Ethics & Morality Archives

Part 5: Becoming Truly Relevant And Truly Counter-Cultural

We Must Never Stop Evangelizing

If you’ve read the first 4 parts of this series, and have made it to this final post, I thank you. Hopefully, whether or not you fully agree with my argument, you have at least taken a hard look at the issues I’ve been discussing. However, if past experiences I’ve had in attempting to discuss this topic are any indication, then I fear that those fully entrenched in the pragmatic approach of evangelical capitalism – those truly in need of hearing my arguments – will have already left the conversation. If that has occurred, then it is unfortunate, because I believe that this issue is critical to how we, as evangelicals, conduct our lives in the 21st century.

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    Part 4: When “Personally Feeling Good And Being Happy” Is Our Goal

    A Cultural Laziness Which Has Evolved From An Attitude That Life’s Main Goal Is To Have Fun

    20100911-_MG_0833 It seems that our culture has come to expect to be catered to – to have their needs (felt needs) met. It also seems that we have moved from living as pragmatic narcissists to that of entitlement-expecting narcissists with a hedonistic bent. In the secular realm, catering to those felt needs is simply a business transaction; but in matters related to the spiritual, such catering can have eternal consequences.

    In discussing the general attitudes of the younger generation with a friend from work, she told me of an e-mail she received from one of the coaches from her son’s baseball team. It had to do with what this coach has seen with the kids he’s coached and how it is also reflected in the college grads he’s hired. He titled his e-mail The Coddled Generation. Here are some excerpts,

    Last night I was watching a 60 Minutes program about motivation in the work place and the uniqueness of the generation entering careers in 2011.

    The show was really interesting, both from the perspective of an employer as well as a baseball coach. On this particular show, the coaching professionals interviewed were motivators and trainers used by businesses – experts on the emerging generation of workers and how best to speak to and communicate with them. The show highlighted fun and wacky office cultures like Google and Zappos where strange outfits are commonplace, happy hours are frequent and workers can take turns in the “nap room.” This was designed to show how corporate structure has evolved to help make workers comfortable, keep them happy and engaged, and ultimately increase productivity.

    At one point, one of the consultants interviewed described this generation as “The Coddled Generation,” and then went on to describe how their upbringing has led to a completely different worker. This expert referenced school environments where Mom calls to complain about a grade, where simply showing up is reason for celebration, and where trophies are awarded to each and every athlete.

    I honestly believe that the culture has changed, and there are two main differences:

    A lack of desire to be outstanding…

    A need for coddling and hand-holding

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      Part 3: When Christianity Is About The Experience, Feelings Become Paramount

      An Emotion-Based View Of Christianity, Giving Too Much Importance To The Feelings Of An Individual And To That Of Making Converts

      At the heart of the twenty-first century Western model of Christian evangelism is the scripture found in Matthew 28 – what is commonly referred to as The Great Commission.

      Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

      - Matthew 28:19 ESV

      With this verse Christians have, in sincere and fervent zeal, taken the Gospel message of Christ to all the nations of the earth. Unfortunately, and in spite of their zeal, some may have missed the true intent of the verse. Note that the reference I show above ends not with a period, but with a comma. The folks at Stand to Reason promote the principle of Never Read a Bible Verse[23], which is a pithy way of saying that one should never read a snippet of scripture (or any text, for that matter) without understanding the context of the passage the snippet is contained in. Using this principle, a better reference for The Great Commission would be Matthew 28:16-20, the paragraph which contains Matthew 28:19.

      Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

      - Matthew 28:16-19 ESV Read the rest of this entry

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        Part 2: When A Church Is Run As A Business, It Can’t Help But Be About The Bottom-line

        A Pragmatic Mindset Derived More From Capitalism Than From Scripture

        It is my opinion that the United States became a rich and powerful nation due, in part, to the aspects of capitalism which cater to the ability of humans to self direct their will towards goals, achieving them through determination, discipline and hard work. It is not difficult to find story after story of entrepreneurs who took little to nothing and built empires through their perseverance. Yet, hard work alone was not the recipe for success these people used. There were, and are, plans – business plans, marketing methodologies, sales approaches, growth models, etc.

        20101119-_MG_1095 (2) Just about every salesman is schooled on how to entice a potential customer with the product he is selling, convincing the customer that he needs the product – regardless of whether or not the customer does, in fact, need the product. You may have heard the idiom, “He could sell ice to Eskimos!”[7], describing the abilities of a top salesman to sell a product to an unlikely buyer. Or consider the various marketing strategies employed by establishments wishing to get customers inside their stores – all for the purpose of pitching products to them. The “loss leader”[8] strategy stresses the point of selling one product at or below production costs for the sole purpose of being able to put other “for profit” products in front of the customer. It’s a gamble – a bet – that the customer will not leave the store with only the “for loss” product. And who among us has not had product B pitched to us via means of first having product A presented? For example, at a Bass Pro shop I recently had a timeshare presentation pitched to me after being enticed to win a new truck by just “entering a drawing.” Then there is the “bait and switch”[9] approach in which the customer is led to believe they are getting product A when, in fact, they are sold a cheaper product B. It should be noted that one common feature of any sales approach is that the product is dressed up – enticed – to appear as indispensible to the buyer. Is it any wonder, then, that the phrase “Caveat Emptor”[10] – “Let the buyer beware” – came about?

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          Part 1: An Introduction to the Problem Facing the 21st Century Western Church

          The “Takeover and Colonization of Christianity”

          20100410-_MG_8446 Twenty-first century Western Christianity is in dire straits. Europe exists in a post-Christian state, and many believe that the United States is effectively on a path towards that same end. While some may argue that there has been a resurgence of evangelical growth, what with such phenomena as the megachurch or emergent church movements, it seems that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to affiliate themselves with no religion[1]. Whereas up through the mid-twentieth century one could expect an average United States citizen to understand the tenets of a Judeo-Christian heritage, a worldview of pluralism is now permeating the environment, essentially deadening secular society’s sensory receptors pertaining to moral truths. Strangely enough, we find that this state of affairs has occurred despite the West having experienced over 60 years of peace, prosperity, and religious freedom. Or, perhaps, I should state that this condition has occurred because of said peace, prosperity, and religious freedom.

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            Why Do People Do This?

            This (feels?) like a theme/meme I’ve run into many times. Quoting from here:

            There is much to be said about shame, but I struggle with the search for antidotes.  Those who make us feel shame are also most likely to chide us for suffering from it.  Part of Shelley’s point is that at the least, misrecognition of shame is to be avoided.  And some of the sources she identifies in her comment are the product of the wrong ideals; for example, receiving government assistance is a source of shame in a culture in which people with lucky and uneventful lives hold up extreme individualism and self-sufficiency as an ideal for everyone, while fancying they live up to this ideal.

            Focus on the italicized (italics mine) sentence. Surely those who feel themselves not in the group of those “making us feel shame” are the ones who will be empathetically trying to assist those feeling said shame to get past, get over, and not feel that shame. Which in turn concentrates attention on that shame … making it felt. It might be just as likely that those who notice, empathise and try to rid us of our shame just plain make it worse … and possibly are even more prevalent than those who would “chide us” for it.

            And who “makes anyone” feel shame? Shame, it seems to me, comes from a shared recognition of a failure to hold to a communal standard? No individual can make a shared understanding occur or create a communal standard. Only an extreme individualist might hold this as the fault of an individual. Right?

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              Rusty Nails (SCO v. 35)

              If you drove on a public highway yesterday, then you almost killed someone else in a head-on collision
              Or so goes the logic which was applied to Joe Zamudio. Zamudio was the armed citizen who happened to be buying cigarettes inside a store near where Gabby Giffords was conducting her constituent meet-up. Upon hearing (and recognizing) the gunshots, he ran towards the scene and helped secure the alleged shooter. While he considered drawing his weapon, his assessment of the situation upon his arrival was to keep it holstered. From an LA Times article, we read,

              A bystander with a Ruger intent on ending the violence almost shot the wrong guy. But he made a split-second decision to keep the weapon in his pocket.

              (emphasis added)

              So, as Massad Ayoob, firearms trainer and podcaster, says,

              …by that standard, if you’re listening to this podcast while driving, you just “almost” had a hundred head-on collisions with traffic in the opposite lane.

              You can listen to an extended interview of Zamudio, by the Ayoob group, in which he explains not only what happened that day he was buying cigarettes, but afterwards with the media. The Zamudio interview begins around 10 minutes into the podcast.

              Note that Zamudio categorically states that he did not draw his weapon. Yet another quote from the Times article states,

              Zamudio, 24, had his finger on the trigger and seconds to decide.

              He lifted his finger from the trigger and ran toward the struggling men.

              No, he did not have his finger on the trigger.

              Bottomline: if the media ever wants to interview you, then make sure you also record the entire interview.

              ###

              An interview of the Bell on Hell Interviewer
              Audio interview of Martin Bashir, who recently interviewed Rob Bell regarding his universalist book Love Wins and, according to many Bell followers, was really mean to Bell.

              ###

              “Ghandi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?”
              Christians… beware.

              ###

              “Ideas… have consequences.”
              On the conclusions of world without objective morality. Visit godawa.com

              Cruel Logic – short film from Brian Godawa on Vimeo.

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                Morality: it’s no different than burping

                In my recent New Covenant post Japan, and God, I made the point that within the worldview of atheism, along with a naturalistic mindset, one cannot escape the conclusion that objective morality is but a mere illusion – a category of behavior that must be reducible solely to physical properties. I referred to the resulting landscape of such a philosophy as a vacuous wasteland, and for good reason, namely – that of the resulting moral relativism.

                A commenter engaged me in a discussion on the post, yet he completely ignored the point I was making, choosing to take issue with the rationality of belief in God. He also assumed, incorrectly, that I was claiming atheists are incapable of acting morally.

                During our “discussion” a few issues seemed to arise regarding knowledge and morality. The commenter appeared to place a great deal of trust in the scientific method as a means of acquiring knowledge, especially with regards to how it can be used to substantiate (or negate) religious belief. Notice that the definition of knowledge, in the methodology of naturalism, can only refer to that which is natural, concrete, or material – that which can be measured and analyzed empirically. Yet, humans are well aware of the existence of the abstract, or the immaterial. Whether it be the thoughts you perceive in your mind (note, in your mind, not in your brain), or the love that you know you have for a “loved” one, you are aware of and confident in the existence of those abstract realities. Now, consider the fact that the scientific method is incapable of providing data on the abstract realities you know exist – for example, measuring the love you have for your children.

                Given the mandate of naturalism, that all which exists is comprised within the natural realm, one must conclude that even the notion we describe as morality is simply an outgrowth of evolutionary processes and, as such, must be guided by natural laws. Indeed, that is what the commenter posited, that moral behavior is simply behavior, and that it was derived from evolutionary processes. While this may sound quite proper on paper, the real-world impact of such a propostion is staggering. If, in fact, what many of us consider to be abstract notions, such as morality, are nothing more than the physical interaction of genes, then objective right and wrong moral values cannot be determined.

                Do you see where this leads? If a bear attacks a hiker on a trail, although we lament the tragedy of the event, we do not accuse the bear of moral indiscretion. No, we acknowledge that the bear just did what it does – because of the way its genes are sequenced. Regardless of whether or not the bear acts in manners that mimic human expressions of the abstract, naturalism mandates that such notions are the direct consequence of biology and, as a result, the bear has no objective moral code. Well guess what? If we want to be consistent with our application, then we need to do the same with the human genome. If we are nothing more than particles in motion, then the supposed moral notion “I ought” is reduced to a physical reaction and is no different than any other physical reaction, such as “I have indigestion” (HT: CS Lewis).

                Thus, morality, in the world of naturalism, is no different than burping.

                For further reference, check these articles by Greg Koukl, at Stand to Reason:
                How to know immaterial things exist

                What science can’t prove

                Did morals evolve

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                  It’s not every day that I will link to an article by Kirsten Powers but this one is worth reading in its entirety:

                  During the recent debate over whether to cut off government funding to Planned Parenthood, the organization claimed that its contraceptive services prevent a half-million abortions a year. Without their services, the group’s officials insist, more women will get abortions.

                  I’ll admit I bought the argument—it makes intuitive sense—and initially opposed cutting off funding for precisely that reason.

                  Then I did a little research.

                  Turns out, a 2009 study by the journal Contraception found, in a 10-year study of women in Spain, that as overall contraceptive use increased from around 49 percent to 80 percent, the elective abortion rate more than doubled. This doesn’t mean that access to contraception causes more abortion—though some believe that—but that it doesn’t necessarily reduce it.

                  In the U.S., the story isn’t much different. A January 2011 fact sheet by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception. In fact, 54 percent of women who had abortions had used a contraceptive method, if incorrectly, in the month they got pregnant. For the 46 percent who had not used contraception, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy; 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods; 26 percent had had unexpected sex, and 1 percent had been forced to have sex. Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.

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                    Taking Care of Your Own House

                    This is what Republicans do, unlike Democrats who, allegedly, came in to Washington promising to go after the "culture of corruption".

                    Rep. Chris Lee of New York abruptly resigned Wednesday evening, hours after a gossip Web site reported that the married Republican had allegedly sent flirtatious e-mail messages and a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met online.

                    A flirtatious e-mail is all that it took. Meanwhile, Charlie Rangel is still firmly ensconced in his seat. Yes, both sides have their corruption issues, but one clearly knows the meaning of "accountability".

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                      One Less Reason for Embryonic Stem Cells

                      Skin cells turned directly into heart cells.

                      Scientists have successfully converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells.

                      The powerful general technology platform could lead to novel treatments for diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers at the Scripps Research Institute.

                      In 2006, Japanese scientists reported that they could reprogram mouse skin cells to become pluripotent simply by inserting a set of four genes into the cells dubbed induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. But creating iPS cells itself is a time taking procedure.

                      Hence, lead author Sheng Ding and colleagues tweaked the process by completely bypassing the iPS stage and going directly from one type of mature cell (a skin cell) to another (a heart cell).

                      Amazing. This is almost the biological equivalent of alchemy.

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                        Friday Link Wrap-up

                        What Charlie Rangel did:

                        To summarize briefly, we have blatant and recurring Federal and State tax fraud, illegal use of four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, using his Congressional letterhead to illegally solicit funds for his private foundation from lobbyists for companies he was writing tax regs on, outrageous conflict of interest, failure to declare over $600,000 in income..the sort of stuff that would get you or I locked up for a long time.

                        What punishment he got:

                        Charlie Rangel’s penalty? He’ll be required to stand in the well before his colleagues in the House while a censure resolution is read, which will then become part of the Congressional Record. That’s it. Boo-freaking hoo.And he will stay in Congress.

                        Love that accountability.

                        Remember the movie "Erin Brockovich", telling of one woman’s crusade to get justice for the people of Hinckley, California from the eeevil corporation, Pacific Gas & Electric, for releasing a toxic plume of hexavalent chromium 6.  PG&E was sued for (what was going to be) a huge spike in cancer for the people.  No real scientific proof was offered, but this result was clearly going to happen.  Yeah, well, it didn’t.  Turned out John Stossel was right.  Again.  And Erin is back in Hinckley, pursuing the same thing.

                        Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and writing for they Sojourners blog, decides that the moral measure of a tax plan. 

                        "Does it further concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few? Or does it disperse concentrated wealth and power, and strengthen possibilities for a democratic society with greater equality, improved health and well-being, shared prosperity, and ecological sustainability?"

                        By this measure, it sounds like the "rich" should never have their taxes decreased.  Ever.  OK, so what’s his limit on that moral measure?  How much money should the "rich" be allowed to keep?  Can we just get that number out, so we know what the standard is?

                        Wonder what the Hollywood Left’s supporters of Hugo Chavez will think of his upcoming dictatorial powers?  Eh, probably sweep it under the rug.

                        Liu Xiaobo, newest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, also endorses the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, praised George W. Bush, and is strongly on Israel’s side in the Middle East conflict.  Just sayin’.

                        Post-natal abortions are all the rage.  Oh, please don’t be surprised.  It’s just the natural result of the culture of death mindset.

                        Death panels are getting ready to meet.  Really. 

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                          Freedom Requires Responsibility and Morality

                          Hat tip James Taranto, "Students protest slurs in N.C. State’s Free Expression Tunnel".  The opening paragraph:

                          Raleigh, N.C. — Students have vowed to protest or block North Carolina State University’s Free Expression Tunnel until the university’s chancellor gives guarantees that no hate speech will be allowed there.

                          The easy snark would be to laugh at students wanting free speech who then go out and protest free speech.  But this brings up the necessity of responsibility and morality in our daily lives in order to properly enjoy those freedoms we have.

                          There are limits on free speech, of course.  When said speech could present a danger to people (and moreso to particular people like the President), it does have limits, and those limits are given the force of law.  The quintessential example is yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and causing a stampede that could hurt or kill people.  As a society, we’ve also decided that the psychological issues related to pornography are not something children are ready to deal with, so we have limits there as well.

                          What these students, and many liberal folks, want to do, then, is elevate hurt feelings to the same level as psychological or physical harm and death as reasons to legislate against certain speech.  This severely degrades the adjective "free".  People get hurt feelings all the time.  This doesn’t mean we should be legislating against all those free expressions.

                          But my main point is this; why would someone yell "Fire!" in a crowded, non-burning theater?  I think I can get pretty much unanimous agreement that this would come from a lack of ethics & morals and a general lack of responsibility towards one’s fellow man.  Irrespective of which moral code you live by, I would imagine that someone living up perfectly to those morals would not do such a thing, and if we all lived up to those morals perfectly, there would be, indeed, no need for such a law.

                          So the fact that some people don’t live up to these morals, even common ones most Americans share, means that we’ll have irresponsible and immoral speech out there.  And the more moral the people are, the less of it we’d have.  This is why morality is inseparably tied up with government.  Good laws are not just good policy; they are (or ought to be) good morals and ethics.  John Adams noted that the foundation of our laws was written with this in mind:

                          Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

                          Freedom requires a measure of responsibility and morality to be exercised properly. 

                          And I would note, along with Adams, that morality and religion are essentially inseparable.  Where atheism is the state "religion" (e.g. communist countries, for example), freedom is scarce.  Those here in the Western world who push for a shared ethic based solely on human thoughts and understanding would do well to look at history for a list of bad examples.  Humanity, with no outside influence or acknowledgement of something higher than itself, tends to descend to the occasion rather than rise to it.

                          Keep the faith.

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                            Returning Sight to the Blind

                            Using umbilical cord stem cells.

                            Mrs Leach, 76, lost her sight in February last year and was diagnosed with giant cell arteritis, an inflammatory disease of blood vessels.

                            She was told by doctors in the UK that nothing could be done but she found out about Qingdao Chengyang People’s Hospital which offered an alternative.

                            Mrs Leach, from Hardwicke, near Gloucester, and the local community managed to raise the £16,000 to pay for the cost of the treatment.

                            This involved stem cell fluid taken from umbilical cords of new born babies being injected twice into her right eye and six times into her hands over a six week period.

                            Opponents of using embryonic stem cells have never had issues with umbilical cord stem cells.  And we have yet another example of a treatment that has none of the ethical, moral and physical issues associated with embryonic cells.

                            Are we getting the picture, yet?

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                              America’s “Original Sin”

                              Mr Schraub talks race. Before I get to the claim that slavery is America’s “Original Sin” I’d note that Mr Schraub says that the toxicity of being labeled racist makes “true dialog” about what constitutes racism impossible. ‘Cept that’s not really true. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race, e.g., voting for Mr Obama on account of his racial makeup. And yes, that makes most “race” activists racist themselves, which on reflection is quite obvious. Those who are conscious and likely to notice race are those more likely to make decisions based purely on that. Racism is felt quite universally to be a bad thing, yet given its prevalence, especially amongst those most vocal about the evils of racism and the neutrality of the definition given, perhaps what Mr Schraub is hinting at is that we need a better discussion of why racism is wrong. If one were to assume that the progressive/left is more racially conscious than the right … and therefore more racist is born up by the data linked last week that highlighted the finding that Black elected officials when elected from a mixed race district were more likely to be Republican than Democrat and those who were Democrat were more often from majority Black districts. In past conversations, Mr Schraub noted that race theorists indeed are aware that their work might serve to heighten and strengthen malign race consciousness that they hope to combat. Yes, but the personal imperatives of personal employment in their chosen field seems to defeat that idea quite handily. 

                              However, the primary point of this essay is to examine original sin in the context of American history.

                              St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps the primary theologian influencing thought regarding Original Sin in the Western strand of Christian theological thought. There are a lot of parallels between that theology and strands of thought about slavery and race in America. Both notions suffer however, from the same sort of mistake. St. Augustine, in summary, taught that Adam’s primordial sin in the garden passes on to all of us. Adam as proto-human committed the sin of disobedience. All men, from birth, share in that guilt. From this viewpoint then, the importance of Penal Substitution and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross becomes a linchpin of Western soteriology. 

                              This is however, a quite unnatural way to view justice. If my father steals, I and my children do not share in his guilt. The weight and import (the guilt if you will) of his crime, legal or moral, do not pass to his children. We don’t even consider that in sexual crimes, if a child results, that the child of that act is legally or morally impugned or tainted by that act (well, we don’t justifiably view the child in that way). This is the crux of Augustine’s error.

                              A better way of viewing Original Sin, which is the prevailing view in the Eastern/non-Augustinian strands of Christian theology, was that we do not inherit guilt or sin from Adam. What we inherit is his exile. Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence. The consequences of that are estrangement from God and death entering the world. He was exiled. We, as his descendants, share his exile (and to the point, not his guilt). To look at the example from a criminal point of view as was done above, if my parents were exiled as a result of my father’s crime, then I grow up in that place of exile. I inherit the consequence, that is my residence, not the guilt or blame. I and my children are not accountable for this act. From a theological perspective this means in the East, it is the Resurrection which is the dominant soteriological event, not the crucifixion. 

                              Take this back to the notions about American, race, and slavery. Guilt is, contra-Augustine, not heritable. The social conditions and ethnic consequences do exist. However, nobody living today is accountable for the actions begun in the 16th century by Bartolomé de las Casas and the social mechanisms that unfolded from those social/economic innovations. Perhaps it is the prevalence of St. Augustine’s error found so prevalently that allows those who consider slavery America’s “Original Sin” implies that guilt and things like reparations logically follow. They, alas, don’t. 

                               

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