Tag Archives: abortion

Rejection of Babies — An Attitude That Will Come Home to Roost

A friend sent me a link to a frightening video that I view with the same blend of skepticism and concern I try to apply to all apocalyptic warnings. There were elements of the presentation that I need to verify from other sources. I don’t just swallow things whole.

However, a single statistic did capture my attention and my concern. It is a statistic I have seen elsewhere. I used to see it reported about the population of Europe, and now I see it reported about the population of the USA.

US Fertility Rate = 1.6.

This is a number to make any thinking person get busy thinking a lot more.

The reason this number gives me pause is another statistic. The birth rate required for a culture to sustain itself is 2.11. The consequence of a birth rate less than 2.11 is the death of a culture. I won’t try to predict what follows the death of the culture we know, but as far as I can tell, the culture I once thought was the USA is truly dying. If the birth rate continues at the rate of 1.6 then there will come a time when the USA that led an alliance to set a whole world free of tyranny in World War II will be a dim memory, if it is remembered at all.

I was captivated by this number. US Fertility Rate = 1.6.  During the election campaign of 2012, a dominant theme was the so-called “war on women.” The primary issue in that so-called war was a newly discovered universal human right to contraception, abortion and sterilization. The one thing everyone came to know about the new healthcare law, scornfully labeled Obamacare, is that it requires every employer to provide preventive health services for women that include contraception, abortion and sterilization at no charge to the patients. A lot of time was spent during the campaign maligning anyone who suggested that contraception is not health care or a preventive health service. Any candidate who proposed that people pay for their own contraception would have been hooted off the stage.

This campaign only highlighted the fact that in the USA, abortion and contraception have become almost interchangeable issues, and nobody seems to correlate this emphasis with the decline in the birth rate that means the culture cannot sustain itself. I’m no statistician, but those who are say that to date, no culture has ever rebounded from a birth rate of 1.6, although the rate from which it is supposedly mathematically impossible to recover is a bit lower.

What happens if the birth rate of the US remains at 1.6? What happens if it becomes even lower?

What bothers me is that people seem to be very concerned that somebody will interfere with contraception and abortion, and nobody seems to be concerned that this country will not be recognizable in a couple of generations if this birth rate continues. It appears to me that nobody cares that the culture of the USA will soon be only a memory, and that the people who will likely fill the gap really won’t care at all to preserve that memory.

If you have read this far and have asked yourself, “What does this have to do with being Christian?” my answer is this: about 70% of people in the US self-identify as Christians, and they are part of the statistic on the fertility rate. Self-identified Christians make up more than half of the US population, and it appears that Christians are just as interested in preventing or terminating pregnancy as the rest of the population. The national issues that have grown out of the passage of the Affordable Care Act make it clear that many Christians see no conflict with their faith in the emphasis on contraception, abortion and sterilization. The conversation about these issues, however, never seems to include any reference to the fact that before this act was even passed, our national fertility rate was low enough that the end of the culture that passed the act was already inevitable. Viewed that way, one wonders what is the reason for all the excitement. The people who worry about the doom of the culture are completely out-numbered by those who believe that prevention and termination of pregnancy are essential to the national well-being. Those who want pregnancy under control will absolutely get their wish according to the statistics. If Christians do nothing different from whatever they are doing now, American Christians are already a dying breed.

I must ask why abortion and contraception are so important to our government and our national leaders. I must ask why the female leaders in our nation not only support but also energetically advocate abortion and contraception. I must ask why so many Christians support an agenda to prevent or terminate pregnancy. Why?

I will write more on this subject later, but for now I simply ask this question: What becomes of our country if there is no next generation? What becomes of Christianity in the US if there is no next generation of Christians?

Who is Forcing Views on Whom?

In any discussion there are at least two opposing views. Else there would be no discussion. Life would move on. The foundation for decisions and plans and aspirations would not need to be named or assumed, because everybody would be in agreement.

 

Yet in the US today, a vicious allegation permeates public discussion of controversial issues, and its purpose is to shut down the conversations. People who hold some viewpoints are accused of trying to “force” their view of morality on other people. People who hold other views are held up as heroes for fighting entrenched oppression and denial of civil rights. Instead of discussion of the various viewpoints and explanations of the foundation for those viewpoints, “discussion” consists of assigning labels and agendas to people who hold opposing views.

 

A common allegation against certain viewpoints is that the person who holds those views is trying to “force” his own religion on everyone else. The implication of that accusation is that viewpoints rooted in religious teachings and experience are unjustified and therefore they have no validity among human beings at large. Vice President Biden stated in a debate that he would not “force” his church’s views about abortion on other people. The message of the statement was that his own moral convictions should not be the basis for his action as a public servant. This concept flies in the face of the teachings of all religions. Religion is always about the way people live, and it does not make sense for someone to claim that a religion rules his life but not his morals in public service.

 

The discussions of marriage, family and abortion are discussions permeated with contentious attitudes that pointedly reject the inclusion of certain viewpoints in the discussions. It is common for people who hold historic views on these issues to be accused of attempting to force religion on everyone else. Secular thinkers in the conversations say that views based in science and reason are legitimate while views based in religious teachings are not legitimate for the public to consider.

 

Secular thinkers believe that all ethical decisions must be based on analysis of human experience. Science collects the information, and reason does the analysis. However, when secular thinkers use science to collect information about marriage, family and abortion, the teachings, experience, and cultural wisdom derived in the context of religion are rejected from the mix of information to be analyzed. Secular thinkers reject the context of religious faith as a legitimate element in the construction of personal or public morality.

 

It is fine for secular thinkers to have their opinions, but Christians, Hindus, Muslims and adherents of religions around the world bring to the public discussion concerns that are the legitimate concerns of society at large. The First Amendment to the Constitution grew out of the recognition that human beings are naturally religious. The numbers of US citizens who claim to be exclusively secular in their views may be growing, but it is actually a very small portion of the population. This minority status does not justify the rest of society being rude to secular thinkers, but it does suggest that Christian views and other views growing out of religious traditions legitimately concern the culture as a whole.

 

When the discussions move from conversation to voting, the numbers who hold specific views matter. The view with the largest number of adherents will win the vote. This is not “forcing” a view on someone. It is the concept of majority rule. Majority rule keeps the peace, even though it may not be perceived as “fair.” (The word fair seems to mean what each person who uses it wants it to mean. It has no value in discussion of the legitimacy of an opinion.)

 

There will always be tension in a culture which is, to use politically correct speech, inclusive and diverse. The tension is best resolved by respect, not by pejorative labels and insulting accusations.   The Constitution of the USA is an example for the whole world of a good way to deal with a culture that is truly a melting pot of religions, ideas, values and social practices. The Constitution provides that the majority wins the day, and the First Amendment to the Constitution provides that opposing ideas, whether secular or religious, may continue to be spoken without fear. The First Amendment assures that the rule of law is enforced in a way that flexes with reasonable accommodations for religious practices that conflict with the law.

 

There is a way to end all the conflict. It is called totalitarianism. One person’s ideas and preferences and values rule everyone. It has been tried over and over, but human beings do not thrive in such an environment. God created human beings to love freedom. Secular thinkers may not agree that God is the origin of the love of freedom, but they cannot argue that it is unnatural. Freedom for all requires respect for all. To differ, to discuss, to vote, and to live by the outcome of the vote is not “forcing” anybody’s views on anyone. It is the best way to live free.

Secular religion. Yes there is such a thing.

We normally do not think of the debates between candidates for public office as a source of spiritual education, but last week we received an important lesson. The debate between the candidates for vice-president surprised me by providing a vivid example of the difference between a biblical definition of commitment to faith in Christ and the secular definition of religion.

People who enter into a relationship with Christ discover immediately that it permeates their lives. In relationship with Christ, everything is touched by that experience. In baptism each new believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit descended into Christ at baptism. Each of us, like Christ, is the visible in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the world.

In the book of Mark, Jesus found himself in constant conflict with Satan and other secular powers around him as he literally carried the kingdom around to the people of Galilee. Today, Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, do the same thing at work, at school, in the grocery store, in the voting booth, in the halls of Congress, and so forth. People living in relationship with Christ cannot turn off that relationship when they leave the church building on Sunday morning any more than married people can turn off that relationship when they exit their homes.

Last week at the end of the vice-presidential debate, the moderator asked each candidate to describe how his faith affected his views and actions relative to the issue of abortion and how it would affect his actions in office if he were elected. Paul Ryan said simply that his views and his values are shaped by his faith, and his views would not be changed if he were elected to public office. He said nothing about trying to force anyone to agree with him. He simply stated his position. Joe Biden said that his faith shaped his views, but he wouldn’t try to force his views on anyone. Joe Biden’s words made it very clear that his religious life takes place exclusively inside the walls of church buildings and has no relevance whatsoever to his behavior outside of those buildings. It is reasonable to conclude that he would say that religion is a private matter. The concept that religious people try to “force” their views on others is a common thread in secular comments about religion. When an individual advocates for views rooted in religious conviction, secular thinkers believe that he is “forcing” those views on people who advocate for views rooted in something other than religion. Secular thinkers dismiss values and views rooted in religion, because they view religion as a fairy tale. They demand that religious people find some other source for their values in order to deserve serious consideration in public life.

I describe this observation not to support or attack either candidate. I describe this observation, because the federal government has defined what is religious as the worship, evangelism and teaching that take place in church buildings. Period. The executive administration currently in power has written into regulations a clear definition of religion that confines its scope to religious activities that take place on church property. Joe Biden accepts that definition. Paul Ryan does not. To say this is not to say that Paul Ryan is the perfect candidate, or even to say that Paul Ryan is the perfect Christian. Both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are imperfect and unsaintly human beings. This small segment of the debate was only one view of each candidate, but it is the view that relates to this blog. Every Christian lives in a world where secular thinkers want to confine faith and the views and values of faith inside church buildings. If I had tried to write a dramatic script to show what it means to think about faith from the secular perspective and what it means to think about faith from the Christian perspective, I could not have written a scene that portrayed this difference any more clearly.

Secular thinkers consistently reject the existence of supernatural or “spirit” power. Some secular thinkers tolerate religion within bounds, that is to say, they think people have a right to enjoy the singing, the prayers, the beautiful buildings, the artistry of ancient texts and so forth that are associated with religion. However, even the most religiously tolerant secular thinker rejects any hint that someone’s religious values should play any role in public life. This is Joe Biden’s position. Joe Biden is Catholic in his religious choice, but he restricts the influence of his Catholic values to his life within the church. He has every constitutional right to do that, and voters have no right to say he can’t do that, but every voter has values, too. If voters consider Joe Biden’s candidacy seriously, they need to recognize from his own statements that in his elected office, he operates by secular values, not by Christian values. A voter who chooses the secular worldview will admire Joe Biden for this stance. A voter who believes that a Christian is a little Christ bringing the values of the kingdom of God with him wherever he goes will not admire Joe Biden’s position.

Paul Ryan expressed a view much more in keeping with traditional Christian teaching. He said that his views and values do not change when he acts as an elected official. He did not suggest that he will scoff at or ignore laws that contradict his views, but he did say that he would act in accordance with the views shaped by his faith. A voter who chooses the secular worldview would regard this statement with concern, because he would know that Paul Ryan is unlikely to conform to secular views, even if most of the people want the secular views. Secular thinkers believe that when a group of people gets together to hammer out laws for society, they should recognize that no member of the group has more understanding of what is right than any other. Secular thinkers reject revealed, absolute truth. Secular thinkers believe that society is evolving and that the rules about what is right and what is wrong must evolve with it. Christians, who believe that there are absolute truths revealed by God in the sacred text of the Bible, appear hard-headed and hard-hearted to secular thinkers who want to legislate in keeping with the evolving culture.

You can find comments expressing a secular analysis of the debate here .

You can find comments expressing a Catholic analysis of the debate here.

American culture is definitely changing. A recent Pew study showed that the number of people who are disconnected from any religion is growing rapidly. In this culture, it takes courage for anyone to say that his religion shapes his views and values. What this trend will mean for Christians in the next few years is not clear. It is also not clear how this trend will affect the outcome of elections. After all, values and views certainly shape people’s positions on the issues, but in the end, it is the position, not the philosophy or religion that is important to voters. This blog discusses this issue as a way of asking each reader to do some self-examination. Each reader needs to look within and ask, “Where do my values, my views, my choices come from?” Each reader should look within and ask if Christ sits on the throne of his/her heart, or if self is enthroned at the center of life. As voters, people must evaluate candidates such as Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and make important decisions with impact on the future of a nation. Please do that. But don’t forget to take a look within and ask if the values and views you express in public life are consistent with the values and views you claim when you are in church.

Prenatal Genetic Screening – a parental obligation?

Recently a genetics professor suggested publicly that creating designer babies by using prenatal genetic screening should be considered a “moral obligation” for parents.

The basis for the screening Professor Savulescu recommends is the identification of gene markers which are believed to be related to behavior and personality. His suggestion grows out of the first successful sequencing of the complete prenatal genome. The professor points to personality flaws such as alcoholism, psychopathy and a predisposition to violence as traits a parent should deselect in order to produce ethically superior children. Genetics studies have uncovered gene markers for some of these traits, and will almost certainly discover more in the near future. The professor advocates that parents take responsibility for the selecting children that will improve the human race. A summary of his article can be found in The Telegraph Online His full article will be found in the September, 2012 issue of Reader’s Digest.

In response to ethical complaints about the process of “engineering” babies, the professor points out that parents already are advised to test for genetic indicators of conditions such as Down’s syndrome and cystic fibrosis. Some parents already use the results of such tests to inform a decision to continue or to terminate a pregnancy. In the eyes of the Professor Savulescu, after screening for severely adverse medical conditions, the natural next step is to use the genetic information to screen out undesirable behaviors. The professor calls this process “rational design,” and he believes this process is both ethical and desirable.

Important questions arise with regard to the process of designing babies:

  1. Is there actually a parental obligation to use genome sequencing to screen out personality or medical defects and terminate pregnancies if defects are identified?
  2. If the answer to question 1 is ‘yes’ then does the process of prenatal genome sequencing actually deliver to parents today the kind of information they need in order to screen out these defects?
  3. How is this process different from the “eugenics” movement initiated by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930’s? The professor says it is different because, instead of the state defining the selection criteria, parents do it for themselves. Is there any real ethical difference if the result is to kill those who are determined to be defective?
  4. Genome sequencing can only happen if an egg has been fertilized. Biologically speaking viable eggs and viable sperm are living things. Is it even possible to construct a definition of ‘alive’ that would exclude a fertilized egg or an 8-cell embryo?
  5. Such testing could certainly be used simply to help parents prepare for what may be a considerable care burden if a child has severe medical issues. Most Christians have some level of comfort with that usage of genetic information. However, in order to believe that genetic screening is both ethical and desirable, one must allow that it is ethical to kill a living human being who has not yet been born. Christians do not universally agree even on the question of family planning by natural means. What criteria will Christians use to decide whether to participate in family planning that includes the destruction of a living human being?

There are clearly more questions than answers. Secular thinking does not include Christian concepts of the sovereignty of God or the sacredness of human life. Secular thinking often revolves around efforts to perfect human beings or society at large, and very often, the efforts involve some heavy-handed action by a special person who alone knows how to reach the perfection everyone yearns for. It may be that the push for perfection of humankind within the boundaries of time and space is the most crucial difference between Christians and secular thinkers. Christians accept the fact that human beings are intractably imperfect. In fact, Christians accept the fact that Christ’s death was the only means of washing away all the imperfections, the sins, of human beings and that even baptized believers must continue to drown their sins daily. Secular thinkers believe human beings will find a way to improve the race and embark on a path to perfection in this life, the only life secular thinkers acknowledge. Christians reject any notion that the human race can ever be perfected. The only hope Christians see is the forgiveness of sin purchased at the price of Christ’s death on the cross.

The questions and attempted answers surrounding prenatal genetic screening cannot be swept under a rug. The fact that the answers are complicated will not prevent people from crafting what they believe to be answers on which they will act. Christians are part of the culture, and Christians will necessarily be part of the conversation. Christians may ask if God has allowed humans at this time in history to learn this new skill in order to draw closer to him in the ongoing process of creation. How will Christians find their way through the moral minefield set up by the capabilities for prenatal genetic selection?  

Holy Troublemakers

Readings for Sunday, July 15, 2012
Amos 7:7-15     Psalm 85:8-13     Ephesians 1:3-14     Mark 6_14-29

 Has anyone ever told you something true that you wished you did not know? It is a common problem. A wife hears the truth that her husband prefers another woman. A father hears that his son has been killed in an auto accident. A young girl discovers that her best friend has begun dating the boy she dreams of. A mother is told that her baby was stillborn.

Most of us try to live by the principle of telling the truth, but we don’t always like the truth.

Some people avoid the truth by pretending it is not so. Some enforce their willful ignorance of the truth by abusing other people who refuse to play along. The prophet Amos and John the Baptist both faced that problem. They spoke the truth as God instructed them to do. People who preferred lies forcefully rejected them.

Amos, a Judean, showed up in Israel and began to preach that God was mad at neighboring countries. The Israelites were glad to hear that God was angry with their enemies. That truth sounded good, and they were eager to hear more of the same. However, when Amos announced that God thought Israel was out of line, not true when measured by a plumb line, the people of the northern kingdom took offense. They told him to go prophesy in Judah, and never to come back to Israel, because they did not like the kind of truth Amos told. Amos accused them of selfishness and greed and addiction to personal pleasure. He said God thought their sacrifices, offerings and worship activities were completely dishonest shams. He accused them of not actually worshiping God, no matter how good things looked. Amos was made persona non grata in Israel, because he was a loudmouth troublemaker.

John the Baptist offended a lot of people, too. He called the religious leaders vipers and he accused the king of adultery. Unlike Amos who was simply run out of town, John was actually arrested. Ultimately he was beheaded, because he, too, was a loudmouth troublemaker.

When standing for truth might cost someone power or celebrity status, many people reject the truth and pretend it isn’t so. When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” Pilate knew that Jesus was speaking truth, and Pilate knew that the religious leaders and their mob were speaking lies, but Pilate did not want to deal with the truth. His job was to keep riots down. In his worldview, Jesus, the itinerant rabbi that had the whole world in an uproar, was nothing but another loudmouth troublemaker. Jesus was executed, because Pilate could not accept truth.

As Christians we, too, are called to be troublemakers. We are to be little Christs, sprinkled around in the culture like salt sprinkled on a stew. We are supposed to be busy telling the truth all the time. The truth about God. The truth about Christ. The truth about our life in relationship with Christ. We are to reject lies and live truth, and if we do that some people will hate us. If we say that an unborn baby is a living human being, we might be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that a human embryo is a living human being, we might be even more hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that God does not create people with a genetic identity that runs counter to God’s own model for family structures, then we will be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that we cannot show kindness to anyone without doing it in the name of Christ, and that therefore, we cannot ever perform completely secular service, we will be scorned, if not hated, and we may suffer some social and legal consequences.

Nevertheless, we are called to be troublemakers. Loving, peaceful, kind, truthful little Christlike troublemakers. We must expect the consequences the culture visits on troublemakers.