Eddie Izzard’s show is hysterical and historical. His latest show, “Force Majeure,” gets a lot of laughs at the expense of the Religious and the Nazis.
When it comes to religion, he’s not as bad as many in the popular media. He’s not nearly as bitter so there’s more comedy than mockery. He also distinguishes between different types of religious people: the ones that do charity and the ones that are ignorant bigots.
Izzard’s understanding of history is quite clear: in spite of some setbacks here and there, we are moving upward and that is the important thing. One of the major setbacks was the Nazis, but they were merely an interruption in the upward trend.
In the Q&A after the show, a fan asked Eddie if he’d be changing any of his Nazi material when he toured Germany in the coming year. He said that this wouldn’t be necessary. He believes that the German people are like us, and that Hitler kidnapped Germany for 12 years. Once the Nazis were removed the German people could get back onto that upward trajectory.
This interpretation of history is very popular–it is the modern story. Mankind is basically good and freedom is the goal of history. Over the last 500 years we have been gaining freedom–first from the Church, then from the monarch, then slavery, then God. In the 20th century freedom spread through the civil rights movement and women’s liberation and it continues through all sorts of sexual freedoms.
For many, this optimistic view of history has filled the gap created by the loss of religion. There is an almost supernatural faith in humanity to achieve its utopian ideals. Like all worldviews…
One of the problems with Izzard’s view is that it divides people into them and us. The “them” is the religious and the conservative, and the “us” is progressive and open-minded. It is the later group that is responsible for the upward trend in history, and the former group that is largely impeding progress.
I don’t fault Eddie specifically for holding this view–we are all guilty of “them=bad/us=good” thinking now and again (all the time?).
But it is wrong.
The line that divides good and evil is not between individuals, but within each individual.
There aren’t good religious people (Izzard’s charitable Christians) and bad religious people (opponents to freedoms sought by the LGTB)–they are all bad. Christians aren’t less evil than Muslims–news out of Central African Republic is evidence of this. Atheists have to accept Stalin and Hitler as theirs, and Christians have to accept the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as things that Christians did.
Because the human soul is divided, human flourishing will not inevitably increase over time.
The 20th century alone provides ample evidence of exactly this–incredible medical and technological advances, on the one hand, two devastating world wars on the other. The United Nations was born and so was the Atomic Bomb. The Olympics and the Holocaust. Civil rights and Abortion. The music of the 60′s and the music of the ’80s.
Humans are capable of tremendous good, so we may again have another Mandelas, but unless we recognize that the true impediment to human flourishing is the evil that lurks in every human soul, we will again face evils as great as any we’ve encountered in human history.
The solution to our plight is not for everyone to become a progressive liberal. It’s to deal with the evil that exists within all humanity.
OK, now the thing that really set me off.
Before I was a kid, the film was preceded by newsreels — meaningful because it was informative with a little propaganda thrown in for good measure.
When I was a kid, the movie was preceded by a cartoon–meaningless, but entertaining.
Now, the film is preceded by commercials–demeaningful. They are demeaning. They reduce audiences of people to mere consumers.
One of the commercials that preceded the latest adventure of Katniss Everdeen as she, once again, squares off against the evils of them Capital, was for a new line of makeup for Cover Girl.
And the name of this new, somewhat outlandish line?
The CAPITAL Line!
The trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is in the genre of dystopian fiction. That is, it presents a horrible world against which the protagonist must contend. The whole point of this genre, and therefore this particular movie, is to be a warning. By exaggerating and projecting into the future an aspect or aspects of our present day culture, this movie makes us more aware of our vice, or (at least) our folly.
The Capital is frivolous and exploitive. One scene in particular, brings this home. Our heroes are forced to attend a Capital party where there are so many good things to eat, Peeta laments he cannot try them all. He is immediately offered a beverage that will empty his stomach of its contents so that he may start all over again. The irony of this is not lost on Katniss who comments that many in the districts starve while they provide all the resources for those in the Capital to maintain their lifestyle of excess. Oh, and as an external symbol of the Capital’s excess –meaningless adornment.
Enter Cover Girl’s Capital Line of cosmetics.
If the audience were capable of absorbing the core meaning of this film, Cover Girl would right now be attempting to recover from one of the greatest advertising dabacles in history. Young women would be rushing home from the theatre to post pictures to Facebook of them destroying all their Cover Girl products, or shooting kabob skewers at magazine-ad targets with bows made of pencils and rubber-bands.
But alas, Cover Girl didn’t make a mistake.
They know that we are capable of believing one thing, and doing another.
. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing
We can root for Katniss and everything she stands for, while in our theatre seats, but when we walk into the air, we become, once again, the citizens of the Capital, blind to our frivolous and exploitive lifestyle.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Cover Girl, particularly. I’m sure they no longer test their products on baby seals, but that they succeed in selling a product line based on the antagonist shows a disconnect.
Imagine an Anglo-Saxon buying a compact car called the Grendel, or the medieval peasants wearing Turk Brand jeans, or the British public ordering up a pint of Prussian Ale–in 1916. It wouldn’t be possible.
Why can Cover Girl get away with it today?
Because we are different than our predecessors. For them truth and action were inseparable.
For us, there is a gap between knowing and doing.
Not so, in the movie. The main virtue celebrated in the film was doing what one knew. Katniss, and the rest of the good guys, knew the Capital was wrong in their exploitation of others and that things needed to change, so they did something about it, even in the face of great pressure to do otherwise. They each embodied the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice. As a matter of fact, this is the primary error of President Snow–he assumes that once in the arena, Katniss she will betray her professed altruistic values and become the killing machine he knows her to be. He is right that if she does this, the revolution will be over. All of the revolutionaries are banking on her constancy–and she lives up to these expectations. It is not only Katniss that embodies the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice; for Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, Mags, Fennick, and Prim there is no gap between knowing and doing.
I loved this movie, because it was true, but does it really do any good if we don’t act on that truth?
And do we really live in an age when art no longer has any effect?
I had to drive past two super-sized cinemas, both showing the same eight (bad) movies so I could see 12 years as a Slave. My wife and I like to see all the movies with Oscar buzz and, given the reviews, thought this one was a must see, so we made the trip. I’m not sure it lives up to the comparison with Shindler’s List, but it was good.
It was good, but I was a little irritated by the portrayal of Christianity in the film.
Not only were the slave owners explicitly Christian, but the one sympathetic character–the one who boldly expressed abolitionist ideals–was not. The most abusive slave owner–the one who had his slaves whipped if their daily cotton picking was less than the day before, the one who regularly raped his best worker, the one who shredded the back of a defenceless woman . . . The most abusive slave owner used the Bible to justify his behavior. Mr. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is the savior of Solomon Northrup, the protagonist of the film. Bass’ opposition to slavery is based on a vague objective equality inherent in all men.
It is historically accurate to present slave owners justifying the institution of slavery with the Bible. It is also, certainly, true that many of those who opposed slavery were freethinkers like Bass—unaffiliated with Christianity. But I was irritated that the filmmakers chose to associate Christianity with the injustice of slavery and ignore the fact that Christians played a major role in the Abolitionist Movement.
Throughout history, men have used whatever it takes to justify their own greed or lust for power. Within a Christian culture, such men will use Christianity to do so. This, however, does not make them Christians–to be Christian, one must walk in the footsteps of Christ. One need only read a few chapters of one of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John too see how Jesus would respond to slavery. It was a Christian view of humanity that fuelled the abolitionists’ opposition to slavery.
I thought the movie overlooked this fact.
I was angered by the injustice of slavery as I watched this movie. I caught myself thinking, “If I were there, I would have done something.” Almost instantly, I recalled that our world is full of injustice today–including slavery.
It is the love of and for Jesus that motivates the International Justice Mission. There are millions of victims of slavery in the world today. IJM is doing something about it. Working with local officials, IJM rescues victims of slavery and sexual exploitation and they prosecute the perpetrators of these injustices.
IJM, and Christian organizations like it, are doing exactly what the makers of 12 years as a Slave hold up as the ideal, and they do it in the name of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the movie applies his name to those whose motives and behaviours are most contrary to his.
The movie is obviously concerned with exposing injustice. But I wonder about the long term effect of consistently presenting Christians as those who perpetuate hate and injustice. I worry, but won’t be surprised, that it will result in some new forms of injustice.
There are good people and there are bad people; we are the good people and if you aren’t like us, you are bad people.
I get the impression that this is considered a typically Christians attitude. In my experience, not very many, but some certainly think this way.
They divide humanity up into categories of good and bad, and then stick themselves in the good category. This sort of thing is easy if you make the categories.
The bad people are people who get divorced, have affairs, abortions and/or are homosexual. They certainly drink (more than the occasional wine with dinner) and often smoke–perhaps even drugs. And the clincher is, they don’t do any of the things good people do.
The good people go to church weekly and listen to Christian radio. They are considered “wise” if they avoid thinking. They pray, sing and read the Bible. They go nuts about “family values.” They vote Conservative in Canada and Republican in the States.
Although often attributed to Christians, these categories wouldn’t work for Christ. But if you’ve got these categories in your head, you might actually misunderstand what Jesus taught it in one of his best known stories.
Everyone is familiar with the parable of the “Prodigal Son” or the “Lost Son” — this is what it was called when I was in Sunday School.
These are actually completely inaccurate titles for this story; they reflect a complete misreading. This version presents two sons, one “good” and one “bad.” The bad son squanders his inheritance on parties, loose women and going to R-rated movies. The good son stays at home, works hard and goes to church, etc. The bad son finally sees the light when his money runs out and repents of his evil deeds and is welcomed back into the family. The moral of the story is that God will forgive us if we repent of being bad and become good.
Although this it is true that God will forgive, this is not at all what the parable is about.
In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller, says this story would better be titled “The Parable of the Lost Sons” because both sons are lost. Neither son loves the father for who he is; both are just after his stuff. They represent two different strategies for getting ahold of it. By the end of the story, one son is saved. Interestingly, it’s the “bad” son who is saved. The “good” son is remains lost.
The older brother has two problems. His first problem stems from his motive for being good. He leverages his good behavior against his father–his attitude: “I’m ‘good’ so you owe me!” His second problem is that he’s measuring his goodness against the standard set by his younger brother. In this comparison he comes out pretty good, which is why he does it. This guy is exactly the sort of guy that many accuse Christians of being.
So there’s good news and there’s bad news and, then, there’s good news.
The good news: Jesus audience was exactly the sort of “holier than thou” hypocrites that drive us crazy, and even keep us out of church. This self-righteous bunch of Bible thumpers were the target of his story and he nailed them, big time!
Here they are, creating some random criteria and then measuring themselves against how poorly others live up to their arbitrary standard.
The bad news: Yes, the older-brother-types receive some major chastisement from Jesus in this parable. But if you identified with the younger brother, you aren’t off the hook. Both sons were lost because they both wanted the blessings of the father, but not the father himself. Unlike the older brother, he realize how wrong he had been, and he came back home. You can’t come home unless you turn around and walk in the other direction.
The good news: There’s lots of good news in this parable. The father loved both his sons, even though they weren’t very nice to him. And when one son appeared in the distance, the father ran out to meet him. This is not the sort of thing a respectable middle eastern patriarch does–and Jesus’ audience knew it. Further, he gives him the robe and a ring and kills the fatted calf in celebration of his return. He had already given this son half of what he had, and now he gives him even more.
The prodigal in this story is the father — Keller defines this term as “recklessly spendthrift.” This is God the Father as Jesus presents him. This is the accurate representation.
Those in the faith have the obligation to present our heavenly father as he is. The last thing we want is for people to think our heavenly father is like the older brother in the parable.
Those who are inclined to walk away from God, need to reject him as he truly is. Not as a false representation.
Certainly one of them could be
the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God
(2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV).
This would probably be the first reason offered by many believers, and the last reason offered by the atheist.
Consider this: Perhaps some that have walked away from God are actually rejecting a misrepresentation of God.
If someone rejects a misrepresentation of God, are they not actually walking toward God?
There are many misrepresentations of God.
There is one true representation of God and that is Jesus Christ.
That’s not just my opinion–he said it.
I will write a series of posts under this new category. Stay tuned.
You won’t believe what this textbook said.
This is a conversation I had with a few pages of the new edition of “Pathways,” a Social Studies textbook used in grade 8 classes. The section was called “Religion and Civilizations.”
Me: Since you are written for use in public schools, it must be a little dicey when you talk about religion given that you are supposed to remain neutral on this sort of thing. What do you see as the relationship between religion and civilization?
Pathways: “Religion is an important aspect of civilization. In many civilizations, both in the past and in the present, religious beliefs are one way a civilization defines and describes itself. Religion also influences people’s values and actions.”
Me: I see. And why do we study religion in grade 8?
Pathways: “Learning about different religions allows us to understand the civilizations to which these religions belonged.”
Me: That shouldn’t upset too many people, but as a religious person myself, I’d consider this a bit of a limited view. Religion is more than a means by which we understand others, but I guess you’re limited in how much you can say about religion and still maintain your neutrality. Tell me, what is your view on why we have religions in the first place?
Pathways: “Human beings have always asked what we call ‘big questions.’ You have probably asked them, too.”
Me: Yes, I love the big questions. That’s one of the reasons I like to blog. But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what do you mean by big questions?
Pathways: What happens to me after I die? What is the difference between right and wrong? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How was all this created?
Me: Yes, these are pretty much the same as my questions. I’ve heard them called worldview questions, and you are right; everyone asks them and everyone answers them (whether they admit it or not). So what do these “big questions” have to do with why religion exists?
Pathways: “Human beings like to have answers to their questions. Having answers make us feel more secure.”
Me: Whoa! I might be jumping ahead here, but are you one of those people who believes the function of religion is to create a feeling–a feeling of security? If that’s the case, then religion is pretty much a safety blanket for the weak, is it not? I’ve heard some call it a crutch for those who can’t face “reality.” Aren’t you supposed to be neutral on issues of faith? I mean, it is a pretty low view of religion, isn’t it? Most religious people understand that any security they may feel is merely a by-product of the more important search for truth and meaning–religion itself is actually a product of this search. I understand I’m not being neutral either, but I think it’s impossible. Is there no sense in which the big questions that religion answers might be rooted in a search for objective truth?
Pathways: “But these big questions cannot be answered the same way ordinary questions can be.”
Me: I understand that, but just because they cannot be answered in the same way–or are harder to answer–does not mean the answers aren’t true. Anyway, you were saying something about the difference between big answers and ordinary answers? Can you elucidate?
Pathways: “For example, science tells us that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. This is based upon creating a hypothesis and then using experiments to discover if our original ideas were correct. With religion, people have to accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. “
Me: I’ve noticed your word choice. Did you know you consistently us the term “us” when speaking of knowing and the word “people” when speaking about believing? I thought it was interesting how you distance yourself, and, consequently, your readers from the act believing. Where were we? Oh yes, you said that ordinary questions are the ones that can be answered empirically and big questions can’t be answered empirically so their answers are non-scientific. That sounds bad when you put it that way. Are you implying they are just sorta made up?
Pathways: “In effect, [people] have to accept them based on their beliefs (faith).”
Me: You are saying that something can’t be” correct,” unless it is proven empirically: with scientific evidence. That means the only things that can be true are things having to do with the properties, history and function of matter. This would make sense, I suppose, if matter was all there is. Wait, if you think that, you just answered a big question: “Is matter all there is?” This is not an ordinary question, it’s a big question. You can’t know if you are correct because this answer is based on non-scientific evidence. If you are going to be answering big questions, I might accuse you of being religious. Then what would happen to your neutrality? Let’s move on. So how do you explain why we have so many different religions?
Pathways: “Different Faiths, Different Answers”
Me: Could you elaborate?
Pathways: “There are many religions in the world, and each one has different answers to the big questions.”
Me: Which one is right?
Pathways: “Which one is right? No one religion has the ‘right’ answers, because the big questions have no scientifically provable answers.”
Me: How do you know that to be true? Isn’t that assertion based on non-scientific evidence? I think you just answered another big question: Can something be true even if there is no empirical evidence to verify it? Your answer to this one can only be right if your answer to the last one is right, and you can’t prove that one so you can’t prove this one. Don’t forget about neutrality.
Let me ask you something. Isn’t a religion that teaches to love of one’s neighbours a little closer to the truth than one that teaches it’s OK to kill innocent children? That doesn’t make sense to me.
But, I digress. Your claim to neutrality seems to be a little suspect; you seem to have very clear views as to how we understand the beliefs of others, but you aren’t really admitting when you accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. I’m not sure that you are suitable for use in a public school, because you seem to support one set of unscientifically supported beliefs, over all other sets. My concern is for the students. What do you say to a grade 8 student who is thinking about the big questions? I don’t think it would be appropriate to explicitly discourage them from being involved in religion.
Pathways: In Canada today, there are many different religions. If you were looking for a religion to belong to, you could find out what different religions say about the big questions. Then you could choose the religion with the answers you are most comfortable with, or that fit best with what you already think.
Me: It doesn’t really matter what religion someone belongs to? At least you are consistent. You suggest that the choice between religions is to be based on feelings of comfort each offers or how well they conform to one’s preexisting ideas? I understand that you think you are being equally fair to all religions, but you are not really. You are being equally unfair.
People aren’t looking for comfort when they ask and answer the big questions, they are looking for truth–universal and objective truth–because they believe they can find it, just as you believe they can’t. Given this, people can’t just shop for a religion like they do for a dress–take the one that fits. (Nearly) every religion says that adherents need to conform to some objective moral standard. If you are going to respect religion, you must recognize that, the individual conforms to religion, not the other way around. Your method of selection is legitimate only if all religions were equal. They can only be equal if your answers to the big questions are right. But you haven’t proven that they are–because you can’t.
Aren’t you really saying that if everyone had your religion, then we’d all get along better?
Pathways: “Even if you had a different religion than your friends, that probably would not matter too much. If fact, you could probably learn something from each other.”
Me: I agree that people of different religions ought to get along. But I don’t agree that this cooperation is contingent of not taking our religions seriously. On the contrary, we can only get along if we give each other the freedom to take their faith seriously. Wouldn’t the picture of true tolerance be a materialist, such as yourself, talking with a Christian and a Muslim over a good cup of coffee, disagreeing, but enjoying the company, the conversation, and the coffee all the while respecting each others beliefs, because, even though they are not scientific, they are rational.
Wouldn’t this be a better picture to present to the grade 8 student?
My principal told me of a conversation that he had with a Christian minister who was strongly against Christian Education. I asked him if he could send me a list of his objections so I could think about them. And when I think about things, I write about them.
1. Children need to be salt and light in the public school.
The first objection to Christian education is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and by sending our children to a public school we are fulfilling this mandate. I agree that it is vital that Christians “let [their] light shine before men,” but this injunction is meant for Christians, not the children of Christians. I’m not saying that children of Christians aren’t Christian (although some would), but I am suggesting caution. To be salt and light requires the supernatural strength provided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Children of Christians are often well mannered, respectful, kind and encouraging. A lot of children are, Christian or not, if have been raised in stable and principled homes. Being polite and encouraging is not the same thing as being salt and light. Children of Christians are not necessarily equipped for this task for it requires more wisdom and spiritual maturity than a child usually possesses.
2. Where will the world be if all Christians pulled out of the world
Behind this objection is the assumption that Christians are to function (as “salt and light”) in culture only as individuals. This mistake is understandable, since we are incredibly individualistic in our culture. This is one of the very idols that a good Christian education attempts to reveal and combat. We tacitly interpret our world through an individualistic lens. There is no doubt that the world would be in bad shape if there were no Christians, but Christian schools do not cause Christians to disappear. They are still there. They are just in schools that proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. The Christian school is salt and light in the world, but it is a corporate response, rather than an individual one. Christian school must, then, be very deliberate in engaging culture–their local community as well as the education community–so as to truly be a blessing to “the world.”
3. Children who attend Christian schools experience culture shock when they enter ‘real world’
This is a great danger if the purpose of the Christian school is to protect students from the “real world.” Some religious schools exist for this very reason, because they overemphasize the power of sin in the world. Other schools are only Christian in that they have morning prayer, weekly chapels and offer Bible classes. The problem with these schools is they overestimate the created goodness in the world. There is a third type of Christian school that believes all things are created good, and all things profoundly affected by sin. This Christian school would explore all aspects of creation, including culture, and celebrate the creational goodness that we find there, but it would also train students to discern evil, not just “out there”—where it certainly is, but also inside our most intimate circles and within ourselves. A child educated in this kind of school would not be shocked, but would be prepared to faithful living in the world.
4. Science, English, Math… its all the same whatever school you go to… the religion part can come from home and church.
This objection comes straight out of the Modern worldview. Modernism separates reality into public/private categories. The public sphere is where reason guides political, economic, educational, (etc.) discussions. The assumption is that reason is neutral, and out of this value neutral position, we can dialogue on how we can best organize society. All the non-rational, things, like beliefs, opinions, religion, etc. are relegated to the private sphere. Society works if these things are kept in the church, the mosque or the bedroom. The public school is such a place. Reason directs the curriculum and, in the absence of beliefs, it is value neutral.
Many Christian parents also accept the neutrality of reason and, therefore, of a public education. The church and the home need add the religion component and the overall experience of the child tips toward the religious. The problem is that the public sphere is not neutral at all. Modern rationalism is a belief system that stands in opposition to the teachings of the Bible. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.
5. Christian schools inoculate youth to authentic Christian living and foster indifference to the beauty of the Gospel.
This is a danger whenever the gospel is merely an abstraction. If the church and family do not embody the gospel, the child will probably become desensitized to the “beauty of the Gospel” as well. At school it isn’t enough to study truth and then leave it in the students head. A Christian school needs to help student blur the lines between knowing and doing, and not just in extracurricular activities, like “missions trips.” And not just within the lessons themselves. The embodiment of the gospel needs to be systemic involveing, course offerings, programs, assessement, discipline, Special Education and Learning Assistance, athletics, awards, councelling, etc.
But the road along which we travel is fraught with perils on all sides. There are significant dangers in sending Christian children to the public school as well. One of them is probably not the desensitization to the Gospel by constant exposure to it. The dangers to which children of Christians are exposed in a public school are pretty serious. The idea that Science, English, Math, etc. are neutral is one pretty big one.
I think a better approach is, rather than risking these far greater dangers, addressing the “desensitization” issue of Christian schools very deliberately and ask how we can, individually and collectively, embody the Gospel.
6. My Christian school experienced was meaningless for growth for me as a Christian
Perhaps this is true. Of course I can’t possibly say. Perhaps his Christian school experience has no bearing on the fact that today he is a pastor. But there is some pretty good evidence that Christian education in general has a long term effect on the future of its graduates. The Cardus Institute published a study on Christian Schooling in both the United States and Canada. In the Executive Summary of the Canadian report, it is reported that
graduates of evangelical Protestant schools not only show more commitment to and involvement in religious rituals and activities compared with their government school counterparts with similar religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, but, despite having been educated among peers from similar religious backgrounds, are likely to be just as involved in civic affairs as all public school graduates, with the exception of protests.
7. The best thing for us is to have our kids going to school with their neighbours, and to put the onus for children’s discipleship back on the church.
My response to this objection is mathematical. In a seven day period a child spends at least 35 hours at school. The church cannot possibly compete, and it is a competition if we are talking about the public school. Even with the most incredible curriculum and leaders, how much can the church do in its few hours a week? If, however, the church and the school worked together in the discipleship of the children, how much more effective would we both be. I teach at a Christian high school, and the youth group leaders of the local churches are regularly at the school interacting with students and coordinating with administrators and teachers to discuss how to better serve the children, their families and our Lord.
At the Christian School, young people are meaningfully interacting with Christian adults. As they work on cars in the mechanics shop, or delving into Shakespeare, or practicing basketball students are being discipled in faithful living and their character is being developed through authentic relationships with Christian staff. The Christian school is not in competition with the church; the church, family and school work together in nurturing of children.
Christian schools aren’t all the same. My response to each of these objections is from a particular approach to Christian Education. For a more detailed description of the three types of Christian schools, read :
I was observing an English class at my school as they read the recent post by Betsy Childs entitled “Why We Should Legalize Murder for Hire.”
Some were horrified at first at the suggestion that “hit men [could] provide a valuable service to society” by helping women deal with “unwanted marriages,” but they quickly understood they were dealing with satire. Their appreciation of the author’s wit was evidenced by the readers’ giggles and parenthetic comments.
We don’t find out that the author is actually building a parallel between killing one’s spouse and killing one’s unborn child.
The students commended the cleverness of Childs’ analogy when she says that “matrimony severely curtails a woman’s freedom” and that “the better course is to avoid unwanted marriage in the first place,” and “it is her marriage; only she can decide when it must end” . . .
One student pointed out that Childs correlates adoption to divorce when she says the latter “may be an attractive alternative to murder” but “some woman do not have the emotional and financial resources to go through a divorce.”
The students’ initial reaction to this article was positive.
How would you take this if you were pro-choice?
I’d be mad.
It wasn’t very long and one student used the word “fallacy.”
The students continued to ask each other questions:
Yeah, that fits.
(Faulty analogy: an argument is based on misleading, superficial, or implausible comparisons.)
The students suggested that someone who was pro-choice would not accept the premise that the fetus was comparable to a husband, so this argument is only effective if someone accepts that premise. They concluded that if your audience was pro-life, Childs’ argument was effective, but if it was pro-choice the argument would be ineffective.
Who is the audience?
Since this article was posted on The Gospel Coalition website, one can assume that the audience was conservative to moderate Christians. The effect of the article was to reinforce the views of the audience. In other words, it was preaching to the choir.
What’s the point of writing this if your audience already agrees?
It was observed that the only effect of the article was to reinforce the view of those who agree that our society “celebrates [the murder of] family members”. Several students pointed out that this, in itself, is not wrong, but because the tone was mocking this article would simultaneously alienate opponents and enflame the passions of supporters.
Was this the purpose of the article?
If you get the two sides all riled up you can’t get anywhere.
How can Christians write about this issue that promotes dialogue?
When my kids were younger they had chores—one of which was doing the dishes. It should have been as simple as everyone taking a turn on a rotating basis, but was never that simple. Lacrosse games or ballet practices meant that somebody would miss their turn. To ask another child to take care of it resulted in anguished lamentations. These were even louder if the prospective dishwasher could conjure up a scenario where this debt might not be repaid. Then there was the was wailing and gnashing of teeth over the unfairness of having to do dishes on a night when we had a roast, as opposed the other night when a sibling had only to contend with the remains of a meal of bread and soup. I got so sick of it that sometimes that I just did them myself.
I wouldn’t have been any happier if I had their silent obedience either. It certainly would have been quieter, and possibly less frustrating, but it wouldn’t have lead to their happiness, and in my better moments what I wish most for my children is fulfillment regardless of the circumstances.
The problem in both of these responses is that doing the dishes are only seen as a duty. The idea of duty or obligation or requirement is set in opposition to happiness and joy. For my young children, happiness and joy could only be achieved through doing what they wanted as opposed to what they had to do. My kids put freedom first.
All this was a long time ago. My children have all grown up. The great thing now is that when they come over for a meal, they joyfully do the dishes. It’s the same activity, but their attitude is completely different.
What accounts for this difference? Surely, it’s maturity. They’ve lived away from home and know how much money and work it takes to put a delicious meal onto the table. But it’s more than maturity; the most important thing for them is no longer freedom from duties and obligations, but a relationship with me. I cook for them a delicious meal because I love them and they wash the dishes because they love me.
If we think that Freedom is more important than anything else in order to live the good life (read more here), our focus will usually be hostilely directed toward those things which limits ones freedom—duties, obligations, responsibilities.
If relationship is more important than freedom, our focus will be lovingly directed toward other persons who we love.
It’s obvious which leads to greater joy and happiness.
It’s all there in Deteronomy 10. The writer implores God’s people to
12 . . .walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.
Obedience certainly restricts our freedom, but washing the dishes after a good meal is a loving and joyful response to a great meal prepared for you in joy and love, and it’s all for our own good anyway. My kids were miserable when they were focused on the duty and they are happy now that they are focused on the relationship. God wants what’s best for his people, and it turns out that is obedience.
But it’s not just simple obedience. That’s for the simply religious, and they are miserable–it’s joyful obedience that God is after and that will be a blessing to us. In verse 16 of the Deuterononmy 10 it says
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
Circumcision was a duty for the people of God and if they understood it only as an obligation, they’d be stiff-necked. God certainly didn’t want disobedience, but silent and grudging obedience wasn’t any better; he wanted their hearts so that we can flourish.
Human flourishing is not about freedom, nor is it about fulfilling religious obligations, it’s about relationship.
When I got married, I was no longer free. I couldn’t play League of Legends whenever I wanted. I couldn’t eat chicken wings in bed. I had to tell my wife that I was going down to the store to get a jug of milk.
But I don’t mind. Not at all.
I’m not sure why exactly. It’s not because I’ve somehow gained more than I’ve lost–it’s more like I’ve gained what I lost as well as gained what I’ve gained. It doesn’t really make sense but that’s the way it is.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think that this sort of counterintuitive accounting occurs when anyone is in a good relationship.
A. C. Grayling recently presented the first of eight “Fragile Freedoms” lectures on CBC’s Ideas. In it he said that there is no possibility of living the good life if one is not free.
Grayling, along with most other modernists, would be right if human beings were made for autonomy. But what if we weren’t primarily made to be free? What if we were made first for something else?
What if we were made for relationship? Not just in marriage, but in friendship and family, and not just with people but with animals and even the physical world.
The Biblical story suggests human beings are made to be in relationship, first with their Creator and, after, with everything else. We were made to be the objects of God’s love. He says through Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3). Suppose we were made to receive and the to return his love and to spread it out to the rest of the creation?
If this is the purpose for which we were made, freedom is still a very important part of who we are. Love is impossible without freedom. There is no possibility to love someone if there is no freedom to reject their love. It’s all there in Genesis 1-3. Humanity was created for relationship with God (and with each other and with the world). We had a choice and chose to reject God’s love. This didn’t change our purpose, just our ability to fulfill it.
So who is right about human nature? The modernists like Grayling or those who adhere to the Biblical view of man?
There is a simple test: Who experiences more fulfillment in life? The person whose freedom is expressed through relationships or the one whose relationship is subordinate to his freedom.
In my experience, freedom is best enjoyed in the context of relationships, even though you surrender it most of the time. I think this is a universal experience when we are talking about “good” relationships. Those who insist on freedom first will be able to eat chicken wings in bed, but they won’t have anyone who cares that they stepped out for a jug of milk.