Saturday, March 31, 2012

RBV: Genesis 27:16

And she put the skins of the kids of the goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.
--Genesis 27:16

This verse appears within the story of Jacob's tricking of the elderly, blind Isaac into giving him the patriarchal blessing instead of bestowing it on his older-by-mere-minutes twin brother Esau, who was the rightful heir. The "she" mentioned here is Rebekah, Isaac's wife and the mother of the two young men.  

Part of the background of the story is that the two parents played favorites (Genesis 25:28): Isaac preferred Esau and his "manly pursuits," while Rebekah favored Jacob, who is described as "a mild man, dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27), suggesting that he was more refined and that his aptitudes were more mental than physical. This favoritism put the couple at odds on at least one score, who would inherit the patriarchy after Isaac's death. Isaac evidently thought Esau the better candidate, since he was the older and stronger. His wife felt Jacob better suited to the position, being more cunning and skillful in business and management. It also spurred rivalry between the sons.

Jacob had revealed his cunning when he had bargained the birthright from Esau some time before (Genesis 25:29-34). He made cynical use of Esau's famished state to finagle the lucrative--even precious--birthright from his brother, whom the Bible says did not value it highly enough: "Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34; see Hebrews 12:16-17). The birthright was the firstborn's double portion of inheritance. (Jacob later passed this birthright on to Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; see Genesis 48.)

In Genesis 27, Isaac had sent Esau out to hunt for game to make his favorite stew, after which he would pronounce the blessing on him. Rebekah knew that this gave her time to make her own stew from the meat of young goats to imitate Esau's dish and to prepare Jacob to disguise himself as his hairy brother (see Genesis 25:25). Jacob was a "smooth-skinned man" (Genesis 27:11) by comparison to Esau, so he would need, not only to wear his brother's clothes so that he smelled like him, but also to apply hair to the backs of his hands and neck to make the ruse work.

So, Rebekah evidently adhered the skins of the freshly killed kids to Jacob's hands and neck, perhaps even sewing them to her son's cuffs and collar so that Isaac would never think that the hair he felt was not genuine. With the short time she had to work with, she went to great lengths to ensure that Jacob received the blessing--and even then Isaac nearly guessed the truth when Jacob could not imitate Esau's voice well enough (Genesis 27:22).

Perhaps what God said in Genesis 25:23 motivated Rebekah: "Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger." She knew that God had ordained Jacob to lead the family (see Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:10-13). However, like Sarah before her, Rebekah took matters into her own hands rather than allowing God to work matters out so that Jacob would receive the blessing in a more ethical way.

Who knows how He would have worked it out--maybe Esau would have despised the blessing too or Isaac would have been warned by God not to bless Esau but to bestow it on Jacob at a later time. It is a moot point now. God included it in His Book so that we can learn lessons from what actually happened--lessons about the use of trickery, favoritism in families, getting ahead of God, making assumptions about what He is doing, priorities, selfish ambition, parental manipulation of their children, how one lie begets another, and so forth. We can mine a wealth of wisdom from the rivalry of Jacob and Esau.

Friday, March 30, 2012

We Are the Enemy

The trend has been noticeable over the past few years, particularly in popular books, television shows, and movies, but also in the culture at large. It runs something like this: The story contains a character or a group who are on the cutting edge of some scientific or social breakthrough, and the new idea or discovery is so revolutionary that news of it is generating controversy. The hullabaloo usually centers on the fact that the "amazing" innovation challenges traditional or religious beliefs. At some point, the genius inventor/discoverer/creator usually makes a snide comment to the effect that only the howling fundamentalist Christians cannot see how wonderful his breakthrough really is, as if Bible-believing Christians are the last of the Luddites.

It may be a gratuitous laugh-line—or it may be a well-aimed blow designed to undermine Christian confidence in the rationality of their beliefs. Whatever the motives, ridicule of Christians and the biblical teachings they believe is on the rise, and of late, it seems to have sharpened its edge. Christianity is under attack, putting those who adhere to the Bible in the crosshairs for simply holding fast to the words of Scripture.

This is nothing new. Christians have been persecuted for their beliefs since Jesus Christ Himself suffered a martyr's death in Jerusalem. In fact, we could take it further back, as the prophets who were killed for speaking the truth that God revealed to them died for the same beliefs—even all the way back to Abel, who was murdered because he pleased God by following His instructions regarding sacrifice (Genesis 4:4). "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7), carnal people lash out at those who are trying to transform their lives to please Him. The apostle Peter tells us that we should not think it unusual to be "reproached for the name of Christ" (I Peter 4:12-14).

When we think of persecution, we often reflect on the types of persecution that are mentioned in the Bible or that have been recorded by historians. The persecutions of Nero and some of the other Roman emperors are legendary, particularly some of the more gruesome ones like crucifying churchmen in mockery of Christ, covering Christians in pitch and burning them to light the emperor's garden parties, and pitting hymn-singing believers against ravenous beasts before large crowds at the Coliseum. These are the kinds of persecution that "get the headlines," as it were, but conditions do not need to mount to this point to be considered persecution. Historically, a great deal of Christian persecution has been "mere" mockery of belief that ratchets up to far more serious physical oppression over time.

Just a few weeks ago, Christianity was in the media spotlight because of the controversial contraception mandate attached to Obamacare. The Catholic Church in particular was held up to ridicule because of its rigid stance against all forms of contraception. The typical secular view—which is the direction most persecution comes from these days—is mocking disbelief that a modern institution could advocate such Dark-Age notions. Society, they argue, has moved far beyond the confining sexual strictures of traditional morality, and Catholics should get with the program. Mostly, they blame the Church's narrow-minded "conservative hierarchy" for maintaining a doctrine that most parishioners ignore and/or would like the Church to change.

Yet, it is not just Catholics who are swept up in the ridicule because the Obamacare mandates in this vein also include coverage of abortions and the use of abortifacient contraceptives (contraceptives that essentially abort an embryo soon after conception), which the majority of Bible-believing Christians oppose. Since sexual freedom and abortion rights and methods are the spear point of the progressive assault on traditional values, any opposition to them by Christians makes them fair game for put-downs, derision, and low-blows (the lower the better, to their way of thinking).

One of the newest television shows on ABC targets "Good Christian" women. It is titled "GCB," an acronym that uses a slur to demean more than half of this country's professing Christians. The entire show is based on the assumption that all Christians—but especially Christian women—are hypocrites who use their faith as a screen to conceal their underhanded deeds and sexual profligacy and to maintain their reputations among their just-as-phony peers. As Media Research Center president, Brent Bozell, writes in a March 9, 2012, column:

As anyone could have predicted, ABC is clearly pitching "GCB" as a replacement for the dying soap, "Desperate Housewives," merely adding the Texas-Christian angle to make the plots extra-scandalous. Hollywood seems to think everyone is a selfish and cynical hypocrite. But not everyone lives in a gaudy piranha bowl like they do in Tinseltown.
Undoubtedly, a great many Christians are hypocrites, but the show gives the impression that all Christians behave just as badly as everyone else. Thus, the producers want viewers to think that, as a belief system, Christianity is as corrupt as any other.

In this nation, Christians are still protected to a certain extent by the Bill of Rights; we still have the freedom to worship as we choose. On the other hand, secularists have the freedom of speech, and they have made sure that they control most of the outlets for getting their views into the mainstream of thought. As the years unfold, they will continue to do whatever they can to undermine Christianity because its teachings hold up a standard that they cannot abide and to which they will not submit.

But take heart! Just last Saturday, atheists held a rally in Washington, DC, which they had advertised would be "the largest atheist event in world history." Renowned atheist and biologist Richard Dawkins was headlined to speak before the vast throng, and sometime before the event, he had advised in The Washington Post that people should stay away if they lacked the wisdom to crawl "from the swamp of primitive superstition and supernatural gullibility." Yet, when noses were counted on the day of the rally, only "several thousand" had bothered to attend. Not even the major networks showed up—nor the Associated Press or The New York Times!

While we can grumble about the way Christians are portrayed in the media, we must realize that our persecution is, for the time being, quite light (see II Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:3-11). Over the next years, it will probably worsen, perhaps imperceptibly at first, but we will know we have reached the tipping point when government begins to persecute believers. Realistically, we have a way to go to equal the terrible persecutions that our forefathers in the faith endured, so we can thank God for His abundant mercy toward us.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

RBV: Colossians 1:4

. . . since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; . . .
--Colossians 1:4

This verse appears in the middle of a longish introductory sentence by which the apostle Paul lays the groundwork for his appeal to the members of the church at Colossae, an appeal that he does not voice until chapter 2. The problem facing this young church in Phrygia was that they were in danger of being "cheat[ed] . . . through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8). In other words, conditions were such that they were showing signs of believing ungodly ideas promoted by outsiders. As a careful study of the phrase "the basic principles of the world" reveals, these ideas or philosophies had their origins in demons.

As he begins his letter, the apostle wishes to assure the Colossians that word had reached his ears that, despite their vulnerabilities to deception, they were faithful to their calling in Christ and that it was demonstrated in acts of love that they performed to benefit their fellow church members. Thus he lets them know in verse 3 that he always prays for them and thanks God for them. This should have the effect of building their confidence that their election by God was genuine and that they could rely on divine help and strength to face the spiritual battles that they would soon have to wage against these counterfeit doctrines.

Paul had heard of their situation from a reliable source. Verse 7 informs us that one of his proteges, Epaphras, who originally hailed from Colossae (Colossians 4:12), had been working with them and had given him a report of their progress. Evidently, he told the apostle that elements of the local religious milieu were beginning to become apparent in the ideas he was hearing among members of the congregation.

It is not easy to pin down what the exact problem was. Both Jewish and Greek philosophies can be seen in the language Paul uses to describe the problem. There may be some kind of Jewish mysticism, perhaps even radical apocalypticism, present (Colossians 2:18), and certainly, a form of asceticism is mentioned in Colossians 2:21-23. In areas far from the Temple, Jewish philosphers (like Philo in Alexandria) were mixing Judaism with Greek philosophy, creating a strange hybrid of revealed truth and humanistic "wisdom," syncretism of the worst kind since it contains enough truth to attract a believer and enough error to turn his feet off the path to God's Kingdom. These quasi-spiritual ideas later coalesced into formal Gnosticism in the next century, but at this time, the rudiments of such thought were just beginning to take root in various places--one of which was Colossae.

In any case, Paul opens his letter with positivity and encouragement, letting its recipients know that they already have what it takes to stand firm in the faith. If they keep their eyes on the hope set before them, they will endure even this severe trial.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rehearsing God's Plan

This weekend marks the beginning of a new sacred year; in fact, this Sabbath is the first day of the year on the Hebrew calendar. God tells Moses in Exodus 12:2, "This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." The next chapter confirms that this particular month is Abib (Exodus 13:4), which is Hebrew for "budding" or "sprouting," identifying the time of year as the beginning of spring. The Modern Hebrew equivalent is aviv, making the coastal city of Tel Aviv "Spring Hill" in English.

The beginning of another year means that we will observe another round of God's holy days, the seven high days between the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the early spring and the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles a half-year away in the autumn (see Leviticus 23). These seven appointed times of holy convocation are by no means mere spiritualized celebrations of ancient harvest festivals, as modern critical historians are fond of asserting. (They say this because of their evolutionary biases that force them to conclude that the religion of the Old Testament is nothing more than the previous Canaanite religion transformed by the peculiarities of Hebrew culture hardened into monotheism by the rigors of the wilderness. Clearly, they also have a bias against any recognition of God Himself, since He is the One who commanded Israel to worship Him in the ways demonstrated in Scripture. No, to them, Israelite religion separated from its Canaanite roots in the distant past and developed "naturally" over centuries until it was codified by the priestly caste in Holy Writ.) To the contrary, God's holy days are a carefully crafted series of memorials that tell a story.

That story is God's magnificent plan of salvation, told in a set of parable-like vignettes, which His people rehearse each year as a reminder of what God is doing among mankind. As the Bible shows, certain holy days commemorate major events in the history of Israel, and these events stand as types of spiritual realities brought about by God. While it may sound strange to our ears, some of the holy days are memorials of future events—pre-memorials, we could call them. God reveals enough in His Word, especially in the book of Revelation, for us to feel certain about what events they prefigure.

Although Passover is not a holy day with a holy convocation like the other festivals, it plays a major role in the story of God's plan, explaining the first, vital step. Exodus 12:1-13, 21-27 explains that the Old Testament ceremony of killing, draining the blood, roasting, and eating a male lamb without blemish is a yearly reminder of the Death Angel "passing over" the Israelites in Egypt because of the blood on their doorposts and lintels. Thus, they were spared the plague of the firstborn and redeemed—bought back—from their slavery. The Passover service, then, is a picture of redemption by the blood of a perfect sacrifice.

Jesus, of course, is that perfect Sacrifice. He lived among us for more than 33 years and never once sinned; He was spiritually perfect. And since He was also our Creator, His unjust, cruel death, in which His blood was drained from Him upon the ground, was more than sufficient to cover all sin and redeem all humanity from its captivity to sin and this world's god (I Corinthians 4:4), Satan the Devil. The New Testament picks up on the theme of redemption, recording the spiritual antitype of the historical event that took place roughly 3,500 years ago in the land of Goshen. Today, the Passover service concentrates on Christian service (in the footwashing; see John 13:1-17), Christ's broken body (in the broken bread; see Luke 22:19), and His shed blood, which ratifies God's New Covenant with His people (in the wine; see Luke 22:20).

The day after the Passover begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which Exodus 12:14-20 and other passages show to commemorate Israel's flight from Egypt into the wilderness. It took the many thousands of Israelites, as well as their livestock, an entire week to journey to and through the Red Sea, where they were finally free from the clutches of their former slave masters. They left in such a hurry that they had no time to allow their bread to rise, so they had to eat unleavened bread, which the Bible calls "the bread of affliction" (Deuteronomy 16:3). Thus, in commemoration of this momentous occasion, for the week of this Feast, the Israelites were commanded to clean their homes of yeast, which the Bible always paints in a negative light as an agent of corruption, and eat unleavened bread.

In I Corinthians 5:6-8, the apostle Paul points out the spiritual application of this festival. It is a time of remembering that we are on a spiritual wilderness journey, and instead of coming out of a physical, oppressive nation, we are fleeing from the corruption of sin. With God's help, we are putting off the sins and habits of our evil nature and putting on the character of our Savior Jesus Christ. Each year, then, we remember that our job is to quit living Satan's way and engrain God's way of holiness and righteousness into our characters.

Pentecost is the next holy day on the calendar, seven weeks after Unleavened Bread. It is called the Feast of Harvest, giving us a giant clue that it depicts, not just a harvest of grain (barley is ripe at the beginning of the seven-week count to Pentecost and wheat at its end), but of people. This is the first harvest festival and a smaller one than the Feast of Tabernacles, so it represents a small, early harvest of God's people. It also contains a wave offering of two leavened loaves of bread, symbolizing God's acceptance of once-sinful people in two groups. We believe that these loaves represent those whom God brought to salvation before Christ and those converted during the church age, which will continue until He returns.

The next four holy days—Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles, and the Last Day—are celebrated in the fall. The events that these days look forward to are conveniently summarized in the narrative of the prophecies of Revelation 19 and 20. Revelation 19 is all about the return of Jesus Christ, which is announced with great blasts of a trumpet (see Matthew 24:31). The Feast of Trumpets, therefore, covers His second coming, His rewarding of the saints, and His defeating of all opposition to His rule.

Revelation 20 contains the fulfillments of the last three holy days: Atonement, when Satan is bound and led "outside the camp" (see Leviticus 16 and the ritual commanded for this day), removing his evil influence over all people; the Feast of Tabernacles, when Christ reigns with the resurrected saints for a thousand years and the earth blossoms like a rose (see Isaiah 35); and the Last Day, when the great majority of humanity will have the opportunity to live under the gracious judgment of God, accept salvation, and live for eternity (see Isaiah 65:17-25).

This is the time of year, as the apostle Paul says on another matter, to think on these things.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Christianity's "War on Women"?

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced on January 20, 2012, that, as part of preventive health services for women, all health plans must provide no-cost coverage—including deductibles and co-payments—for all contraceptives and sterilization procedures approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Her announcement ignited an immediate furor from conservatives and Catholic groups complaining that this regulation—part of Obamacare—impinged on their first amendment right to religious freedom.

Besides the fact that it is against Catholic teaching, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that contraception is not basic healthcare but "an elective intervention that stops the healthy functioning of healthy women's reproductive systems." Conservative commentators railed that requiring taxpayers to fund contraception is essentially forcing citizens to pay other people to have sex.

Not long thereafter, the Obama administration granted religious institutions an exception: An employee of such an institution that does not provide reproductive healthcare can seek it directly from the insurance company at no additional cost. On March 1, the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected 51-48 a proposed amendment to the healthcare law extending this exception more broadly.

The absurdity of the contraception mandate was revealed on February 16, when Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law Center graduate student, was asked to speak before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee (not a formal Congressional hearing). She argued that religious institutions, even those with moral objections, should provide free contraception in their health insurance. She claimed that birth control could cost $1,000 per year (or as she specifically said, $3,000 over three years), stating that four out of ten of the university's female students suffered financial hardship because the student health insurance plan does not cover it. Many low-income students must go without contraceptives, she averred, because the women's free health clinics cannot meet the need.

Critics like Rush Limbaugh pummeled Fluke on the air, highlighting the ridiculous nature of her claims, especially the cost of contraception. As Cathy Cleaver Ruse, a Georgetown Law graduate, wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal:
But an employee at a Target pharmacy near the university told the Weekly Standard last week that one month's worth of generic oral contraceptives is $9 per month. "That's the price without insurance," the employee said. (It's also $9 per month at Wal-Mart.)

. . . Should Ms. Fluke give up a cup or two of coffee at Starbucks each month to pay for her birth control, or should Georgetown give up its religion? Even a first-year law student should know where the Constitution comes down on that.
Limbaugh ran afoul of the media after he used terms to describe Fluke that he later regretted saying and apologized for. However, his outburst was enough to alter the angle of the debate. Jesse Ferguson, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, complained, "Rush Limbaugh has come to Republicans' defense in their war on women." Fluke herself opined in a statement on March 1, expanding the field of those attacking "all women": 
Unfortunately, numerous commentators have gone far beyond the acceptable bounds of civil discourse. No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner. This language is an attack on all women, and has been used throughout history to silence our voices. The millions of American women who have and will continue to speak out in support of women's health care and access to contraception prove that we will not be silenced.
That same day, The Washington Post ran a guest editorial by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite titled "All about Eve: The Christian roots of the GOP's war on women." She writes:
This attack on women is, and I am grieved to say it, driven by a particular Christian theological perspective that denigrates women and holds them responsible for sin, particularly sexual sin.

GOP politics today is, in fact, all about Eve.

The GOP war on women will continue precisely because of the conservative Christian theology that drives wedge politics in a campaign season has a fundamental contempt for women and their equal dignity and worth.
We in the church of God realize that it is not all Eve's fault. In I Timothy 2:14, Paul clearly writes that Eve sinned because she was deceived and implies that Adam sinned willingly (see Genesis 3:6). Further, the apostle states in Romans 5:12 that "through one man sin entered the world," and he repeats this in verses 15, 17, 18, and 19, naming Adam as the sinner. Thus, a "Christian" theology that puts women down for "Original Sin" is not based on biblical teaching.

The Bible consistently teaches that it is the man's responsibility to set the moral tone in his marriage and family, which Adam failed to do. This morality in relationships begins even before marriage. A young man looking for a wife must be scrupulous in his courting of a young woman, keeping the seventh commandment firmly in mind (Exodus 20:14).

And this brings us back to the controversy over the contraception mandate. Americans are embroiled in this argument because of promiscuity—illicit premarital sex by both men and women. The sexual revolution has borne more bitter fruit, this time endangering one of the fundamental freedoms granted to citizens by the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It has become evident that a large segment of the American population values their sexual freedom more highly than their religious freedom—to the detriment of those of us who do not.

Jeremiah 13:26-27 confirms this as a sign of the end, as God promises destruction: "Therefore I will uncover your skirts over your face, that your shame may appear. I have seen your adulteries and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your harlotry, your abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! Will you still not be made clean?"

Unfortunately, at this point, national repentance seems unlikely. Is it not ironic that, in a country that values freedom so much, a kind of liberty—libertinism—could be so instrumental in bringing it down?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Specter of Transhumanism

Maximum Ride is a popular science-fiction/action-adventure series, ultimately to be eight books, written by novelist James Patterson. These books, aimed at teens, are loosely based on two novels for adults, When the Wind Blows and The Lake House, also by Patterson. The central conceit in all ten books is that a secret biotechnology laboratory, after many horrible failures, successfully “created” several human-bird hybrids through some sort of genetic engineering. The resultant children—highly intelligent, exceptionally strong, and able to fly due to their having wings—are neither truly human nor truly birds. They are presented as beyond human, better than human. Modern bioethicists would call them posthuman or transhuman.

This idea of evolving or transforming beyond humanity is on a great many minds these days. It is suffused throughout popular culture in books, movies, and television shows. Whether it is accidental enhancement giving Peter Parker spider abilities, succumbing to the bite of a vampire, or growing the next super-race in a test tube, imaginative minds are dreaming about the next step in human development. No matter what the source of the enhancement, there always seems to be an underlying admiration of the resulting superpowers.

We could just laugh these matters off as far out manifestations of the minds of sci-fi writers who drink too many Red Bulls and get too little sleep. Unfortunately, the idea of transhumanism has reached beyond the imagination to the potentially practical, and highly placed and influential people are taking it seriously. Dr. Thomas R. Horn writes in “The Hybrid Age”:
An international, intellectual, and fast-growing cultural movement known as transhumanism supports this vision, as does a flourishing list of U.S. military advisors, bioethicists, law professors, and academics, which intend the use of genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and synthetic biology (Grins technologies) as tools that will radically redesign our minds, our memories, our physiology, our offspring, and even perhaps—as Joel Garreau, in his bestselling book Radical Evolution, claims—our very souls.
The Brookings Institute, a leading Washington, DC, policy think tank, has published a book, Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, in which the authors tackle various issues that “by the year 2025 could stress current constitutional law. The resulting essays explore scenarios involving information technology, genetic engineering, security, privacy and beyond.” The American government, specifically the National Institute of Health, is planning for that day, granting $773,000 to Cleveland’s Case Law School to begin developing guidelines for policy on “genetic enhancement,” as they call the next step in human evolution. Even National Geographic speculated in 2007 that the world would witness the advent of “human non-humans” within a decade. A website, Transhumanist Resources, provides an idea of how extensive transhumanist ideas have permeated today’s world.

Back in 2004, the editors of Foreign Policy asked eight foreign policy intellectuals, “What ideas, if embraced, would pose the greatest threat to the welfare of humanity?” Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, author of Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, and a former member of the George W. Bush’s President's Council on Bioethics, chose to write about transhumanism. He classifies it as “a strange liberation movement” that seeks “nothing less than to liberate the human race from its biological constraints.”

The idea, he admits, is intriguing and attractive. Who would not want to be better, stronger, faster, smarter, and/or healthier than we are now? And is not the story of humanity—under the evolutionary way of thinking—one of change and progress for the better? He writes:
The seeming reasonableness of the project, particularly when considered in small increments, is part of its danger. Society is unlikely to fall suddenly under the spell of the transhumanist worldview. But it is very possible that we will nibble at biotechnology's tempting offerings without realizing that they come at a frightful moral cost.
Fukuyama concludes his article, “If we do not develop [a humility concerning our humanity] soon, we may unwittingly invite the transhumanists to deface humanity with their genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping malls.”

There is also a fear that the public will have little or no say about “progress” in transforming humanity. A June 9, 2008, article in Wired, “Top Pentagon Scientists Fear Brain-Modified Foes,” suggests that military expediency may drive research on these lines:
There’s concern in some corners of the U.S. military about “enemy activities in sleep research,” neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement, and “brain-computer interfaces.” And it’s not coming from the Pentagon’s scientific fringe, or from some tin-hat kook with a Defense Department badge. The celebrated scientists on the Pentagon’s most prestigious scientific advisory panel, JASON, are the ones worried about adversaries’ ability “to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security.”
In other words, some see a kind of arms race heating up—not over nuclear, chemical, or biological weaponry, but over creating better soldiers, ones that can stay awake longer, perform better, and directly interface with weapons technologies. Who can tell what kind of being will be unleashed upon the world as a result?

While these advances may still be years away, the potential for them is becoming more likely all the time. How long until cloning and genetic engineering are done on human beings—or are secret labs or the proverbial mad scientists already experimenting on these things? Will some pharmaceutical corporation come up with a pill that will enhance strength or agility or the ability of one or more of the senses? Will engineers find a way to meld computers or robotics with human tissue to make a cyborg of sorts? People are working on projects that may lead to these kinds of “advances.”

God does not tell us whether He will allow such things to happen or not, but when He saw what was happening at Babel, He said, “Indeed the people are one . . . and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6). Even back then, He had to take drastic action to keep mankind from “progressing” to today’s potential and beyond. Perhaps this time, He will send His Son to stop the madness.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Potential Persons" and "After-birth Abortions"

The latest abomination to come down the medical-ethics pike is the February 23, 2012, publication of “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” in the Journal of Medical Ethics. This article is written by two ethicists, Alberto Guibilini and Francesca Minerva, both of whom are now working in Melbourne, Australia—he, at Monash University, and she, at the University of Melbourne. Both have ties to Oxford University in Great Britain.

The abstract of their article runs as follows:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
Yes, they actually wrote that in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. These two ethicists—who do not deserve the title—advocate infanticide on the same level that abortion is “largely accepted.” They generally conclude that the same arguments that can be marshaled in support of killing a fetus in the womb can be applied just as well to killing a child who has recently left the womb. Without apology, they argue that since, in their way of thinking, fetuses and newborns are only “potential people” and not actual ones, “the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being” override any rights the fetuses and newborns allegedly have.

They go on to say that adoption is not a valid alternative to infanticide because “the interests of the actual people involved matter.” Thus, for example, since the birthmother may suffer “serious psychological problems due to the inability to elaborate [her] loss and to cope with [her] grief” in giving her baby up, her interest trumps the newborn’s right to life. Does that make any sense at all? To them, it does because they do not believe that the newborn is a person capable of having interests. In their minds, the newborn is sub-human, to borrow a term from eugenics, for in calling them “potential persons,” they are assigning them not-quite-human status.

We might think that their logic is horribly convoluted, but it is actually quite “sound” in the sense that they are not guilty of employing any readily apparent logical tricks. They are simply following accepted definitions and practices to their “logical” conclusions. What is wrong—indeed, terribly evil—are the foundation and suppositions of their philosophy. Since the original beliefs and assumptions are false, all of their subsequent conclusions take them further from the truth, though they may be ably reasoned using the accepted rules of argument.

As Jesus Christ admonishes us in Matthew 7:24-27—His parable of building on the rock—our beliefs must be solidly built on a true and immovable foundation. The thinking of Guibilini and Minerva is akin to the “foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:26-27). In this case, the house is liberal Western society, and under beliefs like “after-birth abortion,” it will come crashing down in utter ruin.

A reading of the article brings out that the authors ignore the foundational question of the sanctity of life. They make no argument regarding the salient question, “When does life begin?” It is apparent that they have already resolved and accepted the position that embryos, fetuses, and newborns do not have a right to continued life unless “actual persons” grant it to them. “God is in none of [their] thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). Having rejected God’s very existence, and thus His revealed instructions for abundant living, they have set themselves—human beings—up as the highest authority, arbiters of life and death. With such power, they can decide by their own values and reasoning processes how and when any biological entity becomes a person deserving of a future existence.

What a brave new world men and women have created for themselves in their desire to live without God!

The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), covers this transgression quite adequately once we accept that the newborn child is certainly a living human being—and has been for many months. While the Bible contains no direct statement that life begins at conception, many passages show that God is involved in people’s lives before they are born (see Psalm 139:13-16; 51:5; Isaiah 49:5; Jeremiah 1:4-5) and that the fetus is aware and responsive to God (Luke 1:41, 44). God even commands life for life if a fetus is miscarried after a fight (Exodus 21:22-24). The weight of biblical evidence falls on the side of life and full humanity for fetuses and newborns.

Actually, this brave new world of abortion and infanticide on demand is simply the modern equivalent of ancient pagan practices like the abhorrent idolatry of the Canaanites in Old Testament times. Pagans would sacrifice their children to their gods to “ensure” that the living would have better lives. They would make a child “pass through the fire to Molech” (an act obviously forbidden by God; Leviticus 18:21) to supplicate the god to give them fertile fields, victory in battle, or some other blessing. Ironically, these ancient people held the life of a child as more dear than today’s uber-selfish individuals do, as the latter most often abort babies merely for their own convenience.

Concerning this horrible sin, God says of the people of Judah in Jeremiah 32:35, “And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” As punishment, Jerusalem was “delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jeremiah 32:36). When such practices become commonplace, the society is ripe for destruction, as God intimates in Genesis 15:16 and Leviticus 18:24-29; 20:22-23.

There is nothing ethical about “potential persons” and “after-birth abortion.” They are the products of the twisted thinking of human beings tuned in to the broadcasts of a hateful Satan the Devil (Ephesians 2:2-3). He wants to destroy human life. Hundreds of millions of abortions are not enough to sate his appetite, so he has deceived people into taking the next step toward annihilation, infanticide. Could there be any better reason to increase our prayers to God to send His Son soon?