with a life filled with generosity. My children know that Santa loves Jesus first. When my children start asking questions about Santa, we pull out a book, and read some stories about the historical person of St. Nicholas. We don't strip the story of it's magic, but we also don't strip the story of it's history. We explain that St. Nicholas became Santa Claus. We don't go into detail about how this happened, but I suspect that when my children are old enough, they'll understand this and figure it out for themselves. This is a delicate balance, but for now, it's been a very positive one in our family.

But secondly, I don't think that telling our children about Santa is an outright lie. My goal is not to deceive or manipulate my children, but rather to teach them truths by telling them a story. Santa is no more a lie than any other fairytale or parable that communicates a deeper truth.

There's one final thing about celebrating Santa that I think is extremely positive: learning a sense of wonder.

A sense of wonder is a tremendously positive thing, and my children are growing up in a world that seeks to strip this from them. They are growing up in a world that is increasingly secularized and portrayed as purely materialistic. Modernism has replaced the magic and awe people once experienced regularly with cold, propositional explanations. The existence an immaterial soul, of the spiritual world of angels and demons, and God Himself sometimes seems like an illusion. But as Christians, we know that a personal God exists, who is holy and pure and loves us deeply. He is real and substantial. He is not just wishful thinking or a psychological crutch. Although He is immaterial, He is the foundation of all reality. And He became incarnate--a human baby, our Creator, born to Joseph and Mary. And developing a sense of wonder can lead us to be people who marvel at our Creator's majesty, glory, love, and humility.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that wonder is a learned skill, and he describes how his wonder of Santa developed into wonder of His Creator:
What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way. 
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea. 
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. 
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
Santa can communicate profound truths to children, and he can stir their affections and their wonder towards a reality that is only fully realized in our Creator. And so, in my family, Santa is celebrated. Sometimes he even tears his pants.

Below are a few resources useful for anyone thinking through Christmas and Santa:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amusing Ourselves to Death



In the mid-twentieth century, two authors wrote dystopian visions of how civilization might come to be ruled by tyranny, but their visions were quite different.  George Orwell wrote 1984--a vision in which people are ruled by omnipresent governmental surveillance, manipulation, and ever-increasing regulation. In short, the vision of 1984 is a tyranny of control. In contrast to this, 17 years earlier Aldous Huxley had written Brave New World.  Huxley cast a different vision of tyranny. In Huxley's vision, civilization dies a slow-motion death through a culture of passivity, amusement, and thrill-seeking.  In short, the vision of Brave New World is a tyranny of distraction. In the forward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts these two visions:
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. 
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. 
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. 
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
While both of these books offer compelling warnings, I fear that Huxley's vision is more accurate in our culture. Distractions assault us ferociously from every direction. Self-control, restraint, temperance, and self-denial are no longer seen as a virtues. Instead, we give advice like "follow your heart" and "do what makes you happy." Our culture's battle-cry is "YOLO!" (you only live once). If we are to be faithful to Christ, we must be vigilant to stand against the tide of distractions that would wash us away in a sea of irrelevance. We must cultivate the ability to think deeply about important subjects and the virtue of sacrificially working hard. As Jesus said, we must "deny ourselves and take up our cross daily" (Luke 9:23). We must stand against the idea that happiness should be our ultimate goal, and instead embrace the truth that happiness is a byproduct of a life well-lived.  (For an excellent treatment of this, see the book by Moreland and Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness).

Huxley himself argued that our culture was headed towards his vision of a tyranny of distraction. In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell's masterpiece, he received a fascinating letter from Aldous Huxley. In this letter, Huxley briefly compares their novels and then proceeds to explain why he believes that his own, earlier work to be a more realistic prediction.  The letter is below:
Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell, 
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four. 
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest. 
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects. 
Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds. 
Thank you once again for the book. 
Yours sincerely, 
Aldous Huxley 
Source: Letters of Aldous Huxley; Image: George Orwell (via) & Aldous Huxley (via)

Trivia: In 1917, long before he wrote this letter, Aldous Huxley briefly taught Orwell French at Eton.

HT:  Letters of Note

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Mural & The Maker by Natalie Falls

I'm privileged to call Aaron and Natalie Falls my friends. I've watched their faithfulness as God drastically changed their vision for their future by entrusting to them the gift of a son with Down's syndrome. Natalie has a gift at painting emotional pictures with words, and her journey as a mother and a follower of Jesus is something we can all learn from. Natalie writes,
Elias' life and all the things I am learning through him is no mistake. There was no mistake when his extra chromosome was strategically placed by the Creator of the universe. There was no chance or fluke that a younger woman—me—would carry a boy like Elias. Everything was carefully planned and artistically woven together in my belly when God created my son.
Although today might be difficult, and I feel like there is nothing more than what's in front of me, I remember that there is a bigger picture. There is a painting, a mural that only covers a corner of the wall. How thankful I am that I am not the one with the paintbrush. I am not the one painting the strokes of color that make up my life with Elias. Some parts of the painting seem a little awkward and hard to understand, but I trust the Maker. I ask Him to help me find beauty in what I don't understand...
Natalie Falls just released her new book, The Mural & The Maker. You can download a free copy or order a print version at nataliefalls.com.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why I (Still) Cannot Accept the Ice-Bucket Challenge

In my previous post I detailed why I cannot accept the ice-bucket challenge. Since then, I've received a lot of feedback. As of writing this, my original post has over 1.5 million hits, which is a lot considering normally about 3 people read my blog (and 2 of those people are my mom and my wife). There's a few common responses I've received from a number of different people, and I wanted to take a moment to respond to each of these.

"An embyro is not a baby."

First, I've received responses from people who have been critical of my stance and argued that a fertilized embryo is merely a collection of cells--nothing remotely like a baby or child. To these people, I'd like to ask, at what point does human life begin? Greg Koukl simplifies the issue of abortion (and by extension embryonic stem cell research), saying this:
I want to simplify what some people think is a difficult issue: abortion. There is only one question that needs to be answered to resolve the moral question of abortion. That question is: what is it? What is the unborn? Abortion entails destroying and discarding something that is alive. Whether it’s right or not to do that depends entirely on the answer to only one question: what is it?
If abortion does not take the life of an innocent human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary. You don’t have to talk about choice, privacy, and your personal financial circumstances. If it doesn’t take an innocent human being’s life, just have the abortion.
However, if it does take the life of an innocent human being, then none of those justifications normally given for abortion are adequate. We do not take the lives of innocent human beings simply because they are in the way, or because we have a choice, or because we have privacy with our doctor, or any of those other reasons.
This simplifies the issue immensely. First, you figure out what is it that dies in an abortion. Then, you will have the answer to the moral question. Yes, it is that simple.
Some people may not be convinced that human life begins at conception as I am. But I think that most would concede that it's at least possible that it does. And if there's even a sliver of a chance that life begins at conception, then destroying it is evil.

Imagine this. We're about to destroy a building. It's an old, worthless building, and it needs to be demolished to make way for a new scientific research facility. It's set up for demolition with explosive charges. But then one of the workers says that they thought they heard a baby crying inside the building. There's only a chance that there's a life in there, and if we delay the demolition, then it will delay construction, and important scientific research will be delayed. Do we demolish the building anyway? No! Of course not! We do whatever we can to save the possible human life in that building. Why? Because human life is precious.  So for me, the possibility of my donation funding research fueled by dead children is unacceptable. Unless the ALS Association can guarantee that they won’t subsidize embryonic stem cell research with my donation, then I’m going to look for other places to make a difference.

"It's not like an embryo can feel pain!"

Second, I've heard from people who've said that maybe an embryo is a human life, but even so it's okay to destroy it because it doesn't have feeling or consciousness, and much good can be done by it's destruction. To these people, I'd like to ask what is it that makes human life valuable? Some would say that life is only valuable to the extent that it can be experienced. For example, Peter Singer, the Princeton University bioethics professor, has argued that abortions may be acceptable even after babies are born. He argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood (which he defines as "rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"), and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living" but rather, he says "Sometimes it is not wrong at all." But (almost) all sane people have innate moral knowledge that murdering an innocent baby is wrong. Period.

Ultimately, this line of thinking reduces to the argument that it is the quality of a person's life that determines the value of a person's life. But if that were true, then we could justify all sorts of murder! We can imagine scenarios in which people are temporarily in a coma, or paralyzed so that they cannot feel pain or experience consciousness. Surely we would not think it okay to discard these lives!

This line of thought is not a new idea. In fact, a form of this idea gained traction and popularity after emerging in the 1870s as Social Darwinism. This utilitarian ethic roots the value of human life in how an individual human can benefit humanity as a whole. It holds that the Darwinian concept of "survival of the fittest" can be applied to societal structures so that we weed out weak humans while promoting the survival of strong humans, thus bettering humanity and society. This concept ultimately paved the path which the Nazi's used to justify the holocaust, claiming they were weeding out society's weak elements.

By contrast, the Christian perspective is that human life is valuable because we are each created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6). We each reflect and represent God to a degree, and so humans have distinctive value and worth among God's creation.  And so each human life is precious and valuable, not based upon how much of life it experiences or the quality of a person's life or its contribution to humanity, but rather human life is intrinsically valuable because our very nature (albeit corrupted by sin) reflects the majesty of our Creator.

"Why not participate in the ice-bucket challenge and send your donation elsewhere?"

Many people have pointed out that there are many commendable pro-life organizations doing great work for ALS that I could direct my donation to.  So, they ask, why don't I just accept the challenge, and then send my donation to one of these organizations? Let me try to answer this.

My thought was this: If I accept the ice-bucket challenge, and mention at the end of the challenge that I'm donating to a pro-life organization, then most likely the next few people who accept my challenge may do the same--which would be great. But by the time it passes to a few people down the line, I'm guessing the pro-life message would be lost and people would be donating to the ALS Association again. In other words, the ice-bucket challenge is just as much about raising publicity as it is about raising money, and I didn't want to send publicity in the wrong direction by participating in the challenge that the ALS Association designed. What I was hoping would happen is that someone would be creative and start a different type of challenge that I could participate in (maybe dumping colored water on your head, or something entirely different--I'm not that creative). That's what I was trying to get at at the end of my previous blog entry. Also, at this point, it seems that not doing the challenge (at least for me) was a far more effective way to reach people about the serious ethical problems of embryonic stem cell research.

Just to be clear in regards to this last question, if you think about this and still decide to take the challenge and donate to a pro-life organization, then I have absolutely no judgment of you whatsoever. In my mind, this is not a black and white issue. It's a delicate balance of trying to live in this world without being of this world, and that may look different for different people.

So my encouragement is the same as before. Please think deeply about the causes you support and your reasons for supporting them. Don't jump on the bandwagon in a frenzy to belong and be part of something. Jump on the bandwagon because you've thoughtfully decided that the bandwagon is a virtuous place to be.

"What pro-life organizations can I donate towards that will benefit people with ALS?"

Many people have asked me (or told me) about alternate places to donate that will not support embryonic stem cell research. I have chosen to only publicize organizations that I have personally been able to confirm do not support embryonic stem cell research. The only medical research organization with research focused on ALS that I have seen be publicly explicit about not doing embryonic stem cell research is the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. You can make donations at their website: www.jp2mri.org

One alternative worthy cause is Judson's Legacy, which focuses on a rare genetic disorder known as Krabbe disease. This organization was founded by personal friends of mine who I've watched walk through some of the darkest times I could imagine, and yet have found hope in the midst of tremendous suffering and pain.  Check out their website for more information: judsonslegacy.org

"How can I be better equipped to think about these important issues?"

Finally, some people have contacted me asking how they can be better equipped to think about these important issues.  Below are some resources on pro-life issues to help you be equipped to know what you believe and why you believe it so that you can stand for life. This world needs more thoughtful, intelligent, warmhearted Christians who wear Christ attractively, so that this world sees our message as credible and true. I've listed these resources in order from beginner resources (for those who are just beginning to explore these sorts of questions), to more advanced resources (for those with deeper questions). I sincerely hope these are helpful!