Once upon a time, theology was known as the Queen of Sciences. This was during a time when the European universities were built to express a Christian culture’s attempts at understanding a Christian world. In fact, the term “university” meant “unity amidst diversity.” All the separate faculties on campus were describing a singular reality. And it was deemed that this reality was evidently a Christian one. Math, biology, physics, anthropology and logic were separate disciplines that offered their own unique angle on the same, ultimate subject: God. So it made sense that of all the faculties, theology was the end point of all knowledge. Hence its status as the crown of the campus. Continue reading “The Diminishing of Christianity in the West”
This week marks the beginning of our series analyzing the claims of the New Atheism and its evangelists. In this video clip (far below), journalist and author Christopher Hitchens is interviewed on a popular Canadian television program called “The Hour.” This program is popular with the 18 to 35 demographic and is a general news and culture show. I use this clip because it captures so well the new “zeitgeist” of our time: confidence in the secular worldview.
Hitchens rightly observes that we are shifting radically from a position of judeochristian values to that of a secular worldview.
In this interview, host George Stroumboulopoulos asks Hitchens about his book “God is Not Great.” This gives Hitchens a platform to launch into some of his points in favour of secularism over Christianity (or any other theological worldview). This short article will pick up on a few of these and analyze them.
Point 1 – Civilization is best served by secular values:
There is a particularly interesting statement made by Hitchens at the 1:40 – 1:58 mark. He says that “people have had enough of this,” and by “this” he means a judeochristian worldview. He then goes on to say it used to be that people could take “secular and enlightenment” values for granted and that church-going people would “leave them alone.” The show’s host nods through this whole statement and the national audience is thus exposed to an intellectually violent slight of hand.
In one, unchallenged statement, Hitchens single-handedly re-wrties Western Civilization history and no one stops him, or even knows the depth of either his ignorance, or his intellectual dishonesty.
To speak of the rise of the society in which western Europeans and North Americans have lived for nearly 1,700 years as having been founded on, or built by “secular” values is blatantly false. You cannot pick up any history book on Western Civilization without seeing the overwhelming presence of the christian worldview from the 4rth century until about 50 years ago. There is a reason men like Hitchens have to “fight the good fight” for secularism in the West. It is because it is historically a judeochristian stronghold. Despite corruption in the Church Empire of Rome, the regular peasantry and even public intellectuals have thoughtfully evaluated and personally held to the judeochristian framework for centuries. Their society was largely formed by this belief. So how does it stack up to secularism?
The American Bill of Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Charter are examples of official declarations that do not exist outside the Western world: statements that humans possess inherent value and are to be treated with special and equal care despite their differences in ability. As Dinesh D’Souza aptly points out during his debates with the New Atheists, before Christian values overtook Rome, it was a barbaric and grotesque culture. Atheist regimes such as China, the former USSR and other communist states NEVER created or respected charters giving their citizens value and protection. In fact, it was explicit practice to remind the individual of their relative insignificance compared to the State by forcing them into imprisonment, exile, torture or execution. Atheist thinkers such as the ever influential Nietzsche made no bones about their view of the human as expendable in face of the State.
The human is a short-lived animal whose value is gauged by measuring productivity. The Nazi’s held the motto “Lebensunwertes Leben” or “life unworthy of life.” This lead to the systematic execution of homosexuals, the disabled, “half breeds” such as polish and slavik ethnicities and Jews. The ideological background for “purging” humanity of its “waste” was the evolutionary materialist view of man as animal who could be graded for his or her productivity for society. An ant in a hierarchical chain of usefulness who had better perform or die.
Purely secular (i.e.: atheist) precepts held the Chinese, Japanese and Russian economies and quality of life quotients back to levels men like Hitchens could not thrive in or would ever desire to be amongst. These New Atheists are almost exclusively products of a Western Civilization and have freedoms and luxuries only found in the one society that was overwhelmingly produced by a judeochristian mindset and belief system. Warts and all. The purely secular states provide nothing for civilization to thrive on and have come and gone in the past 100 years. The fact that a Western television audience can swallow Hitchen’s dialogue and applaud is the most frightening display of the depth of ignorance of even recent history amongst the future leaders and educators of my children’s generation.
Point 2 – Morality is best cooked up in a secular vaccum:
This is perhaps the most common point made by Hitchens and company. Without going into a technical philosophical dissection of metaphysics, the best way to debunk the New Atheists’ claims on morality is to view recent, and not so recent, history.
As much as Hitchens and co. would like us to disregard them, the recent horrors of the past century were the result of people finally taking secularism very, very seriously.
A purely secular society has already been tried… and left us paralyzed in horror.
In the 1800’s, Nietzsche wrote a series of works on the reality that there was no God. He, unlike modern-day westerners, also wrote of the incredible nightmare this truth would unleash onto humanity. He detailed the nature of man as equivalent to that of beasts and that a “might makes right” will to dominate would mark the truly successful societies of the future. As it had many barbaric empires of the past (e.g.: Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc).
Hitler and other men born in the wake of Nietzsche and other nihilists’ works, took the baton and ran. Although at times cloaked in religious imagery and superficial allusions to spiritual beliefs, the Third Reich’s overwhelming ideology was secular to the bone. Hitler distributed Nietzsche’s works to his chiefs of staff and often visited the Nietzsche Museum in Weimar.
Lenin’s communist U.S.S.R. and Mao’s China also took their secular worldview dead seriously and as the only platform for their state philosophy. The basis for what could, should and would be done (aka: morality) was the view of man as alone in the cosmos and atop the global food chain. In short, man as god because there was no God. The bloodshed and horror unleashed worldwide is a recent and massive testimony to the type of morality that evolves in a secular vaccum = none that Hitchens and co. would ever put up with or live in.
Point 3 – Because atheists can behave well it means God is not necessary for moral beliefs:
Again, this is commonly thrown at audiences by Hitchens. It also represents a phenomenal mistake in judgment. Atheists can be moral. There’s no doubt about that. But atheists cannot make sense of why morality exists by appealing to atheism.
Believe it or not, there are still “flat earthers” walking on this round planet. They’ll even travel over the horizon to give speeches on why we should teach children that the earth is flat.
A flat earther does not realize that a flat earth would not provide the evenly distributed mass and therefore gravitational force require for a piece of real estate the size of Texas to keep their “flat earth” feet on the ground. But simply because flat earthers can operate like me and you does not mean their system of belief gives them a proper explanation of the world.
If man is a bundle of nerves, the only logical description of behaviour is an ever-shifting, completely subjective, generationally fluid, temporary statement of how much pleasure or survival rate an action — or series of actions — delivers to a bundle of matter. There is no ability for science to give us anything other than numbers. How much and to what intensity. That’s it.
Science is quantitative. Nothing more.
It is forever impotent in giving us qualitative judgments such as good, bad, evil, righteous, etc. Forever. And the last centuries atheist regimes made that abundantly clear.
In 1920, speaking to a crowd of the Russian Young Communist League, Lenin said:
“We reject any morality based on extra-human and extra-class concepts. We say that this is deception, dupery, stultification of the workers and peasants in the interests of the landowners and capitalists.“
He went on to create a society where he could execute anyone at will and burn whichever books he wanted and he and his family lived like kings while these young russians lived like ancient gypsies in a cold desert.
Towards the end of the clip below, the host, George Stroumboulopoulos says “but not every Christian believes the bible literally.” In other words, some Christians know there is no God, they’re thoughtful.
I wonder if George would have dared interview Blaise Pascal, Johannes Kepler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel or Isaac Newton with the same pretext? Would he have belittled these intellectual giants for having thoughtfully concluded that the bible was a phenomenon whose creation was overseen by God?
Pathos is the art of speech aimed at evoking the emotions of our audience. Inflections in the voice, subtleties of facial expressions and dramatic strokes of hand and body. The constructed meaning of words informs the mind, pathos milks the sentiments. Leaving behind an experience and not a binary exchange of data.
Passion is the source from which poetry and pathos come. Legitimate poetry and pathos. Once a switch has been flipped inside a man, poetry and pathos are not excessive but necessary. Once passion’s fire begins to spread from belly to lips and pen, pathos and poetry are as natural as sweat on a labourer.
Our generation is not marked by a pursuit of truth and therefore it is not passionate. We seek sense experiences. Comfort, sex, sports and leisure. We want entertainment to impart passion to our lives. Yet only the pursuit of truth can trigger true passion. From this ignition comes the inevitable drama of good vs. evil which provides us with the entertainment we seek. If we don’t have this drama we watch it on television. We need it. But we have not the tools to achieve it because we have been educated into believing there is no truth. At least no truth so Ultimate and Final that any real and risky journey towards it is worth our while. Our world is flat.
This is not how the Greeks shaped the “golden” culture which still resonates today. This is not how the Western european concept of the University birthed the most systematically successful learning institution known to man. The pursuit of Truth conditions the mind, body and spirit into the keen, sensitive whole that can then be entertained. The disbelief in the existence of Truth dulls first the individual and then the society into a vegetable state.
Once a man — or a woman — begins to taste and pursue truth, they begin to live. Their individual parts — mind, body, soul — are introduced to one another and begin roaring as a unified engine. Things happen. Life. Culture. Sanctification. The prophets are born. Not in the Old Testament style of direct wireless connection between man and God, but in the sense of being defined by the belief in, the pursuit of and the relishing in Truth.
And what if Truth is a Person? Should we be surprised? Rocks do not dream and chimps do not weep. The human mind is isolated in the ecosphere in its awareness of Truth. Man is the paint on a canvas which has a Self-Portrait. Man is not the Painter, but he is in His likeness.
That we would wake up and live!
“Let Us make man in our likeness”
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
– Jesus Christ
Over 2,000 years ago, before the dawn of Christianity, Celts and druids in Ireland and the British Isles celebrated Samhain (pronounced “Sow” + “when” and means “summer’s end”) most likely every October 31.
According to the druids, this day marked the end of the harvest year and the ascent of the “dark half” of the year in which death became prominent.
On this special night Celts believed the souls of that year’s dead crossed over to the other worlds. As a result the wall between earth and spirit realm was quite thin and much spiritual traffic was occurring on this evening — for good and for ill. In order to prevent evil spirits from damaging their crops, killing their livestock and possessing or harassing individuals, the Celts dressed up as demons, turned out all the lights, had bonfires and apparently behaved badly. The strategy was: fool evil spirits into thinking we’re one of them and they’ll leave you alone.
This was also an evening in which the “air” was heavily marinated by the spiritual realm and therefore it was believed these were good conditions in which to engage in fortune telling. Celts believed their dead relatives may be seeking to reunite and so many households held feasts welcoming the return of dead family members. Some sources claim that during this Samhain evening, many people dressed as spirits and went door to door in exchange for food.
Some recent archaeological evidence from the early Celtic period in the territory of the Gallic Empire (i.e.: England and France) as well as written accounts by Strabo (64/64 B.C. – A.D. 21) in his work Geography, Julius Caesar’s (100 – 44 B.C.) De Bello Gallico, collections of Irish historical stories and poems (i.e.: Lebor Gabala Erenn) as well as Pliny the Elder’s (A.D. 23 – 79) writings show that Celtic religious practice most likely included human sacrifice. It is very possible that on the “high holy day” of Samhain these deeply significant practices were also taking place. If not on this night, one might wonder, on what other night would it have been deemed more appropriate?
More than 2 millenia have passed since the origins of Samhain yet we still do something similar every October. We call it Halloween. The question every Christian has to ask themselves in October is, what is the biblical view of Halloween? What should I do on October 31 of every year? In order to address this sensitive question, let us take a closer look at the origins of our Halloween tradition and at the Bible.
When Did “Halloween” Begin?
As you may have noticed, the word Samhain is different than the word Halloween. So where did this latter expression come from? In about 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV decided to turn a pagan pantheon in the city of Rome into a Christian one. So instead of celebrating hundreds of roman gods, the building was dedicated to “all of the saints of Christendom.” The name for the pope’s party was “All Saints’ Day” or “All Hallows’ Day.” The date for this yearly celebration was set for May 13 but in the 8th century (i.e.: 700’s) Pope Gregory the 3rd changed it to November 1 in order to squash any trace of Samhain’s influence in western European culture (remember that the Celtic territory had once encompassed most of Britain and northern France). About a thousand years later, in the 1500’s, October 31 began to be referred to as the Eve Before Hallows Day. It was then shortened to Hallows Eve and then to Halloween.
Despite the name change Halloween still carries the ancient Samhain’s focus on the dark spiritual themes of British, Irish and Scottish superstition. A mixture of Christian and druidic demonic imagery is pervasive. Yet, it is by no means a re-enactment of the druidic Samhain. Two other cultural traditions have merged and now sports the Christian name of Halloween.
Trick or Treat
Trick or treating most likely relates back to Celtic Samhain (according to some sources) and is tied to the ritual of dressing up as spirits in order to fend them off. Accounts exist of this custom evolving into the Samhain practice of visiting townsfolk door-to-door in costumes in exchange for food. Medieval European culture included a similar act of dressing up as animals known as “mumming.” It is quite possible the these two practices (Samhain disguises and European mumming) turned into the Christianized tradition that dates back to the 1100’s in England, Ireland and the British Isles. This newer tradition occurred on All Hallows Day (November 1) and saw children — often poor — “guise” as angels, devils or saints and go door to door for sweet biscuits known as “soul cakes.” Sometime in return they would sing praises or offer prayer for the souls of the donors’ dead relatives. As time went on, Irish and British migration to North America brought this tradition to our home turf. And in the early 1900’s it switched from being done on November 1 to being a staple of October 31. The custom also morphed into being for young children who wowed shop keepers with witty rhymes and in return would receive nuts or other treats. Then in the 1930’s in western United States and Canada the term “trick or treating” was first officially used and was done door-to-door in one’s neighbourhood. There is no modern religious significance to this door-to-door solicitation of food or candy yet there is an obvious connection to Celtic Samhain.
Jack-o-lanterns and carved pumpkins
Carving pumpkins is from an old Irish custom which may or may not go back all the way to the Celtic Samhain but does descend from Irish tradition during harvest festivals. Some sources state that the Celtics carved turnips and put glowing coals in them on Samhain (i.e.: Halloween night) in order to help ward off evil spirits. The term “Jack o’ Lantern” is based on Gaelic folklore which is at least hundreds of years old and is known as the story of Stingy Jack. In this tale, a drunkard blacksmith named Jack tricked the devil who had come to claim his soul. Therefore Jack escaped damnation but because of his sinful life could not get into Heaven either. As one of the versions of this folktale goes, the devil gave Stingy Jack a glowing ember from Hades and Jack used it in his turnip-carved lantern to forever wander the marshes and back woods of the world because of his expulsion from both Heaven and Hell. This tale is most likely a reference to the similar tales in proto-european cultures that attempt to explain the phenomenon of “will o’ the wisp.” Many bogs and marshes emit an incandescent light due to natural interactions between organic gases and static electricity. Before these were understood, the eerie night glow was the subject of many folklore stories.
As time went on, the custom for the Irish became the carving of pumpkins (instead of turnips) which had been brought to Ireland from the North America. They would place glowing coals or candles in these pumpkins to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away on All Hallows’ Eve. Although it was traditional for the Irish and British to carve vegetables into lanterns, it was not until 1837 that the term “Jack-o-Lantern” was used for a variety of different vegetable lanterns. And it was a wave of 19th century Irish immigrants who brought the custom back to the United States. There is no true link between the carving of pumpkins and occultic rituals yet it appears to be based in Irish superstition and possibly Samhain tradition but not the type of sinister religious ceremonies found in modern satanic or wiccan practices.
Except for cross-dressing with the serious intent to be of the other gender (Deut 22:5) there is no biblical commandment against costumes. Costumes that mimic occultic practitioners, symbols or characters would obviously mock the biblical mandates to have nothing to do with sorcery or extra-biblical spiritual practices nor to take them lightly (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). Other than that however, dressing as bears, cows, caterpillars, super heroes, celebrities, etc cannot be condemned from the bible in a manner in which the context and intent are respected.
The question is, what is a modern Christian to do with this popular and inescapable celebration? When it comes to non-essentials (such as the Halloween question), we need to identify strict boundaries within the biblical framework.
Ephesians 6:11-12 states that the demonic realm is very real and very evil:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Satan is a real person and he leads a real super-structure of organized government against humanity and against God. Demonic imagery is no laughing matter. No one would show up to a Jewish family’s home wearing a Nazi SS uniform. So why would anyone “jokingly” wear occultic-themed costumes?
The temptation for the Christian during Halloween is to join hands with the culture and laughingly downplay dark spiritual themes. This is where a line should be drawn. The war against the evil demonic empire is central to the Christian’s life. The realm of Satan is the least funny or casual subject matter possible.
We also need to realize that we cannot escape Halloween. We will have dozens of people show up at our very door step wearing all manner of costumes, speaking and acting in ways that make light of the demonic and occultic realm. There will also be many people who are simply looking to let their children enjoy an evening of fun.
Again, what is the Christian to do? The apostle Paul makes a very important point in regards to a similar struggle faced by 1st century Christians. In his time, the roman empire was littered with idols and false gods. Spirituality was so popular that an entire industry existed to supply animals for idol worship and sacrifice. Keen restauranteurs purchased the post-sacrificial meat and sold it to their customers.
To these early Christians, meat that had been meticulously prepared for, and ceremonially sacrificed to a demonic force was an evil perversion of the God-ordained Levitical sacrificial system. A system that foreshadowed their Lord Jesus Christ. To them, that meat was synonymous with blasphemy. Surprisingly, to the apostle Paul, it was synonymous with… burgers.
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
-1 Corinthians 10:25-26
Essentially Paul’s overall view of sacrificed meat was that poor, lost pagans were foolishly serving non-existent gods and the meat used was simply made by God for man’s nourishment. So eat. This is important because idol worship and false religions are nearly always a communication and worship of a specific demonic spirit and a gross rupture of the very first commandment (1 Cor. 10:20, Exodus 20:1-6).
Yet Paul saw no problem with the intimacy of eating the very meat that had just been offered spiritually and killed ceremoniously by a priest of a demonically inspired worship service. In this service, the attendants desired to willfully worship an idol and the demonic power behind it. In contrast, Halloween is typically done tongue-in-cheek in our culture.
Few people we meet are serious about demon worship. Therefore, the candy they prepare or hand out cannot be worse than the meat of true idols. A Christian can eat Halloween candy. Roman Christians could easily have avoided sacrificed meat. There were other sources of meat and food. It was not a matter of survival that led God to okay this for them the way He let David and his men eat the sacrificial bread. Likewise, Christians don’t have to worry about the spiritual tainting of food. No matter what process it has undergone.
We can see that trick or treating and pumpkin carving are most likely linked to pagan traditions of the Celtic Druid religions and customs. And there are dark, occultic themes attached to the original Samhain practices. Wearing costumes and decorating homes and property with themes that depict evil spirits and symbols on October 31 is the most direct remnant of the occultic Samhain. This is clearly incompatible with Christian principles. Not costume wearing in general. Decorating our homes or children in occultic imagery is not biblical for Christians. But on October 31, most of the North American Christian population finds itself in the middle of unavoidable and overwhelming Halloween traffic.
A Christian can bow out of this cultural phenomenon or he can navigate that traffic with discernment. Personally, I don’t see any problem for adult Christians to participate in Halloween especially if there is an unavoidable work or family function incorporating it. But for those who have small children, it is unnecessary to ask children to step outside of the trick or treating and pumpkin carving aspects of Halloween if these are done in a fashion that avoids embracing dark or occultic symbols. Kids are thinking about fun and candy. Not evil or witchcraft. Just as it is possible for a Christian to go to a corrupt workplace and remain honest himself, it is possible for a family to go out into the neighbourhood on Halloween and remain innocent.
Many churches have a “Harvest Festival” on Halloween. Kids dress up and eat candy and play games. This is an obvious parallel to Halloween with an attempt to take all the “dirt” out. Yet essentially, it is an evening whose calendar date and activities are dictated by the cultural Halloween surrounding it. Such churches agree that “neutralizing” an otherwise part-pagan, part-secular celebration is possible. And I would agree.
Satanic cults, witch covens and wiccan groups all hold Halloween to be an important day on their spiritual calendar. This is due to the darker pagan origins of Samhain and October 31 pre-christian cultural practices. Many Christians are turned off by the link between the modern occult and Halloween. Very understandable and it is acceptable to choose to bow out of this celebration. I condemn no one that avoids Halloween. It is a day in which most celebrate the darkness in the spirit realm.
Now, remember that the roots of Halloween are both descending back to pagan and Christian traditions. Also recall that Christmas is yet another Christianized tradition that was meant to drown out pagan Winter Solstice celebrations. Therefore the answer to what should a Christian do on Halloween is up to the individual Christian. A Christian can participate in Halloween without compromising or sinning. But, on an individual basis, “should” he or she?
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12
If a Christian comes out of an occultic background, he or she may have different views on Halloween for them or their children. And it would be perfectly understandable for them to completely boycott this festivity the same way an alcoholic should most likely be a tea-totaller.
Personally, our family “celebrates” Halloween. To be perfectly honest, we really enjoy it. I love the feeling of the city peacefully (for the most part) engaging in a singular community act.
But most importantly, it is on Halloween that our family does the most neighbourhood evangelism of the entire year. We individually pre-prepare bags of candy for our trick or treaters. Each bag contains the following home made tracts. Further, at each and every door our children hand out these tracts as well:
STEP 1: CLICK link for front and back of pamphlet print out : Halloween Tract 1
STEP 2: CLICK link for the two inside pages of the pamphlet print out : Halloween Tract 2
STEP 3: once you have printed out Halloween Tract 1, flip it over and reload printer with it and then print Halloween Tract 2 on its opposite side. They are aligned to make a pamphlet.
Each year, dozens of tracts are handed out to our neighbourhood. Satan does not own a single day on our family calendar. In fact, the day most people associate with the god of this world is the day our family dedicates to distributing the most Truth about the one and only true God who lives inside of us and is greater than “he who is in the world.”
Enjoy your Halloween. No matter what decision you make!
John the Baptist
Nearly two thousand years ago, the world’s first evangelist stood up and began wielding the most powerful cultural transformation tool in history: Christian evangelism. That man was John the Baptist. He had the mind-boggling privilege of introducing the world to the First Coming of Jesus Christ. John also baptized the Saviour of the world. What a resume. During his time however, John was the equivalent of a crazy hippie in the eyes of many Jews. Israel was a dignified nation and the center of their culture was their religion. As God’s chosen people, they firmly believed they had a religious tradition second to none. No other civilization in ancient (and modern) history based their identity on special relationship to God the way Israel did. So firm was the Jewish conviction of having dealt directly with the Creator of the Cosmos, that the Romans, Assyrians, Babylonians and German empires could not sever the Jewish identity from their Scriptures and religious customs. Even with annihilation of their country, hundreds of years of exile, forced slavery and attempted genocide. This a completely unique historical phenomenon.
During the time of Christ, the powerhouse Jewish culture had constructed a religious institution that formed the foundation of their laws, education and customs. At the head of this institution were the Pharisees and Saducees, the 1st century Jewish equivalent to double PhD seminary presidents and government officials. Total power. Total respect. The height of achievement within the Jewish world. People within Jewish culture were classified by the Phariseeic leadership into hierarchies of purity — not unlike the Hindu cast system. And the constraints laid upon the people were iron-clad. No one questioned the authorities. If they did, it was behind the closed doors of their homes. Then came a wild eyed, half naked man known only as John the Baptizer. His diet consisted of candy-coated bugs and his route to “power” had been anything but traditional. He was not a graduate of the Jewish “Harvard,” he was not even a scribe, lawyer or synagogue official. He was completely outside the system. John’s “office” was not even “downtown.” Instead he strolled through the boonies and had the dress code, hair style and bug-leg-in-his-teeth that made him look like a candidate for therapeutic medication and forced psychoanalysis. Yet, Christ called John “the greatest man who ever lived.” And the very leaders of the monolith institutions of Jerusalem came out to see him. They lowered themselves to leave their seminaries and palaces, their assistants in tow, and go hiking in their three piece suits to hear John speak. Where does this type of power come from? The Holy Spirit. In Luke 1:15, the New Testament records that God filled John while he was in his mother’s womb. He was chosen by God and empowered by God for the work of evangelism. Can we be benefactors of the same type of authority as John the Baptist? Yes and no. We are called to make “disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) and we have the free gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit which empowers us to the same ends as John the Baptist = evangelism (John 16:7-8). We are not going to have the privilege of being the “voice in the desert” that announces the First Coming of Christ but we do have the authority to announce the Second Coming of Christ. And the Second Coming will be much more noticeable. We may not have the privilege of baptizing Christ, but we do have the privilege of baptizing Christians. All in all, we are not to emulate John the Baptist’s life in regards to style. Thank God. But we are consumed by the same Spirit which gives us the same mission. I don’t eat bugs. Never will. I will always dress in white collar office gear. But I will never be cut from the same cloth as my co-workers. There will always be a sense of “oil and water” between them and I. Because as much as John would have insulted my comfort zone, he is definitely my teammate. We both share the same Spirit.
Paul the Apostle
Paul the apostle was a championship level, “up and coming” Pharisee. Fortunately for him, he also happened to become a born again follower of John the Baptist’s promised Christ. Paul was everything John was not. Refined, incredibly knowledgeable and totally traditional as a Jew. A Jew of Jews. Paul’s missionary work literally founded the Christian church. History’s most potent sociocultural phenomenon. Was his education the most important factor? No. He often boasted of coming to his newly founded churches in weakness and fear as well as speaking foolishly. Yet in Acts chapter 17 he addressed the Greek world displaying his understanding of their philosophy, poetry and creeds. After all, Paul was a roman citizen who had enjoyed classical greco-roman training on top of his Jewish Ivy League education under the legendary Gamaliel. The point is… it doesn’t really matter. God can use anyone at anytime for anything. A willing spirit in His hands is a deadly force against the enemy. A martial arts master can turn anything into a lethal weapon. God is much more potent than any human master. He can do more with less. And in fact, He prefers less. Not in terms of limited intellectual capacity, but in terms of competing wills. If we will what He Wills, we find ourselves in the raging rapids of His Power, Love and Mission. And nothing can stand in our way. Nothing. Let go of your own understanding and draw close to Him. He has revealed Himself intelligently through Scriptures, nature and history. Know the boundaries. But also know the freedom within those boundaries. Seek Him in a private and personal way as well as a traditional and well reasoned critical journey.
Me, You and Youtube
In order to keep this brief history, well brief, let us fast forward to me and you. Here we are in 2009. What now? The answer is in Scripture. Our mission was laid out for us by Christ in John 16:8. To convict the world of sin, righteousness and Judgment through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Christ and John the Baptist simply spoke the gospel in public. Is this the limit we should constrain ourselves to? Well, it is perfectly necessary to preach in public (and usually this means one to one relationship evangelism), but the very existence of the New Testament ushers in the obvious reality that although God in the flesh never put pen to paper (or quill to papyrus), He utilizes other communication mediums to preserve and spread His pure and precious Gospel. Eventually the printing press of the 15th century opened an entirely faster and more aggressive manner in which to spread the Good News. Radio and televsion jumpstarted the ability of preachers to inject the Gospel into millions of ears. Something impossible even in the grandest arena of our current world. New technologies have entered human culture and continue to come. From Christ’s spoken words to the apostolic pens. From their pens to the pens of the church fathers and early Christian philosophers to the printing press of the reformation fathers and also to the radio and television addresses of 20th century evangelism. Evangelism is the message regardless of the medium. It is to adapt and flow in ALL cultural and historical and technological contexts.
Which finally brings us to me, you and Youtube.
Please realize that the generation born between 1980 and 1995 have inherited a new reality. The online reality. The amount of written material these men and women carefully read and digest has dropped and continues to drop steadily. They watch videos. Lots of them. They want to see and hear the message and the messenger. The audio-visual format of John the Baptist and Christ have returned full circle. More people will see and hear the gospel in our generation then they will read it. It is estimated that the current online community is over one billion! This is nearly 5 times the world population alive in Paul’s day. It is countless more than the audience Billy Graham had access to via his television ministry. The potential online audience of a single popular Youtube video is in the millions. The times “they are a changing” as Bob Dylan prophesied. The online empire of Youtube allows a man sitting in his living room with only a computer and a web cam to reach an audience in the thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands. Recently, Google bought Youtube and has absorbed all of Youtube’s content into their Google Video site. Creating another online mega warehouse of audio-visual information. Let us prayerfully make use of this inescapable reality. It is an incredible field of harvest that is not going away anytime soon.
Luke 4:43 records Jesus when He said: “But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” The crowd wanted Him to stay with them. But He was on the move. And we are to be on the move. Move the Message, push the Good News, email it, facebook it, youtube it. Go, go, go, go, go!
In the first half of March 2009, President Obama erased the Bush administration’s ban on the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. Since 2001 the only stem cells allowed for research were “old” ones that existed before Bush came to power. Bush allowed 61 stem cell lines to survive his ban, but he forbid any new ones from being added. This has now been pulverized by Obama who will allow in-vitro fertilization clinics throughout the U.S. to re-direct human embryos to research centres. And these researchers will grow these embryos into stem cell lines. This will literally flood the U.S. medical system with an unprecedented amount of new, viable stem cells. What are the ethical issues (if any) surrounding this procedure and new protocol?
What is a Stem Cell?
Picture a new born baby girl. She could grow up to be anything. But as a baby, she has not developped any unique or specialized characteristics that would differentiate her from other babies. The cells of our bodies are similar. We all begin life as a single cell (like a baby cell). It is here that we have our very first full copy of our unique DNA. And immediately the “copy” button is pressed over and over again. That single cell is divided and has begun a line of descent that will build our entire human organism from head to toe. However, during these first several generations of cells, we are undifferentiated “baby” stem cells. Cells that are totally generic and identical looking. Yet are capable of becoming any type of cell. Bone cells, muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells, pancreatic cells, cardiac muscle cells, skin cells, fat cells, etc, etc (ALL possible cell types)
Embryonic Stem Cells
These first precious bundles of embryonic stem cells are so capable of transformation that researchers are eager to accumulate them for medical use. As mentioned above, in-vitro fertility clinics produce many fertilized eggs in hopes of successfully implanting one of them into their client’s uterus. They typically prepare several and therefore usually have “left overs.” These embryos can be preserved but cost to the client is significant and most can’t afford it. So the embryos are discarded. Under Obama’s decree, they will now be set aside for researchers who will grow highly potent stem cell lines. Unfortunately, they can only do so by destroying the developing human embryo. This is what has caused much tension in the public sphere.
Interestingly, no known medical therapy has been developped using embryonic stem cells. Partly this is because of their previously restricted status in the U.S. But Europe has been doing embryonic stem cell research since 2003 and still all known stem cell therapies remain adult stem cell therapies.
Adult Stem Cells
Even though full grown humans are no longer embryos, the body continues to carry stem cells. These are termed adult stem cells. Bone marrow, the brain, intestinal tissue and most all human tissues carry adult stem cells. The beauty of stem cells is that, unlike other cells, they appear to be able to divide infinitely. Which is why the Bush administration’s 61 stem cell lines will continue to exist long into the future. Therapies such as bone marrow transplant for leukemia victims and joint cartilage repair are examples of successful adult stem cell therapies. These stem cells can be obtained from umbilical cord blood (post partum), baby teeth, bone marrow, skin cells, etc. And the obvious appeal of adult stem cell research is that there is no destruction of life.
In the past, mainstream medical opinion believed that embryonic stem cells were so vastly superior to adult stem cells in being able to differentiate into any known body tissue, that they were much more attractive for research purposes. So much so, that to not harvest the massive stock pile of embryonic stem cells would be morally wrong. However, recent discoveries are beginning to overturn this dogma. For example, in 2001 brain stem cells of mice were shown to morph into blood cells. And pro-adult stem cell researchers state that, as understanding improves, so will our ability to harvest any tissue from adult stem cells, without a single human life being destroyed. And besides, there has been no actual obstacles in the use of adult stem cells. When called upon, they do the job. There is no solid evidence that embryonic stem cells can step in and do better.
At this moment unfortunately, the debate is effectively over. President Obama has declared embryonic stem cell research to be legal, ethical and justifiable. Is he right? The case against embryonic stem cell research has two main branches.
1. Sanctity of Human Life
Article 2 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration Human Rights states that:
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
This presents us with the next logical question: “When does the life of an individual begin?”
Purely biologically speaking, the very first moment of an individual’s life is the moment of conception. At this point, everything is in place for that individual’s life. Everything. It is the Big Bang of that life. Your hair and eye colour, height, muscle mass, propensity for cancer, bone density and all other genetic characteristics have been determined. You have been delt the cards you will draw from for the rest of your life. If you leave the conceived individual alone, they will continue to thrive. They have begun their membership to the human race and have no intention of stopping. If you destroy this individual life…well, iIt dies. An unfertilized egg amounts to absolutely nothing. A lone sperm amounts to nothing. Leave either in the uterus for as long as you like and absolutely nothing will happen. Nature declares, uncontroversially, that the beginning of personal existence at the moment an egg is fertilized by sperm. This is uncontroversial. The word conception means “origin or beginning.” Beginning of what? A person. What else? Everyone begins at this moment. EVERYONE. This is not an arbitrary moment in our lives, it is the most precious, singular and primal moment in ALL our lives. We began at no other time than this very moment.
The question then becomes: “is human life valuable?”
If we determine that a human life indeed exists at conception, the question becomes, is it so valuable that we don’t squash it for ANY purpose, medical research or otherwise. If we try to have our cake and eat it too, we create a societal schizophrenia. You can’t take human value away AND keep it. With our right hand we are currently trying to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Life and with our left hand make life so cheap that it becomes medical research material.
If we remove a purely scientific observation to the start of human life, we have to use other definitions. But none are scientific or absolute. Typically, people comfortable with abortion and embryonic stem cell research will use psychosocial benchmarks to determine personhood. For example, they will often state that unless a developing child can think or feel pain, they are not human yet. But when exactly does the baby think “enough” or feel “enough” to qualify? This is impossible to determine. Furthermore, the faculty of thought and feeling is secondary to the individual. Does a man under anesthesia lose personhood? Of course not. They are temporarily lessened in their consciousness and will recover. On the other hand, a brain dead patient will never regain consciousness, and without artificial support, they will die. But a baby in utero will live unless artificially destroyed. They too, like the man under anesthesia, are only temporarily lessened in their consciousness.
Once we give arbitrary definitions to the origin of personhood, such as a type of cognitive function, we are now randomly throwing darts on a board and saying “aha! good enough for me.” Yet we are ignoring the elephant in the room: all faculties develop from an existing human. The human has to exist in one stage before he or she can move to the other. And no singular stage is more human than the other. It is all part of the spectrum of humanity. If we destroy an individual, no matter which stage they are at, we are choosing to artificially end a unique, viable human being. What else are they? There is no scientific or biological line that can be clearly established other than conception.
And as the United Nations declare, a person “has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Simply not hearing the screams of the embryo does nothing to erase the fact that a human life has been destroyed. The only thing it means is that he or she has been cleverly killed before their screams could ignite our conscience.
In vitro fertilization is legal. And it will continue to create embryos that are destroyed. Why not make the best of a bad situation? The wasteful treatment of human life already exists in the form of in vitro fertilization. Two wrongs suddenly make a right? To glamourize the de-humanization of embryos with the fragrance of medical research would come at the price of opening the door to a future with no human sanctity. Heck, marijuana is no longer a felony. Why not legalize heroine? Which brings us to our next point:
2. Slippery Slope
Those who would paint pro-lifers as chicken littles worried about the sky falling are conveniently ignoring history. Roe v Wade has slipped us into a nightmarish society in which third term babies can have their brains vaccuumed and skulls crushed. Under aged girls can have tax payer funded abortions without parental notification. Abortion procedures and “do it yourself” drugs are routinely used as after-the-fact contraception. It is hard to not believe in a slippery slope when you are constantly gaining speed down the hill.
Once embryonic stem cell research becomes status quo, human cloning and genetic engineering will be right around the corner. One of the most promising uses for embryonic stem cell research is a procedure known as “therapeutic cloning.” This procedure takes a patient’s (or someone else’s) DNA and removes the DNA inside a previously fertilized egg (from an in vitro clinic) and implants the new DNA into the egg. Then, gentle electrical stimuli spur the egg to replicate. Sound familiar? It should, because this is cloning. Pure and simple. Just like Dolly the sheep. The only difference between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning is the egg is not implanted in a uterus, but placed in a tissue environment (e.g.: the spinal cord) in hopes of replacing damaged tissue. After 10 plus years of frequent and regular state-approved cloning, the simple difference between implanting a clone into someone’s damaged pancreas and implanting a clone into a barren woman’s womb will begin to fade. Considerably. This has been the classic human behavioural pattern since recorded history. We touch before we sniff and we sniff before we taste. But we end up feasting nonetheless. Thankfully, Obama has created language that prevents human cloning. But just as Bush’s embryonic stem cell legislations can be pulverized, so can legal clauses like cloning restrictions.
Once we shatter the frail line between the absolutely God-given sanctity of human life and the cheap, convenience-driven dispensability of human life, there will be no more barriers of protection from a future in which the definition of personhood undergoes even greater molestation. Germany’s doctrine of racial purification did not begin overnight. It originated in the womb of the mid 1800’s secular philosophies of Nietzche and Darwin’s removal of God’s image from mankind. It was in recovery of the Third Reich’s horrors that the United Nations designed and enforced the Universal Decleration of Human Rights. Have we so short a memory?…