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Humor, Theology

Humor and the life of faith

"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God"  – G. K. Chesterton

*****

Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58:

As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.

Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2).

All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8).

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12).

Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the mystery of the molecular machines

Documentary 60 minutes / 2016 RATING; 7/10 Revolutionary is a fantastic documentary about what a quiet professor did to get Darwinian evolutionists very, very upset with him. Now, Michael Behe is not a creationist – he seems to believe in an old earth and that some sort of evolution may well have occurred. So why would Darwinians be so very disturbed by him? Because Behe doesn't believe the world came about by chance. While studying the human cell he realized the microscopic machines within it are so intricate and complex it's inconceivable they could have come about via only random mutation and natural selection. The cell's outboard motor and "irreducible complexity" While Behe is the subject of this documentary, the real "star" of the show is one of those "micro-machines" that so fascinated him: the bacterial flagellum motor. As the documentary's narration explains:

Perhaps the most amazing propulsion system on our entire planet is one that exists in bacteria. It is called the flagellum, a miniature propellor driven by a motor with many distinct mechanical parts, each made of proteins.

The flagellum's motor resembles a human-designed rotary engine. It has a universal joint, bushings, a stator, and a rotor. It has a drive shaft and even its own clutch and braking system. In some bacteria the flagellum motor has been clocked at a 100,000 revolutions per minute. The motor is bi-directional and can shift from forward to reverse almost instantaneously. Some scientists suggest it operates at near-100% energy efficiency.

All of this is done on a microscopic scale that is hard to imagine. The diameter of the flagellum motor is no more than 5 millionths of a centimeter.

In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe argued that Darwinian evolution could not account for micro-machines like this because Darwin required all complex living things to have evolved through a step-by-step process from simpler lifeforms. Behe couldn't see how these micro-machines could have developed in stages. They were, as he put it, "irreducibly complex" – take one piece out, and they don't simply function less efficiently, but instead seize functioning at all. The flagellum motor is astonishing, and yet it's only one of many "molecular machines" scientists have discovered in the last several decades, all of them operating with a single cell. Some of the others include: "energy-producing turbines, information-copying machines, and even robotic walking motors." (The title of Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, is a reference to how, when Darwin presented his theory,  he didn't know how incredibly complex the inner workings of the cell were – they were only a "black box" to him. Would Darwin have ever suggested his theory if he'd had an inkling of how complex even the simplest life really is?) The documentary shows that since Behe first poised the problem of "irreducible complexity" many have tried to address it, but with no real success. Cautions The ID movement is sometimes caricatured as being creationism in disguise. But it is made up of a very diverse group of scientists. There are Christians, cultists and atheists too, and while it seems most believe in an ancient earth, there are also 6-day creationists. What unites the ID movement is the shared belief that the evidence shows there must have been intelligence – an Intelligent Designer – behind the formation of the universe. But because they are trying to avoid being labelled as a religious movement they won't name the "Intelligent Designer." This is the ID movement's greatest flaw: in this refusal they are not giving God the glory that is His due! Since the "good guys" in this film hold to a wide variety of views on the age of the Earth, Who made it, and to what extent He made use of evolution, this is not a film for the undiscerning. Conclusion That said, this is an important and well-made documentary. Revolutionary shows how Behe became one of the fathers of the Intelligent Design (ID), and in documenting his history, they also provide a overview of ID movement itself. That's the best reason to see this film – to get a good introduction to a movement that questions unguided, Darwinian evolution, on scientific grounds. In just one hour it traces the impact Behe has had on the Darwinian debate since his pivotal book, Darwin's Black Box, was published two decades ago. There's a lot packed in here, and it is well worth repeated viewings. While Revolutionary is important and has some wonderful computer animations of the inner workings of the cell, it is not for everyone. Since the central figure is a mild-mannered sort, it just isn't going to grab the attention of children or other casual viewers. However, for anyone interested in the sciences and the origins debate, it is a must-see! And – bonus! – it is now available to be viewed online for free! (See below) https://youtu.be/7ToSEAj2V0s

Pro-life - Fostering

7 ways to help a foster family

So you’re not able or ready to plunge into foster care? That doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved! Here are some practice ideas for how to help out a current foster family. Educate yourself Educate yourself on the local foster care system. Educate yourself on trauma and how it affects children. Educate yourself on what “reunification” means, and why we need to have a heart of forgiveness and compassion. Educate others The Church can play a big role in supporting the foster care system in your community. Find your local (Christian) foster care and adoption agencies and give freely, both financially and with your time. In our local church we did a special service offering at Christmas for a local foster care agency. Locally we also have a volunteer-run short-term “House” that is a place where children entering into foster care can spend their first few days before being placed…instead of in a hotel or social worker’s office. Get involved there! Search in your community for worthy organizations that are striving to repair the foster care system, and are Christian-based. Share with others, and pull together as a church to support them! Meals If you know a family that is fostering, chances are they have a houseful of children already, and have a lot of mouths to feed. Whether they’ve taken in a new placement or not, showing support by bringing a meal (or even some snacks to stock up the cupboards) goes a long way. They are likely spending a lot of time communicating with the team of people involved with their child, or helping the child work through trauma, or something along those lines. That’s why food is so appreciated! Items Foster parents in Washington State receive a monthly stipend from the state to cover costs but as you can imagine, the costs involved with becoming licensed, as well as ongoing costs incurred can, at times, exceed the stipend. Sometimes a child comes with nothing but the clothes on their back and suddenly the foster parent is making a trip to the store to get formula, diapers, PJs, toothbrush, shoes, underwear – you name it! In our case, we are licensed for ages 0-10, boys and girls. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to store clothes and items for each age group and gender. Also, as we were becoming licensed, we were required to have certain items available in our home (medicine cabinets that could lock, fire escape ladders, emergency food supplies for 8 people for a full week, as well as a bed available for each age of child, etc. etc.). This did become quite costly, so every little bit we got donated to us really helped. If you know of someone going through the licensing process, ask them what they are in need of, maybe you happen to have it lying around! Childcare Whether it’s offering to take their biological children for a time, or the foster child, it might just be exactly what they need. A date night? Groceries kid-free? Or maybe their foster child has yet another appointment (here in Washington State they’ve required what seems to be an overabundance of doctor and dentist appointments) and they’d love to not take along their other children. Whatever it may be, offer! Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but if it’s offered it might just be what they need right at that moment. House, yard, and transportation help This can be so helpful, especially around the time of a new placement entering a home. That’s when all the house and yard work gets moved to the bottom of the importance pile. The family needs time to bond, organize, and have a lot of communication with the new team of people that are now in their life. They need to spend that first critical week loving on that child, attaching and adjusting. Offer to come fold a load of laundry, or weed their gardens, or clean a toilet. Or, maybe they’d love you to run an errand or two for them, or pick their kids up from school, or bring a child to their lessons or practice. Just ask! Prayer Please lift these families, as well as the children they are fostering, up in prayer! Ask them if there are specifics to pray for.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Eph. 6:18

Theology

The limits of the “two-books” metaphor

There is an idea, common among Christians, that God has revealed Himself to us via “two books”: Scripture and the book of Nature. The Belgic Confession, Article 2 puts it this way:

"We know [God] by two means:

"First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature, as the apostle Paul says in Rom 1:20. All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. "Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation." But what happens when these two “books” seem to conflict? This happens in the Creation/Evolution debate, where the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 conflicts with the evolutionary account of our origins. So, as Jason Lisle notes, that has some Christians thinking that since:

“…the book of Nature clearly reveals that all life has evolved from a common ancestor….we must take Genesis as a metaphor…. we must interpret the days of Genesis as long ages, not ordinary days.”

Analogies have their limits But that's getting things backwards. While the Belgic Confession does speak of Creation as being like a book, metaphors and analogies have their limits. For example, In Matt. 23:37 God is compared to a hen who "gathers her chicks under her wings" – this analogy applies to the loving, protective nature of a hen, and should not be understood to reveal that God is feminine. That's not what it is about. Clearly Nature is not a book – the universe is not made up of pages and text, and it's not enclosed in a cover or held together by a spine. The Belgic Confession is making a specific, very limited, point of comparison when it likens God's creation to a book. How exactly is it like a book? In how it proclaims "God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature." It does so with book-like clarity, "so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). But in the Creation/Evolution debate some Christians extend this book analogy in a completely different, and entirely inaccurate, direction. It has been taken to mean that Creation can teach us about our origins with book-like clarity. This misunderstanding then presents us with a dilemma: if we have one book saying we were created in just six days, and another saying it took millions of years, and both are equally clear on this matter, then what should we believe? We need to understand that this dilemma is entirely of our own making. Creation is not like a book when it comes to teaching us about our origins. As Dr. Lisle has noted, it does not speak with that kind of clarity on this topic. Only one actual book here In contrast, the Bible is not merely like a book, it actually is one! It is there, and only there, that we get bookish clarity on how we, and the world around us, came to be. So, yes, the two-book analogy remains helpful when it is used to illustrate the clarity with which God shows "his eternal power and divine nature" to everyone on the planet. But when it comes to the Creation/Evolution debate, the way the two-book analogy is being used is indeed fallacious. God's creation simply does not speak with book-like clarity regarding our origins. We can be thankful, then, that his Word does!

Jon Dykstra also blogs on Creation at CreationWithoutCompromise.com.


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History

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was always meant to be revolutionary

Many Christians are puzzled by the decline of religious freedom in our country. Time after time, in conflicts involving homosexuals or abortion rights activists, Christians seem to lose. For example, we’ve seen people who voice opposition to special status for gays being harassed by "human rights" commissions. And recently we’ve also seen university pro-life groups being prohibited or severely restricted. Why aren't Christians’ religious freedom or freedom of expression protected in these cases? After all, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees both of these freedoms — religion and free expression. So when Christians lose out, it's because our Charter freedoms are being ignored, right? Well, maybe not. What if the Charter was adopted as part of a strategy to fundamentally change Canada? What if the framers of the Charter saw the historically Christian basis of Canada as an obstacle to be removed? If this were the case, then favoritism towards the opponents of Christian views would be a natural consequence. Not a conspiracy theory Now, at first glance that might sound like a conspiracy theory or something — a secret cabal plotting to shift Canada's historic foundation. But by definition a conspiracy occurs in secret, and this was never a secret. Some of the Charter's early proponents supported it because they wanted to make significant changes to Canada, and they said so openly. It wasn't secret, so it wasn't a conspiracy. Until 1982 Canadians had enjoyed considerable rights and freedoms under the traditional British system of common law. Certain rights and liberties were recognized by the courts despite their lack of explicit mention in the constitution. This British method was strongly influenced by a Christian worldview because Britain had been an explicitly Christian nation for hundreds of years. (Queen Elizabeth, for example, swore in her 1953 coronation oath to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.”) Thus to reject this system was to reject the special place that Christianity had in undergirding Canadians’ historic rights and freedoms. With Christianity’s privileged position gone, the Christian perspective just became one among many views, and one that was clearly out-of-favor with Canada’s elites. A sudden secular shift Most people who supported the entrenchment of the Charter in the early 1980s simply thought that human rights should receive constitutional protection, and the Charter was a way of doing that. There's nothing sinister about this idea since it makes perfect sense. Don't you want your rights constitutionally protected? Of course, we all do. That's why the Charter was widely popular at the time of its drafting, and it's probably even more popular now. Christians commonly cite the Charter in defending their own positions. But what most people didn’t understand was that the worldview underlying the Charter was an alien thing. The changes that have been wrought in Canadian society as a result of court decisions (and political decisions) based on the Charter are the natural consequence of that document. Conservatives like to blame judicial activism for these changes but that's not fair to the judges. The judges are basing their decisions on the intent of the Charter. Now, they do so happily, because they support the Charter’s secular humanist worldview, but they are truly following its original intent rather than making it up as they go. After the Charter was adopted in 1982, the provincial and federal governments had to immediately review all of their legislation to bring it into conformity with the Charter. Before any judicial decisions were made on the basis of the Charter, a major change in Canadian law began to occur to prepare for its effect. “A revolution in Canadian society” When testifying to a parliamentary committee in 1985, federal Justice Minister John Crosbie made it perfectly clear that the adoption of the Charter was no ordinary kind of change — Canada was being fundamentally altered, and Canadians didn't yet know what was about to hit them: “The public does not realize that we already have had a revolution in Canadian society. The adoption of a charter was a revolution. It has changed the whole power structure of Canadian society.” As the head of the Department of Justice, Crosbie knew better than anyone the wholesale legal change that was about to engulf Canada. This was before any court decisions had been made, so it is clear that the judges are not to blame. They are only implementing the agenda given to them by the Charter itself. Fundamental change was always the point Of course, Crosbie isn't the only one to realize the revolutionary character of the Charter. Various left-wing activists and academics celebrate the Charter's overturning of the Old Canada. University of Toronto law professor Lorraine Weinrib is one such academic. In her 2003 article entitled “The Canadian Charter’s Transformative Aspirations,” she summarizes the matter this way: “The Charter’s purpose and desired effect, from the point of view of those who supported it was to transform the Canadian constitutional order in fundamental ways, not to codify existing constitutional values and institutional roles.” The Charter was not adopted to protect the rights and freedoms that Canadians enjoyed up to 1982, but rather to make Canada into a different kind of country — “transform the Canadian constitutional order in fundamental ways” — as she puts it. Weinrib describes the Charter as being part of a “remedial agenda.” That agenda includes the expectation that: “...through extensive institutional transformation the Charter would impose a new normative framework upon legislators, the executive and the administration, as well as the judiciary.” That may look like a bunch of egghead gibberish, but the main point is the imposition of “a new normative framework.” The “norms” of Canadian society would henceforth be different from before. New is not always improved In this view, Canada was an awful place before 1982. Weinrib says that “the Charter took Canada away from a repudiated history that had failed to respect liberty, equality and fairness.” But now people like Weinrib are freely remaking Canada into a wonderful new country, using the Charter to uproot the oppressive, crypto-fascist state that existed before 1982. That’s how they see it, anyway. The truth is, however, that before 1982 Canada was one of the freest and fairest countries in the history of the world. Few other nations had records that could rightly be compared to Canada’s humane achievements. Millions of people came here to escape the problems of their homelands. But in order to complete the Charter’s revolution, Canadian history must be rewritten into a narrative of oppression. This will help shore up support for the Charter while its “remedial agenda” is enacted throughout society. So if you're wondering why religious freedom and freedom of expression for Christians seem to be shrinking in Canada, consider how the country has changed since 1982. If you think your Charter rights are being denied, think again. The Charter is accomplishing just what it was set out to do — make Canada into a different kind of country. And it's not a coincidence that Christianity is being left behind. The adoption of the Charter in 1982 represented a deep philosophical change in the nature of our country. Originally published in the January 2011 issue under the title "Charting a path to tyranny? Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was always meant to be revolutionary."...

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker. André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada....

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

ABILITY ≠ WORTH ....but the world thinks so, and sometimes we do too

While we were at the library one of my daughters grabbed Nice Wheels, a book featuring a boy zipping across the cover in a wheelchair. I thought it was a great choice; my children don’t know anyone in a wheelchair so this seemed like it would a good way to teach them that whether we’re standing or sitting, we’re all people. But that wasn’t the moral of this story. The author wanted to teach my daughters that our value comes from what we can do. The book begins with a wheelchair-bound boy rolling into class and a second boy wanting to know, “Can he do what we can do?” By day’s end we’ve learned that the boy in the wheelchair can sing just like everyone else, and can paint, and listen, and laugh, and eat lunch, and share like everyone else too. And as the book draws to a close the second boy decides that, shucks, if this boy in his wheelchair can do everything we can do, why not be his friend? While the author’s heart was in the right place, her thinking couldn’t be more wrong. If we’re worth befriending because we can do things, what if we can’t do things? If our value is tied to what we can do, then what of a boy who can’t sing, or paint, or eat lunch with the other kids? Comedy and tragedy The world believes that our worth is tied to our ability. That’s why we have feminists arguing that women can do anything men can do, even including all that brawny stuff. No matter that men have way more muscle, feminists won’t admit men make better firefighters, soldiers or alligator wrestlers. They can’t concede that men can do more in these areas because in their worldview that means men are more valuable than women. Feminist confusion is comical, but equating ability with worth can also be deadly. It’s this same thinking behind abortion: we can kill the unborn at 10 weeks because they can’t do this yet, or at 20 weeks because they can’t do that yet. It’s also the impetus behind legalized euthanasia: if a strong healthy young man wants to commit suicide we’ll try to stop him, but if an old man requests euthanasia because his physical and mental abilities are diminishing, well, that’s supposed to be understandable. Dripping in the church In our churches we oppose abortion and euthanasia. We know our lives our valuable even when we can’t do anything at all. We know it, but daily we manage to forget it. We tie our sense of worth to how much we make, or have donated, or to the position we hold. Or we base it on how well our kids behave, how many books we’ve read, how many invitations we do or don’t get, or how many Facebook likes we’ve collected. We know better, but we still fall for the lie that our worth is somehow tied into what we can accomplish or earn or achieve. There can be something appealing about this lie in the short-term, particularly just after we’ve lost 20 pounds, or scored a game-winning goal. But in the long term it all fades; relying on our own strength is a dead-end. Unearned What a blessing it is to know, then, that our value doesn’t come from our abilities. Ours is a derived worth that comes from the God in whose image we are made (Gen. 1:27, 5:1 9:6, Psalm 8:5-6). Our status also comes from God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t come from what we can do. We’re valuable because of how God made us, and because of what God commanded. So it’s all gift. Understanding that frees us from the impossible burden of trying to earn it. When we know for a fact that nothing we can give could ever be good enough for God that frees us from worrying whether or not it will be. It frees us to simply respond in thankfulness, giving freely of ourselves and our gifts without being self-conscience about how little it is we have to offer. And understanding where our worth comes from should stop us from expecting others to earn their status. The newcomer to our church shouldn’t have to smile first before we welcome them. The lonely girl shouldn’t have to accept one of our first ten invitations before we offer her an eleventh. The awkward guy shouldn’t have to play hockey to be a part of our group. And that kid in the wheelchair doesn’t have to show he can do everything that the other boys can do before he’s worth befriending. They shouldn’t have to earn it. They can’t earn it. We can’t earn it. It’s all a gift from God....

Human Rights

A Christian perspective on freedom of speech

To say American author and columnist Ann Coulter is “outspoken” is rather like saying Solomon was  “a smart fellow.” Both statements are correct, in so far as they go, but they really don’t go far enough. Ann Coulter can, in a single sentence, be brilliantly insightful and insulting, and that – along with out-of-context quotes broadcast in five second clips on the nightly news – has made her controversial. So when she was scheduled to speak March 23, 2010 at the University of Ottawa it was predictable that there would be protests. What wasn’t predictable was the escalation of hype and hysteria that caused the speech to be cancelled. The hype was started by a letter written the previous week from the University of Ottawa’s provost, Francois Houle. He warned Coulter that she should be careful what she was going to say, or else run the risk of criminal charges. On the evening of the 23rd a mob of two thousands students surrounded the speaking venue, preventing many from entering. Those that did get in were subjected to screams from a handful of students who also made it inside. “There were five of us in there. We were loud,” one of the students told Global TV, “It was amazing that five of us could shut it, could just have them stop speaking.” Another admitted that, “Yes that was our aim, to stop Ann Coulter from speaking.” Outside students banged on the doors while others screamed: “This is what democracy sounds like! This is what democracy looks like!” Forty minutes after the speech was scheduled to start it was cancelled over safety concerns. There were three ironies evident that night. The first, that this happened in a country that prides itself on being polite and peace-loving. To that point Coulter had done more than 100 speeches on college campuses in the US and never before been prevented from speaking by an angry mob. That only happened in Canada. Freedom to hear Then there was the painful irony of many in the censorious mob insisting they were only exercising their “freedom of speech.” They misunderstood it as a freedom to screech, as if they had the right to shout down anyone they disagreed with. But of course freedom of speech means very little if it doesn’t also include a freedom to hear – screaming at the top of your lungs just to make sure others can’t be heard is not a form of free speech, but censorship. Here is where the media failed us – reporters did ask the mob’s leaders why they thought they had the right to stop Coulter from speaking but the students were never asked why they thought they could stop so many others from hearing. It should have been made clear that this presumptive bunch wasn’t just stepping on one woman’s freedom to speak but rather on the freedom of hundreds to hear her. That line of questioning would have made clear the astonishing arrogance of the mob; this was a group of twenty-something-year-old students telling people old enough to be their parents, grandparents, employers and professors that no, you might want to hear this woman, but we’ve decided we know better than you what you should hear. This line of questioning would have made it clear how condescending, how disrespectful, how elitist this group of self-appointed censors was being. But sadly reporters never brought up the crowd’s “freedom to hear.” Legitimate limitations The evening’s final irony was that the mob’s victims also seemed to be confused as to what free speech entails. One older woman interviewed by Global TV talked about Ann Coulter’s “right to freedom of speech” as if it were an absolute right, as if it didn’t matter what Coulter said, she should still have the right to say it. But we know that isn’t so. There are legitimate limits to free speech. The most famous example is that you shouldn't be allowed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater (unless there is a fire). Other legitimate restrictions include a ban on slander, libel, false advertising, and passing on state or military secrets. One student leader said Coulter had to be silenced because her speech would violate  “safe spaces for students.” It was a baseless accusation (it’s her opponents, not her supporters, who cause riots) but if Coulter really did incite violence that would have been a good reason to restrict her speech. However, while there are reasons to restrict speech, even in those instances it is the properly appointed authorities who have the right to do the restricting…not an angry mob. Christian basis Coulter’s visit to the capital revealed how confused people are about free speech. Both sides said they believed in it, but one side would only grant the freedom to people of whom they approved, while the other side seemed to be arguing for speech without restrictions – it was the censors versus the anarchists. But if the world is confused about free speech, Christians needn't be. We support free speech for two simple reasons. 1) Free speech helps us seek the Truth The reason free speech matters is because Truth matters. And if we are going to seek after the Truth we need to be able to talk freely. If we're going to find Truth, verify it, hold on to it and share it with others, we may just need to say all sorts of wrong, crazy, incorrect and offensive things. How is a Muslim ever going to learn the Truth if he can't first explain his incorrect understanding of Jesus? How can we preach to and debate with the atheist if he can't publicly and freely express his doubts about God's existence? Though Thomas was wrong to doubt (John 20:24-31), how could his doubts have been answered if he wasn't allowed to question whether Christ rose? And how foolish would the Bereans (Acts 17) have been if they turned Paul away without hearing him? Instead they risked hearing something offensive so they could test Paul's words against the Word, and find out if he spoke the Truth. We support free speech because it is by talking, discussing, preaching, and teaching freely that the Truth is known. 2) Censorship is most often used to oppose the Truth Lord Acton's dictum that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is grounded in both Scripture and history. Scripture teaches us that Man is depraved and on his own cannot resist temptation (and absolute power is quite the temptation!) while history teaches us again and again that dictators are indeed corrupted by their power. So Christians know better than to trust any king, president, prime minister, bureaucrat, panel, tribunal or judge with the awesome power of being able to decide for everyone else everything that we can and cannot read, see or hear. We can't trust that sort of near-absolute power to anyone. We learn from Scripture that we would be incredibly naive to believe we can entrust a man with such enormous power, and we learn from history that whenever broad-ranging censorship power is given, it is abused and used to suppress the Truth. The Bible, after all, remains the world's most censored book. Conclusion As Christians we know that any freedom Man is given will be misused and abused so it is certain that on some occasions people’s speech will need to be stopped. But that isn’t a path we are going to want to go down too often because we know free speech aids in the spread of the Truth. Not everyone is so tolerant, as the incident in Ottawa shows. So let’s make use now of the freedoms we still have to speak freely about God to our neighbors, our coworkers… and maybe even to a university student or two. Picture by Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com...

Human Rights

The world doesn't dare ask why we have human rights

As Christians we understand that our rights come from God. For example, our right to life comes from God’s prohibition against murder – no one has a right to kill me. Our right to equality – to fair treatment – comes from our understanding that we are all made in God’s image (in what other sense are we equal?) and also from God’s call not show favoritism to the rich or poor (Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, Deut. 16:19, James 2:9) or partiality to any (Deut. 1:16-17, Proverbs 28:21, and etc.). But the secular world also speaks of rights. So on what basis do they make their claims to there being universal human rights? According to unbelievers, why do we have human rights? What reasons can they give? R. Albert Mohler, in a 2014 address at BYU, explained that the secular case for human rights can only stand so long as no one asks those questions. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, fresh after the horrors of World War II. It was adopted in a spirit of hope and desperation. The French intellectual Jacques Maritain, one of the leading Roman Catholic philosophers of the century, was one of the drafters of the statement. That Declaration is now cited as the definitive statement of the modern affirmation of human rights. The Declaration affirms that all humans possess “inherent dignity” and states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” That is an eloquent statement indeed, but upon what does it rest? Maritain saw the problem. In his words, “We agree upon these rights, providing we are not asked why. With the ‘why’ the dispute begins.” And the dispute has never ended…. If we are biological accidents – just another primate – why should any individual human life matter? And why should we respect an abstraction called human rights? ….There is no secular ground that can support and defend human rights. The full 26 minutes speech can be viewed below https://youtu.be/nm2-lnswp_M?t=3m22s...

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews

What "right" trumps all others?

In this excerpt from Jonathon Van Maren’s new book The Culture War he lays out how sexual rights have triumphed over all others…and one of the first steps we can take in response. ***** When abortion activists came shrieking with rage at Canadian Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth’s suggestion that a committee examine human life in the womb in 2013, he was somewhat surprised. When the Canadian government kowtowed to feminist hysteria and shut down his colleague Mark Warawa’s motion to condemn gender-selection abortion, Woodworth noticed a trend – and coined a new term. What we’re seeing is “abortionism,” he told me in an interview. Abortionism is essentially a philosophy that raises abortion to a sacred status, above all other democratic principles. I agree with Mr. Woodworth, but I think the problem goes much deeper than abortion. Abortion’s now-sacred status is symptomatic of something far more sinister: the sweeping success of the Sexual Revolution. So-called “sexual rights” are now considered to be the most important “rights” our society has, and take precedence over all other rights, regardless of how fundamental they are. Rights that fell by the wayside Freedom of speech? This is now a quaint concept that does not apply, for example, to any sort of pro-life activism, especially and ironically on university campuses, once lauded as the marketplaces of ideas. Pornography, nude demonstrations, and virtually any form of sex-related activism is welcome – unless you happen to be opposing something, in which case it is not. When I was in university, for example, our “Cemetery of the Innocents” display was trampled and destroyed by a student politician who then took to the campus paper to refer to us as “the Hitler Youth.” On campus after campus across North America, feminists respond to pro-life activism the same way: Shut down the debate. Almost every pro-life activist I know has been censored on his or her university campus in some way or another – and usually with the endorsement, if not assistance, of the university administration. The same applies to the right to educate your children as you see fit. Increasingly, the adherents of the Sexual Revolution are realizing that in order to get the upcoming generation of Christians to accept the New Sexual Order, they will have to force it on them. Specifically, mandate new “sex education.” Christian schools and home-schoolers frustrate them, because they can no longer teach children about masturbation and anal sex in fifth grade. As Wendy Shalit highlights in her magnificent book A Return to Modesty, much of the public education system is now the systematic destruction of innocence. And if the powers that be have their way, soon you won’t be able to opt out. Religious liberty is being dispensed with at an alarming rate as well. After all, our culture has abandoned religious values. Once we’ve chiselled and hacked the last of the Ten Commandments monuments from in front of the last courthouses, we can put those quaint beliefs in the trash can alongside it. Businesses that disagree with gay marriage are being forced to shut down. Churches in Denmark have already been ordered to perform gay weddings, and there’s no reason to think that such things won’t soon begin to happen here in North America. Our tax dollars are used to fund Pride Parades that resemble public orgies. The Sexual Revolutionaries are not, for the most part, about living and let live. They are about compulsory acceptance. All rights are now subject to sexual rights. How we got here The Sexual Revolutionaries didn’t just change history. They rewrote it, because that’s what revolutionaries always do. This struck me vividly when I was traveling in China, and our tour guide, a pretty young woman named Anna, was taking my friend and I from the Forbidden Palace to Tiananmen Square to Mao Tse-Tung’s Mausoleum, where the dead dictator still lies in state in a glass-covered coffin. After listening to Anna praise Mao for hours, I asked her how she could possibly believe he was good for China when, by some estimates, he presided over the deaths of nearly seventy million people. First she was irritated, and then agitated. After informing me that Mao was a great leader, she ended our discussion by announcing, “Denying Mao would be like denying Communist Party!” And with that, historical truth was placed firmly in the backseat to ideological obligation. In order to understand the sex-driven lunacy and carnage that has gripped our culture on virtually every front, we have to put history back in the front seat. We have to honestly analyze and understand how we reached this point, so that we can begin to realize what we can do – not to return, but to rebuild. To equip our children and the upcoming generation with the truth of what has actually taken place, and why it is that we believe what we do. One thing we can do This is precisely what Ted Byfield told me when I asked him what young people could do to begin the process of cultural renewal. Read history, he told me urgently. People will be stunned to find out what actually happened – “they will be astonished at the things we’ve done in century that made no sense at all. What should be emphasized in your generation is to find out what happened. In other words, read history.” He's right. Once we know what has happened, we will have a better sense of what is happening, and have vital context for the spreading social decay we are witnessing. That decay, as we will see, has become our culture’s new normal. The Culture War is about how the Sexual Revolution triumphed in the Western World, and how Christians can respond. It can be purchased at TheBridgehead.ca....