April 30, 2013

Undermining Beliefs

A couple of months ago I read a brief news column in WORLD Magazine by Joy Pullman about the variety of online educational opportunities available today, and how homeschooling families are utilizing these opportunities to provide classes for their children that either they are not qualified or capable of teaching or their local public schools do not offer, classes like logic, Latin and church history. I should state here and now that I am a huge proponent of teaching Latin and logic, so I have no qualms at all with this idea. I also agree that there are an abundance of educational opportunities made available through the Internet that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago, and I support families utilizing whatever options they believe will best meet the needs of their children and will be consistent with their worldview.

That said, Pullman includes a few things in her column with which I take issue. Pullman includes several quotes from Angelika Weiss, a pastor’s wife from southern Minnesota who utilizes online courses for at least one of her four homeschooled children. First, Pullman quotes Weiss’s assessment that “online high school is a lot cheaper than private school.” That is true, and it is no wonder. An online class does not require classroom space or the costs associated with heating/cooling and lighting the classrooms, the cost of insurance, and the various other expenses involved in operating a “real school” within four walls (not least of which is the cost of teachers). Furthermore, online schools are able to enroll students from all over the country or the world, providing a much larger potential student body–which can both decrease expenses per student and maximize possible profit. Too, online schooling offers a lot of flexibility that cannot be found in a formal classroom setting.

Pullman also writes, though, that “many Christian families are also choosing tax-sponsored online education because it costs less than private schools without undermining their beliefs.” Maybe…but probably not. Not to the expense aspect–of course online schooling will cost less than private schools. After all, private schools do not accept government funding, meaning the full cost of operating the school must come from “paying customers” and any donations and grants received. Interestingly, though, private schools do cost less than public schools in most instances when you look at the cost-per-student. Since the private schools do not get government funding, however, the cost must be paid by the family of the student, and anything is more expensive than the “free” education in public schools.

No, my concern is with the statement that the online education does not undermine their beliefs. That depends on their beliefs, of course, and on which online school they utilize (there are a number of Christian ones), but given that Pullman is talking about “tax-sponsored online education” that does not seem to be the case here. Rather, Pullman is referring to public schooling offered online instead of in the local school. I have to respectfully challenge Mrs. Weiss and others who think this option does not undermine their beliefs. How does it not? There is no such thing as a neutral education; all instruction is informed and shaped by the worldview of the educator and the educational institution. If Mrs. Weiss would not send her children to the local public school, why does she feel it is okay to invite the local public school into her house through her computer? If her argument is solely the availability of courses not offered at the local school, fine; but she is deceiving herself if she thinks that by using the online public school instead of the brick-and-mortar public school that she is not undermining her beliefs.

Another important issue, of course, is the fact that the more people who utilize anything the more of it is going to be available. In other words, by utilizing the “free” (tax-sponsored) online schools instead of the Christian online schools requiring tuition payments or the local Christian schools requiring tuition payments Mrs. Weiss and others are contributing to the expansion of the former and the decline of the latter. If every Christian who claims to want to avoid having their children influenced by the worldview of the public education system in the United States would commit to an online Christian school option or a local Christian school the cost would become manageable and the Christian schools would flourish.

I am not suggesting, by the way, that all Christians are required by God to send their children to Christian schools. I believe that is a decision that must be made after prayerful consideration by the family, after seeking the Lord’s will for their children. My point is simply this: just as James says that someone who claims to be religious and does not bridle his own tongue is deceiving himself (James 1:26), so any parent who thinks that by utilizing the tax-funded online school is avoiding the influences of the tax-sponsored local public school is equally deceived.

April 29, 2013

And so it begins…

I have warned several times already in this space that the push to legalize homosexual marriage will be but the first step onto an incredibly slippery slope that will quite likely lead, eventually, to the acceptance of polygamy, pedophilia, bestiality, and who knows what else. I surely am not the only one saying such things, but I know that there are many people who have considered these warnings to be overblown. Alas…they are not.

In February, Scientific American ran an article entitled “New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good for You.” The article begins with a description of the various romantic activities couples engage in on Valentine’s Day and then makes this statement: “But two-by-two isn’t the only way to go through life. In fact, an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans are looking outside their relationship for love and sex — with their partner’s full permission.” The next paragraph states that such “polyamorous” relationships can range from occasional swinging to long-term relationships between multiple people. The paragraph concludes with this bold statement: these relationships “may even change monogamy for the better.”

Really? And how in the world could that be?

Well, communication for one thing. “‘People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death,’ said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont.” That makes sense, I suppose. I mean if someone is going to consensually engage in extramarital sex with the full knowledge and consent of their spouse that would definitely require some lengthy conversation. The problem is, Professor Holmes then goes on to contradict himself. He said, “They are potentially doing quite a lot of things that could turn out to be things that if people who are practicing monogamy did more of, their relationships would actually be better off.” Come again? The people who are engaging in consensual extramarital sex are engaging in behavior that people who are monogamous should practice, and if they did their monogamous relationships would be better? Surely I am not the only one confused here. How can someone argue that monogamous couples should act more like polyamorous couples in order to be happier in their monogamy?

By the way, we also apparently need to understand that “consensual nonmonogamy” “includes sex-only arrangements, such as two committed partners agreeing that they’re allowed to seek no-strings-attached sex with other people. It also includes polyamory, which involves multiple committed relationships at once with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved. Consensual nonmonogamy does not include cheating, in which one partner steps out without the permission of the other.”

So, sleep around all you want with permission, but don’t you dare step out without checking with your spouse first is the argument being promoted here….

Terri Conley of the University of Michigan has suggested that 5% of the population is engaged in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. That number, by the way, would be higher than the number of homosexual individuals according to must studies. On April 11, 2011 The Huffington Post ran an article in which Gary Gates, a “demographer-in-residence at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles” said that his “best estimate, derived from five studies that have asked subjects about their sexual orientation, is that the nation has about 4 million adults who identify as being gay or lesbian, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population.” Also interesting is that according to one of the graduate assistant’s in Conley’s lab, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are more likely to engage in nonmonogamous relationships than are heterosexuals.

The Scientific American article goes on to state that “people who cheat on their partners sexually are less likely to engage in safe sex while doing so than are people in consensual nonmonogamous relationships.” In other words, those who cheat with permission tend to cheat more safely than those who cheat without spousal permission. Is this supposed to be an argument in favor of polyamory? Believe it or not, yes. But that should be no surprise, since many in our country have been arguing for years that condoms, and now “morning after pills” should be freely and readily available so that those who engage in premarital or extramarital sex can do so as safely as possible, and with little fear of any repercussions for their actions.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Specifically because (1) it is clear evidence that the slippery slope I and others have warned of is very real, and (2) the fact that there are supposedly more people engaged in consensual nonmonogamy than there are homosexuals means that it cannot be long before those involved in this behavior will be making as much noise and demanding as much “equality” as homosexuals are now. In February, Berkeley, CA played host to the first International Academic Polyamory Conference.

It really comes down to this statement by Elisabeth Sheff, “a legal consultant and former Georgia State University professor”: “people are increasingly thinking of relationships as build-it-yourself rather than prepackaged.” “Build-it-yourself” is a polite and inoffensive way to say “do what works for you,” both of which, being translated, mean “ignore God’s ways.”

I am not going to say “I told you so,” but…

April 19, 2013

On the side of life

In light of the trial of Kermit Gosnell going on now it is quite fitting that the theme of the April issue of Tabletalk magazine/devotional from Ligonier Ministries is “Defining Personhood.” The issue includes an article from Randy Alcorn, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and author of the excellent book Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.

In the article Alcorn writes, “Each person, regardless of his parentage or handicap, has not been manufactured on a cosmic assembly line, but personally formed by God.” This is the foundational truth for anyone with a biblical worldview on defining personhood–the fact that God Himself has knit together each human being according to His will and His plan, and that life begins at conception.

Alcorn quotes Meredith Kline’s observation: “The most significant thing about abortion legislation in Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code.” Alcorn elaborates, writing that every Israelite “knew that the preborn child was a child” and therefore God’s command “You shall not murder” was all that needed to be said on the matter.

Alcorn challenges the assertion made by those on the “pro-choice” side that a fetus or an embryo is not a human being. “Like toddler and adolescent, the terms embryo and fetus do not refer to nonhumans but to humans at various stages of development. It is scientifically inaccurate to say a human embryo or a fetus is not a human being simply because he is at an earlier stage than an infant. This is like saying that a toddler is not a human being because he is not yet an adolescent. Does someone become more human as he gets bigger? if so, than adults are more human than children, and football players are more human than jockeys. Something nonhuman does not become human or more human by getting older or bigger; whatever is human is human from the beginning, or it can never be human at all.”

The article is full of other brilliant counters to the many arguments so often trotted out by those on the side of death…the side commonly referred to as “choice.” Alcorn mentions the response of Alan Keyes to a thirteen-year-old girl in Detroit who asked whether he would support an exception for rape. Keyes, who, in my opinion, is one of the most effective defenders of the right to life today, responded to her question with a question of his own: “If your dad goes out and rapes somebody, and we convict him of that rape, do you think it would be right for us to then say, ‘okay, because your dad is guilty of rape, we’re going to kill you’?” The class, of course, answered no, as would any rational person.

Alcorn expands on Keyes’ response, writing that “Imposing capital punishment on the innocent child of a sex offender does nothing bad to the rapist and nothing good to the woman. Creating a second victim never undoes the damage to the first. Abortion does not bring healing to a rape victim.”

I have quoted more extensively here than I usually do, because quite frankly I think Alcorn and Keyes communicate the pro-life position more clearly, more powerfully and more effectively than just about anyone else, certainly than me. But it is important to remind ourselves of the arguments in favor of life, since the culture and the media so regularly and so loudly communicate the arguments in favor of death. Kermit Gosnell is a monster; there is no other apt description for someone who willingly does the things he did–and does it for profit, at that. I hope that receives the penalty for his crimes that he deserves. But incarcerating Gosnell–while a definite step in the right direction–will not solve the problem; it will not change the fact that millions of babies are killed in the United States every year. We need to pray, but we also need to act. We need to communicate with legislators, we need to actively support the pro-life position and those who are on the front lines defending life. And, unpopular as it may at times be, we need to directly and firmly challenge those who disagree that it is simply not possible to adhere to the Bible and support abortion. The two are simply not compatible; indeed, they are unalterably opposed.

April 16, 2013

No comment

The realities of the Kermit Grosnell case are exceedingly gruesome, and there is enough information about the case out there that I did not feel the need to address it here–specifically since it is so gruesome that there is really no comment needed. I cannot imagine how any person who is not mentally ill could defend his actions. If you have not heard of him, or do not know what I am referring to, and you want to know, just Google his name and you will find out far more than you want to know. If you would like me to make it easier for you, you can read this article from USA Today. I’ll be honest, though, I suspect most people cannot read the article without becoming physically sick. Just read the opening line of the article and you will know enough to put the rest of what I am going to say in context.

At yesterday’s White House briefing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made no announcements, instead opening the floor for questions from the White House press corps. One of the reporters present, Ed Henry (senior White House correspondent for Fox News), asked Carney about the Gosnell trial (he is on trial for murder) and the president’s reaction to the situation. You can watch the press briefing on the White House web site and/or read the transcript.

Initially Carney said that the president “does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial.” Interesting. If you check YouTube for the video clip of the press briefing you will see that most of the comments there correctly point out that President Obama has had no problem at all taking a position on ongoing trials in the past. Just over a year he ago he made comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting, specifically, according to The Huffington Post, because “he and his press handlers were feeling pressure, coming from black activists and others, to make a public comment on the Martin case.” In that instance Obama’s comments were cautiously guarded, because he said he did not want to “impair” the ongoing legal process, but that did not stop him from commenting on the matter.

In July 2009 President Obama did not let his unfamiliarity with all of the facts stop him from addressing the Cambridge, Massachusetts’ police department’s arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In fact, in a press conference the president said, “”Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly….and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” Maybe so, Mr. President, but that kind of rhetoric did nothing to specifically address the problem, and in fact could serve only to inflame any hostility in and toward the matter. But here’s another fact for Mr. Obama and Mr. Carney–there again the President of the United States was making specific comments on an ongoing legal matter.

So, convenient though it may have been for Mr. Carney to dodge the question by saying the president cannot take a position, the facts speak for themselves and when pressured to do so, when convenient, or, more accurately, when it will play well in the African-American community, Mr. Obama has had no problem taking a position on an ongoing legal matter.

After saying there was no position being taken Mr. Carney said, “Certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling, but I can’t comment further on an ongoing legal proceeding.” “Unsettling” is an understatement to say the least. Mr. Henry was not ready to let the issue go, though. He pressed Mr. Carney with this background and question:

I understand the legal proceeding. The President as a state senator in 2003 voted against a bill that would provide medical care, as I understand, to babies who would be born after a botched abortion like this. And the President at the time said he couldn’t support it as a state senator because he felt like any doctor in that situation would take care of a child.

When you hear this kind of evidence that suggests there’s at least one doctor who apparently did not, I understand you can’t comment — you can’t deal with the deliberations of the case, but is there some legislative solution or at least a conversation that needs to happen in Washington? Because on guns, you were just saying, we need common-sense reform, we need to save lives. In this case, do we need to be saving lives as well?

Carney’s response? “Well, again, you’re relating it to a case that I can’t comment on and the President can’t comment on. I would simply say that the President’s position on choice is very clear. His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be safe, legal and rare is very clear. I just don’t have comment that could shed light on this specific case.”

Mr. Carney was missing Mr. Henry’s point entirely. He was no longer asking for specific comment on the Gosnell case; he was asking whether or not President Obama has the same impetus to seek “common-sense reform” to save the lives of babies who survive abortions as he seems to wont to do with gun control.

The sad truth is that Mr. Carney, and President Obama, had no comment. When a black teenager is shot, he has a comment. When a black scholar is arrested–as it turns out, at his own home–he has a comment. But when a black abortion provider is killing babies who have been born alive, he has no comment. That’s the bottom line, and in my opinion it is inexcusable.

And quite frankly, their “no comment” speaks volumes.

April 9, 2013

Pass the pasta

You ready for this? In February, Quebec’s Office québécois de la langue française (Quebec Board of the French Language) ordered a Montreal restaurant owner Massimo Lecas to rewrite the menu of his restaurant Buonanotte because it included the word pasta as well as several other Italian words. In fact, the OQLF fined Lecas several thousand dollars for what CTV called “a menu liberally sprinkled with Italian words as section headings and titles for food.” Now, I for one rather expect an Italian restaurant to have a menu that includes Italian words, so what was the big deal? Apparently the OQLF was concerned that the word pasta might be offensive to French speakers (Quebec being Canada’s French-speaking province).

Laissez-moi tranquille!

(According to dictionary.reverso.net that is how you say “give me a break!” in French).

I realize I do not live in Quebec, and perhaps I should not concern myself with their laws, but the suggestion that someone going to an Italian restaurant might be offended by use of Italian words on the menu, even in a French-speaking province, is absurd…especially since, according to CTV, “every item on the menu was described in French.” Are there really people thin-skinned enough to stroll into a restaurant and get offended because they see the word pasta instead of pâtes? I surely hope not.

Now, this idiocy, which has been labeled “pastagate” and has produced an international tollé (uproar), has actually led to the resignation of the head of the OQLF, even though the fines were apparently well within the law as written. Not surprisingly, Quebec’s French Language Minister Diane De Courcy commented, “These episodes had an undesired effect on the businesses, the Office personnel, the public, and Quebec in general.” Ya think? The fact that Quebec even has a French Language Minister would tend to have an undesired effect on business I would think. Particularly given some of the positions the OQLF has taken on the importance of the French language. In 2012, for example, the OQLF made it clear that it was not happy with the increasingly common use of the bilingual, yet legal, greeting from store clerks of “Bonjour, hello.” At that time Louise Marchand, the OQLF head who has just resigned, “said she was upset that only 57 percent of Francophones asked for service in French if a clerk said anything in English, saying ‘It’s important for citizens to take the language issue seriously'” (CTV).

This is an extreme and, frankly, silly example of political correctness gone wrong in a big way, but the reality is that this is the destination of every path that limits speech based solely on the basis of the possibility that it might offend someone. Imagine, if you will, an America where restaurants can only use English; no Italian or Spanish or French allowed. English, by the way, does not even have its own words for many ethnic foods. Forget Taco Bell. It will have to be renamed “An often crisply fried tortilla folded over and filled, as with seasoned chopped meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese Bell.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? The marketing folks would have a blast recreating the brand with that wording. (And thanks to dictionary.com for that definition of taco).

So here is my recommendation…for my Canadian friends, my American friends…my friends all over the world: if you’re easily offended by the use of another language, get over it–especially when the use of said language is entirely appropriate within the context.

I should add here, though, that I am a firm believer in the importance of a national language. I believe that English should be the “official” language of the United States; I believe all government business should be conducted in English; I believe all public school classes should be taught in English; I believe all U.S. citizens should be able to speak English. But that is an entirely different issue.

Alright, I’m done now. I need to go eat dinner. Hopefully we’re having pasta….

April 8, 2013

The Safest Poison?

I have mentioned here before that I am part of an online community of Christian educators and in the forums provided through that community there are many discussions on a wide range of topics of interest and concern to Christian educators. Not too long ago there was a discussion about science textbooks for high school science classes–how to select the best books, thoughts on the offerings of specific publishers, etc.

One of the comments was made by a school administrator who quoted his school’s biology teacher. Part of his comment was this statement: “What I found was that the [publisher’s name] was a good curriculum; however, my concern was with the student text generating student interest. There seemed to be a lot of text compared to pictures, models, graphics, and diagrams.” I found this statement troubling for a couple of reasons. First, we are talking about textbooks for a high school science class, not an elementary school class. By the time they reach high school students need to have learned how to learn, and they need to be beyond the stage when their interest in and attentiveness to a text is driven primarily by the colorful pictures and graphics a book may contain. There is a place for graphics, illustrations, models, etc., I do not dispute that, but selecting a textbook because it has the best graphics–or, on the contrary, excluding a textbook because it does not have great graphics–is a dangerous basis on which to make a decision, not to mention silly one. One of the best series of history books I have ever seen is the four-volume The Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer, and those books contain no photos. Whatever maps or illustrations are included are in black and white, yet students enjoy the books because they are well-written and tell the narrative story of history.

The second comment made by the quoted biology teacher was, unfortunately, exponentially more troubling than the first. He explained that their school eventually chose a textbook from a secular publisher, and hailed the wonderful extras that came with the adoption of that book, including access to online resources. Then he made this statement: “Choosing this secular curriculum has been a blessing because my class is very captivated and ‘in love’ with biology. It was the least infiltrated with evolution compared to other secular publishers.”

Now I need to state here and now that I am not one who holds rigidly to the position that Christian schools should only utilize textbooks and resources from Christian publishers. My philosophy has always been that the textbook that will best meet the needs of the students is the one that should be used, and that it is the responsibility of the teacher, regardless of the textbook used, to ensure that courses incorporate a biblical worldview. And I have not seen the specific textbook in question, so I cannot definitively state that it is a “bad” book or that it should not have been selected.

What I can say with confidence, though, is that the very suggestion that a book is “okay” because it is “the least infiltrated” with evolution or any other theory or position that is counter to Scripture is highly troubling. Does the individual in question think that his assertion is even possible? A textbook is either infiltrated with evolution or it is not. A person either has a biblical worldview or they do not. A person is either for the Lord or he is not. There is no middle ground. And infiltrated, by the way, does not mean that the book contains the theory of evolution. Every good biology textbook should include the theory of evolution, since part of effectively teaching students is exposing them to the various theories that exist and equipping them to counter those that are in opposition to Scripture. No, infiltrated means that the textbook’s author’s wrote the book with an evolutionary worldview. It means that they believe that human beings evolved from apes, and apes evolved from something else, and on down the line to the primordial ooze or whatever building blocks man supposedly evolved eventually from. It means that the book’s author’s deny that God spoke the world into existence.

That has implications that are vast, and will touch every page of that textbook, despite the biology teacher’s assertion that “Evolution references were primarily localized in the evolution unit.” Baloney. The evolution references may be localized, but the idea of evolution, the belief in evolution, and the implications of evolution are not localized; they cannot be localized. I would certainly hope that a biology teacher at a Christian school would not say that the creationist viewpoint is localized to the chapter on origins in Christian textbooks, or that his own creationist viewpoint is localized to his teaching about origins. I would hope that his viewpoint infiltrates (to use his word) every lesson he teaches.

With that in mind, the suggestion that the book “least infiltrated with evolution” is a good and safe choice is really not much different than saying that the student’s can drink the beer with the lowest alcohol content, smoke the cigarettes with the lowest nicotine content, watch the movies with the lowest number of obscenities or least amount of nudity, use the drugs with the lowest likelihood of addiction, and play Russian roulette with the gun with the fewest number of bullets. Those suggestions are absurd, I know. But the textbook least infiltrated by evolution is not really any different…because there is no amount of poison that is safe.

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