Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Therapeutic vs. Reproductive Research

One of the ironies in the stem cell debate is that there is a camp of scientists and ethicists who are trying to strike a kind of middle ground in which embryonic stem cells are allowed to be cloned or created for research, but only for what is called therapeutic purposes and not for reproductive purposes. (This story makes note of that.) In short, they believe cloning and ESC research should be allowed only to allow the product to be destroyed and the stem cells or organs harvested. It would be much worse, apparently, if infertile couples cloned an embryo to raise it and care for it as a human being.

The poet and ethicist J. Bottum has noted that this runs contrary to our moral intuitions and leads to a scientific culture reminiscent of our worst dystopias. At least, he argues, if we allow cloning and ESC research, let us do so for reasons much more humane than destruction and research. Doubtless the defenders of this odd position point out that the destruction and research is for potential future benefit. But I cannot come up with another situation in which we as a culture allow the wholesale slaughter and destruction of a certain class of humans for the potential future benefit of a few.

We must resist the tendency our scientific culture has to euphemize its way out of moral conundrums. If we beat down our moral intuitions for too long, they may be very hard to regain indeed.

Pragmatism, Behavior and Religion

Here is another study concerning America’s youth and their attitudes toward religion and spirituality.

I don’t “follow” these kinds of studies closely like may pastors and culture watchers do, but when I run across them some of their findings fascinate me. I find that there are a lot of pastoral and missiological implications contained in their findings.

The primary point of this study is that Gen Y likes choice in religion. Like their iPods, they want to be able to control their intake of religion. But I want to focus on one of the last lines in the Washington Times article:

However, although many of these young Americans worry about getting good grades and finding work after school, their biggest concern is the solidly "moral" issue of nonmarital sex -- 35 percent of Generation Y members are "very worried" about "getting a sexually transmitted disease," the study noted.

Don’t ask me why “moral” is in quotes in the article-sexuality is a pretty standard moral issue.

Anyway, some might read this and think it is a good thing. “Whatever their motivation, they are avoiding sinful behavior,” is probably what most think. And I don’t necessarily disagree.

What I am worried about is why they are seemingly avoiding extra-marital sex. The motivation reflected in the article is not moral, theological, relational, marital, societal, philosophical, familial, etc….it is raw and unashamedly pragmatic. According to the study, young people are not thinking about God or other humans when they have the thought, “extra-marital sex should be avoided.” They are thinking of themselves only.

Sure-maybe they are avoiding destructive and sinful behavior, but the reason they have for behaving that way is corrosive. This kind of pragmatism leaves no room for truth, moral rectitude, societal consequences, or other goods we hold in high esteem. It knows only the base drives of the self.

Why is this so corrosive a view? What sort of effect do you think this kind of view of the world has on religion? You might as well throw out any attempt to be unique or exclusive, and you had better not trod on an individual’s “right” to self-determination. So much for Christ and His Cross. Here is a thought experiment: does the typical youth group appeal to theology or pragmatism when trying to get kids to avoid drugs or extra-marital sex?

I have said before on this blog-pragmatism is a philosophy that corrupts people’s souls and will divide them from the grace and bliss of repentance and forgiveness. If we try to play down to the narcissistic drives of individuals, we will end up corrupting our own faith.

Screwtape Must Be Smiling

And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Luke 5:31

In speaking these words to the Pharisees, do you think Christ’s point was, “Don’t worry about sin and repentance, Mr. Pharisee, because you are doing alright in that regard. This tax collector, though, is really in need of some work on his soul”? Of course not. Jesus has no such view of Pharisees, and no such view of any human in particular.

What Jesus was trying to put across was that Levi the tax collector felt his need of a physician-he knew he needed forgiveness and grace. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were too sure of their own righteousness to partake in the infinite mercy and forgiveness of the divine physician.

One of the most dangerous positions to be in, spiritually speaking, is when we are comfortable with our own moral standing. When we feel good about ourselves, we are guaranteed to miss the greatest gift of all.

This study done by the National Study of Youth and Religion identifies such a state among America’s youth, and likely in the culture at large. The Study concluded that the closest definition it could come up with for the way youth view their Christianity and spirituality was what they called, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Albert Mohler condenses some of the findings with this list of beliefs that comprise Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1."A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Many of the details which followed in the report described the typical teenager who could be very articulate and detailed about musicians and Hollywood stars, but who were very fuzzy when it came to spiritual and biblical themes. So it is not that teenagers are inarticulate in general or cannot recall details, it is that they think in generalized and fuzzy ways when it comes to their souls and their religiosity.

Screwtape seems to be winning. Instead of our culture becoming more and more atheistic, it is becoming more spiritual in fuzzier and fuzzier ways. And when people feel comfortable in their individualized and home-spun spirituality, they have absolutely no need of repentance and forgiveness.

There is a lot in Mohler’s article worth reading through and reflecting upon.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Good To Know: "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food"

CNN.com - Has Cookie Monster given up sweets? - Apr 7, 2005

Entertaining article on the new song in Cookie Monster's repertoire. There are not too many articles whos primary content is a Sesame Street Puppet and which quotes Senator Frist.

There is a lot of surrogate parenting going on out there!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Polling Papal Possibilities: Presumptuous Public Postulations

We have become trained to expect to get what we want.

I know polls are ubiquitous in our culture, but we are becoming the kind of society that expects polls to have some kind of sway over our public life. Our political climate, for instance, has given us the sense that if most people want something, they have a decent shot of getting it. If 58% of people think politicians should crack pink Easter eggs on their heads, then we expect that some will actually do it.

The Vatican, however, is a different matter. Reading about the polls done on what Americans and American Catholics would like to see out of the next Papacy strikes me as a collision of worlds. Politicians tend to look to polls for a good deal of their guidance; I am imagining that if the Vatican catches wind of these polls, the response will be, “who cares?” Who cares if most American Catholics, or just most Americans want the next Pope to be more “liberal” on stem cell research or abortion? The Papal stance on such matters is not a function of public opinion-it is a function of truth.

Most of all, the juxtaposition of these kinds of polls and the role of Catholic theology (or any orthodox theology for that matter) is a powerful reminder of how narcissistic we have become. From political push polls to postmodern churches we are trying very hard to make the world around us look like what we think it should be. We desperately want “them” to look like “us”; we really want God to look like me.

And yet the church goes on through wave after wave of cultural change and call after call for change in the church. And that is exactly how it should be. Too many people to count have prophesied the church must change or die-and the church has buried each and every one of them.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Pope and Moral Clarity

In the coming months, and I suspect, years, there will be much to discuss about the legacy and thought of Pope John Paul II. One of the recent articles that caught my eye is by George Weigel, who as I understand it, is a biographer of the Pope.

One of the things that has struck me about the legacy of the Pope is his unwavering determination to be a religious leader-we did not know of the Pope because he was backing a political cause or because he was a decidedly political figure, but because he was clearly and unashamedly theological and Christian in his public life (very often bearing political consequences). This public Christianity of his frustrated a lot of people for all kinds of reasons. I think Weigel nails one of those reasons:

For if there is only your truth and my truth and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to settle our differences, then either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you; Nietszche, great, mad prophet of the 20th century, got at least that right. Freedom uncoupled from truth, John Paul taught, leads to chaos and thence to new forms of tyranny. For, in the face of chaos (or fear), raw power will inexorably replace persuasion, compromise, and agreement as the coin of the political realm. The false humanism of freedom misconstrued as "I did it my way" inevitably leads to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's self-cannibalization. This was not the soured warning of an antimodern scold; this was the sage counsel of a man who had given his life to freedom's cause from 1939 on.

Moral clarity was a theme of his. He embodied so well the Christian ethic of understanding other religions and views and treating them and their adherents with humane respect and attention while at the same time standing clearly for the truth. What bothers many people is that they can’t stand the notion that there is a moral truth to stand upon; they are betting their farms on it.

Hence the silly label, and sometimes criticism, of “conservative.” Sure he was conservative in the sense that he knew that the truths taught from the very beginning needed to be held to, but to our modern American ears the label carries with it political and moralistic overtones. We really are a shallow bunch.

A Severe Doseage of Humor


Some of this is almost too funny! I come from a Pentecostal denomination and the article on the man who prophesies in pirate is priceless.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Role of Scripture in the Missional Church

I want to offer a couple more reflections on missional church gleaned from The Continuing Conversion of the Church. Guder offers this assertion about what an effective and mission oriented church will look like:

The Holy Spirit shapes God’s people for mission through the continuous encounter with the Scripture. Continuing conversion happens as the community “indwells” Scripture.

He goes on to say:

Rigorous biblical learning must be the missional congregation’s priority. The congregation intentionally commits most of its time together to biblical study….This means that the members are learning to think Christianly; they are learning how to see the world through the eyes of Jesus’ they are becoming biblically literates in order to be effective translators of the gospel into their world. [160]

Here! Here! I know there are several good and faithful ways to handle Scripture in a service and in a congregation (exegetical vs. topical preaching, etc.), but this statement of Guder’s has the ring of truth to me. I have personally stuck with verse-by-verse teaching myself because of this conviction, and I know that there are plenty of faithful pastors and congregations that “indwell” Scripture through a more topical way of preaching and teaching. But I have also noticed that many times when a pastor says they preach topically, what they mean is, “I preach a kind of pop-psychology, self-help gospel.” The point of their preaching is taken more from the latest TV show or book written by an NBA coach than from Scripture.

If we are to be salt and light, if we are to be the kind of witness people recognize as distinct from the outside world, then Scripture must be our focus and our text, no matter our style of pulpit ministry. How else are we, the flock of God, to learn what our God desires of us? If the church does not hold up the standard of Scripture, who will?

As a kind of side note, as I read more on the emergent church I read conflicting views on this kind of thing. At one moment I read where some in the EC believe that because of the pomo rejection of authority, pastors should “step out of the way” and let Scripture do the talking; they promote an exegetical style of teaching and preaching. At the same time and for the same reason, I read that the community should therefore be the primary translator of the Christian life, and that the text of Scripture is just another example of the cultural incarnation of the Spirit in that time and place.

Obviously I think the first option is a life-saver for the emergent church, and the second is a death-knell. Are there any readers out there who see the EC as leaning one way or the other?