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How can Christians be Conservative? Part III

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

The final question, posed to me on how Christians can be conservatives dealt with the issue of how, since they are so against government intervention, can they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement?

While a common question, it has several problems.  For one, conservatives are not against all government. There is, for example a difference between libertarianism, and conservatism.  Thus there is nothing inconsistent with conservatives seeking to, as the question puts it,  “use government to impose their view of morality on others.”   But the question is more complex.

When you get right down to it, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality” is just silly.  Virtually all laws legislate some view of morality, and thus impose that view on others.   It is not that all morals should be legislated, but rather that laws are basically the morals of a society that are believed to be so important; the power of the state should be used to enforce them.

Murder is morally wrong. In fact, it is so morally wrong, we do not want to leave it up to individuals to decide this particular issue for themselves. Therefore, we use the power of the state to enforce the moral view that murder is wrong and to impose that view on others.

What does distinguish conservatives from, on the one hand, liberals, who seem at times to want to right every wrong by passing a law, and on the other hand, libertarians, who often seem to be boarder line anarchist, is that conservatives, for the most part, have different standards depending on the level of government.  At the federal level, they are much closer to libertarians wanting very little government. Yet the closer the level of government is to the people the boarder the latitude they give the government to pass laws, and thus in that sense are closer to liberals when you get to local government, at least in their willingness to use government.

For example, while I oppose prostitution, I would also oppose a federal ban on prostitution, as that is not a federal concern.  If a state or better yet, a community wants to ban it as in most of the country, or legalize it, as in a few areas of Nevada, then that is their concern.

So how does this come into play with abortion?  There are two parts to this question. The first is the closely related, but somewhat different issue of Roe v Wade and the constitution.  Many, but certainly not all, conservatives seek the overturn of Roe, and this is very consistent with conservatism in general.  This is because an overturn of Roe, would simply remove the issue from the federal level and return it back to the states.  Before Roe, abortion was already legal in many states, illegal in others, but the trend was towards legalization at least in cases of rape, incest, or threat to life of the mother.

When it comes to opposition to abortion itself, it really comes down to how one views the fetus. It is biologically alive and genetically a human life distinct from that of the mother.  Thus those who are pro-life believe that the power of the state should protect innocent human life in the womb, just like it protects it in a lot of other areas.

Now granted things get very complex at this point because there is not just one human life to consider, but two.  Exactly how the rights of the two humans are balanced and in what circumstances one can take precedent over the other, is a matter of consider disagreement and a discussion of this would go well beyond a blog post.   But, in short, pro-life conservatives believe that the Declaration of Independence’s claim that we have been endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to human life even if it is in the womb.

Thus they don’t see any contradiction is pushing for laws to protect human life in the womb, just like we have laws protecting it out of the womb.

How can Christians be Conservative? Part II

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

I am continuing to answer the questions, posed to me on how Christians can be conservatives.  This time I will address the question, how can conservatives show such a lack of concern about the uninsured as seen in their objection to ObamaCare?

The question itself has some problems, the main one being that it confuses the lack of support for a particular governmental program, with a lack of concern for a problem.   This is something that I have addressed before (e.g., here, here, and on health care here). For many liberals the ideal of government activism is so strong and ingrained, it is hard for them to conceive of any other solution to a social problem.  In short, as a general rule, the solution to any social problem is to be found in government programs, and to oppose a government program is to show a disregard for the problem itself.

But however strong the view, it is still fallacious, and is in fact the fallacy of a false choice.  Not only are there other non-governmental options for addressing these problems, the simple fact is that, right or wrong, as a general rule conservatives believe that market based solutions grounded in choice and competition for consumers are better than government solutions.

The conservative view is often mischaracterized as an absolute position which would permit no role at all for government. This is not the case, nor is it correct to say that the conservative view is based on a trust of business or and corporations. It is also not the case. In fact, often conservatives share many of the same doubts and question about business as there liberal counter parts. This is why conservatives believe that choice and competition are so important, as they serve as the main check on businesses driven by the profit motive. This is also where conservatives see a significant role for government that of ensuring that the market place allow choice and competition.

So it is not that conservatives trust big businesses, it is that they mistrust government because choice and competition do not apply. If you don’t like a particular business, you are free go to another one.  If you don’t like government, you are stuck.

When it comes to health care in general, and ObamaCare in particular, the problems Conservatives see are many, and I have written about some of them (here, and here).  As I summarized this in another post,

Thus the Democratic Health care bill will increase regulation and reduce effective choice even if it doesn’t end in single payer.  While in theory it may be able to reduce cost and expand coverage, it cannot do this while improving health care.  In short, it is doomed. And this is best case. Given the past record of government programs, the actual likelihood is that it will not even be able to control costs and we will be left with worse health-care, even higher costs and a system that is even more difficult to change.

The reason for this is actually very simple. Improvements in Health care will come, as such improvements have always come, from innovation.  Yet government does not innovate, it regulates, and regulations kills innovation.

None of this should be taken as satisfaction with the current system.  Healthcare in the US is one of most highly regulated areas of the economy. It is far from a system where choice and competition are driving factors.  Conservatives see the problems and want to solve them.  The real problem here is not a lack of concern for “the least of these,” but rather a difference of opinion on how best to address the problems. The opposition to ObamaCare is rooted in the belief that it will not make things better, it will make them worse.

One final comment; while there certainly are absolutists, many conservatives acknowledge that market solutions will not solve all problems.  No matter how much market forces improve the health care system, you cannot purchase healthcare if you don’t have any money.   Here conservatives consider two additional mechanisms.

The first is charity. While liberals at time discount the viability of this option the fact is that here are hospitals across the country that deliver health care on an ability to pay basis or for free.  This focus on charity by conservatives and government by liberals is perhaps behind the difference in charitable giving between red state and blue statesbetween liberals and conservatives,  and as revealed in Aruther C. Brooks’ book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatives. If conservatives truly were heartless and greedy, why is it that on average, they give more to charity than liberals?

Finally, surprising as it may seem to some liberals, conservatives to not reject a government option as a last resort, for those with no were else to turn. The difference would be, however, that it would be a last resort, not the first and only resort, pushed by so many liberals.

So again, it is not a lack of concern that leads conservatives to reject ObamaCare, it is in fact an abundance of concern that ObamaCare will only result in making matters worse.

An Isaiah 5:20 World

Friday, April 24th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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When I was  a new Christian, and a much younger man, there were passages in the Bible that did not make a lot of sense to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them, but rather that I didn’t really see the need.   Isaiah 5:20 was one of those.   “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.”  Ok, but who would ever do this, I thought.  Now doing evil I could see, as unfortunately there were far too many historical examples.  But Isaiah is not talking about just doing that which we should not, but an intellectual inversion of morality, that was for me,  incomprehensible.

But over the last few decades, unfortunately many of these passages have come to make much more sense, Isaiah 5:20 being one of them.  At times I feel like Charlton Heston in the upside down world of Planet of the Apes,  and want to scream, “It’s a mad house, a mad house.”  One of those times was this week with the controversy surrounding the Miss USA pageant

Now I am not a big fan of such pageants.  I don’t oppose them; I just don’t care about them much one way or the other.  But as I learned the details about the controversy I became very bother, because it was one of those moments of clarity where you see how bad things have really become, and how unless stopped they will get much worse.

The basic facts are that a contestant was asked for her thoughts on legalizing same sex marriage,  and said that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.  It  was an answer that the vast majority of Americans would give, and one that even President Obama, and many democrats have given.

Yet Miss California was denounced and condemned for her answer, and lost.  Shanna Moakler  a co-director of the pageant applauded her for being “willing to miss out on the opportunity of being Miss USA, to stay true to her convictions.”   But then she when all to say that, “we don’t hate her. But it puts us in a difficult situation because we do have a difference of opinion.” 

Miss California’s crime was supposedly not her position, but her answer was “insensitive” and not “compassionate.”   In short, she should not have inserted “her own personal politics into it.” Here is what she said,

“I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other, but in my country, and in my family, I think that I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.”

The moral and intellectual inversion involved in the condemnation of this answer clearly qualifies this as an example of Isaiah 5:20. Consider the last part, that she should not have inserted her personal politics into the pageant.   This complaint was made by the judge who asked her view about same-sex marriage.  If her opinion on same-sex marriage did not belong in the pageant, then why ask for her opinion about same sex marriage?  The judge who asked the question is a militant homosexual.  Does anyone seriously believe that if her answer had supported same sex marriage this judge would have been “shocked”  or that he would have posted  the tirade against her on his web site?  This tirade was so vile and disgusting, that the Host on CBS’s the Early Show had to caution him at the beginning of the interview that there show was a live family show.

Yet in the upside down Isaiah 5:20 world in which we live, vile and disgusting attacks on a woman who expresses biblical values are acceptable, even understandable.  But saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman, well,  that is just beyond the pale.

As a result,  the world in which those with traditional values are allow to participate is a little bit smaller.  Again I not a fan of such pageants so in many ways I don’t care. But I am a fan of liberty and freedom. I believe that true marriage is only between a man and a woman, not just because this is what the Bible teaches, but for a number of reasons independent of the Bible. More importantly, I believe the reasoning on this is so strong that given a fair and open debate the traditional view of marriage would remain the dominant  position of society.

I also believe that this is why the minority that supports same-sex marriage is so intolerant of any contrary opinion.  Their position is ultimately flawed, irrational and grounded in silly and false notions such as there is no real difference between men and women.   In fact, the position is so weak that the only way it can survive is through the suppression of  any contrary, that is biblical, views.  That this minority controls virtually all the major media and pop culture, allows for this suppression.

And this is the true significance of the controversy at the Miss USA pageant  for is shows how far this intolerance of biblical views has spread.   The antipathy for biblical values is already in the movies, news, music,  and most importantly the schools.  The fact that the younger generations see no problem with same-sex marriage, is a testament to how successfully biblical views have been suppressed.  

So now the suppression has expanded even further. In  the name of tolerance and compassion,  the expression of the biblical view of marriage can no longer be tolerated, and no compassion will be show for those who express such views.  It is truly an Isaiah 5:20 world.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Jesus and Illegal Immigration

Friday, April 17th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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While it has drifted off the radar screen at the moment Tim Morgan at Christianity Today’s political blog recently raised a question that is sure to come back into the forefront as a hot divisive issue, what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and their children.  That it is coming back as an issue is clear from President Obama’s plans to grant them citizenship, an effort that news reports say will begin next month and last through the summer. 

Morgan’s question was not so much the policy issue directly, but asks the question in terms of “What would Jesus do?” My thinking on this question has always been somewhat mixed.  On the one hand, it is a great question and one that we should all ask far more often than we do.  But if that’s the case, then what is the problem with the question? 

My problems begin when the question enters public discussions, and are for a number of reasons.  The biggest problem is that your answer to the question will strongly depend on your knowledge of Jesus, and even for Christians in general, the actual knowledge of Jesus is somewhat lacking, and even more so for the public at large.  While it can be very valuable to struggle with this privately in prayer and contemplation before God, as a general rule, the more people involved, the less prayer and contemplation you will have. 

I think it can be stated as a general rule that nobody really knows what Jesus would do in the case of such public policy issues.  In fact, the verse that would seem to apply the most is, Jesus’ comment in Matthew 22:21 concerning taxes, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The problem with trying to figure out what Jesus would do in any particular issue of public policy, is that we live in a world corrupted by sin and governed temporally by sinful people.  Issues of public policy such as illegal immigration are basically tinkering at the margins.  Jesus would go to the root of the problem, and when he was finished, the answer to the question of “What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants would be : nothing, for there would not be an Illegal immigrants issue to begin with. 

This is not to say that we should have open boarders and allow everyone in, it is to point out the reality that the roots of the Illegal immigration problem are vast and deep.  There is the economic, political, and social problems in the countries from which the illegal immigrants come.  If every country in the world had the freedom and prosperity of the United States, there would not be a problem. 

Then there is the breakdown of law in this country that has allow the problem to grow such that there are now so many here.  If there were only a few thousand illegal immigrants in the country who had only been here a few months, again this would not be an issue.  But for a variety of reasons, government at many levels have ignored the growing problem until now there are millions of illegal immigrants here, many for decades. 

So to come in now and ask “What would Jesus do?” is somewhat like asking what would Jesus do to deal with  his past sins?  He wouldn’t do anything because he would never be in that position.  When he does come back he will not tinker with minor issues such as illegal immigration. He will address the root issues and eliminate the problems that cause it in the first place. 

One other problem I frequently have with this question comes from the view of God that currently predominates the public square: God is Love.  The predominant view of God is Love, often expresses itself in such questions making them almost “What would Love do?”  In this case wouldn’t love say we should have compassion for the illegal immigrants?

While certainly true, that is not the only attribute of God.  We sinful humans are never very good at balancing, and it takes a lot of effort.  When balancing something on the end of your finger, if you get distracted or inattentive, it will fall.  The same goes for the church balancing the attributes of God.  God is Love, but he is also Justice.  Psalm 101 starts, “I will sing of your love and justice; to you O Lord, I will sing praise.”

Love says we should have compassion for the illegal immigrants, but justice says that they have broken the law.  Then there are all the other attributes of God, such as Righteousness and Holiness.  So what would Jesus do about the illegal immigrants and their families?  Ultimately I don’t know. 

I do think that we need to approach the issue beginning with all the attributes of God, not just Love that would let them all stay, or Justice that would throw them all out.  I also think that any solution would have to focus on the root causes that has allow the problem to get out of hand in the first place, though unlike Jesus, here we are somewhat limited to control over our own country, though we can work to spread economic freedom and liberty to other countries.  Still while easy to say, working these out into actual public policy will take a lot of contemplation and prayer. 

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

In and Just Like

Friday, March 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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It is very common to hear Christians talk of impacting the world for Christ.  Or to talk of how we are to be in the world but not of the world.  But the latest numbers  from the Barna Group clearly show that the impact is the other way around.  Rather than in but not of, American Christianity is becoming in and just like.

Given that the government mandated secular worldview is so prevalent in the culture, it is not all that surprising to find that only 34% of Americans believe in absolute moral truth, or that half of Americans believe that the Bible is “accurate in all the principles that it teaches.”  What is disturbing is the inroad such beliefs are making into the church.

In the survey, “Born Again Christians” were those who said “they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.”

While born again Christians who were asked the same question did better than Americans at large, it was not much better.   While half of Americans did not believe the Bible was accurate, 21%  likewise did not believe the Bible to be accurate.  As for the belief in absolute moral truth,  even a majority of born-again Christians, 54%,  no longer accept that.

The Barna Group’s uses these and four other beliefs, such as Jesus lived a sinless life, to define a Christian world view.  Those who hold all six beliefs are then said to have a Christian world view.   Based on this the survey shows that only 9% of Americans have a Christian world view. Born again Christians do better, but not much.  Only 19% of Born Again Christians could say that they hold all six beliefs.

In a broader perspective, this decline in belief has been going on for sometime.  It reached a low point in the mid 1990s when only 7% of American held a Biblical world view. The trend reversed somewhat climbing back up to 11% by 2005,  but now is back down to 9%.

Worse however, are the statistics for the younger generations.  Those in the 18 to 23 year age group, commonly called the Mosaic generation, were virtually completely secularized, as less than one-half of one percent had a biblical world view.

Now those pushing the secular world view, would undoubtedly say that was because of the superiority of the secular world view and that people are just rejecting the false superstitions of the past.  But then they would say that, wouldn’t they.  Ultimately I do not think they can be blamed, any more than you could blame a prosecutor if you lost a trial where the evidence was on your side, but your defense lawyer never bother to get up to present  your side of the case.  

I do believe the evidence is on our side.  In some cases very clearly.  In fact, in my classes on critical thinking I would use the rejection of absolute morality as an  example of how people don’t really think through what they believe.  

I would ask how many in the class believed in absolute moral truth, and would get results similar to those found by Barna.   I would then ask if torturing babies for fun was inherently wrong, or was a matter of opinion where for some it was wrong, but for other it might not be.  With the exception of one student,  all the students in all the classes where I asked this considered torturing babies for fun inherently wrong, and the one who didn’t was not very comfortable with his conclusion but was being honest with his belief that there was no absolute moral truth.

Thus with one simple question I was able to almost completely turn around people’s thinking on absolute morality.  Granted, winning over the culture will not be quite as easy as this, but on  the other hand it is not the insurmountable problem that some seem to think, nor is everything lost.

Still the Church is like the defense  attorney with a strong case to make who never presents it. Josh McDowell, in his book The Last Christian Generation, discusses how many young people see church as little more than a place to go with a lot of fun activities, but with little impact on their lives.   This is also seen in the very large number of people who leave the church when they leave home.

Yet it need not be this way.  The Church not only has the truth, but in many cases the preponderance of the evidence to back it up.   Yet sadly many Christians have the attitude of ‘I already believe’ so they don’t need to learn about things like doctrine or apologetics.  In fact, it is not only quite sad, but very telling, that many Christians do not even know what the word  apologetics means.  Given this, the results from Barna, are really no surprise.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Modern Pharisees?

Friday, March 20th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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One of the problems that Jesus had with the scribes and the Pharisees is that they create “burdens that are heavy and unbearable and lay them on people’s shoulders.” (Mt 23:4, ISV) It is all too easy to look back and say, “How could they do that?” But as we look back at the history of the Christian church, it is easy to see that the idea of adding additional rules and regulations to what God wants did not die with the Pharisees as Christians have often been as eager to add their own list of additional do’s and don’ts to God’s law. 

Even the early church struggled with this when it came to the question of whether or not Gentile believers had to follow the Jewish law.  In the 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 we see Paul dealing with this issue when it comes to the early church.  In First Corinthians 8 the issue was whether it was ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  While that issue no longer troubles Christians each age seems to have its own set of candidates for inclusion into God’s law. 

Personally I like Paul’s answer to such questions in Romans 14, “Each of us will given an account of himself to God.  Therefore let’s no longer criticize each other.” (Rom 14:11-13a) Still some are reluctant to let go of their desire to add new rules, and therefore see the second half of verse 13 as a sort of backdoor way of imposing such rules, for Paul goes on to say that, “Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” I realize, they say, that it is technically ok, but you still should not, because it could cause someone to stumble. 

But this is not an excuse to make a new rules, but rather, an injunction, to be sensitive to those who are weaker in the faith, as Paul goes on to point out in verse 22, “As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God.”

As with so many things in Christianity, it is a fine line to walk.  On the one hand I want to resist additional rules being placed on people, on the other hand, I don’t want to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

Our local paper has a weekly feature where they request responses from the faith community on a particular question.  The question they sent out this week is “Does smoking (or drinking) make someone a “bad” person?  What about drinking too much coffee or eating too much ice cream?  At what point does a vice become a sin, or some sort of a moral problem?” This question immediate raised the issues discussed above. 

For some this is an easy question.  With the exception of ice cream, some would see these as wrong in any amount, and thus a sin.  However at least in terms of Christianity, both coffee and smoking came long after the New Testament, and therefore would seem to fall under what Paul discusses in Romans 14 where each is to make up their own mind on the matter, and not to impose their conclusions on others.  As for drinking alcohol, that was well known in Biblical times, and was accepted.  After all Jesus’ first miracle was to change water into wine, and the context here is pretty clear that this was not grape juice.  Still, it has come to be question by some Christians in the last few centuries, particularly in the United States.

But most things can be overdone, and that is the case with all the above, including ice cream.  God is not a burdensome killjoy who seeks to deprive us of all earthly pleasures.  Nor does he want us to cause ourselves problems.  Clearly alcohol can be abused, as the Bible also makes clear, but so can ice cream, as in the case of those who are seriously overweight.  The simple rule for these, and most other things, is, if it becomes a problem for you, than it is a problem that should be avoided. 

What is much more important than these individual issues is that we do not allow such things to cause division within the body of Christ.  This is something to be kept in mind on both sides.  Just as it is wrong for those who believe such thing should be avoided to impose these as new rules for the church, it is likewise wrong for those who believe it is ok to partake to flaunt their liberty.  Unity requires considerations on both sides, our goal being that, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building him up.” (Rom 15:2)

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Christianity In America?

Friday, March 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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As I point out in my forthcoming book, Preserving Democracy, one of the things that surprised Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came to what was then the new country of America, was religion. As he wrote in his classic, Democracy in America, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention;” As de Tocqueville noted, it was not just that Christianity played an important role in peoples’ lives, it played a key, though not direct, role in the political life of the country as well.

“Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but nevertheless is must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.”

In the system of checks and balances set up by our founding fathers one of the checks was religion, not as a part of the government, but as an important force apart from the government. This way it could serve as a checks on government, lest government get too large and itself infringe on liberty. As John Adams put it, “Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for any other.”

Given this it should be of no surprise that those who push the hardest for the removal of religion from public discourse, also tend to push equally hard for a larger role for government. By definition a larger government means less liberty, but in the upside down world we live in they often cast their attack on, and suppression of, religious belief in the terms of freedom.

This sort of inverted thinking is once again on display in the Obama administration’s decision to rescind the federal regulation that protects people’s “freedom of conscience.” The regulation prevents health care professionals who are morally opposed to abortions from being forced to participate in them.

It is interesting that those who so loudly proclaim themselves to be pro-choice are so quick to deny choice to anyone who does not agree with them, and to do so in the name of freedom. The reaction of some supporters of the administration’s actions was that health care professionals “should perform the duty needed to the best of the patients interest or change profession.

Of course this suits them very well. They would love to get rid of doctors and nurses that point out inconvenient facts, such that the fetus is not just a lump of tissue, but a genetically distinct human that is by any normal definition of life, alive. Or facts such as in the case of some late term abortions a living human does not need to be aborted as it could live on its own. Such facts do put a damper on the party line. Once only those who supported abortion remained, then they could say, “but doctors and nurses don’t have any objection to abortion, why do you?”

If freedom of conscience is forbidden here, how about other more controversial areas? One state already allows euthanasia. If the supreme court were to suddenly find a right to die in some hitherto unchecked penumbras of the Constitution, would all doctors and nurses be required to kill their patients when they requested it? If not, why not?

We have seen this principle in other areas. In Massachusetts, the Catholic Charities of Boston was one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies and specialized in finding homes for children who were hard to place. But they were forced to close by the state. Why? Because in the new age of enlightenment, the idea that the best way to raise children was for them to have a father and a mother in a loving committed relationship, could no longer be allowed. This outdated notion has been officially declared to be discrimination against same-sex couples.

The more these new ideas of rights and freedom are imposed on America, the less free people will become, and the freedom to choose certain professions will be eliminated for Christians of conscience. Medicine is clearly threatened by this change. It is not hard to see that teachers will not be far behind as they will increasingly be forced to push same-sex relationships as an equal option for children. Anything less would be discriminatory.

Even professions one might not expect will be affected. For example, in New Mexico a Christian photographer found herself before the New Mexico Human Rights Division when she declined to photograph a commitment ceremony for a same sex couple. As a result she facing a possible injunction forbidding her from ever again refusing such a ceremony, in addition to thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The real danger with so many of the radical secularists is that they don’t just have opinions they express and argue for, they tend to cast everything in terms of rights. As such, to disagree with their opinion is to infringe on some right and is therefore automatically discriminatory. Since it is discriminatory, the power of the state can and should be used to suppress it. Throughout history, people have always been free to do what the ruling power agreed with. Unless we are vigilant, that will be the only freedom we have left in America.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXX

Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  Last time, I looked at how Hitchens deftly attempted to shift the blame for the secular evils of the twentieth century onto religion effectively arguing that Christians are to blame because they did not do enough  to prevent the evils committed by atheists.  But there is a deeper issue here, one that is a problem for all groups, theists and atheists alike.

As I wrote earlier pointing to the evils committed by atheists, is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.   As I wrote in Christianity and Secularism, it is “to point out that any system that involves people can be directed toward evil. I am sure neither Charles Darwin nor Karl Marx intended evil to come from their works. Still, they planted the seeds for the greatest evils in history.” (pg 118)

The key issue here is that good and bad people can be found in and out of religion.  While history has show that secular regimes have been by far the worst, that could change. Not all religions are the same. The 20th century evils could be eclipse by radical Islam if its adherents can acquire the weapons of mass destruction they are seeking.

Nor is it impossible that in the future a radical form of Christianity could appear that could be a similar threat.  One of the surest ways to run into problems is to focus too much on the evil in other groups, while assuming your own group is somehow immune.  The danger from evil is ever present and history has clearly shown that being religious or an atheist is not an automatic safeguard.  

This is nothing new. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:3, we can see the speck in the eyes of others, while missing the beam that is in our own.  Instead of pointing to the past evils committed by others as an example of how bad the current group is, we should instead focus more on current evils and how to stop them and how to prevent evil in the future.   This is not to say that we should ignore past evils, we shouldn’t.  We should learn from them, not in an us-versus-them way, but seeking the common traits, traits that can appear in any group, so that we can avoid them.

We should also focus more on the beam in our own eye.  One of the easiest ways to fall into evil, is to think you are immune. For Christians, this means acknowledging the great evil that has been done at times in the name of Christ.  But for atheists, it also means acknowledging the great evil done by atheists.  Neither can just blame it on the other.

It is a simple fact that criticism from within a group will be far more effective at limiting evil than criticism from those outside, as criticism from others is often confused as an attack.  While I could be wrong, I believe that if Muslims in general were to be as outraged over those who target and kill the innocent in the name of Allah, as they have been over cartoons of Mohammad  and stories about alleged mishandling of the Koran, there would be a lot less terrorism.  Likewise, if it were not for the clear and consistent condemnation of the few who have bombed abortion clinics or murdered abortionists, not only by the majority of Christians, but by all anti-abortion groups , I believe there would have been more bombings and murders.

One of the reasons I believe that the teachings of Christ are so important is not because it automatically makes me a better person, but because it teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).   In addition it teaches that we have hope.  While we are saved by grace, that only begins a process of discipleship in which we should continually strive to be more like Jesus.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVI

Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In Chapter fifteen of his book “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”(pg 205)  Last time I examined his claims for the first three of his points  and ended by pointing out that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, he does not say why it is immoral?  Strangely, he does somewhat  address this point, not in the section on the atonement, but in the beginning of the next section which he labels as dealing with his final two points,  eternal reward and the imposition of impossible tasks.

Pointing to the example of Sidney Carton in “A Tale of Two Cities,”  Hitchens says that while he could  “serve your term in prison or take your place on the scaffold… I cannot absolve you of your responsibilities. It would be immoral of me to offer, and immoral of your to accept.” (pg 211) 

Two issues immediately came to mind upon reading this.  The first was the ever present question of  the basis on which Hitchens would say this was immoral?  However, there is a deeper problem for when it comes to the major views of the Atonement, none are focused on the absolution of responsibility and several are focused on the payment of the price for sin, something Hitchens seems to be ok with.   So, just exactly what Hitchens means  by this, is at best unclear.

From there Hitchens moves on to address religious laws that are impossible to obey. There are a couple of problems with Hitchens complaint, not the least of which is Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees and how they “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition”  (Mark 7:8 ISV) which would seem to fit many of Hitchens examples. 

But even beyond this there are problems.  Several of Hitchens examples deal with how some religious groups make allowances for prostitution, such as the practice among some Muslim clerics to sanction short term marriages that will last just a couple of hours.  Does Hitchens really believe that it is impossible for men to avoid availing themselves of the services of prostitutes?  If not, then why is this included in his discussion of  commandments that are impossible to follow?

At first Hitchens seem to be on somewhat better ground when he complains about the 10th commandment which he describes as forbidding  “people to even think about coveting goods in the first places” (emphasis in original).   But comparing Hitchens claim to that actual command quickly reveals problems.  The commandment is not about coveting goods, but coveting that which belongs to someone else. Again is this so impossible?

Part of the problem here is Hitchens is never very clear by what he means by impossible to follow.  Impossible to follow for everyone, in the sense that while not everyone will use the services of a prostitute, some cannot seem to resist the temptation. Or by  impossible does he mean  impossible for individuals to follow all the time?  Then there is the problem that even if this was clearly defined and it was impossible,  it would not automatically follow that the rule is itself immoral. For example, everyone has at some pointed has lied, and therefore one of the most obvious candidates for Hitchens’ category of rules that are impossible to keep would be the rule against lying.  Yet few would want argue that it is immoral to have a rule against lying.

Now while Hitchens does not make the case very well, there is the issue that given our sinful nature, as the Bible clearly states in Romans, 3:23 “all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s Glory.” (ISV) But the problem here is not in the laws, but in our in our sinful nature.   Hitchens see this as itself a problem claiming “nothing could be sillier than having a ‘maker’ who then forbade the very same instinct he instilled,” (pg 214) though  this argument somewhat ignores the fall.

Hitchens ends with a somewhat muddles discussion of the golden rule, and how we act out of self -interest. In all this confusion,  distortion and rambling, Hitchens never quite gets around to addressing the immorality of eternal reward and punishment.  But then that is part of the problem.  Hitchens is not presenting a well thought out and reasoned argument.  He just makes bold claims and then used them as an excuse to launch attacks on religion, or at least what he describes as religion as most of the time he is really only attacking a distorted strawman of his own creation, and thereby frequently leaving the reader puzzled as to what his actual argument is really trying to say, other than that Hitchens does not like religion.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXV

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I have reached chapter fourteen, “There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution.”    That Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and all other eastern religions get but a single chapter, and relatively small chapter at that, demonstrates that Hitchens main concern is with the three monotheistic faiths.   I am confident that the adherents of eastern religions will find much to object to in Hitchens brief critique, but I will leave it to them to defend their own faiths and will move on Chapter fifteen, “Religion as an Original Sin,” where Hitchens’ tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”  (pg 205)

Based on some of the criticisms addressed last time, this immediately raises the question of what foundation is Hitchens using as a basis for his moral claims, and why should his foundation be accepted? But these are questions that atheists rarely answer.

 I will come back to the question of foundations in a moment, but first Hitchens list five points he finds immoral.

  • Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
  • The doctrine of blood sacrifice
  • The doctrine of atonement
  • The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
  • The imposition of impossible tasks and rules (pg 205)

Hitchens does not spend much time on the first point as he has addressed it earlier. But his claim that this is not just wrong but immoral deserves a reply and it immediately brings us back to the question of moral principles.  I can understand why Hitchens would think that the Christian view of creation might be incorrect, but why it is it immoral? 

It cannot be simply in the fact that he thinks it in error.  This is because many of the things that have been taught under the heading of science have also turned out to be incorrect, and no doubt some of the things currently taught will likewise be shown to be in error as new discoveries are made. So if it were simply a question of teaching things that turned out to be incorrect all human inquiry would need to be considered immoral as all human inquiry is error prone.

For most, morality is not so much in the acts themselves, but in the choices behind those acts. The act of being correct or incorrect is an issue of fact, not morality.  For morality to enter in, one must choose to be correct (i.e. honest) or incorrect (i.e. dishonest).  But once again there is a problem for Hitchens as those who teach that God created the heavens and the earth do so because they believe it. So again they may be wrong, but why is this immoral?  As with so many of the moral claims made by atheists, in the end, about the best you can say is that it is immoral because they said it was immoral.

When Hitchens moves on to blood sacrifice, things are not much clearer. The core of this section is spent on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and not really on blood sacrifice itself. The last half of the section is on religious violence, which while tragic and evil, does not really say anything about blood sacrifice.

From there Hitchens moves on to Atonement, and again his initial argument is at best confused and muddle, at least from the Christian view of atonement.  For example, Hitchens will have no trouble finding Christians to stand with him to condemn the Aztec practices of human sacrifice. 

At least Hitchens does spend the center of this section on Christ’s death as atonement for our sins.  The core of his objection seems to center around questioning how he could in anyway be responsible for the death of Christ, or for Adam’s transgression as he “had no say and no part.”  However, few Christians would agree that his rhetorical questions reflect an accurate depiction Christian teaching. Instead of dealing with the complexities of the issue Hitchens simply gives a distorted stereotype which he then mockingly knocks down.  

He spends the last quarter of the section on anti-Semitism.  Here at least Hitchens is dealing with real immorality for which the Church is at least to some extent responsible. However, there is a strange irony in his argument.  Hitchens correctly argues that even if the Jews at the time of Jesus’ death where as a group uniquely responsible, (which by the way I believe would be an incorrect understanding of New Testament), it would be wrong to hold future generations liable as well.  And yet he uses the crimes, and they were crimes, of some Christians in earlier generations, as a reason to attack the beliefs of those who had not part, no say and would and do condemn those crimes.

In any event, the corporate guilt of the kind that fueled anti-Semitism, is something quite different than atonement or even original sin. In the end once again I am left with the question that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, why is it immoral?  

Hitchens does touch on this, in the his final section of the chapter where he addresses his last two points, and that is will I will pick up next time.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.