Monday, March 30, 2009

President Obama at Notre Dame

If you have followed the news, you know that Notre Dame's invitation for Obama to give the commencement address this year has caused quite a stir. Many are upset at what seems to be an obvious contradiction between some of Obama's beliefs and policies and some of the Catholic Church's teachings. Others are even more upset at the conferral of an honorary Ph.D. from the law school.

I spent some time discussing the matter with a friend, a Ph.D. philosohy student at Notre Dame, and we agreed that there is a lot of silly thinking going on around this topic. It turns out that it is tradition for N.D. to invite a new president to speak, so that is not so unusual, but I expressed that my greatest source of concern was the honorary degree. A speech, especially at a university where a diversity of views ought to be welcomed, is not that unusual. What is more of an association is the degree. It openly states that some department - the law department in this case - recognizes some achievement they wish to say is worthy of their Ph.D.

Francis Beckwith, now a visiting scholar at Notre Dame, was interviewed by Sarah Pulliam for Christianity Today. Not an intellectual slouch, Beckwith had some interesting things to say.

There's nothing wrong with inviting speakers to campus who disagree with the university. I don't think that's the issue here. Here, you have a combination of a commencement address and an honorary doctorate. The honorary doctorate is more troubling than the commencement address because to give him an honorary doctorate in law is to say that he's accomplished something in the field of law that the University of Notre Dame wants to honor. In the past three weeks, we've seen a number of different events, one of which was the change in policy on embryonic stem cell research. The problem is, the areas in which he's been involved with legislation on the issue of abortion have been contrary to Catholic teaching.

For instance, I would welcome Barack Obama to speak at Baylor. But in this case, the honorary doctorate doesn't go to the office of the President. It goes to Barack Obama, even after he ceases to be president. In a way, that gives an imprimatur on him and his views that I don't think Notre Dame should give him. I think if he were just the commencement speaker and not receiving the honorary doctorate, it would tone down the criticism. How can Notre Dame give him an honorary doctorate for excellence in something that our own theology teaches he isn't excellent in?

The last question to Beckwith, who famously converted from protestantism to Catholicism recently, was whether there were things for evangelicals to learn through all this.

I think all Christians can learn to start thinking about what it means to believe something.

One way or another...Amen!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cult of Charismatic Personality

This article in Christianity Today by Collin Hansen details yet another integrity problem within the larger Charismatic movement. The Lakeland, Florida revival lead by Todd Bentley had credibility problems from the beginning, yet it attracted tens of thousands of people and took on a life of its own over TV and the web. The article comes on the tail of quite a bit of outspoken frustration on both sides. From the beginning of the revival, a lot of people questioned Bentley, his personal integrity, and his tendency to hit and kick people when praying for them (no kidding!). In the article, one of the standard defenses of Bentley and Pentecostal revival is given by the pastor currently mentoring him and encouraging his return to the ministry after his divorce and marriage to his former assistant:

"If you are such [a] judge of this what gives you the credentials?" Joyner asked Grady on March 12. "What moves of God have you led? What have you built?" He went so far as to allege that Grady's judgment matched Bentley's infidelity in the economy of sin. [Joyner is the pastor defending Bentley and Grady is the journalist for Charisma who has questioned Bentley’s capability]

This kind of reasoning and deliberate manipulation of the situation infuriates me. What Joyner (and so many like him) said was grossly irresponsible and a naked power-play using God as his personal sledge-hammer.

To me, this raises much larger issues. Though all of us from any denomination are human and fallible, why is the Pentecostal movement so prone to following people whose only credentials are their eccentricity and ability to use the right vocabulary and inflection? The Pentecostal movement (and I speak as a Pentecostal pastor) needs some serious reflection and reform. For what it is worth, here are some things I think need to change on the grand scale for us.

We need to redefine “revival.”
Whether Pentecostal pastors admit it or not they tend to equate revival with emotionalism. And emotionalism is a horrible place to put your faith in God. Revival is not measured by the number of bodies that hit the floor; by the number of unsubstantiated miracle reports; by the amount of media buzz generated; by the number of international attendees. It is measured, pure and simple, by the fruit of the Spirit.

Revival happens when lives are genuinely, and in a lasting and growing way, changed by God. It is measured by the furtherance of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of this world in families and social structures.

We need to wean ourselves from the milk of “ends justify the means” ministry.
This is clearly the defense used to justify the ministry of dozens of heretics and spiritually abusive ministries. If it “works,” obviously God is blessing. The number of “humanist churches” is growing across the country, obviously God is blessing. Thousands of people flock to the pagan Burning Man festival every year, obviously God is blessing.

If the fallacy is not clear to you, you may be beyond hope.

We need to reestablish orthodoxy as the litmus test of revival and ministry success.
Instead of being tempted to cast a blind eye to obvious problems with spiritual power-plays the way Joyner did, we should learn to value fidelity to Christ and His Word over personality. The current culture of Pentecostalism has become idolatrous in the way it holds men up over doctrine.

Our denominations need to make doctrine more of a priority than charisma or “leadership.” After all, we are called to preserve the faith once and for all handed to the saints, not to make effective CEOs out of our pastors.

We need to stop hiding behind the canard, “you can’t touch the Lord’s anointed.”
In case you don’t know, that phrase was used to describe Saul at the pinnacle of his sinful behavior. In deference to God, not to Saul, David did not kill him. David was honoring God, not Saul, when he spoke those words. So, it is a biblical fallacy to use that phrase to defend people who are making clear mistakes. God was on His way to destroying Saul when David spoke those words—is that how we want to use that phrase?

We need to reevaluate who we consider ministry “heroes.”
For all of its influence in the Pentecostal movement, the Azuza Street Revival is deeply misunderstood. The man at the middle of it all, William J. Seymour, was a little unorthodox in his methodology to say the least, but his writings after the revival reveal a deep commitment to the core ethic of Christian orthodoxy – love. Seymour watched the power of God transform lives and tear down the economic and racial barriers the structures of the world erected with such ease. Ironically, his influence was overshadowed by more charismatic and influential white men who tended to be racists, and we have suffered from a cult of personality ever since.

Our heroes are not the most popular, the ones with the largest churches, book sales, or their own TV shows. Our heroes are the faithful preachers of the Gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. They toil week in and week out to be faithful to God’s Word and the congregation they oversee. Some of them have answered God’s call to the corners of the earth and we will not know anything about them until we learn of them in God’s glory.

Does Anybody Know What is Going On?

This blog at STR is a terrific analysis of some of the media coverage and current fall-out over President Obama's executive order lifting Bush's ban on further federal funding for ESCR. The long and the short of it is that it seems that the people who matter most to this debate - our politicians and the media - simply don't know what is actually going on and don't seem to have the reasoning skills to even understand the basic facts of the case.

Genuine Knowledge Outside of Science - Get Outta' Here!

A friend sent me this intriguing article in Science Magazine on a Templeton Prize winner. D’Espagnat is a French physicist who has argued that science cannot produce for us a full-orbed view of reality.

What is reality? French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat, 87, has spent a lifetime grappling with this question. Over the years, he has developed the idea that the reality revealed by science offers only a "veiled" view of an underlying reality that science cannot access, and that the scientific view must take its place alongside the reality revealed by art, spirituality, and other forms of human inquiry.

For a scientist who is probably steeped in the current academic monopoly of Scientism, this is radical stuff. To those who believe there is genuine knowledge outside of methodological naturalism, this is commonplace. If you make the mistake (explainable but inexcusable) of reading some of the comments, the traditional village materialists have their sophomoric say. Metaphysical naturalism, and the commenter’s reactions, rely on some heavy duty presuppositions, and even in some cases, circular reasoning.

Sometimes you will read a materialist who believes the material world is all that exists because science can only measure the material world. Not only does that rely on the highly dubious epistemological presupposition that science is the only genuine arbiter of knowledge, but it is also obviously circular.

Defenders of ideas like the argument from reason and its cousins, have good reason to believe that metaphysical (and possibly even methodological) naturalism is a self-defeating claim. Since the activity of science relies on rational processes like deduction and induction, and because rational processes are not provable through methodological naturalism, it is an idea that commits suicide. It needs non-natural processes to prove that no non-natural realities exist.

On the other hand, there is genuine knowledge about the universe available through non-scientific means. Theology, and I would say, ethics, are two of these means. And, against current scientific dogma, the knowledge gained through these enterprises are just as reliable as the knowledge gained in a test-tube.

On a broader, cultural scale, we will do ourselves a favor if we listen to people like d’Espagnat, and loosen ourselves from the myopia of Scientism.

Faithful Fiction

I must admit to being put off by Flannery O'Connor from time to time. I enjoyed Wise Blood, but had a very hard time finishing The Violent Bear it Away. Literary critic and professor, Ralph Wood does a great job in a short space of dealing with the value and importance of this great American author, especially the intended Christian overtones that make their way through odd and often brutal books. His essay has had its (likely) intended effect on me - I will pick O'Connor back up and read her again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Those Crazy Bioethicists

If you follow the world of bioethics at all, you know there are some strange birds out there. I must admit to taking many of the more radical views and programs of research to spark discussion among naïve freshmen in my ethics classes. And it is not hard to find some wild and crazy views.

A friend of mine sent me this address by philosopher David Oderberg. Oderberg laments the state of philosophical reflection in the industry that has become “bioethics.” I have heard this lament before, but Oderberg goes after it with both analytical barrels blazing. And its excoriating. I love academic addresses that contain such lines as, “I cannot plumb the depths of stupidity of such thinking here,” and “Is this sort of reasoning good enough? I mean good enough outside the pub or the restaurant? (I am being unfair to pubs at the least…”

The reason I am drawn to the world of “bioethics” is that it is one of those crossroads between the academic exercise of ethical reflection and “real life.” But more and more, I come to agree with Oderberg and lament with him that those who dominate the field right now are not doing much thinking of any value. Instead, sophomoric utilitarianism seems to rule the day, and anything technology can do can be justified by any cohort of bioethicists.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Renovare Essentials Conference

For those in the Colorado Springs area, Living Hope Church is hosting a Renovare Essentials conference on May 2nd, 2009. Visit our website for more information and for registration. We would love to see you there as we gather to be made more like our Savior, Jesus Christ!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Embryonic Stem Cell Decision: Morally Serious?

This is an excoriating critique of the position President Obama has taken regarding embryonic stem cell research. If you are not familiar with Dr. Charles Krauthammer, he is paralyzed from about the shoulders down, a Ph.D. psychiatrist, a columnist, and as far as I can tell a kind of agnostic. As a member of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, I didn’t always agree with his positions but I always appreciated his moral argumentation. He was invited to the signing ceremony where others in wheelchairs surrounded the President providing photo-ops. He declined, and he is glad he did.

President Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, President Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix. Moreover, given the protean power of embryonic manipulation, the temptation it presents to science and the well-recorded human propensity for evil even in the pursuit of good, lines must be drawn.

Though I believe conception is that crucial moment of conferred personhood, I like what he has to say. To use embryos for this kind of destructive research is to treat them as fetal pigs purchased for junior high biology classes.

Krauthammer goes on to bemoan the kind of ignorance-based arrogance that often accompanies scientism.

That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part -- the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" -- would have made me walk out.

Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.

What an outrage. Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

He notes later on that there needs to be moral, and I believe, religious reflection guiding scientific advancement.

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible.

(The Washington Post article requires a free subscription, you can read it for free on Towhnall.)

The Growing Religious Divide

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the host of the quietly intriguing show, Faith and Culture. She writes about the recent major religious survey done among Americans and though much has been written about its implications, and I like what she has to say:

The recently released results of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey…found that while most Americans today identify as Christians, the proportion of Christians has dropped by 10 percentage points since 1990. The only religious group that has seen population increases in every state is the "nones": a category of atheists, agnostics and spiritual freelancers like Sheila that now includes 15 percent of Americans, up from 8 percent in 1990.

The after noting that the percentage of evangelicals has risen, she notes:

So what does all of this mean for American public life? For starters, the numbers suggest that Americans increasingly are gravitating to one of two religious poles: Either they are becoming more committed to churches that make strong moral and religious demands or they are rejecting religion altogether.

I find that a fascinating conclusion. If you have been following the furor caused by the new atheists and the Christians who have responded, I thing Campbell’s observation rings true. In many ways, I believe there is a growing hostility between the Christian faith and the (more faithful) atheists in our culture.

Her final observation is right on the money:

The implications of this trend extend beyond religion. Just as more Americans are moving toward stronger religious observance or none at all, a related divide is widening between Americans who fear the growth of government as a threat to religious liberty and those who welcome it as a means of secular salvation. It's no coincidence that we are witnessing an unprecedented expansion of government at the same time that more Americans are disengaging from the faith traditions and communities that provided social, spiritual and economic support for the generations before them. Nor is it surprising that the president driving this expansion inspires religious fervor bordering on idolatry among many of his followers, particularly those with no religious affiliation. The human yearning for adoration of some higher power -- be it God, government or Barack Obama -- dies hard.

I would only add that because we are creatures created to worship, that yearning will never die. It is a void in the human soul that will always seek to be filled.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Executive Order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research has been signed, and I find the accompanying statements fascinating. While noting that the President was surrounded by and supported by leading scientists, the White House blog and his statements were sure to make note of the faith-based angle on the whole thing.

But he also made clear that his decision was not made based on his belief in science alone: "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering."

And further:

The President said that a false choice has often been presented between science and faith, and that corrupting, shielding, or shying away from the facts science lays bare benefits nobody...

The translation for this is pretty simple. Opposition to “promising” embryonic stem cell research comes from a religious point of view we find distasteful, and therefore ignorable. To get through the “false choice” between science and faith is to tell that kind of faith to get out of the way. And though the President used the faith-card to try and buttress the religious angle on this event, it rests on the dubious ethical standard of “ends justify the means.” The assumption is that ESR does or will benefit people, when in reality, it does not benefit anyone and it destroys human embryos.

This morning I wrote that we needed a new parade of victims to help press this through. Reenter the exploitation of the Reeve family and a photo op with a crippled Congressman (photo on the White House blog). The President said:

As we restore our commitment to science, and resume funding for promising stem cell research, we owe a debt of gratitude to so many tireless advocates, some of whom are with us today, many of whom are not. Today, we honor all those whose names we don’t know, who organized, and raised awareness, and kept on fighting – even when it was too late for them, or for the people they love. And we honor those we know, who used their influence to help others and bring attention to this cause – people like Christopher and Dana Reeve, who we wish could be here to see this moment.

Still Stuck on Killing Embryos

I think in most junior high yearbook classes they call this “reporting”:

President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order and memo Monday in an East Room ceremony that will end a divisive policy decision by his predecessor, while sending a clear signal that science - not political ideology - will guide his administration.

I shouldn’t be, but I continue to be shocked at the deliberate work of obfuscation and perpetrated ignorance when it comes to the main stream media and political liberals when it comes to this topic. Over and over again, the facts of scientific data have contradicted the actual usefulness of embryonic stem cell research. But the propaganda continues. Every time you read of the topic in the ignorant media, it reads like messianic hope:

Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can morph into any cell of the body. Scientists hope to harness them so they can create replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases - such as new insulin-producing cells for diabetics, cells that could help those with Parkinson's disease or maybe even Alzheimer's, or new nerve connections to restore movement after spinal injury.

For years now, scientist have hoped for those things to happen. It’s time to find another victim patsy! Unfortunately, President Bush killed Christopher Reeve before scientific hope could make him walk again. The deliberate manipulation of information and the abuse of the sick and diseased in the service of a horrid process is – well, it has become typical.

In case you are new to this debate, and apparently media types who have been covering it for a decade are, the final nail was put in this coffin months ago. The primary complaint with the incredibly effective adult stem cells is that they don’t appear to be pluripotent. A procedure was devised and repeated in which adult skin cells are chemically “reprogrammed” to behave like pluripotent stem cells, thus allowing them to be used for any and every conceivable problem in the human body.

In a nutshell, here is why embryonic stem cell research should be opposed at every turn.

First, all the science is against it. Adult stem cells and reprogrammed skin cells have been used in almost 100 documented cases of successful treatment. Embryonic stem cells: 0. Embryonic stem cells don’t turn themselves off, thus creating non-malignant tumors when used. Adult and reprogrammed stem cells don’t.

Second, all the ethical reflection is against ESR. Embryos have to be killed in order to harvest their stem cells. Embryos are humans, thus ESR is (now government sponsored) murder. Even if you don’t hold to the actual personhood of embryos, one should at least admit that allowed to grow to term, human embryos become human infants. If we aren’t killing human beings, we are killing potential human beings. And the ends don’t justify the means. The potential benefit of messianic science does not justify the destruction of human embryos.

So, I really want to know, why are we still stuck on funding ESR?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Catholic Hospitals and FOCA

In today’s social terms, the further “left” a worldview goes, the narrower it becomes. By its very nature, the more “postmodern” a philosophy becomes the more intolerant and power-happy it has to be. Because argumentation and persuasion are defacto non-factors, all that is left is propaganda and power. (But I digress slightly…)

In a world where religious and non-religious worldviews can live side-by-side, some hospitals can chose to provide abortions, and others can chose not to. In a world where the Federal government legislates the “right” to abortion and forces it on all medical providers, those who have a different philosophy of life are coerced – it is political tyranny.

President Obama famously promised to pass FOCA, a piece of legislation he helped co-sponsor in the past that will overturn all state and local roadblocks to abortion on demand. The Saint Louis Post Dispatch reports:

A proposed bill promising major changes in the U.S. abortion landscape has Roman Catholic bishops threatening to close Catholic hospitals if the Democratic Congress and White House make it law.

The Freedom of Choice Act failed to get out of subcommittee in 2004, but its sponsor is poised to refile it now that former Senate co-sponsor Barack Obama occupies the Oval Office.

A spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the legislation "is among the congressman's priorities. We expect to reintroduce it sooner rather than later."

Could the Catholic Church sell their interests in their hospitals to other providers and thus get out of a moral bind?

Speaking in Baltimore in November at the bishops' fall meeting, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, took up the issue of what to do with Catholic hospitals if FOCA became law. "It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions," he said. "That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil."

Though there is debate as to the language and the consequences of the current FOCA bill, the latest incarnation read like a guaranteed right.

In its last incarnation, FOCA defined abortion as a "fundamental right" that no government can "deny" or "interfere with." That language, FOCA's opponents warn, would help overturn abortion restrictions such as parental notification, laws banning certain procedures and constraints on federal funding.

The future, real-world consequences of legislation are tricky and always subject to debate. But I think the Catholic Church is on to something. If a guaranteed right protected and coerced by the government conflicts with their worldview at a very basic and fundamental level, they need to do something. And because abortion is, as Bishop Paprocki said, “evil,” their only morally acceptable option would be to withdraw completely if the consequences go the way they predict.

On a related note, why is it not coercion for abortion to be outlawed in most if not all circumstances? Because it is not coercion to legislate moral behavior. If abortion is the murder of innocent children, and I believe it is, the only morally acceptable action is to speak out and legislate against it. For example, it is not coercion or political tyranny to stop genocide or suicide bombers – it is a moral obligation to do so.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Don't Let Your Embryos Out Of Your Sight

In the dystopia, Brave New World, Huxley foresees a world where humans have been genetically modified to fit certain strata of society, and have become slaves to their own technology. In the film (and book), Gattaca, a similar society is on display in which the genetically advantaged have all the social advantages anyone needs, just by virtue of their DNA. I once tried to describe the Gattaca plot to someone who simply laughed at me and the “ridiculous” premise. That was a few years ago. My how things change.

A fertility clinic, Fertility Institutes, is making headlines along with other IVF providers for a procedure called prenatal genetic screening (PGD). A process that has actually been around for a while, it allows families to take a peek into the genetics of their pre-born children to check for genetic diseases and other traits tied to genetics. The difference now is, Fertility Institutes and others are promising and providing screening procedures for gender and cosmetic traits. This means you can choose the embryo of your choice with all the right physical features, and not just all the right genetic tendencies.

From their website:

In addition to our renown infertility and in vitro fertilization services, we are the world's largest and most successful 100% gender selection program and offer very popular egg donor and surrogacy options.

From a news piece on the Fox website:

It isn't clear that Fertility Institutes can yet deliver on its claims of trait selection. But the growth of PGD, unfettered by any state or federal regulations in the U.S., has accelerated genetic knowledge swiftly enough that pre-selecting cosmetic traits in a baby is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

But Fertility Institutes disagrees. "This is cosmetic medicine," says Jeff Steinberg, director of the clinic that is advertising gender and physical trait selection on its Web site. "Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it."

At a certain level, this is already fairly commonplace in some contexts.

Embryo screening, for example, is sometimes used to create a genetically matched "savior sibling" — a younger sister or brother whose healthy cells can be harvested to treat an older sibling with a serious illness.

Trait selection in babies "is a service," says Dr. Steinberg. "We intend to offer it soon."

From the PHG Foundation website dedicated to this kind of news:

A US fertility clinic is reportedly offering patients undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) selection for or against cosmetic traits such as eye, hair and skin colour. The embryos produced by IVF are screened for chromosomal abnormalities prior to implantation (see previous news), with an option for sex selection, and now parents will also be offered additional screening for certain physical features (presumably for an additional fee) as well as for “potentially lethal diseases” and “cancer tendencies”

Hitherto, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has been limited to determination of the presence or absence of a genetic variant associated with a serious form of disease; in the UK, this is the only permitted use of the technique, which is carefully regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)

In the US, services providing PGD are subject to voluntary regulation.

The growth of this technology and the growing acceptance of the uses of this technology requires ethical reflection, cultural and political action, and education. As presented on the website and in the news pieces concerning Fertility Institutes and other organizations of the like, these applications of technology need to stop. A few things require reflection.

First, the IVF procedure is the Pandora’s Box technology. It promises great things, but it opens the door to unethical technologies. In the typical IVF, several fertilized embryos are created which means the “leftovers” can be experimented on, frozen, or destroyed. When a fertility clinic speaks of choosing the best children for parents, what they mean is they destroy the unacceptable unborn children. IVF is eugenic abortion writ-large.

Second, this technology is available only to those who can afford it. This means designer children for the rich, and natural children for the not-so-rich. In addition, this presents questions about government control and regulation, and if it becomes seen as a “right,” does this mean taxpayer dollars will be used to destroy unacceptable embryos?

Third, this is generational slavery. When we choose the cosmetic traits for our children, we impose upon them our current standards of what looks good or healthy.

Fourth, there is no really good definition for the difference between therapy and enhancement. In other words, can you adequately define the difference between fixing what went wrong and purely “cosmetic” procedures? If we can replace or genetically aid a diseased or underperforming eye, for instance, we probably should. What happens if the genetic enhancement becomes stronger and more acute than the natural product? Should we genetically enhance embryos so their eyes will be better than nature intended? Should height be “fixed”? Skin color? Gender is being “fixed” right now – are you OK with that?

Fifth, the answers to all these questions and thousands more rely on a good definition of human nature. The predominant philosophies running our scientific and political organizations, however, don’t have one. And when there is no good, unmovable definition of human nature humanity becomes pliable and subject to the whims of technology, instead of the other way around.

Christian thinkers need to continue to stand up and say these technologies need to stop and be subject to sound ethical thinking before they are implemented. It is not the case that just because we can do it, we should.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dead People Have Nearly Nothing To Say

Andy Crouch tells the story of a friend who made the mistake of looking for a book by a dead author in a Christian bookstore.

"Do you have Henri Nouwen's Show Me the Way?" he asked, referring to the late Catholic writer's collection of Lenten meditations.

"Oh no, dear," answered the clerk at the cash register. "He's dead. We don't carry books by dead authors."

I was told the same thing once. I was searching for eight copies of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters for some of my teens at church. The Christian bookstore didn’t carry it and told me the same thing. They didn’t carry books by people who were dead.

A policy like this in a Christian bookstore should raise one glaring question. After lamenting the culture this “no dead authors” policy reflects, Crouch wonders out loud:

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the one part of the Christian store that clearly violates the "no dead authors" dictum: the Bible section. To be sure, the hundreds of lifestyle-oriented Bibles do include the original text, but too often the tedious, dead-author part of the Bible is in the smallest, least appealing type, while the easy-to-read study notes, helpful hints, and contemporary stories offer their assistance with lively type and colorful graphics.

I am more and more thankful for other book outlets. After my futile search in the Christian bookstore, I found all eight of my copies of Screwtape at Borders and Barnes and Noble and enacted a public boycott on such trite institutions as my local Christian bookstore. And as time goes on, I grow more and more attached to Amazon. If websites will make their way into eternity (in a good way), that one has a real shot.