About 10-15 years ago, I wrote a sci-fi book focused around some ethical conundrums. It is intended to raise a lot of important questions we need to deal with considering where technology is going, but is also intended to delve into the foundation of the abortion discussion.
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It is easy for each generation to look at social changes and view them as negative changes in morality. Whether it is the development of more revealing clothing, more open use of swearing and crude words, the legalization of pot, or any other number of changes - it can seem to an older generation that the sky is falling. But at the same time, there are changes which happen socially that clearly fall within the moral realm. Loosened sexual ethics, sentimental spirituality refusing to plug into a church body, or the increasing acceptance of certain birth control methods, like the day after pill, are all examples of social changes which, from a historical Christian standpoint, clearly cross the threshold of immorality. While I could harp on any one of these issues and bemoan the degradation of modern, liberal Christianity, I instead want to point fingers at my own group and ask for our personal reflection as I highlight what I think is a troubling trend which undermines our ability to critique modern culture.
[*Written in 2017 and archived for a rainy day when I needed an article to plug in.]
If you have ever had the pleasure of browsing a Facebook feed for any extended length of time, you have likely seen a new, sophisticated moral argument for a variety of issues. Why are women still receiving less pay than men for the same work? Come on, folks, it’s 2017! Why is there still racism? Come on, people, it’s 2017! Why can’t we let any two people who love each other get married? It’s 2017!
It is, indeed, 2017. However, I find this fact to be largely irrelevant to my moral ethic. It seems strange to me that women should receive equal pay for the same reason I should not wear socks with sandals – because it’s 2017. Providing the same reason for my moral code that I provide for my dress code waters down the weightiness of morality and injustices. Is the abolition of bell-bottoms really on par with the abolition of sex slavery? When we say that the year has any correspondence to our moral position, what we are really saying is that our morals, like our trends, are really just a matter of wavering preference. That is a very scary thing.
I find myself returning to contemplate the problem of evil time and time again. Maybe millennials (of which I barely make the cut) have a bigger hang-up with the way evil's existence seems to encroach on the possibility of a good God's existence, but I think the problem is much broader than one generation. Whether it's the death of a daughter leading Darwin to embrace his religious doubts, or the holocaust of a whole race which is remembered and lamented in the works of Elie Wiesel - each generation seems to have its own works and workers who wrestle with the reality of evil's existence. Evil is hard to stomach, and especially so if one is a Christian who proclaims the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God who supposedly despises evil.
In response to the problem of evil Christian history has produced a number of defenses for God. These defenses are known as "theodicies." A theodicy doesn't claim to prove that God exists or that its explanation for evil's existence is the correct one, but it merely offers what is a possible explanation for evil's existence alongside a good God. If the theodicy's explanation is logically possible, then evil's existence is not incompatible with the existence of God, even if this particular explanation doesn't end up being the correct one. The goal is simply to show that the existence of a good God and evil aren't logically incompatible. At the moment, the most broadly accepted theodicy on the market is the free will theodicy as refined and presented by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga argues that for a God to create a world in which his creatures loved him in a meaningful sense, then those creatures would need to have the choice not to love him. God could have created robots that would have never disobeyed him or done any evil thing, but in creating such a world, he would have created a world where true love was impossible. So while it is true that evil exists, it's only in a world where evil is possible that love can exist, and God deems that the existence of love is worth the price of allowing evil.
The Free Will Theodicy (FWT) is a beautiful defense because it makes a lot of sense. Everyone would love a world without evil, but we recognize that we'd all likely prefer a world where we make meaningful choices to love than a world where we were programmed robots - even if the price of love was the existence of evil. Love is such a beautiful and powerful thing that we recognize evil pales in comparison to it. The FWT is a fantastic defense of God, though as with all arguments, there are some problems. But it isn't in the scope of this article to expound on this theodicy or defend it. Suffice it to say that this is the going theodicy in Christianity, particularly Western Christianity. With the acknowledgement of this broad Christian adherence to the FWT, what I want to do, then, is actually draw out some implications this theodicy has for two other Christian positions: nonviolence and Christian anarchism.
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CONVERSION AND TRUTH
Everyone's an evangelist whether they know it or not. You may not be an evangelist for some large, organized religion or cult, but I guarantee you’re an evangelist for some belief. You are likely affronted by my calling you an evangelist because the term has taken on some very negative connotations in our age. The fervor, pushiness, judgmental nature, and self-righteousness of many evangelists likely fuels our aversion to the term - and rightfully so. Nobody wants to be evangelized because nobody wants to be objectified, and objectification is exactly what many evangelists do to potential converts. The evangelist's subject (or victim) is often merely seen as malleable gray matter - a fertile host into which the evangelist (or parasite) can inseminate their ideas.
As an evangelist for Christianity, I take exception to these negative connotations of evangelism, though I certainly understand and agree with their application most of the time. Such an acknowledgement of evangelism’s misuse is a sober warning to me that even in my noblest of desires, my self-centeredness may be the overwhelming motivation with which I lead. But potential egoism isn’t the only way in which I might err. When evangelism fails to be a good thing, its failure must be seen as in one of two areas: the objectification of another (which simultaneously entails the self-centeredness of the evangelist) and/or the untruth of the message - the "good news" being preached.
[I wrote this article around 2010, and the thoughts and writing style may represent some of my early thinking. Nevertheless, I needed an article for this month and thought this may be worthwhile, and something to build on in the future.]
Perhaps one of the greatest problems the atheist worldview faces is the issue of the natural versus the unnatural. All of their subjective basis for morality and action (epicurianism, survival, or whatever they select) is based on nature. Nature causes us to feel pain, and pain is a feeling most would choose to abstain from. Likewise, pleasure is a feeling that humans tend to enjoy, so pleasure is generally accepted as a good thing. Morality, for the atheist, is based upon these natural things. This may not seem like an outright problem, but considering that evolution of our species is defined as a change over time, one begins to see that what is valued or valuable today may not be the standards and morality of tomorrow.
Ethics has always fascinated me. While morality seems very clear to a large extent, it's easy to find conundrums and paradoxes when you look for them. I have no doubt in my mind that gray will always exist, but I also believe that we tend to do a bad job reflecting on morality. We often invoke mystery too easily, or we land on the side of whatever our moral preferences are in our given culture. I think we can often do better than either giving up or caving in to self-interest.
The following sample of resources are some of the pieces which I've read or created while thinking through the issue of politics. I attempted to use a broad selection of authors, from conservative Christians to the secular, so you can get different angles. Regardless of where you land, my hope is that you'll begin to see the world through the eyes of the gospel first, and politics second (or tenth).
“The Politics of Jesus” has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I could glean ten different life lessons from it to discuss right now, one in particular has surfaced in my mind as of late. In the book, John Howard Yoder, the author, points out several aspects of what it means to bear our cross. Two of these observations had never crossed my mind before. First, Yoder tells us that bearing our cross is not a random event or hardship in our lives, like cancer or a difficult boss. Instead, cross is what is borne as a direct result of the lives we lead as lived in Christ, like moving to a leper colony to serve and contracting leprosy or having your boss fire you for refusing to alter information in a report. Cross is first and foremost something borne as a direct result of living a life directed towards Calvary.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.