jasonbwatson

September 30, 2014

Let’s not cheat

Last Saturday I attended the convention of the Right to Life organization in my state. During the banquet the organization presented its annual Humanitarian of the Year award. Imagine my surprise when the recipient, a Catholic priest, stated in his acceptance speech that one of the things “we” (those who stand for life) should do in our efforts to defend life and bring about an end to abortion in the United States is cheat. He was not suggesting this as an initial approach, but he did wholeheartedly endorse the idea of cheating in order to accomplish a greater good. Manipulation, deception, trickery and the like would all be perfectly acceptable in his mind. He even went so far as to suggest that when Jesus said that believers need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in Matthew 10 that He was endorsing this kind of approach.

This notion struck me as wrong from the moment he uttered the words, but it was an idea that I kept mulling throughout the evening, and the level of my discomfort with the idea only continued to increase. To cheat, according to dictionary.com, means “to practice fraud or deceit; to violate rules and regulations.” As important as I believe it is to defend life, going about doing so by cheating would be all wrong. As one example of deception this priest told a story of setting up a table that said “Democrats for Life” at a Democratic convention in Colorado in the late 1970s. He said because a number of people interpreted the message to be the equivalent of “lifelong Democrat” they had lots of people wearing “Democrat for Life” buttons before someone pointed out what they actually meant. This is a humorous story, perhaps, but it is not really cheating. Rather, it is capitalizing on the ignorance of the individuals sporting the buttons. But even if this were the extent of the “cheating” that was intended, such an approach will do no long term good. Getting people who do not realize what they are doing to wear a button supporting life will not change anyone’s mind or heart or change any laws. While it might be fun, then, it is ultimately ineffective.

Still, I could not help thinking that something beyond this trickery is what the Father had in mind. Exactly what he had in mind I do not know, but I know that, whatever it is, cheating is the wrong way to try to win this fight. Furthermore, suggesting it is a step onto a very slippery, and very steep, slope. If it is okay to cheat–to deceive or manipulate or break the rules–in order to defend life, what other things is it okay to cheat to accomplish? And who decides? If cheating is okay, is outright lying? Is hostage-taking or even killing abortionists okay? I am not at all suggesting that these behaviors were what the humanitarian of the year had in mind, but the question is still valid. Once we okay or endorse one wrong behavior in pursuit of a good end, how far are we willing to go? And again, who is going to decide “that’s far enough”?

Perhaps this illustration will help. The priest I am referring to here is also, apparently, a teacher, because he made multiple references to his students and to having them enter the annual essay contest for Right to Life. Presumably, if one of his students cheated on a research paper or a test, he would not approve. In fact he would not only disapprove but, if he takes academic integrity seriously, he would mete out a rather severe consequence. But what if that student had a legitimate reason for not getting the paper done ethically and on time? Or what if giving that student a zero could result in a grade or disciplinary record that would prohibit him or her from being admitted to the college he or she had in mind? If you want to follow the “what ifs” long enough you can create a scenario in which assigning the consequences for this instance of cheating could impact the entire future of the offending student.If we could know that by letting the cheating go that student would go on to an Ivy League school, law school, a successful career in politics and ultimately be the president who accomplished the overturning of Roe v. Wade through his or her Supreme Court appointments, should we let it go? If I were a betting man, I would bet that most people would say yes, if we knew that would happen, we should let it go. Here’s the problem, though. It is not possible to know that that would happen, meaning that it is also not possible to know that it would not happen. Accordingly, we must either always penalize cheating or never penalize it. I think we can all imagine a world in which it was never penalized, and that is a place none of us want to live. Therefore, we must always penalize it, must always reinforce that it is never acceptable. And that also means, then, that we must never encourage it.

We should defend life, at all times, but never by compromising what is ethical or right to do so. When we fudge a little, turn a blind eye, or sanction something unethical in order to pursue something that is ethical we are defeating our own efforts. If it is okay to be unethical to pursue something ethical how could we possibly argue against anyone being unethical to pursue something unethical? In fact, if we start creating situations in which being unethical is acceptable, haven’t we destroyed the very idea of “ethical”?

September 26, 2014

Misguided

This post contains explicit content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Today I came across an article posted this past Wednesday on the web site of the Washington Times entitled “Las Vegas schools consider teaching kindergartners about masturbation, homosexuality.” I read the article and found it difficult to fathom that even in Las Vegas would a school board really think it was a good idea to pursue such a course. So from there I checked the web site of the Las Vegas Fox affiliate and found that they had posted a story on Tuesday called “School district considering big changes to sex ed curriculum.” Some of the information there was quite similar to the Washington Times piece, prompting me to think either it’s true or there is still more to the story that is being overlooked because it would be less sensational. So I decided to go straight to the source, so to speak, because the Fox story mentioned the following: “Some changes the school board may consider are outlined [in] a 112-page document called Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which was put together by a national task force of educators and health experts.” I assumed such a report would be easy to locate and I found, within just a few keystrokes, that I was right. The document is available on siecus.org, the site of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Much to my amazement, the document has a copyright date of 2004, which caused me to think right away that either no other school district is using these recommendations or the assertions about what the curriculum would teach kindergartners was inaccurate. So I determined to find out.

Along the way, I found some interesting things, none of which were encouraging. First, this report already contained, ten years ago, guidelines for teaching adolescents that some babies are born with genitals that do not match their chromosomes, which is basically another way of saying that some people are born transgendered. This is a means of supporting the rapidly-growing transgender movement in the United States which I have addressed elsewhere. The September 2014 issue of High School Today, the publication of the National Federation of State High School Associations, includes an article entitled “Developing Policies for Transgender Students on High School Teams.” The thrust of that article can be understood with these two sentences: “It is important for policy-makers to understand that transgender girls (who were assigned a male gender at birth) are not boys. Their consistent and affirmed identity as girls is as deep-seated as the gender identity of non-transgender girls.” This is what the guidelines I read through are teaching as well.

I read on. One of the developmental messages recommended by the guidelines for children at Level 1 (which the guidelines define as middle childhood, ages 5-8) is this: “Vaginal intercourse – when a penis is placed inside a vagina – is the most common way for a sperm
and egg to join” (p. 26). While this is true, do I want it being taught to my kindergarten student? Absolutely not.

One of the developmental messages for Level 2 children in the topic of reproduction is this: “Sperm determine the biological sex of the fetus.” Sounds safe, perhaps, but notice what it is really saying–the “biological sex” means that ones gender and biological sex are not necessarily the same, which means that, again, this guideline is paving the way for teaching transgenderism to students. And while the transgender message described above was for adolescents (ages 15-18) this one is recommended for Level 2, ages 9-12. Upper elementary school, in other words.

To be fair, the guidelines include some very good points about Body Image. Level 1, for example, includes this: “All bodies are equally special, including those that are disabled.” Level 2 includes, “Most people do not look like what the media portrays as beautiful” and this: “The value of a person is not determined by his/her appearance.” “The media portrays beauty as a narrow and limited idea but beautiful people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities” is a Level 3 message (ages 12-15).

But then it gets worse, again, because the next section/topic is Sexual Orientation. The Level 1 messages include teaching that people can be attracted to people of the opposite gender or of the same gender and that homosexuals are all called gay men and lesbians. At Level 2 the guidelines expand on heterosexual and homosexual to provide instruction about bisexuals, as well as this statement: “The origin of people’s sexual orientation is not known.” Really? Quite the worldview being assumed there…but at least it is relatively vague. That changes at Level 3, when one of the messages is this: “People do not choose their sexual orientation.” Level 3 also includes this message–“Many scientific theories have concluded that sexual orientation cannot be changed by therapy or medicine”–without any inclusion of the fact that there are also scientific theories which conclude that sexual orientation indeed can be changed.

The sexual orientation discussion gets very interesting at Level 4, though. For example, one of the messages is this: “Sexual orientation is determined by a combination of a person’s attractions, fantasies, and sexual behaviors.” This is interesting because we see a progression. At Level 2 students are told we don’t know where orientation comes from. At Level 3 they are told that, wherever it comes from, it is not a choice. And now, at Level 4, they are told, “this is where it comes from.” This is, to me, evidence of the tenuousness of the position, because if there were certain of where it comes from it would make absolutely no sense to develop curriculum guidelines that include telling elementary students “we do not know something” and then simultaneously include telling high schoolers, “we do know, and here it is.” This is akin to telling elementary students “Santa Claus is real” then telling them later “actually, he’s not.” If it were accurate, this would be prescribed lying. Since it is not accurate, it is simply a program for gradually preparing students to accept something that is not true.

Interestingly, though, Level 4 also includes this message: “The understanding and identification of one’s sexual orientation may change over the course of his/her lifetime.” Really? I agree with that, but here is why it is so interesting. If the identification and understanding of one’s sexual orientation can change that means that one’s sexual orientation can change, too–which means, quite simply, that sexual orientation is a choice.

Sadly, the final message in this section for Level 4 is this: “Civil rights for gay men and lesbian women are being debated in many states and communities across the United States.” As I have explained in this space on numerous occasions, homosexuality is not a civil rights issue. By teaching students that it is, though, we would be prepping them to approve the “equal rights” that homosexuals are increasingly demanding.

Well, the guideline is 112 pages long and, as of the paragraph above, I am only through page 31, so unless I want to bore you to tears I better get to the point and tell you whether or not the guidelines really do teach kindergarten students about masturbation. After all, that was launched this quest in the first place.

Sexual Behavior is Key Concept 4 in the guidelines. The developmental messages for Topic 1, Level 1 of Key Concept 4 are only two: “Most children are curious about their bodies” and “Bodies can feel good when touched.” Both of these statements are true and do not, explicitly, teach masturbation. I still would not want the school teaching my child this, but it is not as horrific as the reports made out. So I am relaxing a bit. But then I go to the next page. Topic 2 of Concept 4 is called, simply, Masturbation, and the developmental messages for Level 1 are as follows: “(1) Touching and rubbing one’s own genitals to feel good is called masturbation; (2) Some boys and girls masturbate and others do not; and (3) Masturbation should be done in a private place.” So there it is. The results are unmistakable and unavoidable–these standards do, in fact, advocate teaching kindergarten students what masturbation is and where it should be done.

Oddly enough, Topic 4, on Sexual Abstinence, does not include any developmental messages for Level 1, and includes this for Level 2: “Children are not physically or emotionally ready for sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviors.” Realize, please, what that means. It means that teachers are asked to explain to children ages 5-8 what masturbation is, but are not supposed to tell them until ages 9-12 that they are not mature enough, physically or emotionally, to engage in such behavior. And this makes sense how?

The information addressed here should cause real alarm among parents. True, in this instance we’re talking about Las Vegas, but it will not stay there. This report has been out for ten years, and it is from a national organization. This is simply the beginning of the path that public schools will soon be taking if we do not take a stand and say “No, you’re not teaching that to my child.” In fact, while we cannot and should not dictate what parents teach their own children, we should take a stand and say to schools, “You’re not teaching that to any child.”

September 25, 2014

You are what you eat

A recent article on everydayhealth.com entitled “6 Ways Food Affects Your Mood” offers the surprising (to me, anyway) finding that there is no scientific evidence for a link between sugar intake and hyperactivity. There is, however, a connection between the foods we eat and our feelings, the article suggests. Sherry L. Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of preventive and behavioral medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is quoted as saying, “The link between emotions and eating is no myth.” As fascinating as the medical findings are on one’s physical health and how it relates to one’s diet, that is not really what I want to talk about here. You can find the article are explore it yourself if that’s of interest to you. Instead, I would like to examine the parallels between what the article reports about our physical health and diet to what the Bible teaches about our spiritual health and diet.

The first of the six ways the article examines is a connection between an unhealthy diet and depression. “Long-term exposure to an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression,” the article reports. The same is true of the “food” we eat mentally and spiritually. If we consume a diet high in worldly influences we will no doubt become depressed. If all one does is watch the news (or read the news), read fiction and watch sitcoms and Hollywood fare there will be a significant absence of spiritual meat in his or her diet. “What constituted an unhealthy diet, for purposes of the study, was one that was high in sugar and processed foods,” the article reports. The media influences offered up by the world definitely fall into the category of an unhealthy diet when one’s diet is entirely, of largely, made up of such influences.

The second link examined by the article is one between sugar and food addiction. “Foods that people were addicted to were high in fat and high in sugar,” the article states. Just like most of us tend to crave potato chips, cookies or ice cream far more often than carrot sticks and fresh fruit, our natural inclination will be toward the sugary/fatty “foods” of the world. Sin is attractive. If it were not, we would not be tempted by it. Let’s be honest–many sins are pleasurable during their commission. Far more often than not we sin because we want to–it feels good, it satisfies. Hebrews 11 tells how Moses chose to be mistreated with the Israelites rather than enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin. The Bible does not deny that sin is pleasurable–and Satan is a master at presenting sin in the most attractive and appealing means possible. What the Bible does teach, though, is that the pleasures of sin are temporary, and they come with very real consequences attached. I once heard someone glibly describe the realities of giving in to the temptation to eat unhealthy snack foods this way: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. “Lifetime” may be a bit extreme, but the point was that the pleasures of that snack food would be very short-lived, while the effects of it would be seen and felt for a long time afterward. The exact same is true with the food we feed our minds. Just like I have to discipline myself not to eat all the yummy snack foods and ignore all the less-than-delicious foods that are good for me, I must discipline myself to restrict my intake of worldly influences and be sure that I am pursuing a healthy spiritual and mental diet.

The third link in the article is the sugar-stress connection. The American Psychological Association states that our bodies seek out the quick energy burst available that comes with a sugar intake when we are stressed. Dr. Pagoto says, “That may be why many people eat sweets when they are under stress. We teach people to use healthy behaviors to reduce stress instead of food. One of the best ways to reduce stress is with exercise. You can start to think of exercise as not just a chore but a way to feel better.” I do not know about you, but I am under considerable stress that is when I am most likely to yield to my flesh–to behave in a way that is not God-honoring or to seek out the “high sugar content” of sinful pleasure. Just as physical exercise is important, so is spiritual exercise. Just as physical exercise takes intentionality and discipline, so does spiritual exercise. Just as Dr. Pagoto says we should think of physical exercise as way to feel better rather than as a chore, so should we consider spiritual exercise. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer and other spiritual disciplines should not be chores, they should be a regular part of our lives because they are good for us, they will help us to feel better and to stay on track.

The remaining three links are just as relevant spiritually as physically, and I could elaborate on all of them but I think the point has been sufficiently made–so let me just highlight one of the other three. The fifth link examined in the article is the connection between diet quality and the mental health of adolescents. While there is a connection at all ages, it is particularly important during adolescence because of the changes going on in the body and the mental development that is taking place during these years. The same is just as true–perhaps even more so–when it comes to spiritual diet. Precisely because teenagers are beginning to develop their own beliefs, convictions, habits and preferences, spreading their wings a bit and moving away from the default adherence to parental positions, the influences that teenagers have are incredibly important. The world is well aware of this too, and many of the most inappropriate and unhealthy influences the world has to offer are specifically targeted at teens. Parental instruction, church and youth group involvement in Bible-teaching churches and where the teen will attend school are all crucial influences during this time. The music they listen to, the shows and movies they watch, the web sites they visit, the amount of access they have to the Internet, the friends they spend time with…these are all influences that parents need to be mindful of and monitor. Parents need to let teens spread their wings, but they need to provide guidance, direction, structure and yes, discipline, when necessary.

The bottom line is, we are what we eat…both physically and spiritually.

September 24, 2014

No joke

This morning MSN posted an article on its web site by AP television writer David Bauder. The title of the article is “Rape joke on Fox cartoons draws attention.” Drawing attention would be entirely understandable, in my opinion, since there is, in my humble opinion, no such thing as a “rape joke.” The two terms are mutually exclusive. It simply is not possible to joke about rape.

The article explains that there is a much-anticipated crossover episode of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” scheduled to be broadcast on Fox this Sunday. In the episode, Bart Simpson is attempting to teach Stewie Griffin how to make a prank phone call. Such childish behavior has long been a staple of Bart Simpson’s schtick and the local tavern is usually his chosen target–as it is in the upcoming episode. As is often the case, Bart’s prank call results in the bar keeper calling out to the crowd in the bar what he thinks is a first and last name but is actually, in this case, a bit of bathroom humor. This is childish, immature and disgusting, but the same could be said of much of what alleges to be “comedy” on television today.

But this is where the line gets crossed. Bauder explains that Stewie is quite impressed by Bart’s prowess and wants to make a prank call of his own. So, he calls the same bar Bart just did and, when Moe the bar owner answers the call, Stewie says, “Hello, Moe? Your sister’s being raped.”

Dictionary.com defines “prank” as “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature.” Stewie’s statement, however, is neither amusing nor playful and it goes beyond malicious. It is insensitive and abhorrent. There is no excuse for such idiocy and for a major television network to think that such a line is acceptable on a television show marketed at families and aired during family viewing time is likewise inexcusable. If a student at any school in the country were to use the same line at school he or she would, I certainly hope, be disciplined. I know that if a student at the school where I serve were to utter such a “prank” he would receive a swift and significant consequence.

Amazingly, Fox does not see the line as inappropriate in any way. In fact, Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly that he predicted getting some heat for the line, but, “in context,” he said, “it’s pretty funny.” Really? I find that statement unconscionable. I cannot fathom any context in which it would be funny to “joke around” about someone’s sister getting raped. Not only does MacFarlane find it funny, though, apparently programming directors at Fox do too, because the line is included in the commercial trailers for the upcoming episode! According to Bauder, Fox’s entertainment division said, through a spokesperson, that it would not comment on the line.

If what I have written above is not dumbfounding enough for you, it actually does get even more dumbfounding. Bauder also writes that Katherine Hull Fliflet, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), “said she did not find the line offensive” (emphasis mine). Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes “it clear that rape is not funny by how they are positioning the joke.” Really? That does not even make sense. The only two ways the show could make clear that rape is not funny would be to (1) not joke about it in the first place, or (2) have Stewie be immediately and sternly lectured on the seriousness of rape and promptly disciplined for his ridiculous behavior. (I have to confess that I have never watched “Family Guy,” but my guess is that the idea of the parents on the show disciplining the children would be a foreign concept….)

RAINN’s web site touts that the group is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. It operates a National Sexual Assault Hotline. Actress Christina Ricci is affiliated with the group and is pictured on the RAINN web site homepage in front of a graffiti-style banner that says “Join the fight against sexual violence.” The site’s statistics page includes numerous statistics about sexual assault, including rape specifically, in an effort to ensure that the public is well informed about what sexual assault is and what can be done about it. How such an organization could not be repulsed by the “joke” about rape is far beyond my comprehension.

When Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes clear that rape is not funny she ends with, “It’s my hope that would be the viewers’ ‘take-away.'” Forget the take-away, here’s a better idea: stay away.

September 19, 2014

(Re)Defining Education

I do not like to “attack” fellow laborers in the field of Christian education. We get enough attacks from outside of Christian ed; no need to go after each other. At the same time, though, there is a need to identify and confront error when it exists, whether in Christian education, within the church or anywhere else within the realm of Christendom. Much to my dismay, yesterday I read an article in a Christian education publication that requires such confrontation. Adding to my dismay is the fact that this article was written by the dean of the School of Education at one of the leading Christian universities in the United States, which causes me no small amount of concern about what the education majors at this university are being taught.

The article begins with the question, “What should Christian education look like in the twenty-first century?” The author then states that in order to answer this question it is necessary to “consider how the twenty-first century child learns.” As part of his answer to that, he writes, “Watch a middle childhood student multitask by playing a video game, texting a friend on her phone, video chatting on her computer, and working on her homework.” The implication is that she is doing all of these things at the same time. And right there, not even a paragraph into the article, my hackles are raised. There is no reason for a “middle childhood student” to have the technology available to be doing all of these things at once. She certainly does not need all of this technology of her own. (Frankly, I do not even know what “middle childhood” means, because I do not think it is a term I have ever heard before. Since the article also references elementary students and young adolescents, I am assuming “middle childhood” must encompass ages 10-12 or so). Thus, the initial concern with this individual’s recommendations is that we are granting the notion of children having almost free reign over various and sundry digital devices, and that is a notion I think we should be challenging, not granting.

The writer goes on to state this: “These twenty-first century learners are comfortable with instant communication with anyone anywhere in the world; quick access to vast, accurate (or not) information; and the immediate ability to produce creative multisensory projects with only access to the Internet. These students interact with content and each other in a different way than students did just a decade ago” (emphasis his). Again, though, I challenge the notion that because students are comfortable with this that we therefore should educate them this way. Just because students are comfortable with something–anything–does not mean it should be incorporated into a classroom setting. Students are no doubt comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts, lounging on their sofa and munching on snacks while they do all the various things described in the paragraph above. By no means does that mean that we should allow them to behave that way in classrooms.

Notice, as well, in the above quote, the repeated use of words that refer to instant gratification–“instant communication,” “quick access” and “immediate ability.” We live in a world that is all about doing things faster, so it is no surprise that students are used to this pace. Frankly, that is all the more reason why we should avoid automatically engaging them that way in classrooms. The attention span of many students today is shorter than this sentence. That is a problem, not an opportunity. That means teaching styles that do not conform to their “give it to me now” preferences will take them some getting used to, may even make them uncomfortable. That’s good. It is not good because I think being mean to students is fun. Rather, it is good because learning necessarily entails becoming uncomfortable. Unless I become uncomfortable with the fact that there are things I do not know there will be absolutely zero motivation for me strive to know them. While being able to learn in familiar and comfortable methods can be a valuable part of education, learning how to learn in new and unfamiliar ways is also an important part of education. I am well aware of the fact that technology is moving and developing at breakneck speed. Though students find it hard to believe when I tell them this, can remember television commercials when I was in elementary school that had the tag line “Computers are coming your way!” I can remember the first computer we ever had in a classroom and I can remember when my elementary school got a computer lab. This was big news–literally. A reporter and camera from a local news affiliate showed up to record the story! So things have changed, and are changing, and that is not going to change. But classroom instruction does need to mirror or follow every technological advancement–certainly not in toto.

On this point the author of the article I am critiquing and I clearly disagree. He writes, “It is essential to synch today’s classroom with the twenty-first century student’s way of learning.” This is simply not true. Neither is it necessarily wise. Yes, the use of technology is an important component of teaching, and teachers should take advantage of the many things that technology can enable them to do that truly enhance their instruction, but that should be one tool in their toolbox. Oddly enough, the author states as much when he writes, “A teacher’s toolbox of instructional models, methods, and strategies should contain a plethora of ways to engage students in the academic content to motivate them to learn.” That is odd for this reason–synching classrooms with the student’s way of learning is contradictory to using a plethora of ways to engage students. The implication of the first statement, and indeed of much of the article, is that classrooms need to adapt to students’ preferred and comfortable styles period.

Another erroneous premise of the article is that the utilization of all of the bells, whistles and wonders of the latest technology is necessary for effective learning. The author writes, “The educator must purposefully plan to create multiple memories for each concept. This current understanding of how the brain works best aligns with a nontraditional, student-centered approach to teaching, which is compatible for the twenty-first century learner.” Unless I am missing something or misunderstanding something, these coupling is absurd. Yes, the multiple memory idea is valid. However, it can be utilized in addition to a traditional approach; it does not have to be used instead of it. Furthermore, the implication is that traditional instruction does not (cannot?) create multiple memory pathways, and that implication is simply false; it is entirely possible to create multiple memories without utilizing technology.

While there are several additional points I could make here, I am endeavoring to keep my critique of the article shorter than the article itself, so let me jump to this statement made close to the article’s conclusion. “Unfortunately, too many Christian school classrooms are based on the traditional model of instruction in which the teacher is the giver of all information, forcing the learner to be passive and absorb factual-based information.” I would challenge both the use of the word “all” in that sentence and the idea that learners are necessarily passive in traditional instruction. Neither is automatically true.

This author states that utilizing individualized instructional models that conform to students’ interests will “increase the probability that the student will become successful.” Frankly, I disagree. I think what it will do is increase the probability that the student will become self-centered and unprepared for the realities of life. Are we really serving students, or adequately preparing them for “the real world,” by making everything focused on them? By tailoring, or allowing them to tailor, everything to their own likes, styles and preferences? I would answer with a hearty no. That the dean of the school of education of one of America’s leading evangelical universities thinks yes–and thus, no doubt, ensures that education students at his university are taught yes–does not bode well for the future of Christian education. This is not a defining of twenty-first century education, it is a redefining of education for the twenty-first century.

September 16, 2014

Better or Worse?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:42 pm
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USA Today periodically has a “Your Say” feature in the Opinion section of its web site. The idea is simple–a topic is posted and readers can share their thoughts–have their say–through Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday’s topic was whether churches are changing for better or for worse. The question was posed with this background: “Congregations are becoming more open to gays and lesbians in membership and leadership, according to the National Congregations Study.” As of this morning there were nine comments on the site, though I have no idea how many were submitted. Still, the thoughts contained in these nine are an interesting look at the varying opinions that exist today.

The first comment on the site was this: “This report shows how liberal churches have fallen away from the Scriptures and are accepting the views of the ‘world’ and society rather than the word of God. You cannot bless sin and be blameless.” I would agree with this individual. The increasing acceptance of homosexuals in church membership and leadership is not a movement that has any support in Scripture, meaning it has to be coming from the world. One could debate whether or not the churches are “blessing sin” but the implication is certainly clear, and certainly true–if churches are allowing individuals who are openly embracing a life that is contrary to God’s Word to be members of the church, and even to hold positions of leadership within the church, it is hard to take any position other than endorsement, or at the very least, acceptance.

The second comment came from an individual who had this to say:

Actually, these churches are following what Jesus taught: acceptance, humility and understanding. Perhaps it might behoove the self-righteous, holier-than-thou “Christians” to reflect on their hypocrisy.

One must remember that the Bible, while a good guidebook of moral tales and ethics, was written by many fallible men thousands of years ago, when mores and traditions were much different.

Traditions that were acceptable then are no longer acceptable or relevant because of intelligence and technological advancements.

It is readily evident that the individual who shared this thought is not a Christian–certainly not in any definition of the term that I would accept–because she has an entirely false understanding of what the Bible is. The Bible is not simply a “good guidebook” and it does not contain “moral tales and ethics.” Rather, it contains true accounts of events and teachings. It was written by fallible men, but only insofar as they were the instruments responsible for putting the ink on the paper, so to speak; the words themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Sure, mores and traditions during Bible times are different than mores and traditions now, and there have been technological advancements and perhaps even advances in intelligence (though depending on how one defines this it may be questionable). But homosexuality is neither a more nor a tradition. It is a behavior that is chosen by those who practice it. Whether society deems it more acceptable or not makes no difference at all when examining how the church is changing. Society’s acceptance of, or rejection of, what the Bible teaches must never be the impetus for change within the church, must never be permitted to influence what the church believes, teaches or accepts. (And frankly, technological advancement has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, so that part of the comment is irrelevant).

The third comment echoes what I have said above. Here it is: “Either the Bible is, or it isn’t, the divinely inspired word of God. If it is, then read it and let it change your opinions that don’t match with God’s truth. If you think it isn’t, then find another book to admire, read or pick and choose from.” Bottom line, you either accept the Bible or you reject it; what society thinks, or what mores or traditions have changed, have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

The next comment: “Christianity is not about a building; it’s about those who follow Christ and his teaching. Although Christ loves everyone, he hates all sin, including homosexuality. There is no gray area.” This is exactly on point, and there is more contained herein that first meets the eye. The initial tendency is to see that this individual holds to the fact that the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that has not changed. That’s true. But the comment goes deeper; it implies more so than states that those “churches” that are changing to allow homosexuals to be members or leaders are not really churches in the biblical sense. If these groups of people are not following Christ and His teaching contained in the Bible then they are not really churches in the context the question assumes, or many of these bodies assume for themselves.

Here’s the simple truth: if entities calling themselves churches are changing in any way that is causing them to stray from the Bible, they are changing for the worse. When churches fail to change with the mores and traditions of the culture and choose instead to remain steadfast on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of how popular such a stand is not, that is not only for the better, it is the best. “Truth” and “change” are incompatible notions. If God’s Word is Truth, and God’s Word never changes, there is no room for change regarding the Truth within the church.

September 12, 2014

“But you…”

The short but poignant letter of Jude, the next-to-last book of the Bible that takes up less than one page in most Bibles and has only one chapter, is profoundly relevant for today. Jude’s emphasis is on recognizing and resisting false teachers, and no small part of his little letter tells Christians specifically what they need to do in order to stand strong against false teaching and to contend for the faith.

In verse 19 Jude present three prominent characteristics of false teachers. Then, in verse 20, he makes a transition that begins with the words “But you….” Jude is now talking to the believer– specifically to those to whom he was writing but also just as directly to you and to me. “Here is what the false teachers believe and do,” he has said, “but you….” So what are we supposed to do? What is our role in the midst of this apostasy that Jude has warned about? There are four things.

First, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” That means in a faith in Christ. This is what Jude was referring to back in verse 3 when he wrote of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” How do we build ourselves up? Through prayer, through Bible study, through church attendance, through meditating on Scripture, through fasting, perhaps, if you feel led to do that. In many ways we build ourselves up in our faith through the exercise of spiritual disciplines, though I almost hate to use that term because it has been construed by some to mean some things that are not consistent with Scripture. But we must seek to walk close to God, to hear His voice, discern His will, and be obedient to His direction and leading in our lives. That is how we build ourselves up in faith.

Second, “praying in the Holy Spirit.” This means sincere prayer guided by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we are in a right relationship with God and are yielded to the Spirit’s working in our lives we will be led by the Spirit in prayer. This is a distinct contrast to what we saw in verse 19, where Jude said the false teachers do not have the Spirit. This is also a distinct contrast to mechanical or repetitious prayers.

Third, we must keep ourselves in the love of God. What does that mean? First, let me tell you what it does not mean. It does not at all suggest, imply or assert that we are somehow responsible for accomplishing or maintaining the security of our salvation. Jude is absolutely not saying here that we must do something in order to stay saved. James wrote about demonstrating our faith by our works but never did he assert that our works accomplish salvation and Jude is, likewise, not saying that our works either accomplish or maintain our salvation. Rather, what Jude is saying here is that we need to be very careful about the influences we allow into our lives, the kinds of people we surround ourselves with, how we use our time…. The Believer’s Bible Commentary uses a good illustration to demonstrate the point that Jude is making here. It says that this can be compared to sunshine. The sun is always shining, but we can put something between ourselves and the sun or allow something to come between us and the sun, and in these instances we are no longer in the sunshine. The sun is shining, the light and the warmth are there, but we may be shielding ourselves from it. Similarly, the love of God is always there, always “beaming down upon us,” if you will, but we can allow sin or ungodly influences to interfere with our being in God’s love.

Back in 1905 Charles Tindley wrote the hymn entitled “Nothing Between.” You may have heard it or sung it, and it very aptly makes this point about not allowing anything to interfere with us being in God’s love. Here are the words to that great hymn:

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.

Refrain:
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor;
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
Habits of life, though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him ever sever;
He is my all, there’s nothing between.

Nothing between, like pride or station;
Self or friends shall not intervene;
Though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved, there’s nothing between.

Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between.

Fourth, and finally, Jude says we must be “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” This is referring to the believer looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ. We believe that Christ’s return is imminent and could happen at any time. Since we do not know when it will be we are to look earnestly for His return. The word here translated “waiting” in the ESV is sometimes translated “looking” and it means, in the original language, “earnestly expecting.” This same encouragement is given in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 3:12. Here is what Warren Wiersbe writes about this verse: “It describes an attitude of life that is motivated by the promise of our Lord’s return. The apostates can only look for judgment, but God’s people are looking for mercy. Not only is our salvation from sin the gift of God’s mercy, but so also is the deliverance of His church from this evil world. In His mercy, He will come for us and take us to Himself.”

Believers have very real responsibilities in the midst of false teaching. The false teaching is not going to go away–we will never rid the world of false teaching or false teachers and trying to do so not only will not work but is not what God has called us to do. But God has called us to keep ourselves from being seduced or led astray by false teachers, and we can do that only by staying focused on Him. As we stay true to Him we will, through our words and actions, testify to the Truth.

September 11, 2014

“Sloppy Sabbath”

Interestingly, on the same day in which there was an extensive discussion in an online professional networking community of which I am a member regarding the manner in which so many Christians dress today for church or chapel, I also stumbled upon, quite by accident, an article on CNN from this past April entitled “Stop dressing so tacky for church.” The article, by John Blake and appearing on CNN’s Belief Blog, includes a picture to lead the article with the caption “Remember when people used to dress up for church? Casual Friday has now morphed into Sloppy Sabbath.”

Blake introduces his readers to Rev. John DeBonville, rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts, who has a real concern about the overly casual approach being taken by so many today when it comes to church attire. “It’s like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church,” he said. “No one dresses up for church anymore.” Blake’s description of the matter goes like this: “They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they’re going to Starbucks.”

This is all part of Blake’s introduction, designed to set the stage for the question of what really is appropriate to wear to church, or does it even matter? “The answers to these questions are not as easy as they may seem. The Bible sends mixed messages about the concept of wearing your Sunday best. And when pastors, parishioners and religious scholars were asked the same questions, they couldn’t agree, either,” Blake writes. Where they did find agreement, though, was in the fact that American culture has become more comfortable with sloppy dress in just about every area of life, from the workplace to the grocery store.

Blake allows Jennifer Fulwiler to introduce one reason for this change, one that I find entirely convincing. Reflecting on the fact that her great-grandfather would put on a coat and tie to go to the grocery store and that her grandparents–and many of their generation–would wear their very best clothes to fly on an airplane, Fulwiler comments, “We dress up for what we’re grateful for. We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes.” This mind shift has carried over into church: “Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God.” Fulwiler offers the same approach I have used when having this conversation; if someone were invited to meet the Queen of England (her example), it is highly unlikely they would show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Several years ago there was a mild uproar over the fact that some college athletes had attended their meeting with the President of the United States wearing flip-flops for the same reason.

Yet, Blake writes, the idea that the importance one attaches to an occasion is reflected in his or her wardrobe choice is an idea that is “hopelessly old school” in many places in the United States, including many megachurches. Interestingly, though, Blake–whether intentionally or not–proceeds to provide a reason for that that supports the point Fulwiler is making above. “[M]any of the popular megachurch pastors are middle-aged men who bound onto the stage each Sunday dressed in skinny jeans, untucked Banana Republic shirts, and backed by in-house Christian rock bands,” he writes. “They’ve perfected a ‘seeker-friendly’ approach to church that gets rid of the old formal worship style with its stuffy dress codes.” In other words, those who recognize the importance, significance and meaning for coming into the House of the Lord to worship Him have consciously decided to “dress down” so that those who do not recognize that will not fell uncomfortable. I am wholeheartedly opposed to the notion–once common in some churches–that individuals who do not arrive at church dressed in “Sunday best” should be turned away, shunned or chastised in any way. Ones attire cannot be permitted to become a stumbling block that would prevent that person from coming to know the truth of the gospel or the love of God.

Blake next turns back to the other side of the argument, quoting Constance M. Cherry, “an international lecturer on worship and a hymn writer.” She says, “Many young people and boomers judge the value of worship service based on personal satisfaction. If I get to wear flip-flops to Wal-Mart, then I get to wear flip-flops to church. If I get to carry coffee to work, I get to carry coffee to church. They’re being told that come as you are means that God wants you to be comfortable.” Therein lies the real heart of the matter, I believe; a worship service is not about “personal satisfaction.” It is also not about what anyone is wearing, of course, but the external reflects the internal, and those who approach church attendance with a casual “whatever works for me” attitude are quite possible going to approach the Bible and their relationship with God with the same attitude.

Much to my satisfaction, Blake includes in his article this statement regarding the notion that “God wants you to be comfortable”: “The Bible says that’s not true – people had to prepare themselves internally and externally for worship.” Citing Cherry again, Blake points out that in the Old Testament Jews had to be ceremonially clean before entering the temple and that both the Old and New Testaments teach that God should not be approached casually.

Blake also cites Carl Raschke, though, a professor at the University of Denver, who says that the early church did adopt a come-as-you-are approach to attend church and who points to Mark 12:38 where Jesus reproached the Pharisees for their fine clothes. The reality, though, is that Jesus was not mocking or criticizing the Pharisees’ attire. Rather, He was chastising them for focusing so much on the external and ignoring the internal. The Pharisees were masters of looking good without actually being good or doing good. They were all about the show, all about appearing impressive and above others. Jesus took them to task for that and He would do the same today if someone were to show up in church dressed to the nines but completely focused on themselves and impressing others.

Blake points out that others who espouse the come-as-you-are approach to worship point to James 2 in which James instructs the first century church not to show favoritism to those who are well-dressed, giving them preferential treatment over those who are poor or poorly dressed. Again though, James was not condemning dressing up for church; his letter cannot be interpreted to mean that God does not want us to dress well when we gather to worship Him when we are able to do so. Rather, James was condemning the practice of treating those who were well-dressed in a better or preferential manner out of a desire to impress and please the wealthy attendees. There is absolutely no place in Christianity for treating anyone different based solely on their clothing.

Therein lies the root of the issue. What anyone wears to church is not about, should not be about, what anyone else thinks. I dress up for church every Sunday. The only nod I have made to being more casual is that I seldom wear a suit jacket anymore, but it’s always dress pants, dress shirt and tie for me. I am in a very small minority in my church that dresses that way–it is not even unusual for me to be better dressed than the pastor. I often speak in other churches, and it is the exception rather than the rule for there to be anyone else in those churches wearing a tie when I am there. I do not think those in jeans and t-shirts or in khakis and polo shirts are any less holy than me or that I am any more mature in my faith than they are simply because of the difference in our dress, and I certainly hope others do not think I think that or think that I am in any way better because of my attire. I dress up to go to church because I think it’s the right thing to do. If I can wear a tie to work every day there is absolutely no reason I cannot and should not wear one to church. If I will put on my best to attend a wedding or a funeral there is absolutely no reason I should not put on my best to worship Almighty God.

The bottom line is this–I do not think that one’s attire has anything to do with their ability to worship God and I certainly do not think any church should have a dress code. I am sure that there are Sundays when those in t-shirts are more in tune with the Lord or receive more from the service than I do in my tie. So please do not interpret anything I am saying here to mean that I think you better get your act together and start dressing for church. What I do think is that you should take time to ask yourself why you dress the way you do when you go to church. If you dress up, is it because you are doing so as an act of worship and as a reflection of your attitude toward the Lord, or is it so that you can impress others? If you dress casually, is it so that you can be comfortable or because you don’t think God cares what you wear anyway, or is it because church is just one more place to go, no different than any other activity?

I’m not judging you and I hope you’re not judging me…but we should all take the time to judge ourselves and take a look at why we dress the way we do. God doesn’t really care about the clothes themselves, but He does care about the why.

September 10, 2014

Contend for the Faith

Last week World Net Daily ran an article entitled “‘Christian’ singer: Jesus may have lied about Adam, Noah.” This article looked at comments made by singer Michael Gungor, lead singer of the worship band Gungor, in an episode of The Liturgist podcast posted on August 12. In that episode, titled “Genesis & Evolution,” and which you can listen to here, Gungor suggests that Jesus may have been wrong when He discussed Adam and Noah, or possibly even intentionally lied in order to accommodate His audience.

That’s a troubling thought to say the least, so let me allow Gungor to speak for himself: “Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that’s another possibility. Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story.” You read that right, and that is an unedited quote from the podcast. Gungor is suggesting that Jesus may have knowingly referred to Noah or Adam as real people even though He knew they were not. Perhaps even more troubling than that is that Gungor also said in the interview that Jesus may have legitimately believed that Adam and Noah were real people and was wrong. Said Gungor: “And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.” Gungor also said in the podcast, “It wouldn’t freak me out if He was wrong about it.”

There is plenty in the above paragraph to raise serious concern among Christians. First, to suggest that Jesus may have lied is a serious red flag for a professing Christian to make. If Jesus did lie then Jesus sinned. If Jesus sinned, then He was not a perfect sacrifice. If He was not a perfect sacrifice, then He could not pay the penalty for your sins or mine or anyone else’s–including His own. If He could not, and therefore did not, pay the penalty for sins then no one who has professed and accepted Christ as Savior is truly saved because the one in whom they have placed their trust was incapable of saving them! Suggesting that Jesus lied is to completely contradict all of Scripture and the entire basis of Christian belief. In other words, this is no small matter.

Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a well-known verse, and understandably so since it reveals our need for a Savior. But if this verse is true then what Gungor is saying, whether he intended to or not, is that Jesus, too, fell short of the glory of God. Look at the full context of Romans 3:23, by reading verses 21-26 (from the ESV):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

If Jesus sinned, and therefore fell short of the glory of God, He could not justify Himself, let alone anyone else (verse 24), meaning no one could have redemption in Christ Jesus (verse 24), God could not have “put [Him] forward as a propitiation” for our sins (verse 25) because a sinner would be unable to provide propitiation (atonement) for sins. As a result, Jesus could not be the justifier (verse 26) and no one who received Him by faith could be just (verses 25 and 26).

Now, even if we deny the possibility that Jesus lied, Gungor’s other option is also troubling–the idea that Jesus was wrong. While Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God at the same time, and therefore incapable of being wrong. If it were possible for Jesus to be wrong in holding that Adam and Noah were real people, it would necessarily be possible for Jesus to be wrong about other things, too. No small part of the reason why we can have such faith in God is that He is never wrong; He is incapable of being wrong. If Jesus was wrong, then Jesus was not omniscient; since Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) are one, if Jesus is not omniscient then God cannot be either. The little string that Gungor has pulled will unravel the entire Bible and all of Christianity; it is not a little matter!

Gungor states that when the Bible and science contradict, the Bible must be wrong: “[F]for thousands of years or at least hundreds of years, people in Christian history have been saying things like hey, you can’t try to read the Bible as a science book when science conflicts with the Bible and your reading of the Bible.” He continued, “Re-read the Bible. Change that, because you’re probably the one that’s wrong; and if you don’t do that you’re gonna look like an idiot. … The church made pretty big mistakes in the past … thinking the world was flat.”

The problems here are many, as well. First, the Bible and science do not contradict. Man’s interpretation of science, or man’s purported understanding of science, can contradict Scripture, but that is a different animal altogether. Second, if we start to put our beliefs in science, or data, or, more importantly, man’s understanding of those things, then we throw open the door for all kinds of reinterpreting of Scripture. These kinds of arguments have led to many beliefs that are simply not compatible with Scripture, from justification for abortion to the idea that homosexuals are “born that way.” Third, there is a difference between making a mistake and contradicting the Bible. Even if there were members of the church, or even the Church as a whole, who held at one point that the earth was flat, that is not even close to being the same thing. No where does the Bible specifically state that the world is round, for one thing. For another, that the earth is round is verifiable and observable. Evolution–even theistic evolution, which Gungor believes–is neither verifiable nor observable.

On September 1 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis addressed this matter in his blog on answersingenesis.org. In it he included this statement: “Sadly, it appears that Gungor has adopted the idea that holding to the inerrancy of Scripture is treating the Bible as an idol. You see, in response to a recent Facebook comment about my views, Gungor wrote, ‘There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend . . . a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.'” Ham’s blog included an image of the Twitter discussion that included this statement from Gungor. This is another troubling comment and provides alarming insight into Gungor’s “faith.” The Bible is how we know Jesus. Scripture itself refers to Jesus as “the Word.” John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:3, by the way, states, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” That would seem to be a solid counter to Gungor’s position on theistic evolution). I really do not comprehend the notion of elevating Scripture above Jesus; we know Jesus through Scripture and Jesus Himself quoted Scripture.

Ham correctly writes, “Michael Gungor has an influence on the youth of this generation and will lead them astray with such views.” Others agree with Ham, and are acting on those concerns; the World Net article includes this statement: “Gungor’s views have already cost him among fans, as at least one church canceled a concert, and a Wisconsin radio station removed itself from an event featuring Gungor, saying it ‘cannot be a party to introducing more doubt into the hearts and minds of young Christians already being fed doubt and lies by the world.'”

This is an excellent reminder of the needs for Christians to be discerning. Not everything or everyone who claims to be a Christian believes, teaches or promotes the Truth of Scripture. While Gungor may have written and/or may perform beautiful songs, his very public position on this issue necessitates that he be treated as an unbeliever, one in need of being reached with the message of the gospel. Gungor said that those who deny evolution will end up looking like idiots. I’m afraid that, if adhering to the dictionary definition of the word, it is Mr. Gungor who looks like an idiot. According to dictionary.com an idiot is “an utterly foolish or senseless person.” Foolish is an adjective that is defined as “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise” or “lacking forethought or caution.” To suggest that Jesus Christ either was wrong in His understanding of the Old Testament or that He knowingly lied to audiences during His time on earth is nothing short of lacking sense and it is certainly unwise. Saying Jesus could have lied definitely comes with a real lack of caution.

Proverbs 14:7-8 says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” We are not meeting words of knowledge from Mr. Gungor and his folly will undoubtedly confuse or lead astray many of his fans and followers. Gungor’s statements cause me to feel like Jude must have when he wrote his short but powerful letter. In verse 3 he says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” We must contend for the faith, take a stand for the truth, in the face of Gungor’s foolish words. And we should pray for Michael Gungor.

September 9, 2014

Interesting applications?

On August 29 an article by John Brandon appeared on FoxNews.com. The article was entitled, “Is there a microchip implant in your future?” The article’s lead paragraph offers several ways in which said implant could make life simpler…safer, even. For example, you could pass through airport security with your identity being transmitted via your implant, or “it can help you buy groceries at Wal Mart.” Possibly, the implant could help save your life should you ever find yourself kidnapped in a foreign country.

Brandon writes, “Microchip implants like the ones pet owners use to track their dogs and cats could become commonplace in humans in the next decade.” That simple statement is one that I find incredibly alarming, and I suspect most people will agree. Brandon lists potential advantages as including the quick location of a missing or kidnapped child or of soldiers or journalists in war zones. While those are possible advantages, there are also, of course, many possible disadvantages. During the last presidential campaign season Republican Ron Paul was mostly mocked when he pointed out that a suggested national identification card that might be used to address immigration issues could just as easily be misused by the government against U.S. citizens. The reality, though, is that such misuse is entirely possible, and the potential danger of such misuse is exponentially higher with a microchip implanted into a person than with any kind of identification card.

Brandon’s article cites Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an author and scholar, as saying that implanted microchips could be “less intrusive than some emerging ID systems which rely on physical biometrics (like your fingerprints or unique eye pattern).” While that argument could no doubt be made, and probably convincingly, it fails to take into consideration the fact that my fingerprints or unique eye pattern (with a retinal scan, for instance) are only usable when I offer them or, in the case of fingerprints, leave them behind. Would it be easier to walk through some unseen detection system that reads my implant and immediately grants me access to a restricted area than to pause, place my eye against some kind of scanner and wait for it to read my retina? Probably. But I think I’ll take the retinal scan every time, thank you, because it is up to me whether I want to submit myself to that scan or not.

While Brandon’s article cites all kinds of possible advantages for crime fighting and security that could be provided with the implants, it seems to me that an implant could quite possibly be easier to steal than fingerprints or retinas. Maybe I’ve seen too many spy moves and crime thrillers in which complex security systems must be foiled, but if all that is necessary is for someone to have the chip that is inside me I cannot imagine it bothering them to make a small incision and remove it if that chip is going to get them whatever it is they are wanting (and they have already demonstrated a willingness to get it through illegal means). The article informs us that the chips are “easy to install and remove, and, because they are implanted under the skin, they are unobtrusive.” Unobtrusive is good…easy to remove may not be when considering the possible criminal applications of these devices.

Brandon also writes that these microchips are being used “to manage farm animals. Farmers can track sheep, pigs and horses as they move through a gate, weigh them instantly and make sure they are eating properly.” For the farmer or rancher that may be terrific. But do I really want someone–anyone–to have the ability to track me as I move anywhere, to weigh me instantly or make sure that I am eating properly? Do I want anyone to be able to do any of the myriad other things that an implanted chip would allow? And, by the way, am I the only one troubled by the idea that if it works for livestock it surely must be a good idea for humans? Such “logic” is a step onto a very dangerous way of thinking indeed.

The article further states that implants are “normally” only useful within a short range, meaning they could not be used to track people unless there was “an infrastructure of transponders scattered around a city that read their identity in public buildings and street corners.” There are two things about this statement that I find exceedingly troubling. First, the word “normally” indicates that there are exceptions; if trying to still concerns about possible abuses of this technology, “normally” is a poor word choice! Secondly, given the ever-expanding presence of cameras in cities around the world–for the purpose of fighting crime, of course–I do not find that stretches credulity at all to imagine that “an infrastructure of transponders” could easily be “scattered around a city.”

Other possible uses Brandon identifies? “If children were chipped, teachers could take attendance in the classroom.” Um, no thank you. It doesn’t take so long to put eyes on a child, or even to call names and have children respond “here” that we need to facilitate the taking of attendance by means of microchips. What else, then? “Police could track cars and read data without needing to scan license plates.” Again, I think I’ll pass, thanks. There are ample abuses of the technology that exists already, but various government agencies; the idea of giving them even stronger technology with greater potential for abuse is not appealing in the least. A final possible use Brandon suggests: “[I]f you walk into a donut shop, the owner could read your taste preferences (glazed or not glazed) without needing a loyalty card.” Beyond the idea that I find this ridiculous and not even close to being a need, this would serve only to create even more disconnect between humans–something we have more than enough of as it is.

To his credit, Brandon does include a few possible abuses of the technology and questions as to whether not implanting chips in humans is ethical. Among the potential abuses mentioned are someone “hacking into the infrastructure and stealing your identity to invading your privacy and knowing your driving habits.” Brandon even talked to Troy Dunn who has a show on TNT in which he attempts to locate missing persons. While he said microchip technology would likely make his job easier, he is “strongly against the practice for most people.” He said he would support the use of chips for “convicted felons while in prison and on parole; for sex offenders forever; and for children if parents opt in.”

Stu Lipoff, a spokesman for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said, “People might find it a bit unsavory, but if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues, there are many interesting applications.” No doubt; but these are major “ifs” and “apart froms,” ones far bigger than I would be willing to toss out. Saying “if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues” is akin to asking, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Sometimes the potential upside cannot even come close to the probably downside.

Interestingly enough, Brandon ended his article with this statement about the microchips: “At least it’s better than having a barcode stitched into our foreheads.” Yeah, probably so–less obtrusive an all that. But the implication is the same. Scripture makes it clear that there will come a day when the government requires a “mark” for buying and selling. Don’t be surprised if it takes the form of an implanted microchip.

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