In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK-Memorial

 

Few Americans have impacted our nation to the degree like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This holiday is always an important one, especially in light of the recent, racial turmoil over several police shootings between 2014-2015. For me, it’s both a sober day and a hopeful one. One never knows how much good is possible until making the effort. There are other instances where very little headway is made at all. In the end, I live in the space between both poles. It is a place of tension. The same goes for my fellow Americans and the rest of humanity throughout the globe. Thank you, Lord, for Dr. King, Jr. and the gift of his life.

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“Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence. Get out of the way. A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as ‘dignity,’ ‘sacredness,’ or ‘social justice.'”

 

(Steve Pinker, The Boston Globe, “The Moral Imperative for Bioethics,” 1 Aug 2015)

The New Bioethics: “Get out of the Way”

Talking about God in a Secular Home

PBS News Hour hosted an intriguing interview earlier this week between author Wendy Thomas Russell and Jeffrey Brown. It is roughly six minutes long, and you can listen or read the transcript here. The subject of the interview concerns Mrs. Russell’s recently, published book titled, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious. According to the author, her book came to life after a conversation with her young daughter while driving, who professed God as her creator and the creator of all people.

Mrs. Russell is refreshingly honest in her response to Mr. Brown by saying that her daughter’s declaration about God “…struck me. I was really caught off guard by it.” She goes on to explain to the interviewer that she stumbles through the rest of the conversation with her daughter at a loss with what to say. Both Mrs. Russell and her husband do not espouse a belief in God or in any religion. They are non-religious parents who have committed themselves to raising their daughter in a secular home. Despite the secular, home environment, Mrs. Russell’s daughter expresses a viewpoint completely contrary to her upbringing.

According Mrs. Russell, her conversation with her daughter is commonplace for many parents endeavoring to raise their children in secular homes based on secular ethics. She even goes so far as to say that the discussion about God between secular moms and dads and their kids is turning into the new, taboo subject. By comparison, talking about sex is a cake walk. This is a fascinating interview for all those concerned about the impact specific worldviews have upon culture and society. For someone like myself, who professes Christ as his Lord and Savior, this raises several issues and questions. I will focus only on Mrs. Russell’s very last words at the close of the interview. She says and I quote:

“I see a difference between guiding your child to be a moral person, an ethical person, a self-respecting person, a critical thinker. Those are all really important things.

“Guiding them to believe in a certain way, in a certain God or a certain prophet, that is not so important. I really want to focus on what people do in life and not what they believe, because if we can judge people on their actions, and not what we think the reasons behind their actions are, it makes for a more tolerant world and a better world.”

I heartily affirm Mrs. Russell’s desire and goal to see all parents raise their children as moral, ethical, self-respecting, and critical thinking human beings. In fact, I view the role of fathers and mothers as essential in developing the child’s moral and ethical foundation. When the family breaks down, or the relationship between one of the parents and child ruptures, the brokenness that flows out of that dysfunction is quite destructive and widespread. In some cases, the family dysfunction reverberates down through the generations like a dirge. It is also true that specific beliefs and values have a way of forming a child into who they become. This is where I take issue with Mrs. Russell’s last words and her overall perspective.

There is something downright naive, or even dangerous, about Mrs. Russell saying to the interviewer that “I really want to focus on what people do in life and not what they believe.” In her own words, she has separated belief from action, or created a false dichotomy between the two. This perspective of hers has proven to be ridiculous throughout all of human history. For example, the Nazis acted the way that they did according to specific beliefs about themselves and the human condition. The same is true for the slave merchants and slave owners who devised the slave trade based on beliefs that denigrated the dignity and worth of their fellow human beings.

For the sake of argument, suppose for a moment that I held to the same view as Mrs. Russell that what a person does is more important than what he or she believes. If I were to apply this principle toward assessing the Nazis, then I could not hold them accountable for their beliefs only for their actions. This is like saying treat the symptoms of the disease rather than the disease itself. No one in the medical profession worth his or her salt would advocate such treatment. Medical doctors go after the root cause or causes of any illness whether or not they succeed in eradicating it. I think it goes without saying that Mrs. Russell’s view is ethically, morally, and socially unacceptable.

Before I wrap this up, I want to touch upon one final point. It is my conviction that Mrs. Russell’s secular view downplays the depravity of the human heart including her own. By making a false distinction between a person’s beliefs and actions, she oversimplifies the complexity of human nature. When Mrs. Russell points out the different ways of parenting between indoctrination and guidance, her underlying thrust is that human beings are complex as are the issues pertaining to morality, ethics, and culture. Things are not painted in black and white. Moms and dads should guide their children rather than spoon feed them.

Again, I have no problem agreeing with Mrs. Russell up to a point. Unfortunately, she paints with very broad, brush strokes, which blurs over the real influence that one’s beliefs exert upon our choices and actions. The KKK do what they do based on clearly, defined beliefs. I would even argue that there are faulty desires at work, too. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus taught that murder occurs in a person’s heart before he or she commits the act (Matt. 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-23, ESV). This means that the condition of my heart (the inward life) matters a great deal with respect to how I live (the outward life). The secularist, like Mrs. Russell, has no way to account for the evil that lurks within the human heart. Her view turns a blind eye toward it, which endangers everyone including her kids.

 

The US at a Crossroads

Near the end of July, Florida became the eleventh state to investigate Planned Parenthood (PP) and its affiliates. Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times newspaper reported that four of the sixteen, Florida PP chapters have been cited for violations. Florida’s investigating arm in this matter is the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). The low number of violators would seem to suggest that the furor generated over the PP videos is merely smoke and mirrors. Not so fast my friend, the devil is in the details.

Three of the four, Florida, PP chapters cited for violations were guilty of performing abortions in the second trimester. This happens to be the key, time period in the pregnancy for acquiring baby livers, hearts, thymus, and so forth in the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Florida’s AHCA cited the fourth PP chapter for poor record-keeping practices with respect to the disposal of fetal remains (aka aborted babies). I seriously doubt that this news report pleased the powers that be within Planned Barrenhood. It is one more thing for their public relations department to attempt to explain away.

Basically there are two ways to view this report from the Tampa Bay Times. One has to do with saying that citing four out of sixteen PP chapters does not warrant all the recent fuss. Another perspective is to say that four out of sixteen is too many even though it works out to only twenty-five percent. In my humble opinion, the second view is the more realistic one. It shows that PP and its affiliates do engage in spurious practices. This does not help their cause rather it only weakens their already tenuous position.

There is one more thing to mention, too. Three days ago, the United States Senate blocked a Federal bill to defund PP at the national level by a vote of 53-46. For now, the issue lies dormant on Capitol Hill until the Fall. It must be noted that three states have removed funding for PP: New Hampshire (NH), New Jersey (NJ), and Louisiana (LA). The latter two states were the first while NH joined them one or two days ago. Granted, there are forty-seven more states to go, and some of them will continue to funnel money into PP’s coffer irrespective of their shady practices.

Somehow I cannot escape the notion that my country stands at a crossroads regarding PP and our “partnership” with them for the lack of a better word. We can no longer play dumb about what takes place in their facilities. No matter how much we might want to close our eyes, or desire to wish this issue away, it remains like yesterday’s garbage. In times likes these, the true character of a nation and its people comes into focus. My prayer is that we will do the right thing. We will stand with God and uphold his word by protecting the dignity of the unborn. On this note, I will close with the following passage penned by King Solomon:

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12, ESV).