Monday, October 25, 2010

Christians and Politics

This piece in USA Today addresses one of the pressing issues for Christians in our current cultural climate – the relationship between the faith and the cut-and-thrust of politics. The author is concerned with how it seems that the involvement of religion in politics hasn’t lifted political life, but seems to have soiled religion. In a lot of ways, I think he is right. We have probably tied ourselves too much to political figures and victories (to the left and the right) instead of speaking and living the truths of the Christian faith in our world.

Politics are important and have serious real-world consequences, but Christians need to remember their first and deepest allegiance to Christ.

The article is hit and miss. He is concerned with the loss of civility in our public discourse, and I think we can agree on that. He, however, cites Jim Wallis of Sojourners as a seriously civil voice. That’s a joke. As long as you are willing to avoid any principled or absolute stands on faith or morals, Wallis is civil. Wallis is a cut-and-paste religious relativist and if you are to the right of him, politically and theologically speaking, you are a target for ad hominem attacks. Just ask Olansky of World Magazine.

Even in his conclusion, Krattenmaker gets some things right, and others wrong:

The wise course is not withdrawal from public life. The task is to find and hold an appropriate distance, a place from which faith can exert principled influence and inspire the body politic's best instincts and intentions.

Especially these days, politics as usual seems to drag all who play right into the gutter. That's no place for religion.

The Christian needs to recognize that faith should inform and influence politics, not the other way around – we should not withdraw from public life. But the Christian should never accept the position that faith belongs as an “appropriate distance” from public life. Our public life needs a core that only the Christian faith can provide.

Christians are called to do something that I’m not sure anyone else is doing: contend for the truths handed down to us while leading the way in civility and reasoned discourse. Do that now, and you will stick out like a sore thumb – in a good way.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"I would want to be the first to put a pillow over its head"

Virginia Ironside is a British columnist of apparently some note who has hit the international scene recently by asserting on BBC that she would rather suffocate a suffering child than allow it to live. In the context of a conversation about whether abortion can be a kindness, she likened an embryo to “a couple of cells” and valued them as nothing compared to long-term suffering.

A handful of things strike me as a result of this video. Is it really out of the realm of reason to argue against current forms of abortion and euthanasia using the slippery slope argument? The destruction of a child in the womb is one form of murder, and we may feel a step disconnected from the morality of it because the child is still in the womb, but infanticide is another. And while the public debate up until recently has typically been in terms of “health of the mother” or “back-alley” abortions, the public debate is now creeping into the territory of simple infanticide for the sake of convenience. The slope seems to have been slippery, indeed.

To my knowledge only two types of cultures consider infanticide not murder: the utterly barbaric and backward and the overly cushy. We are the second: a culture inextricably linked to our creature comforts and convenience and thus we seem to be developing a particular distaste for an undefined (but clearly abhorred!) sense of “suffering.” The ubiquitous question asks itself, “Who gets to define ‘suffering’?” What kinds of people are so selfish as to impose their sense of “suffering” on another and chose life or death for them?

According to studies done in the last decade, about 90% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. I guarantee you that if you talk with a family who has a Down syndrome child, they will be appalled. Down syndrome can be a relatively minor handicap. So what about other “minor” forms of handicaps? Where do we draw the lines and who gets to draw them?

The more I work this issue through, the more it seems to me that the only reasonable and solid ground for personhood is at conception. Anyplace else is fairly if not utterly arbitrary, and opens the door to having conversations about how old a child can be for us to legally kill it. The personhood of anyone is not correlative to the value we place upon it, or the potential suffering we expect for it. Your personhood is not a sliding scale with another’s hand on the dial.

The Christian knows that suffering, in all its forms, is not the gauge for the value of any human life. There is no denying suffering, and no Christian should downplay real pains and consequences, but no Christian should measure the value of any life based on “suffering.”

Friday, October 01, 2010

Looking for the Right Kinds of Leaders

Mike Adams is a bit of an iconoclast - a radical atheist turned Christian while an academic. He now authors columns that deal with the academic world, and from time to time touch on the state of American Christianity. This article, "Searching for Bonhoeffer" is a short and to-the-point criticism of the loss of doctrinal bravery in many of our churches. Though his particular whipping-boy is the mega-church, I am confident that his assessment applies to more places than we might at first imagine.

Though he does not mention Bonhoeffer in the article, he refers to a pastoral character that is not swayed by the spirit of the age, finds depth of meaning and lifestyle in Christ, and leads others through a world that mocks evangelical commitment. Adam's last two paragraphs are challenging:

Our culture is in rapid decline as we enter the Obama/post-Christian phase of American history. People are in search of bold and fearless pastors who will take a stand against evil in blunt and uncompromising - not coded and esoteric - language. In the end, pastors who refuse to mold the Gospel to accommodate the spiritual needs of the seeker or the financial needs of the church will be the last ones standing.

I predict that many of the mega-churches of today will be the shopping malls of tomorrow. When it is time to foreclose and go packing someone is going to have some heavy equipment to move. At least no one will have to pick up their cross.