Barbaric

I do not know if I have ever done a movie review here or not. I think I did one once similar to the one I am about to do now, meaning a commentary on a movie that I have not seen, based on what I had read about the movie. The movie I am going to address now is actually a documentary, entitled After Tiller. This documentary focuses on the four late-term abortionists still practicing in the U.S. following the 2009 murder of Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller.

The movie’s web site describes it this way:

AFTER TILLER intimately explores the highly controversial subject of third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of practitioner Dr. George Tiller. The procedure is now performed by only four doctors in the United States, all former colleagues of Dr. Tiller, who risk their lives every day in the name of their unwavering commitment toward their patients. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have created a moving and unique look at one of the most incendiary topics of our time, and they’ve done so in an informative, thought-provoking, and compassionate way.

Now, as I said, I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment on whether or not the film depicts the topic in a “compassionate way” or not, though I am sure that it does. After all, the web site’s Resources link is headed by a link to NARAL in response to the provided question of how to get involved in supporting abortion rights. If the film is intended to increase support for abortion there is no way it will depict late-term abortion or late-term abortionists in any way other than compassionately. Having said that, I have no reason to believe the film is not very well made. The movie review web site Rotten Tomatoes gives After Tiller 4.5 stars out of 5 based on thirty-eight reviews. The site includes this summary: “It’s an imperfect look at an uncomfortable subject, but After Tiller transcends its flaws by applying empathy, honesty, and graceful understatement to a discussion that all too often lacks them all.”

Now I will grant that the discussion over late-term abortion often turns unnecessarily ugly (on both sides of the debate) but I struggle to comprehend how “graceful understatement” can be used to address a practice as horrific as killing an unborn child in the third trimester of pregnancy. According to almost every survey and statistic I have ever seen the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that late-term abortions should be illegal. Lana Wilson–one of the directors of the film–believes, however, that it should not only be legal but should not even be that big of a deal. She has been quoted as saying that she wants the film to contribute to removing the “shame and stigma” around late-term abortion.

Interestingly, one of the women who works at one of the late-term abortion centers featured in the film said, “I think the reason I’ve struggled is I think of them as babies. I don’t think of them as a fetus. … You can’t say, ‘That’s some tissue.’ It’s a baby. It’s inside the mother and she can’t handle it for many, many extreme and desperate reasons. Unless you understand what’s going on for the woman, it’s impossible to support it, how could you? It sounds barbaric.” It sounds barbaric because it is barbaric. I have no doubt whatsoever that many women do indeed have “extreme and desperate reasons” why they do not want to be pregnant or they do not want to see a pregnancy through to delivery, but to suggest that by understanding those reasons we can somehow justify the taking of life is an extremely dangerous assertion to make. After all, if I have “extreme and desperate reasons” why I do not like my spouse, or my living child, or my neighbor, or my co-worker, or whomever else, would that justify my killing that person? Of course not. The unborn child is no different.

At one point the documentary presents a teenager who wants to have an abortion even though her boyfriend’s family have offered to adopt the child. The abortionist decides to perform the abortion because she wholeheartedly believes that women must make the decision to carry a child or not themselves. In other words, it is not right for another person or even for society to tell any woman that she cannot kill the child in her womb. So I must ask again, how then can we say society has the right to tell any person that they cannot kill any other person? Why in the world do the few inches separating the inside of the mother’s womb from the outside of said womb determine whether or not that person has a right to live?

According to a review of the film by Emily Belz every mother in the film justifies her decision to abort “by saying it is in the best interest if the baby.” It ought to jar anyone reading this to consider that supposedly rational human beings can convince themselves that killing a human is in that human’s best interest–particularly a defenseless infant. This entire way of thinking stems from the belief that some humans are superior to–and therefore know better than–other humans what is best. That perception and opinion would vary, of course, based on which side of the argument you might be on, but this way of thinking is what led to the justification for slavery, for racial discrimination, for the extermination of millions of Jews, for flying airplanes into skyscrapers, and for many of the world’s other horrific tragedies.

I agree with Belz when she writes that the one good thing about the documentary is the unimpeded access to abortion centers that the filmmakers received; as she says, “no unbiased, let alone pro-life, filmmaker would ever get such steady access into these late-term abortion centers.” My hope and prayer is that those who see this movie will see beyond the pleasant personas of the abortionists, beyond the ridiculous arguments that women have the right to make this decision themselves, beyond the assertion that a few inches difference in physical location makes the difference between a human with rights and a blob of cells with none. My hope and prayer is that everyone who sees this documentary will be completed revolted by the practice of late-term abortion and that the people of this country will stand up, take action, and make late-term abortion illegal everywhere.

Forget About the Joneses

I am not saying anything original when I say that despite the increased connectivity of the age in which we live most people are in fact more disconnected than they were in the past. With the technology that we have today many people are able to be in instant contact with almost anyone almost anywhere in the world. There are tremendous advantages to this, of course. My family can talk to my sister-in-law in Ukraine via Skype and both see and hear her for free. I can chat online or via text message with anyone instantly. Indeed, I can post my rambling thoughts on this blog and anyone around the world can read them within nanoseconds of me clicking “Publish.” There is nothing wrong with any of that. The problem is, though, this increased connectivity via technology has led to decreased connectivity via actual person-to-person in-person interaction. Many people spend far more time e-mailing, texting, talking, tweeting and Facebooking than they do talking face to face.

Another serious part of the disconnect is the separation from reality. When our interaction with others is restricted to what we and others choose to post, text or tweet it is going to be skewed. This filtered reality goes both ways, of course. Some people are much more willing to say something through the intermediary of technology than they would ever be face to face. This usually means a willingness to say things that are offensive, derogatory or hurtful. Children, teens and adults alike seem empowered by technology–emboldened to peck out words on their keyboards or phones and click a button launching those words into cyberspace that they would never have the courage to deliver in person.

At the same time, this filtered reality also leads to people presenting an image that is not entirely accurate. It is more like an airbrushed or Photoshopped version of reality. While some people put anything and everything “out there” for the world to see, the tendency is to post, share, tweet and text that which is “the best.” Technology becomes a personal spin machine or public relations bureau. We tell the world when our children make the honor roll but not when they get sent to the principal’s office. We show everyone our new car but we tend to keep mum about backing into the lamppost across the street. We announce our birdies and hide our double-bogeys, highlight our home runs and keep silent about our strikeouts.

This filtered reality can have a deleterious effect when we are overexposed to it or fail to interact with it while also keeping a firm grip on actual reality. In fact, researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study in which they asked Facebook users, through a series of online questionnaires over two weeks, how they felt about life. The study showed that using Facebook tended to result in a decrease in self-satisfaction and a decline in happiness.

U-M social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article about the study, said, “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result—it undermines it.” The complete article appears in PLOS ONE. According to Michigan News, the U-M News Service, the study also found “no evidence that interacting directly with other people via phone or face-to-face negatively influenced well-being. Instead, they found that direct interactions with other people led people to feel better over time.”

Why might the filtered-reality interaction lead to diminished satisfaction and happiness? In the words of one individual quoted by Daniel James Devine in the September 21, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine, “Facebook is like looking at a highlights reel, and then comparing it to the real thing. Comparison is the thief of joy.” In a Facebook-centric world people accumulate friends and then spend hours exposing themselves only to the filtered-reality of those friends’ Facebook personas.

Facebook can be great. So can texting, e-mailing, tweeting, blogging and more. Be very careful, though, to keep a clear head during your filtered social interactions. Do not be fooled by the “highlight reels” your “friends” are sharing–that is not the extent of their lives. Even if it were, comparison and envy is a sure-fire route to sadness and depression. Forget about the Joneses…your happiness should never come from comparing yourself to others.

Noah’s Flood

Do not read anything into the fact that this post is coming immediately after one entitled Arguing with Idiots. I do not think that David Montgomery is an idiot. I think he is misguided and confused, but I do not think he is an idiot. David Montgomery is a college professor; he teaches geomorphology at the University of Washington. He has written a few books, but his most recent is entitled The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood (2012, W.W. Norton & Co.). As I was perusing the books at our local library a couple of weeks ago I saw this book on the table with other recently-acquired titles. The topic struck me as interesting, and I decided to read it. The teaser inside the front flap reads, “How the mystery of the Bible’s greatest story shaped geology: a surprising new perspective on Noah’s Flood from a world-class geologist and a MacArthur Fellow.” Had to be interesting, I surmised, though I was fairly confident that I would not find Dr. Montgomery to be presenting a biblically-accurate case.

I will not hold you in suspense; I was absolutely right. The book is well written and is an easy read. I may be a nerd, but nearly 300 pages on geology is not really my idea of fun, so the fact that I found it easy to read and understand should be an encouragement to anyone who may like to read the book. However, if you want to read it with a purely unbiased perspective, read no further, because I am going to point out several areas of the book that trouble me. In other words…here is your spoiler alert.

Truthfully, the little blurb I already quoted above provides ample evidence of Montgomery’s flawed perspective. After all, Noah’s Flood is not the Bible’s greatest story. Not by a long shot. Anyone who thinks that it is obviously denies the veracity of Scripture and denies that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died, was buried and rose again. But we’ll set that aside for now and just address several specific areas of Montgomery’s work.

Early on, in a chapter entitled “A Grand Canyon,” Montgomery writes about hiking out of the Grand Canyon and observing the fossilized plants and animals in the canyon walls. It struck him, he said, that all of the plants and animals he saw there are extinct, which prompted him to ask this question: “If all the creatures buried in that mile-high wall of rock had been put there by the biblical flood, then why aren’t modern animals entombed among them? That the vast majority of fossils are extinct species presents a fundamental problem for anyone trying to argue that fossils were deposited by a flood from which Noah saved a pair of every living thing.” This does not really pose any problem at all, of course, because the Bible does not say that Noah saved a pair of every living thing. What is says is this: “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female” (Genesis 6:19, ESV). The Message perhaps provides some clarification: “You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile—two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours.” My point is this: Noah was to bring two of every kind of animal, two of each species, but not two of every living thing, as Montgomery suggests. For example, Noah had to bring two dogs on the ark, but he did not have to bring two of every breed of dogs along. A “species” is a class, but there can be a variety within the species. German Shepherds, Dalmations, Pit Bulls, Golden Retrievers and yes, even Poodles, are all different breeds of dogs but they are all within the dog species. If Noah took two of every species on board but not two of every breed in actually makes sense that the fossils Montgomery founds in the walls of the Grand Canyon would be mostly extinct.

Montgomery, in a chapter entitled “The Test of Time,” also makes this odd statement regarding the young-earth creationist view that the earth is not much more than six thousand years old: “This curious belief comes from literally adding up years gleaned from biblical chronology to arrive at how far back the world was created.” Curious indeed. After all, if I wondered how long ago my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather lived why in the world would I use such a silly thing as his birth date to figure that out? Excuse the sarcasm, please, I could not resist. Montgomery actually does not have an issue with adding up years from biblical chronologies to determine such a thing as I just alluded to; rather, his problem comes with the belief held by those holding to a literal interpretation of the Bible that God actually created Adam on the sixth 24-hour day, meaning the world is only five days (or one hundred twenty hours) older than Adam. I am afraid a more exhaustive discussion of day in Genesis 1 will have to wait for another time. The bottom line is that Montgomery’s thinking is clearly aligned with that of Baron Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, whom Montgomery affirms just a few pages after the remark about adding up biblical chronologies. Buffon, Montgomery says, “did point out that there was no conflict between Genesis and geology of one did not take the days of Creation literally. He thought, just as some theologians had argued, that Genesis was written for uneducated people and should not be interpreted literally on matters pertaining to earth history. It was never intended to convey scientific truths.” I should probably just stop by review now, because it is abundantly clear that anyone adhering to that position will not come to any kind of conclusion even close to being consistent with the Bible.

Later, in a chapter entitled “Catastrophic Revelations,” Montgomery references the work of Georges Cuvier in the early nineteenth century. Due to Cuvier’s work, Montgomery says, the Stackhouse Bible was cautioning its readers as early as 1816 that Genesis only refers to the current state of the world, and that “there is nothing in the sacred writing forbidding us to suppose that [fossils] are the ruins of a former earth.” Nothing, of course, other than reading the Bible literally and believing that it says exactly what it means. “Geological evidence,” Montgomery writes, “was starting to shape biblical interpretation.” Therein, of course, lies the problem. When men take the findings of other men and determine to rework the Bible into those findings it is possible to figure out a way to make the Bible say or mean almost anything. God is clearly revealed through creation, there is no denying that. Scripture makes that abundantly clear. Accordingly, it is not possible for creation, or geological evidence, rightly discovered and accurately understood, to contradict the Bible. That, of course is what this is really all about. Montgomery titled his book The Rocks Don’t Lie. That, of course, is true. Rocks are inanimate objects and they cannot communicate verbally. The rocks cannot tell us anything in the sense that someone having a conversation with you can tell you something or in the sense that I am telling you something now. Rocks communicate with us only through our understanding of the evidence they contain. Accordingly, accurate understanding of what the rocks tell us depends entirely on accurate reading and interpretation of the evidence the rocks contain. That reading and interpretation is done, however, by humans, using methods developed by humans, and is therefore imperfect.

Montgomery spends a little bit of time addressing the gap theory, the suggestion that there is “an indeterminate gap between the first two verses of Genesis.” This theory is not original to Montgomery nor is it necessarily advocated by him; if nothing else, he does do an admirable job of tracing the various lines of thinking on Noah’s Flood through the centuries. The gap theory is essentially an attempt to have it both ways–to hold that the six days of creation are literal 24-hour days, but that they are not six consecutive days. This argument is really untenable, though, and requires a tremendously creative reading of the text. Such an interpretation would be akin to me suggesting that I was born, graduated high school, graduated college, got married, had a daughter and then had a son all in one week. Those six things did happen on six individual days, but they happened over a period of thirty years. Now imagine that basic premise extended over a period of millions of years and you get an idea of the feasibility of the gap theory. Quite simply, the gap theory requires inserting something into the Bible that is not there.

Later, Montgomery has a chapter entitled “Recycled Tales.” I am not even going to spend much time addressing the issues contained in this chapter; you can read it yourself if you want the nitty gritty details. This opening sentence of the chapter should give you sufficient indication of the chapter’s contents: “Centuries before George Smith discovered that the opening chapters of the Bible were reworked Babylonian tales, controversy over the authorship of the Bible centered on how to interpret it as the literal word of God.”

One of Montgomery’s more unusual assertions comes in this “Recycled Tales” chapter, though, and I think I need to address it. He writes, “Perhaps misinterpretation and quirks lie at the root of the belief in a global deluge. After all, repeated references to unicorns in the King James Bible demonstrate the potential for meanings to become scrambled as words were translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin, and finally to English.” To his credit, Montgomery includes an end note after this statement explaining that “unicorn” in the KJV is an erroneous translation of the Hebrew word re’em which is far more accurately translated as a wild ox in almost every other English translation of the Bible. To suggest, however, that because some translators used “unicorn” to convey the unique one-horned animal referenced in the original Hebrew means that translators have perhaps also erred in translating a global flood is disingenuous. In fact, anyone reading Montgomery’s end note realizes this. How? He makes it clear that just about every other English translation of the Bible has corrected the translation of re’em so that they no longer refer to unicorns. In other words, he is asserting that more recent and more careful translation has corrected the KJV translation of that word to more accurately reflect what the Hebrew word meant. Interestingly, though, all of those more recent and more careful translations still refer to a flood. The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the Hebrew word mabbul to reference the Noahic flood. What does that mean? According to Strong’s Concordance it means flood. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance it means a deluge. And according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon it means a flood in the time of Noah, and possibly is derived from an Assyrian word meaning “to destroy.” This Hebrew word is used only to describe the Noahic Flood. Any references to any other floods in Scripture use a different Hebrew word. Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, in his commentary on Genesis from a Messianic Jewish perspective, says, “The Hebrew word for flood is mabul with a definite article, ha-mabul, meaning ‘the flood.'” So, KJV unicorns aside, there is no weight to the argument that the Noahic Flood may just be a mistranslation of original Hebrew.

I could go on in my review and refutation of Montgomery’s book but this has become quite lengthy already. Let me close by saying that Montgomery’s last chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” is worth reading all on its own even if you do not want to read the entire book. I am not endorsing it by any means; this sentence gives you a final look at Montgomery’s perspective: “Even though we can no longer read the story [of Noah’s Flood] literally, we can still learn from it–all of us.” The value of the chapter comes in Montgomery’s acknowledgement that science probably does not have all of the answers, either. He probably diminishes the value and importance of faith, but he at least is up front about the fact that science is not necessarily flawless or completely authoritative. The chapter would be a great source of discussion for a high school or college class, a Sunday school class or even a book discussion group; I am sure it would generate lively and stimulating discussion.

Arguing with Idiots

That title might be a bit off-putting, but I think it fits. I will explain why shortly. Let me first say that I still remember some twenty years ago, the first lecture of my American Government class in high school was titled, “Don’t Be An Idiot.” I remember it because it jumped out at me–it got my attention. I do not recall a teacher being so blunt in a lecture title before that. And while it is not exactly a friendly word, I confess “idiot” is a word that have used from time to time. It is defined as “an utterly foolish or senseless person” by dictionary.com. The point my government teachers were making is that it is important to be knowledgeable in order to be a capable citizen. Our system of government was designed to work for intelligent, informed voters. Far more disturbing to me than a person who does not vote at all if a person who votes unintelligently (by which I mean without learning about the candidates or issues before casting a vote).

Almost two weeks ago the term “idiot” popped into my head again due to a discussion I became involved in on a social networking site. A former student of mine posted a link to CNN’s story on the “Million Vet March on the Memorials,” which included this statement made by Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch: “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.” That statement was the only place in which the article made any reference to Islam, and to be honest, I don’t think it had anything at all to do with the real story. Mr. Klayman was using rhetoric he was sure would get a reaction, and the reporters at CNN were happy to oblige. Unfortunately, it was a statement that made no sense, had nothing to do with the government shutdown and completely distracted attention from the real issues. Be that as it may, my former student chose to focus mostly on this statement.

In his comments, he said, “People like to think that Islam is such a violent religion and is so horrible, but in all honesty its not; there will always be some radicals in any religion. Plus Christianity isn’t the most peaceful of Religions either. The Crusades, The Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials, The Colonization of the North American Continent, The North Atlantic Slave Trade all violent periods in history and all involving some type of Christian believers.” He also made a few comments about the shutdown not being the sole responsibility of one person, and that the shutdown was much more the responsibility of the House Republicans than of the president because they were “holding the purse strings of the nation hostage.” He concluded by saying, “If the worse [sic] thing going on in our country, which was built on religious freedom, is that our President prays to Allah instead of Jesus Christ/God then I think we are doing just fine. We as a nation need to do better our religious, cultural, & social differences are the things that are suppose to make us stronger not divide us.” While I am no fan of the president, I (1) do not think he prays to Allah, and (2) agree that even if he did that would not have been the problem. I disagree completely with the assertion that the House was “holding the purse strings hostage” since the power of the purse is assigned to the House in the Constitution. Like it or not, our government was working as intended during that stalemate. But that is not what I chose to comment on in my reply.

Instead, I said this: “Overall, nicely put. You are correct that the shutdown is not the fault of any one person, and you are also correct that if President Obama is a Muslim that is not, in and of itself, a serious problem and is certainly a protected right within the Constitution. However, you are not correct in your comparison of Christianity and Islam. Yes, there are many peaceful Muslims, and yes, there are numerous instances in world history of Christians doing terrible things, purportedly in the name of Christianity. The key difference, however, is that the Quran teaches violence and the destruction of infidels, and the Bible does not teach violence at all. Christians who resort to violence to prove a point or to forcibly convert unbelievers are violating the Scriptures, while Muslims who resort to violence to destroy infidels are adhering to the teachings of the Quran.” Despite the fact that I knew this would not be a popular thing to share, I felt it important to correct a misunderstanding.

My former student did not respond to my comment. One of his friends did, though, and the tone and content of his reply is what led to the title of this post. Quite frankly, his argument could be Exhibit A in a case against all of the idiots who like to argue their point without ever actually saying anything at all about their point, but simply attack those who disagree with them instead. Here is what he said: “Mr. Watson…. You sir need to buy a clue. Question? Have you read (from cover to cover) either of these two books? More over art thou a theological scholar or perhaps [a] degree holding student of divinity?! If not, you should not profess that which you do not KNOW. Both ‘books’ contain (therefore teach) sex, violence and the worst of human ills.”

I know, I know…I should have just smiled, shaken my head and let it go. After all, Proverbs 29:9 says, “There’s no use arguing with a fool. He only rages and scoffs, and tempers flare.” Fool, by the way, is a pretty good synonym for idiot. I could not resist, though. I enjoy a good debate, and it was clear this was not going to be that. I also recognized at least the remote possibility, though, that setting the record straight in such a public forum might positively influence someone other than the fool who had essentially challenged me to an intellectual duel. So what did I say in response? I said this…

I am not sure that my credentials are the issue here but since you asked, yes, I have read the Bible cover to cover (more than once) and I have both a Master of Theology degree and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. I do not claim to be a theological scholar, but I would guess that those degrees satisfy the question you are asking. Furthermore, I do KNOW that the Bible contains “sex, violence and the worst of human ills,” because the Bible presents the reality of human depravity apart from the regeneration that occurs upon accepting the forgiveness of sins made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God created humans with a free will and therefore we have the ability to make choices, and we humans often make poor choices leading to “the worst of human ills.” As I said, though, those who behave that way are violating the Scriptures, not following them. And while I have not read the Quran cover to cover, I do also KNOW that it teaches the elimination of the infidel. As for [another fool who said “this isn’t about religion at all its about race”], my comment has nothing to do with race. In fact, the main thrust of my comment had nothing to do with President Obama or politics at all; rather, I was stressing that the comparison made between Christianity and Islam was not an accurate one.

So how did my esteemed opponent respond? Simply this: “Read the Qur’an and then you have a leg to stand on.” Wow! What a stunning tactic. Ignore the arguments of your opponent and simply accuse him of not knowing what he is talking about. Make him (or her) appear uninformed–or even stupid–and perhaps no one will recognize that he (or she) is actually speaking the truth. Now do you see why I called this arguing with idiots?

I should point out that I am a firm believer in equal opportunity idiocy. I think there are idiots on both sides of the political spectrum, within and without every religion and denomination, in every country of the world, so please do not think I am simply saying those who disagree with me are idiots. Not at all. My point is that people who decide they want to believe something is true and decide to commit themselves wholeheartedly to it are unwilling to even consider any alternative. In this particular case, those individuals who have decided that Barack Obama is the greatest president ever and can do no wrong are certain that anyone who disagrees must be a racist, a bigot or stupid. No doubt if I had responded that I had read both the Bible and the Quran from cover to cover my esteemed opponent would have told me that did not count unless I read them in the original Hebrew, Greek and Arabic.

See, the reality is, the Quran does teach violence and the destruction of the infidel. You probably do not know me well enough to just take my word for it, or to know that I would not say that it does if it did not. I do not mind that at all. In fact, I would encourage you to check for yourself. If you do not have a Quran or have easy access to one, there are plenty of web sites where you can read it (just like there are web sites where you can read the Bible). It will not take long for you to find that what I said is indeed accurate.

All that aside, though, here’s the real point: beware of arguing with idiots!

Religious Liberty

As promised, I also want to address the third letter submitted to the WORLD Magazine Mailbag. In this letter an individual from Delaware wrote, “Our grassroots policy organization is promoting religious liberty in public schools at an upcoming conference,” and mentioned that the information in the magazine would be helpful to the organization as they “invite public school parents, teachers, and administrators to move ‘from fear to freedom’ regarding Christian expression at school.”

I do not know what organization this individual is a part of, so I cannot address specifically the efforts of the organization or even speak specifically to what they are trying to accomplish, but this letter highlights, in my mind, both positives and negatives. Perhaps a better way of putting that would be to say both reasons to get excited and reasons to proceed with caution. Allow me to elaborate….

First, the reason to be excited. Religious liberty, and the expression of religious liberty, is a constitutionally-protected right of American citizens. There have certainly been efforts to curtail liberties, if not outright deny them, and that violates the very principles on which this country was founded. In that regard, any efforts to protect and defend religious liberty and encourage those in arenas where it may be restricted to stand up for their rights is a good thing.

Here is the reason for caution, though. The individual who wrote to WORLD stated that the organization would be encouraging Christian expression at school. Super; I have no problem with that. However, I think it is very important that we carefully think through the full ramifications of what we are asking for when we take such action. The Constitution does not protect only Christian religious liberty. Many people, myself included, have bemoaned the consequences of our nation’s straying from the morals that seemed far more prevalent in every area of society not all that long ago. Many have pointed out the negative cultural changes that seem to have coincided with the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools. Many, therefore, have advocated the return of prayer and Bible reading to the public schools.

Here is where we must think through exactly what that would mean. If all religious liberty is protected, there is no way to pursue the return of only Christian prayer and Bible reading to the schools. If all religious liberty is protected, the expression of religious liberty in public schools cannot be restricted to what I may believe or I may want–or what any one individual, group or denomination may want. Religious liberty for all means just that. The Pledge of Allegiance ends with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.” That means Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Atheists and Agnostics among many others.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty includes this statement on its web site: “Dedicated to protecting the free expression of all faiths. Our clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.” The Becket Fund includes a cross in its logo, but, whatever else you may think of it, it recognizes that true religious freedom for Christians must also include religious freedom for other religions, as well.

Am I saying that there is no place for prayer or Bible reading in public schools? Not necessarily. But I am saying that those who desire to see those things returned to public schools need to remember that true religious liberty would then also mean that other religious sacred texts must be able to be read and/or taught in the public schools, as well. If you really want the Bible back in public schools make sure you want the Talmud and the Quran, too.

The Alliance Defending Freedom states on its web site, “Throughout our history, America has been a land defined by religious faith and freedom. Religious freedom is our first and most fundamental, God-given right deemed so precious that our Founding Fathers enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution.” I agree with that statement. Their web site goes on, however, to state this: “For decades, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other radical anti-Christian groups have been on a mission to eliminate public expression of our nation’s faith and heritage.” I only partly agree with this. Whether we want to admit it or not, we must recognize that our nation does not have a faith. There is no national faith or national religion in the United States. Fleeing state-sponsored churches was no small part of the impetus for many of America’s earliest settlers. Where many people get hung up is on the idea that their way is the right way. When it comes to biblical Christianity, of course, it is the right way. It is the right way (the only way) to heaven, it is the only understanding of the one true God, it is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins. However, it is not the only religion. And if we stop and think about it carefully, I do not think any of us really want a national religion.

So what is my point in all of this? What does this have to do with my ongoing discussion of education in America? Basically it is this: anyone who wants their children to be educated in an environment that embraces a biblical worldview and allows, encourages or even requires Bible reading and prayer needs to homeschool their children or enroll them in a solid Christian school. There is simply no other way to make that happen.

Sabotaging the Lighthouse

As I alluded to at the end of the last post, there is considerable disagreement among Christians over the way in which Christian parents should respond to the reality of public school education. These differences of opinion are clear in the first three letters printed in the Mailbag section of the October 19, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine. All three are in response to the September 7 issue of WORLD, their “Back to School” issue.

The first letter, from a gentleman in California, says, “The questions and issues listed on your Sept. 7 cover are vital ones that I fear too many, even Christian parents, are unaware of. Do we understand scientism? Do we discern that all schools teach secular humanism in the state systems?” Without coming right out and saying so he certainly seems to be of the opinion that the public school is not a safe environment for Christian children because of the worldview that is presented.

The second letter, however, refutes any assertion that Christians should abandon the public schools. “My husband is a minister and I teach in the public school system,” writes a lady from Missouri. “Our four children thrived in public schools because we taught them Christian values. Things have gotten bad, but if Christians continue to withdraw, schools will only get worse. My children and I are missionaries every day.” This is perhaps the most common objection I hear from Christian parents who do not want to remove their children from public schools. As I have indicated before, I believe each parent is ultimately charged by God with raising their own children and I cannot clearly know God’s will for anyone else, so I am not going to suggest that everyone who holds to this position is wrong. I will suggest, however, that the number of Christian children who are “missionaries” in the public schools pales in comparison to the number of public schools that are missionaries to the Christian students that attend them. By that, I mean that more often than not I think the school influences the students more than the students influence the school.

I heard Cal Thomas address this issue a few years ago. At that time he stated that ninety percent of Christian children go to public schools. I am not sure where he got that figure, but I suspect it is not far off. One of the things he said about the assertion made by the wife and mother in Missouri that the influence of public schools can be countered by teaching them Christian values at home stuck with me. He said, “You wouldn’t send your children off with a healthy breakfast and be unconcerned if they ate lead paint for lunch.” The same, he said, is true intellectually, spiritually and morally when students go to public schools. I would have to agree; after all, students are almost certainly getting more direct instruction from their schools than they are from their parents; even the best case scenario might be only fifty-fifty. So why would Christian parents concerned about the development of their students knowingly and willingly send their children to an environment in which much of what they learn, or at least the perspective from which they learn it, is in opposition to what the parents believe and the Bible teaches?

To the point of being missionaries or ambassadors in the public school setting, I think there is a tremendous amount of merit to that argument for Christian adults working in public schools. I think the weight of that argument diminishes exponentially when talking about children. It is not coincidental that the United States does not send children or teenagers as ambassadors to other nations. I realize that is not a perfect example, and yes, children and teens can absolutely be salt and light in the world. Truth be told, I was probably more bold about sharing my faith with strangers as a child than I am now, much to my own dismay. This argument is flawed, though, because children and teens are still having their faith, their worldview and their understanding shaped. They are still extremely susceptible to influences and their minds are still quite pliable.

I have always considered lighthouses to be a terrific metaphor for Christians and the role that Christians are to have in the world. A lighthouse was a carefully constructed building. The bricks needed to be placed correctly and secured carefully in order to build the structure up high enough for its light to be seen from a distance. It also needed to be strong enough to support the staircase that wrapped its way around the inside of the light tower so that the keeper could make his regular trips up and down the stairs. If the tower fell, the light would be useless. If the stairs collapsed and the keeper could not light the light (in the days before automation) the light would be useless. In other words, the light itself only had any value if the lighthouse itself was securely constructed. There might be a perfectly goof Fresnel lens sitting on top of the lighthouse, or sitting on the ground next to a lighthouse being constructed, but without the properly constructed light and usable stairs within the tower the light would be worthless.

The same is true of Christians. The light the we have is perfect and good and complete, because the light that we have is the Gospel message, the truth of God’s Word. But if our towers are faulty, if we cannot or do not light the light, the light in our towers is worthless.

No one charged with the task of constructing a lighthouse would spend mornings, evenings and weekends constructing the tower and knowingly and willingly allow another person or group of people to spend six to eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, sabotaging the tower he was building. Imagine how long it would take to construct that lighthouse! Think of the adage two steps forward, one step backward. Even worse, think of one step forward, two steps backward. The one charged with building the tower would have to spend so much time repairing and fixing what he had already done that he would seldom if ever make progress in building the tower higher. Getting to the point where the lighthouse was complete and the light could accomplish its purpose would take an extremely long time! This is exactly what happens when Christian students go to public schools. They have a light to show to the world, but it is seldom visible because the world is continually sabotaging their tower by attacking and undermining their faith and their worldview.

I always find it particularly troubling when parents send their children to Christian school for elementary and perhaps even junior high school and then send them off to public school for their high school years. More often than not this is due to the athletic, music and other co-curricular activities that public schools offer than many Christian schools cannot (or not at the same level). Sometimes it is also because parents question whether or not the academic in the Christian school are as rigorous as those in the public schools. Regardless of the reason, I find the decision incredibly uninformed. Teenagers are perhaps more susceptible to the influence of others than any other humans. They are already trying to figure out who they are and what they think. They are already prone to question authority and what they have been raised to do, think and believe. Why in the world would a Christian parent insert their child into an environment where they are surrounded by the influences of the world at exactly that age? Quite simply, I don’t get it.

I mentioned three letters published in WORLD. I will talk about the point made in the third one next time.

“Social Indoctrination”

No small part of the reason that public schooling has, in my mind, all but ceased to be an option for Christian parents is the increasing desire on the part of public schools to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable–which is, in fact, doing exactly the opposite.

California should almost never be used as an example for anything since it tends to be such a unique entity all on its own, but the foolishness going on there with the gender identity issue is a good example of the kind of thing I am talking about. As you have likely heard, and as I have addressed here before, California enacted legislation that permits transgender students to choose which restroom they want to use and whether to play boys or girls sports. Writing just this morning on this issue CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody said, “Critics say it’s all cloaked under the guise of fairness. But supporters say it’s important that transgender students feel comfortable and not isolated.”

That “cloak of fairness” is where the problem comes in. In this instance it pertains to gender identity. In other instances it pertains to sexual preference or religious belief or almost anything you may want to put in the blank other than conservative Christian beliefs. Somehow, the “cloak of fairness” does not seem to extend to evangelical Christians–no doubt because they are considered to be intolerant.

We all know life is not fair. Never has been, and never will be. That does not mean that public schools (or non-public schools, for that matter) should abandon any effort to be fair and equitable in decision making and policy enforcement. The reality, though, is that the “fairness” public schools seem to scrambling for is anything but fair. The first part of dictionary.com’s definition of “fair” reads like this: “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice.” What the schools in California are doing with their gender identity policies is hardly free from bias. What it is, in fact, is biased in favor of any student who claims to feel like the gender he or she was not born.

The CBN article quotes California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, defending the legislation, as saying, “No student can learn if they feel like they have to hide who they are at school or [are] singled out for unequal treatment.” Absent from that silliness is the reality that no student can learn if they feel like they have to hide at school. I have no doubt that some young girls in California are quite concerned–scared, even–of using the bathrooms at their public schools for fear that a boy will come in to that bathroom. I doubt seriously that their fears are alleviated by the fact that any boy who does so supposedly identifies himself as being a girl. I am certain there are girls who will not join sports teams, or will join and have their play impacted, because there are biological boys who feel like girls playing on the team. I am sure there are boys who will not join sports teams, or will play differently than they would if only boys were playing, because girls who self-identify as boys are permitted to play on the team, too. In order to avoid having what are undoubtedly a very small number of students who claim that they were born with the wrong plumbing feel like they are treated unfairly every other student in the California public school system is treated unfairly instead.

Interestingly, the CBN article also includes a statement from a transgender student named Ashton Lee. I am not sure if Ashton is a biological boy or girl, but here is the statement Ashton made (notice I cannot even use a pronoun because of the ambiguity): “It’s going to take away that extra pressure of not knowing where to go and not knowing what classes you’re going to be in and not being treated the same as all the other boys and girls in your school.” Do you see the irony in that statement? Ashton favors this legislation because as a result of it Ashton will not have to worry about being treated the same as all of the other boys and girls! Translation: Ashton will be treated differently. More specifically, Ashton will have greater privileges and “rights” than the “other boys and girls.” So much for fair and unbiased, huh?

California Republican Tim Donnelly, a member of the state legislature, has taken his 13-year-old son out of the California public school system. Why? “The public schools are no longer interested in education,” he said. He continued that his son is “not going back to the junior high school for more of this social indoctrination. To me, they ought to be talking about reading, writing and arithmetic, not sexual identity politics.” Can I get an Amen?

This is the kind of thing that has, more than anything else, made public schooling a non-option for Christian parents. Once the truth of God’s Word has been abandoned there is no longer any guide for right and wrong. When there is no absolute standard for right and wrong those things become defined by whoever is in power. When those in power decide that what is right is for the whims of a miniscule few to override the rights of the overwhelming majority the only thing for the majority to do is take back control. That is what Donnelly hopes to see happen in California; if a half million signatures can be collected, the issue will go before voters next November in a referendum. I hope that happens, and that the law is overturned, but unfortunately, even if that does happen, public schools are not going to be much better for Christian children any time soon, if ever again.

Some people, though argue that leaving the public schools in response is exactly what Christian parents and students should not be doing because they need to be ambassadors for Christ, to be salt and light in their public schools. Why this is a flawed argument will be the subject next time….