July 2008

FaithThere's a ministry run by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron called The Way of the Master which uses the following evangelism tactic. First, a person is confronted with a list of the ten commandments. They are then asked if they have broken any of them. When the person admits they have (since we all have) they are then told they are a sinner and are in need of God's forgiveness.

Although I do appreciate their ministry efforts, and I think the argument they present is valid and sound, I'm not sure that this method is cogent. Here's why: It's based on an unspoken assumption, namely that the Bible is true! Obviously, if a person believes what the Bible says, they are (or should be) already a Christian. If they don't believe the Bible, why should they believe that the ten commandments will impact their eternal destinies? They are, after all, found in the Bible, which they don't believe in.

However, I think a different type of "good test" might be still valid and sound, but also more cogent. Here's how it works:

A person who doesn't believe in the Bible can still behave morally. Now, whether or not a secular person has any grounding for his or her moral beliefs is a separate question; or as Greg Koukl puts it, "No one argues, though, that an atheist can behave in a way one might call moral. The real question is, "Why ought he?" But we can for now affirm that, from a pragmatic standpoint, any person can behave morally and also possess moral beliefs.

Now, a Christian gets his or her moral guidance from the Bible. (Or, at least, in theory they should do so!) Where does a secular person receive their moral guidance? There could be many influences, such as parents, society, etc. But ultimately it comes down to a personal decision. Everyone has their own personal morality; a set of moral standards that they feel is just, and moral.

Thinking of that moral standard (which a person defines themselves, remember), the question could be asked: Have you lived up to the moral standard that you have set up for yourself? Or put another way, have you ever done (or not done) some of the things that you would call someone else immoral for doing (or not doing)? Most honest people would answer "yes".

So, by even their own minimal standard, which they have defined for themselves, they are not moral. Consider then this question: Would God's standards be higher or lower than the standards I define for myself?

For example, think about a young child whose parents have set the child's curfew at 9:00pm. One day the parents are away and leave the child in the care of an inept babysitter who, rather than enforcing the normal curfew, tells the child they're free to set their own. Do you think the child will set their bedtime earlier or later than their usual curfew? I think we can say they would likely set their own curfew much later … if they go to bed that night at all! Similarly, I think it's safe to assume a standard of behavior we make up for ourselves would be lower than God's, and if we fail miserably at even our own minimal standard, how much more have we failed God's standard and are in need of His help and forgiveness?

So this is the predicament that people find themselves in … if they believe that a God of some sort exists, of course. If opinion polls are to be believed, this includes 90% or so of the population. If a person already believes that God exists, and/or there are good arguments that God exists (and I think there are several good arguments that God exists) then I think this is a decent argument for the idea that there is no such thing as a "good person".

The title of Thomas Harris' still popular book "I'm OK, You're OK" came to mind today. (I can almost hear my high school English prof: "OK is not a word! The word is spelled OKAY!") I have never read the book, but according to the always reliable (*coughs*) Wikipedia entry (linked above) the four basic "life positions" explained in the book are:

  1. I'm Not OK, You're OK
  2. I'm Not OK, You're Not OK
  3. I'm OK, You're Not OK
  4. I'm OK, You're OK

Which of these life positions best describes the various world religions?

One of the most prevalent today, IMHO, especially in secular society, is #4: I'm OK, You're OK. This is the pluralist approach … all roads lead to Rome, all paths lead to the top of the mountain, etc. "You believe in and worship Jesus?" someone might say, "That's great … for you." Or "You believe in Muhammad, Krishna, or Adi Da? Wonderful … for you." This life position often takes the colloquialism "Whatever makes you happy …" Of course, even here there are limits … ex, "You believe and worship Satan? … Um. That's … um, great … *cough* … <changes subject>"

#1 is less prevalent but still abounds: I'm Not OK, You're OK. This is a self-depreciating position. It imagines that everyone else is good, and I am markedly inferior to them. I must admit sometimes I fall into this sort of thinking myself, and this sort of unhealthy guilt is sometimes unfortunately common in Christian circles. After all, doesn't the Bible even say "consider others better than yourselves"? (Philippians 2:3) More on that in a moment.

#3 is also prevalent: I'm OK, You're Not OK. In fact, this is the view of most religions in the world. There is a specific set of requirements that you must pass in order to qualify. If you do those things, you pass the test and are "in". If you, for example, pray the confession, pray five times a day, tithe 2.5%, fast, and go on the pilgrimage, you're in! At least, pretty sure you're in. Kinda sure. Well you don't really know but you hope you are. And this view is seen as being pretty "intolerant" and not at all politically correct, not to mention it's not exactly very humble.

#2 is probably the least prevalent: I'm Not OK, You're Not OK. This, in fact, is the view of biblical Christianity, where we read that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8) … moreover, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). Wow! Isn't that just excessively negative?

Actually, I'd say #2 is accurate. Real Christianity does not encourage people to wallow in self-pity or negativity, nor is it encouraged to gloss over our sins and failings, nor is it taught to think we're "all that" (OK) and point the finger at others (not OK). Instead it recognizes that we're all in the same boat. At least, initially.

The full text of the verse which contains the previous quotation ("consider others better than yourselves") actually reads "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don't even meet our own self-imposed standards of morality. (See "Good People?" for more about that.) How much more do we not live up to God's standards?

But that is only stating the problem. God also provides the solution: Jesus. Christianity is utterly unique in that we are not saved because we are "OK". We are saved by our acceptance of the fact that we are NOT, and our acceptance of the One who is strong enough, and merciful enough, to carry the weight for us that we cannot bear on our own, as Paul explains: "God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8)

Are we all OK? No. We're all NOT. As John Piper might say, "John Piper … is … bad!" And that includes me. But I hope I never become complacent in remembering the price that Christ paid for my freedom from sin, not by my own works that I might become conceited and prideful, but instead entirely by the grace of God. And that makes the Christian message unique, and uniquely true, among all world religions and "life positions".


(Image credit: striatic, who of course does not necessarily endorse any of the content of this post!)

Sorry for so many posts about this lately, but the Dr. Henry Morgentaler controversy has stirred up the abortion issue again. The great and awful thing about the Internet is that any idiot can post their opinions online; unfortunately, many do. You may consider me as just such an idiot, but please at least listen to my reasons for what I think first, because, unlike most of the pro-Morgentaler writing I've read, I actually give reasons and don't just make blind assertions.

Today's article is "Courageous Morgentaler is worthy" by Jennifer Charles which apparently appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, or at least it's currently on their website.

Awarding the Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler has re-ignited the flames of the national abortion debate. The issue is whether a woman should have the right to a safe abortion. I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to deny a woman that choice.

This is not the issue. The issue is whether or not it is moral to have elective abortions. If it is moral, then we could ask the question "should a woman have the right to a safe abortion," for which the answer is clearly yes. But this author assumes the answer to the first question and asks an obvious and frivolous question in an attempt to poison the well.

What gives anyone the right to force a woman to bear a child? Whether she has the baby or not is a traumatic and life-altering decision that only she can make.

Like the previous article the idea of "forc[ing] a woman to bear a child" comes into play. This again clouds the issue. No one is forcing a woman to get pregnant (as previously noted even if we exclude rape and incest from this discussion that is less than 1.5% of all cases).

The concern here is for the rights of the child (as the article author calls it) which do not supersede the rights of the mother, but neither should the rights of the mother supersede those of the child. Why should the rights of the mother come first? Is it because the child is not as in a late stage of development as the mother? Well, a toddler is in an earlier stage of development than a teenager … is it okay then to kill a toddler?

To me, it is far more responsible to decide not to bring another human being into the world …

I totally agree! Not getting pregnant in the first place is the best way …

… than to do so when the pregnancy is not planned and the circumstances are wrong. If a person feels that abortion is morally wrong, that does not give him or her the right to impose that opinion on women who are the ones affected.

Here's the problem: There is no neutral position with regards to abortion. A pro-choice position is a pro-abortion position. Take a look at any other moral issue. Take slavery for example. Could we say "Slavery is a matter that should be left up to each individual; who are you to impose your views about slavery on others?" No, we wouldn't accept that. Why would abortion be any different?

All laws are based on moral principles. We are right to impose our "opinions" on others if they are committing immoral acts. (And if a person takes a moral relativist view, which I certainly do not, then we shouldn't have any laws at all.)

And that brings us back to the central question: Is abortion immoral or not? And when answering that, we need to keep in mind a simple dichotomy:
– If the unborn is not a human person, then no justification of abortion is necessary.
– But if the unborn is a human person, no justification is sufficient.

It's not enough to state whether the unborn is or isn't; you have to give reasons why. And it's no good to say "We don't know when life begins" because if we're not sure if an unborn child (embyro, whatever) is a human person or not, shouldn't we err on the side of caution and not kill it?

I would ask these people to empathize with any woman who finds herself in this position.

I do emphasize with a women who finds themselves in this position. At least, I try to. I can't say that I could ever fully understand the emotional anguish a woman might feel in such a situation. That's why we need to have more support services for pregnant women, especially given the medical risks and emotional risks involved with abortions. Of course, it's also important to emphasize with the unborn child (again, the article author's term) as well.


Recently Dr Henry Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada, which is the highest civilian honor Canada awards, recognizing "a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation."

Today I read an editorial in The Calgary Herald titled Morgentaler deserves Order of Canada by Catherine Ford, ostensibly about the award, but in practice a summary defense of abortion. Let's examine her arguments to see whether they make sense.

(Click below for my commentary; it's a bit long to put on the blog's front page)

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