jasonbwatson

July 31, 2014

Which would you expect to be true?

On July 29 the Christian News Network reported on a psychology class being taught at Ohio State University. According to the report, the school’s Psychology 1100 class included an online quiz which contained this question:

Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

* Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.
* Aine earns less money than Theo.
* Theo is more liberal than Aine.
* Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.

The report states that, according to the school, the correct answer is the first one. It is not difficult to decipher the implications of this question/answer–Christians have a lower IQ.

An anonymous student told Campus Reform about this quiz item and he was also quoted in the Christian News Network story saying, “Colleges will tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity. If colleges really want to give everyone a fair shot, they should stay away from making comments about any religion.” That, of course, would be what neutrality means, right? Not judging or belittling or promoting any one religion over another would be what one would expect in an environment that promotes tolerance and understanding, right?

Now, OSU does have a policy that prevents discrimination on the basis of religion, amongst a variety of other things including “gender identity or expression [and] genetic information….” (See the previous four posts for my comments on this issue). And I am certainly not suggesting that this quiz item was part of some nefarious scheme by anyone at OSU to insult Christians or Christianity. Having said that, can you imagine the uproar had this question used Democrats and Republicans instead of Atheists and Christians? How about homosexuals and heterosexuals? Pro-choice versus pro-life? African-American and Caucasian? What if it had said Atheists and Muslims? I don’t think it takes a whole lot of creativity or mental gymnastics to conclude that the reaction would have been swift and severe. Had any group other than Christians been the group insulted by this question there may well have been someone fired over the incident.

Hemant Mehta, in a blog post on Friendly Atheist, wrote of the question, “it just strikes me as a horribly written, too-simplified-to-be-useful question.” Mehta quotes Kaitlyn Schallhorn of Campus Reform stating, accurately, that the question may have been created by a teaching assistant rather than a professor. No doubt. The problem is, Mehta has zoomed in the fact that it is a lousy question, one that would never be permitted in legitimate psychological study while neglecting the content of the question. He is right about the question but, again, had the question been reversed and Aine-the-Atheist been the one with the lower IQ I doubt Mehta would quite so dismissive of the question.

Mehta suggests what he calls a “simpler solution” rather than getting worked up over the question: “Toss the question and have a discussion in class about how to properly interpret studies.” That would be wise, yes. It may also be a good idea, particularly given that this is a psychology class we are talking about, to have a discussion over why the question is so poorly worded and what impact such an assertion could have on the group being maligned by the implication as well as anyone who believed it to be true. Mehta ended his post with this statement: “There’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that it’s somehow evidence of anti-Christian discrimination.” Maybe not, but it is certainly evidence of the double standard that exists in so many places in the United States when it comes to tolerance and respect for Christianity as opposed to tolerance and respect for almost any other belief or position.

Perhaps more concerning than the fact that a teaching assistant (probably) created this question and it made it into the hands of students taking the course is the statement made by an unnamed Ohio State administrator. This individual, according to The Daily Caller, said that the quizzes are created by graduate assistants and are “typically fashioned based on textbook material” (emphasis mine). See all of the “imagine if it was…” examples above and try imagining any college or university utilizing a textbook which asserted such a thing. Imagine any textbook publisher even publishing such a thing!

All told, this incident will soon be forgotten, and it probably should be. But do not forget that the reality is this: the tolerance so loudly championed by most in this country seldom extends to Christians or Christianity. They want you to believe they are tolerant, but don’t expect it to be true.

July 30, 2014

How do you feel?

Several posts ago, in an entry titled “The biggest obstacle”, I made several statements and assertions that I said I would come back to and elaborate on later. I will do that now. One of the statements I made in that post was that special rights based on gender identity is ridiculous. The reason that it is ridiculous is that there is no other area in life that I can think of where anyone is able to obtain any kind of rights based solely on how they identify themselves. The only possible exception that comes to mind would be religious affiliation, as there are sometimes rights that are associated with religious affiliation and practice. That is necessary, though, because there are no genetic connections to religion, to physical identifiers upon which anyone can be associated with a particular religion. That is because religion is necessarily a choice. That certain rights have been granted on the basis of religion is a testament to the importance that humankind as historically placed on religion and the very personal nature of religious belief. Gender is not that way, however–or at least never has been until now.

As I stated before, from the beginning of time it has been possible to determine the gender of a child within moments of birth. Indeed, for the past several decades it has been possible, thanks to advances in medical technology, to identify the gender of a child in utero. Can you imagine the way conversations may go in the future once all of this transgender mumbo jumbo takes hold? Someone will ask their pregnant acquaintance, “So are you having a boy or a girl?” “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But, of course, we will have a to wait a little while to see how she acts, what she prefers, and how she wants to identify herself before we will really know. After all, sex is purely biological but gender is really a choice.”

Since the transgender movement insists that gender is in fact the product of cultural influences and behaviors learned through human interaction the conversation above could even be more along these lines: “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But my husband and I really want a boy, so we are going to raise this child as a boy. We will give the baby a male name, decorate the room with a masculine theme, dress the baby in boy’s clothing and raise the baby to be a male. As soon as ‘he’ is old enough we will jump through all of the hoops to have ‘his’ real gender identified accordingly.”

The one opponent of the transgender movement that was actually given any print in Katy Steinmetz’s TIME article was Frank Schubert, a political organizer from California. Steinmetz quoted Schubert saying, “We introduce this concept called gender identity, and I don’t have any idea what that is. Can you claim a racial identity based on how you feel or the community that you’re growing up in? Can I claim to be African American if I feel African American?” That is a legitimate question, silly though it may sound. Just as gender has always been consist with one’s anatomy, so race has always been consist with one’s genetic make up (often visible through skin tone). If an individual wants to, for whatever reason, “identify” as a race other than that which he or she is how can we stop that from occurring if we are saying that gender is so fluid? If gender is the product of cultural influences and learned behaviors, could not race be, too?

Now, I know I am taking this to an extreme, but I think it is necessary in order to make a point. Once we begin allowing people to claim or identify anything based solely on feelings we are obliterating any possibility of maintaining boundaries of any kind based on facts. Just as the redefinition of marriage to include male-male and female-female unions necessarily flings open the door to allow any combination to be defined as marriage, so the allowance of gender to be based solely on feelings means that, necessarily, we will have to allow anyone who feels anything to claim that they are that thing. If someone feels rich can they take items they cannot really afford from the store by writing checks that will never clear because they “feel like” they have money? That’s ridiculous, you say. Whether or not someone has money is easy to determine, easily verifiable. Well, guess what? So is whether or not someone was born male or female.

This gets to the heart of what I was getting at when I wrote in “The biggest obstacle” that transgender individuals do not really want an equal place but instead want a special place based on their personal choices. Someone using the name “Eyeontheuniverse” was kind enough to comment on that post and ask me to provide an example of such a special place or unique and privileged treatment that I am asserting transgender individuals want. Sure; I’d be happy to. The right to compete on an athletic team based on one’s chosen gender, the right to use a restroom based on one’s chosen gender, or any other example of insisting on treatment based on how one feels or identifies rather than what one is is a pursuit of special and privileged treatment. If someone wants to engage in homosexual sex, that’s fine, that is his or her choice. Demanding that marriage be redefined to include homosexual unions is insisting on special and privileged treatment. If a male wants to dress and act like a female, even assume a female name or identity, then I suppose he can do that, that is his choice. But to insist that “she” be allowed to play sports based on that choice, or use a restroom based on that choice, or be referred to using pronouns based on that choice, is to demand special and privileged treatment. If transgender individuals can make up their own pronouns like “xyr” why cannot I make up my own pronouns? Henceforth, I do not wish to be referred to as “he” but rather as “ilb.” That is my choice, and I am demanding that everyone else refer to me accordingly. Those who do not shall be sued so that courts will order them to refer to me as such. And while I’m at it, I’m tired of the title “Mr.” too, so from now on it will be “Great.” Yes…instead of Mr. Watson, I shall be Great Watson. I like that much better…I think I will feel much better when addressed that way.

Pretty stupid, huh? My point exactly….

Whoever “Eyeontheuniverse” is, their comment on “The biggest obstacle” included this statement: “In all we are probably looking at 2-6% of the population who in some way have a conflict between some combination of genes, body and brain. There’s not very much you are going to do to alter this (at least historically) after a person is born. The goal is to make life for people who are outside the simple binary system as easy as possible.” Again, I do not know who this person is, but he or she apparently has greater knowledge of this situation that any other study I have been able to find, since all reports seem to indicate that 0.2% to 0.5% of the population fits into the transgender category. “Eyeontheuniverse” apparently believes it to be ten times that number. Notice the end of the comment, though. The goal is to make life for those individuals as easy as possible. Never mind the fact that in so doing we will be making life as uncomfortable and difficult as possible for the majority of the population!

Katy Steinmetz wrote in her article, “No matter their anatomy, transgender people want to live–and be identified–according to how they feel: to be able to dress and be treated like a woman or a man regardless of what their parents or delivering nurses may have assumed at birth.” This is really what is comes down to–demanding rights and treatment based solely on how one feels. I explained above what the problems are associated with that approach, but I do have to appreciate the candor of Steinmetz. At the end of the day, the homosexual movement, the transgender movement, and many other movements now in existence and yet to come, want all notions of right and wrong, black and white, left and right–in other words, any concept of absolute truth–to be eliminated and everything to be based on feelings.

Watch out anarchy…here we come.

July 28, 2014

Fair to All

In this post I would like to address some of the ways in which the “rights” being sought through the transgender movement both interfere with the rights of other individuals and violate long-standing rules and policies in various organizations.

Perhaps the first place to look should be at the impact the transgender movement is having, and will continue to have, in schools. The South Dakota High School Activities Association’s transgender policy references in an earlier post includes this statement at the end of the introductory paragraph: “This policy creates a framework in which this participation may occur in a safe and healthy manner that is fair to all competitors.” Really? Fair to all competitors? How is it fair to the females in high school sports for a male who identifies as a female to be allowed to play on a girls sports team? (Or vice versa).

There are numerous ways in which such participation is inherently unfair to everyone involved. It is unfair to the transgender individual because it allows him or her to assume an identity other than that which he or she actually possesses. I could elaborate on that one, but transgender individuals and activists would deny that one so there is not much point in belaboring it; after all, the assumption of that identity is exactly what they are trying to accomplish.

The participation of the transgender individual is unfair to the other competitors. Regardless of how much we may want to deny it or pretend it does not matter, males and females are not physically identical. Males tend to be taller and stronger than females. Therefore, there are inherent problems in allowing males to compete as females or females to compete as males in sports where physical fitness is relevant (and, frankly, there are very few high school sports where it is not). The matter of transgender athletes competing has been an issue in arenas far beyond high school sports and will no doubt continue to be an issue.

The Olympics has long dealt with the issue of athletes trying to complete in events other than those for which they would qualify according to their gender. The IOC has long used gender testing in order to prevent such individuals from competing in the Olympics. In 2004, however, the IOC did adopt “the Stockholm Consensus” which would allow transgender athletes to compete according to their gender identity so long as three conditions were met: the individual must have had gender reassignment surgery, must have obtained legal recognition of their newly assumed gender, and must have had at least two years of hormone treatments/therapy. While even allowing these individuals to compete warrants legitimate debate, at least these guidelines establish very specific parameters that both prevent someone from competing based purely on the gender with which they identify and also require some efforts to diminish the advantages that are inherent based on gender differences. The SDHSAA policy allows students to participate based on their gender identity. It does require documentation of “consistent gender identification and expression” and does state that once a student is identified as transgender that student must compete in that gender category for the remainder of his or her high school years. That will, presumably, eliminate any possibility of someone claiming a certain gender identity for one sport and then switching to another identity for the next sport, trying to gain some kind of competitive advantage. Rest assured, however, that the ability of athletes to compete based solely on the gender identity they claim on any given day will be on the transgender agenda before long. After all, if the idea is that gender is fluid and based on how one feels and identifies rather than on how one was born it will not be possible to insist that one can really be a gender other than the one they were born but that once that decision is made it is permanent.

A few months ago CrossFit was in the news because its governing body told a transgender female athlete that she could not compete as a woman. Why? An article on HuffingtonPost described the following as “the most disturbing part” of the letter sent to individual in question:

We have simply ruled that based upon [Chloie] being born as a male, she will need to compete in the Men’s Division. … The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women. … Our decision has nothing to do with “ignorance” or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.

Was the CrossFit response rude? I suppose you could argue that it was. The main points of their explanation are entirely accurate, however; no matter how you slice it, a male who identifies as a female–even a male who has gender reassignment surgery–does and will always have a physical advantage. One could debate the physiological advantage but I think it is safe to assume that the fact that the woman on the court/track/field used to be a man will be in the mind of the other women involved in the competition.

There is plenty more that could be said on this matter but the issue goes well beyond athletics. I believe it should be sufficient for this particular aspect of the issue to say that it simply is not possible to both allow transgender individuals to compete according to their gender identity and to, as the SDHSAA policy asserts, be “fair to all competitors.” It certainly interferes with the right of a female to compete solely against other females in her sport of choice when men who decide to become females are also allowed to compete.

Another area in which the transgender movement is trampling the rights of others is the insistence that everyone else refer to transgender individuals by the gender pronouns aligned with their gender identity. The SDHSAA policy includes a statement that schools must “[u]se correct names/pronouns according to the student’s self–identification.” I see no recognition of the rights of an individual who is uncomfortable referring to a “he” as a “she” in that wording. Public schools in Vancouver, Canada have gone even further. Last month the school board approved a policy that will require teachers to use transgender pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. What are transgender pronouns? They are made-up words, no doubt created by some person or group of people within the transgender movement so that they can have their own pronouns and not have to use those that belong to males and females. The Vancouver policy instructs teachers to use “xe, xem and xyr” instead of “he, him and his.” Never mind the rights of teachers and others to refer to individuals as what they are rather than what they feel like, apparently the transgender movement is also entitled to create its own words now, too.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the movement for transgender individuals to be permitted to use restrooms based on their gender identity. California approved a bill last year that allows school children to select which bathroom they will use based on their gender identity. What about the rights of the boys not to have a girl who says she feels like a boy come into their bathroom, or the girls to have a boy who feels like a girl come into theirs? Again, the rights of the vast majority of individuals are being trampled on in order to accommodate the preferences of a very small few. The SDHSAA policy includes “locker room accessibility” as one of the things that schools must accommodate when there is a transgender athlete. What if there is no locker room available? Not many schools have extra locker rooms sitting around, meaning either the transgender athlete will have to be permitted to use the locker room of the gender he/she claims, will have to use the locker room on his/her own when the rest of the team is out of the room, or will have to be given a separate room somewhere to change, etc. Mark my words, if we continue down this path it will not be long before any newly-constructed public building will have to include gender-neutral restrooms. The transgender movement will insist that this is a civil rights issue, they will demand equality of facilities, and they will obtain a transgender version of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires handicapped accessibility in public buildings. No doubt most of them will be used rarely if ever, given that less than half of one percent of the population identifies as transgender, but at least they’ll be there should the need arise.

That is, of course, because we must be “fair to all.”

July 23, 2014

Word Games

The TIME article by Katy Steinmetz provides an overview of the history of the transgender issue in the United States. “Modern America’s journey” with this issue, she writes, “begins after World War II with a woman named Christine Jorgensen.” Christine Jorgensen was born George, and after completing service as a soldier and being honorably discharged George sailed for Denmark with the plan of finding a surgeon who would transform George into Christine. The story became news, and Jorgensen wrote a letter that was published by the New York Daily News after it ran a story under the headline EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. In the letter Jorgensen asserted, “Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.”

That statement contains a clear allusion to the fact that there is a denial among many in the transgender movement, and its supporters, that humans are created by God. It was “nature,” Jorgensen said, that made the mistake. When nature makes a mistake man is entitled to correct it, the reasoning goes. Interestingly, one of the arguments most often used by homosexuals and activists who support the homosexual rights movement is that homosexual individuals were “born that way” and that human laws preventing homosexual marriage or beliefs that homosexual behavior is immoral are contradicting nature (or even, some would say, the way God made them). Now transgender individuals are suggesting that they way they were born–in other words, their gender at birth–was a mistake that they need to fix. So we have one group of people arguing that they should have special rights because they were born “that way” and another group arguing that they should have special rights because the way they were born was wrong.

This is not the only instance of transgender individuals wanting to have it both ways. In 1980, seven years after the DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder, transsexualism was added. That was later given the label of gender identity disorder and then, in 2013, renamed yet again to gender dysphoria. The president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (yes, there is such an organization) celebrated the change, saying, “‘Gender identity disorder’ [implied] that your identity was wrong, that you are wrong.” Yet, according to Steinmetz, some were not in favor of removing the disorder label because without it it will likely be harder for individuals to access treatment such as hormone therapy without having to pay the entire cost themselves. After all, if it is not a disorder, it is an elective procedure.

Despite the change in the DSM, there is going to be increasing pressure for insurance companies and even government insurance to pay for sex change operations and hormone therapy. At the end of May a board within the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that sex change surgeries will be covered by Medicare. This decision came after Denee Mallon, age 74, filed a law suit to have Medicare pay for an operation changing him from male to female. Once such procedures are considered covered by Medicare it is only a matter of time before the government will also push for insurance companies to cover them, as well.

If you are not yet confused or disgusted, it gets more complicated. According to the TIME article, it is necessary, in order to really understand this issue, to see “sex and gender as two separate concepts–sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy; gender is cultural, a set of behaviors learned through human interaction.” Oh really? That is nothing more than another attempt at redefining terms. Dictionary.com provides, as the second definition of gender, one word: sex. (The first definition refers to the various genders of nouns in many languages). If you look at Merriam-Webster.com the definition of gender is “the state of being male or female.” If you read on to the full definition of gender you find that the first definition is, again, concerned with grammar. The second definition? Again, one word: sex.

Even if we wanted to grant the notion that sex and gender are two different things, it gets even more complicated. Steinmetz goes on to write, “Sexual preferences, meanwhile, are a separate matter altogether. There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who you want to go to bed with and gender identity determines who you want to go to bed as.” So, just to make sure you’re keeping up, that would mean–in the scenario presented by Steinmetz–that a person born as a woman could become a transgender man and then engage in homosexual sex with a man.

Since that is so confusing, Steinmetz goes on to explain that “some trans people reject all labels, seeing gender as a spectrum rather than a two-option multiple-choice question. The word transgender, which came into wider use in the 1990s after public health officials adopted it, is often used as an umbrella term for all rejections of the norm, from cross-dressers who are generally happy in their assigned gender to transsexuals like Jorgensen.” The idea of the gender spectrum is already gaining acceptance; in February Facebook changed its male and female options for gender to include more than fifty choices. The day before Valentine’s Day ABC News reported that Facebook would not be releasing a comprehensive list of options but that ABC had identified fifty-eight options. Among the options are ten varieties of “cis.” What in the world is that? Apparently, cisgender or cissexual, which are often abbreviated as simply cis, is defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook as a label for “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” According to Wikipedia this is to be a complement to transgender. So I suppose (assuming I understand this definition correctly) I could now identify myself as cis if I am not satisfied with just simply being male. After all, male apparently no longer tells you that I was born male, identify as male and have a male body. So how does Facebook come up with ten varieties of cis? I could choose to identify myself as cis, cis male, cis man, cisgender male or cisgender man.

Other Facebook options include gender fluid, gender nonconforming and gender variant, as well as two-spirit. I am not even going to get into what some of those mean. Just in case you cannot find your chosen gender identity in the fifty-plus options ABC identified, though, there is also the option of “other.”

As I said yesterday, this entire situation just gets messier and messier the more you try to make sense of it. And so far I’m just talking about terminology! Just wait until next time when I begin exploring what the implications of this are when actually put into day to day living.

July 22, 2014

“The biggest obstacle”

I do not really want to address the topic of the transgender movement in the United States but it appears I do not have much choice because it is an issue that is not going away. According to studies by the Public Religion Research Institute only 9% of Americans say they have a close friend or family member who is transgender. And that number may even be a bit high, because other studies indicate that only 0.5% of the American population is transgender. And yet, the issue of accepting the choices of transgender individuals and granting them special privileges and “rights” in accordance with those choices is potentially going to impact us all.

In South Dakota, where I live, the state’s high school activities association just last month approved a policy whereby students shall have the opportunity to participate in the association’s activities “in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the student’s records.” Therein, of course, we find the root of the problem. For millennia human beings have identified, within moments of birth, the gender of the baby just born. Ever since the advent of birth certificates that information has been recorded officially. And rarely, if ever, has there been any question as to whether that identification was up for debate. Now, apparently, it is.

The June 9, 2014 issue of TIME featured a cover image of a transgender individual who stars on the television show Orange Is the New Black and a feature article entitled “America’s Transition.” This individual, Laverne Cox, has become, according to the piece, “a public face of the transgender movement.” I am going to elaborate later on why the entire notion of transgender is a problem. First, though, I want to touch on a statement Katy Steinmetz includes in the second paragraph of her TIME article. Here it is…

Almost one year after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans were free to marry the person they loved, no matter their sex, another civil rights movement is poised to challenge long-held cultural norms and beliefs. Transgender people–those who identify with a gender other than the sex they were “assigned at birth,” to use the preferred phrase among trans activists–are emerging from the margins to fight for an equal place in society. This new transparency is improving the lives of a long misunderstood minority and beginning to yield new policies, as trans activists and their supporters push for change in schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons and the military.

There are an incredible number of problems contained right there in those few sentences. First of all, the Supreme Court did not, in fact, rule that Americans are free to marry whomever they love, but I’ll get way off track if I follow that tangent, so let’s just leave that one there. Secondly, as I have argued repeatedly in the past, homosexual “marriage” is not a civil rights issue. Neither are transgender rights. In fact, as I will argue later, the entire notion of transgender individuals being entitled to any special privileges or treatment at all based on their “gender identity” is ridiculous. Third, the paragraph above does accurately link the tremendous strides made by homosexual activists to achieve “rights” for homosexuals to the now-burgeoning movement among transgender activists. Again, as I have argued before, once we redefine what has been accepted for the entirety of human history as marriage we are, for all intents and purposes, jumping onto a slippery slope that will result in all kinds of redefinitions and changes.

Fourth, the notion that gender is “assigned” is a very clever and subtle choice of wording that is designed to convince us that gender and body parts are in no way connected. More on that later, too. Fifth, Steinmetz states that transgender individuals are emerging in order to “fight for an equal place in society.” This is clever wording, too, because who would not be in favor of someone receiving equal treatment and an equal place? After all, equality is a major part of what our nation was founded on, right? Transgender individuals, however, do not want an equal place in society. Instead, they want a special place. They want to receive unique and privileged treatment based on their personal choices. Sixth, and finally, whether or not this “new transparency” is really yielding any improvement in the lives of transgender individuals is debatable, but the policies being adopted to cater to transgender folks are indeed going to touch us all eventually.

A few paragraphs later Steinmetz writes that “the biggest obstacle” faced by transgender individuals is that they “live in a world largely built on a fixed and binary definition of gender.” Very subtle, and intentional, wording there, too–notice that the “binary definition” by which mankind has lived since God created Adam and Eve is an “obstacle” to these individuals living life the way they want to live it. Guess what? There are plenty of obstacles that prevent every one of us from doing things we would like to do on a regular basis. For example, I would like to be able to jump off of the roof of a building a fly–or at the very least enjoy a relaxing downward descent and a soft landing. The “obstacle” of gravity seems to prevent that, though. I would prefer to drive to town doing 100 miles an hour. The road is straight and flat and there is seldom any traffic, but the “SPEED LIMIT 65” signs that stand along the road are obstacles to me doing what I want. I would prefer to have a Porsche in my garage without the cost of buying, insuring or driving one, but life simply doesn’t work that way. Maybe those are silly examples but I challenge you to take a moment and think about all of the “obstacles” that you have to live within each and every day. Take me up on that and I suspect you will literally find dozens of them.

This is a discussion that I am, sadly, just beginning. The next several posts will address this topic, so stay tuned.

July 17, 2014

Imaging God

My wife and I are part of a small group right now that is going through the DVD presentation of The Family Project from Focus on the Family. This past Sunday we watched the fourth session, entitled “For This Reason.” One of the main thrusts of the session is that we are made in the image of God and that we are to image Him in our lives. In other words, the way that we live should demonstrate to those we interact with who God is and what He is like.

The next day, Joe Stowell’s daily devotional at Strength for the Journey was titled “Agents of God’s Glory.” In it, Stowell tells about a friend of his who is a sports agent. Some of the athletes the agent represents are “big names” and Stowell says he sometimes finds himself thinking, “Wow, you’re an agent for him? No way! That would be amazing.” Whether you are a sports fan or not, you can likely relate. No doubt most of us can think of some human being that impresses us through their position, accomplishments, talents, etc., that we would like to get close to or be friends with. There is nothing wrong with that, either, provided we maintain a proper perspective and do not allow ourselves to become inappropriately enamored with those individuals.

But Stowell goes on to make this point: “[W]hen I think about it, you and I have a far greater privilege and calling. We are agents of God—hired by the price He paid on the cross—to spread the “stats” of His glory everywhere we go.” Stowell has a pretty good point there. Anyone who has accepted Christ as Savior has a personal relationship with God–the Creator of the universe, the Almighty. Any athlete or celebrity pales in comparison. In fact, there is no comparison. Yet how often are we guilty of talking up the accomplishments of those humans we admire while failing to give any mention to the “accomplishments” of Almighty God, to tell others of the things He has done in our lives? Read some more of Stowell’s thoughts…

His “portfolio” of glory staggers the imagination. It encompasses His personal, unconditional love. It draws in His broad and limitless mercy—mercy that patiently holds back His hand of judgment. His credentials include perfect wisdom, undiminished holiness, unflinching faithfulness, perfect justice, and the realities that He is all-powerful and all-knowing. Simply put, His glory is all that He is in His all-surpassing, praiseworthy, stunning perfection.

I Peter 2:9 says that as a believer I have been chosen by God so that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Psalm 92:1-2 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” Isaiah 43:21 says that God formed humans that they might declare His praise. These are but three examples among many we could find of the biblical imperative that God’s people are to declare His glory.

To repeat the question Tim Sisirich asks at the end of Session 4 of The Family Project, how did you image God today?

July 16, 2014

Reason for Living

It seems a fitting follow up to yesterday’s post to highlight the fact that those who do have the inheritance made possible by accepting Christ as Savior not only should have and exhibit an inexpressible joy, but have a reason for living that goes far beyond any temporal emotion, excitement or circumstance this life may have to offer. Just as it is difficult for me to imagine facing the trials and tribulations of life without a relationship with Jesus Christ it is difficult for me to imagine what might keep me going in life when those things around which I had based my happiness or hopes had failed me.

There was an excellent example of the futility of placing one’s hopes in worldly circumstances in the reaction of the fans of Brazil’s soccer team following the team’s loss to Germany in semifinal round of the World Cup (being held in Brazil). The story released by the AP, and posted on Yahoo among other places, provided this overview of the situation in the story’s second paragraph: “The national team wasn’t just defeated by a powerful German team. It was routed in front of the entire world, humiliated at its own party. Young and old, Brazilians shared in the anguish of what many called a national calamity — the worst loss in their team’s storied World Cup history.”

Yes, it was an incredibly lopsided loss for Brazil, who lost the game 7-1. Yes, it was no doubt frustrating and disheartening to lose and those emotions were surely compounded by the fact that Brazil was the host nation. But a “national calamity”? Perhaps there is a problem if a team’s loss in a soccer match rises to that level. Unfortunately, it gets worse.

A 67-year old retired teacher watching the match commented, “I’m feeling disappointed, sad, but more than anything I’m feeling embarrassed. It was embarrassing to watch.” I could probably understand and even relate to those emotions. That seems fairly reasonable. But fan Pablo Ramoz said, “you are going to have the most depressed country ever” after Brazil was defeated. Really? Ever? I suspect perhaps several European nations rolled over by Hitler’s blitzkrieg, Japan following the bombs following on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the United States following the attacks on 9/11 would be just three examples among many of countries that would have been more “depressed” than Brazil following a soccer loss.

It gets worse yet, though. The AP story also stated that Samir Kelvin “clung to a street pole and loudly cried: ‘I have nothing left! I am Brazilian and humiliated I want to kill myself!'”

For anyone to have nothing more to live for than the success of a national soccer team is a poignant–and incredibly sad– commentary on the ways in which we humans seek to find fulfillment and meaning in this world. Of course nothing can provide that fulfillment and meaning other than a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is why we can find ample evidence of the complete devastation of individuals who seemingly have everything man could want and yet still lack meaning and fulfillment and contentment in their lives.

Joy Elms penned the lyrics to a song that addresses the inability of anything other than Christ to provide meaning in life–and the incredible ability of Christ to provide that meaning. The first verse goes like this:

I’ve been blessed with so many things, God’s been good to me
I have family and friends who share in all I do
But if I lose it all and I am left with nothing
If I have the Lord I know I’ll make it through

Surely the loss of family and friends and “so many things” would be worse than the 7-1 defeat of the national soccer team, no? Yet Elms makes it clear that there is still reason to live despite those overwhelming losses. And what is that reason? Here is the chorus of her song…

He’s the only reason I live, but oh, what a reason
He’s the only reason I live, but oh, what a reason
There’s nothing in this world worth living for
It only leaves you empty and longing for more
Oh, He’s the only reason I live, but oh, what a reason

The second verse of the song goes like this…

Now you may have tried a lot of things to find real happiness
But if you’ve looked very long, then you know it can’t be found
Until you find the Lord, in the power of His Spirit
Jesus will be your reason to live and He’ll never let you down

Therein we see exactly what I am getting at here. Whether it is the success of a soccer team, the attainment of a position or title, the house, car, clothes, boat, income or whatever that one desires, celebrity status or anything else, none of it will bring “real happiness.” Jesus will never let us down. Soccer teams will lose, positions can be lost, houses can be destroyed, cars can crash, clothes can go out of style, boats can sink and celebrity status is incredibly temporary–but Jesus will “never let you down.”

Psalm 138:8 says, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” Nothing about the Lord is temporal; He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His love endures forever. And He will fulfill His purpose in the lives of those who accept Him and yield to Him. May that be our source of fulfillment, our reason for living…and nothing else.

July 15, 2014

“Glad to be with Christ”

I do not remember where I read it, but I have a quote from John Piper written on a 3×5 card in my Bible that is a regular reminder to me of how I should be living my life. Piper said, “There is an infinite chasm between the one who is glad he’s not going to hell and the one who is also glad to be with Christ.”

There is incredible truth in that statement and, if you’re anything like me, it is very convicting. Of course I am glad I am not going to hell. But is that all my Christianity is about? Did I get my “get out of hell” card and now I can do my own thing? Or is knowing hell is not in my future a very nice benefit of the more important fact that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Since I cannot remember when or where I came across the quote from John Piper I am also not sure if I found it in reference to I Peter 1:3-9 or if I added that reference to the note card in my Bible later, but that passage is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Here is how it reads in the ESV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter emphasizes the fact that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior have been born again to a living hope. It is not temporary, not conditional and not finite. Rather, it is a living hope because it is received through the acceptance of Christ, who is Himself living now in Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The inheritance that believers are promised–an eternity in heaven in the very presence of God–is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” It will never go bad, it cannot be tainted in any way and it will always be just as bright and wonderful as it is now. There is nothing on earth that compares. The reality of this inheritance can be hard to fathom because everything we know in this world is perishable, can be defiled and does fade.

Not only is this inheritance unlike anything we can relate to on earth, it is being kept for us by God Himself. He is protecting it, preserving it and defending it. No one and nothing can take it away. Thank goodness this inheritance is not being kept by the government or Wall Street or my bank! No, my eternity is being kept by the sovereign God of the universe!

I may encounter difficulties in life. No, scratch that–I WILL encounter difficulties in life. Those difficulties, though, cannot threaten or diminish my relationship with the Lord or my inheritance through Him at all. Those trials may test my faith, but through the power of the Holy Spirit in my life they can refine me and draw me closer to the Lord–and allow Him to be displayed through me.

The question is, am I, as Peter wrote, “rejoic[ing] with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”? Do people who interact with me see that joy in me? Does the fact that I have an inheritance through Christ that is preserved forever by God show through in the way I live my life? I am not the most visibly-expressive person in the world and that is not likely to change, but I don’t think that is Peter’s point. He is not calling us to be giddy all the time or to have a fake smile plastered on our faces. But he is reminding us that we have received an incredible promise, we have a relationship with the almighty God, and if that is not evident in our lives then there is a problem. If salvation is just about missing hell then once we’ve got it that’s pretty much it. But it is far more than that, Piper reminds us. Am I glad to be with Christ? And if I am, can you tell by how I live my life? Thought-provoking questions…

July 10, 2014

Listening to the Other Side

Back in May Janie B. Cheaney wrote a piece for WORLD entitled “The debate is never over.” I was reminded of it yesterday when I wrote about Amanda Marcotte’s rant against those who hold to the position that unborn babies have a right to life. Cheaney began her column by quoting Barack Obama’s assertion that the debate over the Affordable Care Act “is over.” She went on to explain why that assertion was false and also why the tactic of declaring a debate to be over in the midst of that very debate is a tried-and-true, although entirely un-American, strategy.

I am not going to elaborate on Cheaney’s comments about Obamacare; you can find and read her column if you’re interested. But she made a point near the end of her piece that pertains to Obama’s declaration in the ACA, to Marcotte’s declaration on abortion, to many evolutionists’ declarations on creation and to any other debate in which either side tires of the debate and simply decides to say, “It’s over. I win.” Here is what Cheaney writes…

The nation that began with shouting and guns has–with one notable exception–developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.

Cheaney’s point is that the United States is built around the idea that opinions and beliefs should be freely and passionately argued in the pursuit of law. Those on either side of the political spectrum who would rather just tell the other side to shut up and then declare victory are not only attempting to become philosophical bullies, they are undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. So rarely do we stop to think about what it would be like to be on the other side! Amanda Marcotte would never suggest the debate is over if the law of the land currently prevented abortion. Barack Obama would never have declared the debate to be over if Congress had voted to de-fund Obamacare. Evolutionists would never declare the debate to be over if every school board in the country decided that creation would be taught in the classroom as well as the theory of evolution. That’s the way bullies work, though; as long as they are the biggest, baddest, toughest and meanest it’s their way or the high way. Let someone bigger and badder some along, though, and their position instantly does a one-eighty. So I would ask Mr. Obama, Ms. Marcotte and others to kindly recognize that the debates are not over.

At the same time, though, I would like to ask those of us on the other side of those arguments–myself included–to remember the same thing. We have to be willing to listen to and respect the positions of those who disagree with us if we want them to listen to and respect us. We do not have to agree with them. We do not necessarily even have to be willing to compromise with them. But we do have to be willing to listen and to show respect if we want the same in return. No, we do not have to welcome Ms. Marcotte’s potty-mouthed insults, and certainly we could insist that we will listen only if she is respectful in her speech and tone, but we must all remember that we have to be willing to show respect if we expect to receive it. Mr. Obama and Ms. Marcotte and others may not see it that way but, if anything, that is all the more reason for us to listen and show respect to them. After all, the Golden Rule does not say “do unto others as they do unto you.” No, it says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Quite a difference, isn’t there?

July 9, 2014

The Sanctity of Life

Caution: the contents of this post may sicken you and will no doubt offend you. Reader discretion is advised.

Sadly, there is a woman with an even more confused, twisted and disgusting view of abortion than Heather Ault. Her name is Amanda Marcotte and she is, according to her entry on Wikipedia, “an American blogger best known for her writing on feminism and politics.” She is just a few months younger than me, but we have beliefs and convictions that could not be further apart. On this past March 14 she wrote an article or blog post (is there a difference?) for the webzine The Raw Story entitled, “The Real Debate Isn’t About ‘Life’ But About What We Expect of Women.” Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-Chief of WORLD Magazine, called it “the foulest defense of abortion I’ve read in 30 years.” That is a sad commentary. Just to give you an idea of Marcotte’s views, take this… Her article leads with a picture of a very pregnant woman at a baby shower, surrounded by friends, presents, cupcakes and “Its a Girl!” balloons. Beneath the picture is the caption, “This is my idea of what hell looks like.”

Marcotte begins her rant by saying that the “atheist/skeptic” community was in an uproar over the issue of abortion. I am not sure of the details of their uproar but Marcotte thought she should “weigh in.” Here is how she begins her comments on the topic (though she used the expletives I am editing)…

The question isn’t whether or not legal abortion is moral—outside a few kooks, nearly all non-believers are pro-choice—but whether or not those anti-abortion kooks should be indulged and given the privilege of having everyone treat their [crap] arguments like they have value in free-wheeling discourse, or if they should be shunned on the grounds of being [crap] arguments the same way anti-gay or overtly racist arguments are shunned.

Notice that Marcotte begins from the same point so many who deny there is such a thing as absolute truth begins–by asserting that the issue has really already been settled and that anyone who does not agree with her is either a kook or a believer, and in her mind the two are no doubt synonymous. She begins by declaring the debate to be already over. Pretty easy to way to win, that.

Notice, too, though, that Marcotte goes further than simply declaring the debate over. She is not content to fling names at those who disagree with her. Rather, she speculates on whether or not those holding views contrary to her own should even be allowed to hold such views without being shunned. In the process of this speculation she once again insults their very position, of course, twice calling it an argument with merit equivalent to that of excrement.

Marcotte goes on, in her next paragraph, to state that she believes the pro-life argument should be shunned if for no other reason than that it is boring and has been used for the past forty years. “They’re still pooping out the same old crap argument they’ve been using for the past forty years—that an embryo or even fertilized egg that has no brain has more human rights than the woman who has been drafted into growing it against her will—that’s been debunked a million billion times,” she writes. Ignoring her apparent fascination with bodily functions that she seems to think will somehow enhance her argument, Marcotte is simply wrong in her position. Not only has the argument not be debunked at all, much less “a million billion times,” the scientific evidence that an embryo does have a brain and does feel pain at a very early stage of development has only continued to increase over the past forty years. Furthermore, no one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the unborn child has “more human rights than the woman” carrying it. Instead, those of us who hold to the pro-life position believe that the unborn child is entitled to the same human rights as the woman. That is what the sanctity of life is all about; no life is more or less valuable than any other. The woman carrying the child is doing it against her will, Marcotte suggests, but unless the woman was raped that simply is not true. Perhaps she did not choose to become pregnant, but choosing to engage in sexual intercourse is a de facto acceptance of the possibility of becoming pregnant.

To the suggestion that if society were more accommodating to women who are also mothers Marcotte has an answer; in short, it will not make any difference to her at all.

Well, let me just put a stop to this [crap] right now. You can give me gold-plated day care and an awesome public school right on the street corner and start paying me 15% more at work, and I still do not want a baby. I don’t particularly like babies. They are loud and smelly and, above all other things, demanding. No matter how much free day care you throw at women, babies are still time-sucking monsters with their constant neediness. No matter how flexible you make my work schedule, my entire life would be overturned by a baby. I like my life how it is, with my ability to do what I want when I want without having to arrange for a babysitter. I like being able to watch True Detective right now and not wait until baby is in bed. I like sex in any room of the house I please. I don’t want a baby. I’ve heard your pro-baby arguments. Glad those work for you, but they are unconvincing to me. Nothing will make me want a baby.

There’s no misunderstanding that position, is there? Of course what Marcotte is saying is that she is self-centered, but we all are as a result of our sin nature, so that is not unusual. What she is really saying is that her self-centeredness and her desire to keep her life exactly how she wants it for her own convenience trumps the right of the child she might carry to live. If that’s true, why does my convenience to get down the road in a hurry not trump the right of the guy in front of me going nowhere in a hurry to stay alive? I’ve often said (jokingly) that if I had a James Bond car I would have blown away an awful lot of morons on the highway. That is a joke but it points to the fact that I’m self-centered too and want whatever is convenient for me. The difference between Marcotte and me, then, is that I do not believe I, or anyone else, actually has the right to end the life of someone irritating or inconveniencing me. While Marcotte would no doubt agree with when it comes to the guy on the road in my example, she thinks that because the unborn baby would be temporarily residing in her body the situation is different and she can kill the baby if she wants.

Marcotte goes further in her argument though, stating that carrying the baby to term and putting it up for adoption is not a reasonable option, either, for a woman who does not want a baby at all.

And don’t float “adoption” as an answer. Adoption? [Screw] you, seriously. I am not turning my body over for nine months of gaining weight and puking and being tired and suffering and not being able to sleep on my side and going to the hospital for a bout of misery and pain so that some couple I don’t know and probably don’t even like can have a baby. I don’t owe that couple a free couch to sleep on while they come to my city to check out the local orphans, so I sure as [crap] don’t own them my body. I like drinking alcohol and eating soft cheese. I like not having a giant growth protruding out of my stomach. I hate hospitals and like not having stretch marks. We don’t even force men to donate sperm—a largely pleasurable activity with no physical cost—so forcing women to donate babies is reprehensible.

Forcing women to donate babies? Really? Again, unless the woman was raped, no one forced her to get pregnant. Society forces people to accept the consequences of their choices all the time; why should we not when it comes to carrying a baby to term?

When it comes right down to it, Marcotte’s position can be summed up in her own statement: “This is why, if my birth control fails, I am totally having an abortion. Given the choice between living my life how I please and having my body within my control and the fate of a lentil-sized, brainless embryo that has half a chance of dying on its own anyway, I choose me.” That is what it is all about. Whatever you may want to call it, Marcotte, and those who think like her, are one hundred percent self-centered and want to do whatever works for them. That is about the only thing about Marcotte’s article I can appreciate–she is bluntly honest about this fact that too many on the pro-death side try to avoid.

Just as I suggested with Heather Ault, we need to pray for Amanda Marcotte. But we also need to pray for our country, because we have, for more than forty years, made Marcotte’s position legal. Perhaps her argument will get enough attention that enough people will realize how incredibly stupid and inconsistent is the idea that the woman’s convenience trumps the baby’s right to live. We can pray for that, too.

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