Of Kentucky Clerks and Drowned Children or, What is Persecution?


Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

Dominating my Facebook feed is the story of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk, refusing marriage licenses to homosexual couples and subsequently going to jail for contempt of court. It seems everyone both liberal and conservative (at least among my friends) has fierce opinions on this subject matter.

Somewhat known, but not as covered, is the disturbing photo of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned 3 year old Syrian refugee who’s body washed ashore in Turkey. I do not think it an understatement to say it is at both one of the most powerful and gut wrenching photos in the history of photography. It’s nearly impossible for a functional human being to look at the picture and not feel some sense of anger or disgust. The photo of the man holding little Aylan’s body is eerily reminiscent of the photo of the firefighter holding the dead child from the Oklahoma City bombing. The loss of life is startling, but the loss of a child’s life is more than devastating, no matter the cause.

While both Muslims and Christians are fleeing Syria, both have faced immense persecution. They did not seek to be martyrs, they did not seek persecution, they didn’t draw some defiant line in the sand; they merely followed Christ and refused to abandon him. The point is, they didn’t try to make it to the spotlight, and it’s a good thing, because the American outcry against the murders of our brothers and sisters has been near nothing. The humanitarian crisis for the entirety of the population is on a level not seen since World War II (ironically when Europeans – the same people hesitant to take in refugees – were the refugees). This is actual persecution.

What Kim Davis is doing is not persecution. In the early days of Christianity, priests and bishops forbade Christians from joining the Roman military as well as other jobs. The reason (other than early Christians almost unanimously being pacifists) is that such jobs required them to perform duties that went against Christian beliefs. In other words, if the job required them to violate their religion, then they left the job. While in the United States we do have the freedom of religion, Mrs. Davis could certainly have quit her job and then proceeded to press her rights in court. If the court sided with her, then good on her. And if they sided against her, then at least she’d already work somewhere else. As it is, from an early Christian standpoint, it would have been better for her to quit. Either way, it’s not persecution when you’re seeking to make a political statement.

Regardless of where one falls politically on such an issue, the fact remains that even if you think Davis is in the right, why is she receiving your praise and not those who died for the faith? Why does she receive your prayers, but the millions of refugees barely receive your thoughts?

Real tragedy is occurring in this world and the body of Aylan is merely us peeking into the abyss of evil engulfing the Middle East. I’m not saying we can’t stand up for social issues, but we must put equal, if not greater, effort into stopping actual evils as they are in this world. If we’re willing to stand up for a self-made “martyr,” then shouldn’t we stand up for actual martyrs and victims of war? In the end, what honors Christ more: Refusing to hand out a marriage license, or taking in a family from Syria (Christian or Muslim) because they have no where else to go?

How quickly we forget that our Lord and Savior was a refugee into Egypt, escaping the bloody persecution and bloodshed of Herod. And today we have those made in his image escaping the same lands for similar reasons. But we choose to prop up a Kentucky county clerk over the lives of the innocent? No, I refuse to partake in such a system. The Gospel is for those without hope. The Gospel is for those who are desperate for a savior. The Gospel is meant to save man, not beat him into submission. We should petition our government to bring over these refugees; God knows churches (and many members) have the resources and the space needed to house them. Not every Christian in America can house a family from Syria, but many can. So instead of wasting so much time and energy into a battle we shouldn’t be fighting, let’s put it into serving those who are suffering. Put down the protest signs and placards, drop the petitions, turn off the news, and serve. In silent service is when the Gospel is loudest.

In between these two stories there is a theme that Christians need to observe, and that’s that we ought not exaggerate our suffering and persecution lest we compare ourselves to true martyrs and victims of violence. It is also a reminder to be happy of what we have, for while both Kim Davis and a homosexual couple might go home angry at their changing world (or at a violation of their rights), the fact is they get to go home. At the end of the day they still draw breath, they still have a place to lay their head, and they aren’t fleeing for their lives. They have no worry that tomorrow morning their bodies will wash ashore from drowning while fleeing to find a safer place to live.

The Pro-Life Case for Bernie Sanders or, The One in Which I Anger Everyone


WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference to announce their proposed legislation to strengthen Social Security March 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are sponsoring the "Keepping Our Social Security Promises Act," which they say will increase payroll taxes on the wealthest and bolster Social Security without raising the retirement age or lowering benefits.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders. It is merely an attempt to show there are multiple ways to approach a pro-life stance without banning abortion.

The American tradition of trying to pick our next president well over a year before the election is in full swing. Still months away from a primary candidates are already coming out of the woodwork and, true to form, appealing to the most extreme in their respective groups (or in the case of Donald Trump, the most extreme are running for president).

Still, the one candidate who has my attention is Bernie Sanders. No other candidate really grabs my attention, makes me think, or – dare I say it – excites me and gives me hope. While I’m not a Democratic Socialist (as I think Socialism is only slightly better than Capitalism), I do think what he offers is vastly closer to my own economic beliefs than any other candidate. His stance on war and diplomacy is a breath of fresh air. While he’s not middle class, he’s also not a millionaire or billionaire, meaning he’s closer to the struggles of the middle class than anyone out there. Essentially, for all intents and purposes, Sanders is kind of my dream candidate, except for one thing:

He’s very pro-choice while I’m very pro-life.

And when it comes to matters of life it’s not exactly a small issue. While I’m not a one-issue voter, voting on life is more important than taxes or even income inequality. And we can’t hide behind the excuse that since Roe v. Wade will most likely never be overturned, it doesn’t matter who we elect; the president can hand out executive orders concerning abortion. A pro-life president can make abortion restrictive while a pro-choice president can loosen restrictions. So it does matter.

How, then, can someone who is pro-life such as myself (rabidly so I might add), support Bernie Sanders without any sense of cognitive dissonance?

Not so long ago I wrote about how because I’m pro-life, I can’t be a conservative. Before that, about three years ago, I even said that Republicans aren’t actually pro-life. The reason I’ve made such arguments is that I find it absolutely absurd to make the claim to be “pro-life,” but then do nothing to support life outside of the womb. After all, overturning Roe v. Wade is a pipe dream and even if it occurred, even if we could wave a magic wand and overturn that case and make abortion illegal, abortions would continue. The reason they would continue is because the conditions that make abortion so prevalent in the US would still exist.

Hence my support for Bernie Sanders: I see his policies as a way to actually reduce the number of abortions. While the abortion rate in the US has declined on and off since 2000, it’s actually increased for poor women. According to the same study, nearly 69% of abortions in the US come from economically disadvantaged women. This means women who can’t afford to take time off work, typically have substandard healthcare, have little to no paid vacation, work 40+ hours a week, and live paycheck to paycheck (or overdraft to overdraft) just to pay for themselves. Adding a child to the mix is a near impossibility. In terms of actual poverty, another study shows that 42% of women who obtain abortions live at or below the poverty line (economically disadvantaged doesn’t always meet the federal definition of poverty). According to the same study, 33% of women who had abortions lacked health insurance with another 31% using Medicaid. Only 30% of the women who had an abortion had health insurance (though the quality isn’t measured).

Compare such statistics to Western Europe, who has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Of course, Western Europe is known for its “socialist” approach to healthcare, namely that anyone gets it for free. That means a pregnant woman, even one in poverty, gets paid time off work, typically gets discounted or free daycare, gets free pre and post-natal healthcare, gets family leave, and the list goes on. Many of the issues in the United States that prevent a woman from having a child are eradicated in Western Europe. While one could argue that Western Europe also has restrictive abortion laws, most (88%) allow for abortions in economic circumstances, making such a point moot. Rather, what we can look at is that the infant mortality rate is drastically better than the United States (we’re ranked 27th among “rich” nations, 55th overall). In keeping with a very common theme, the study shows that wealthy mothers in the US have an infant mortality that matches and is, in some cases, better than any other nation. But economically disadvantaged mothers have an infant mortality rate on par with Qatar and Russia.  Continue reading

A Hope for Community


Oh the peaceful life for which I long

And not this life of constant strife

For men to value good drink and song

And look less to money and more to life

 
Oh that every man minded one’s own

And loved his neighbor rather than hate

That above all else he valued home

And slowed down and learned to wait

 
To laugh, to cry, to drink with one’s enemies

For around food it is difficult to fight

Rather than bombs a simple diplomacy

For a shared beer turns a wrong to a right

 
Perhaps I embrace a hazy dream

And yet I hold out hope still

For just because a thing is unseen

Does not mean it is not real

 

The Acton Institute: At the Intersection of Christianity, Capitalism, and Nihilism


Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

The Acton Institute is a Christian organization that seeks to promote individual liberty based upon religious principles. Put another way, it’s a Christian organization that attempts to uphold individualism, so you can probably see where this is going.

While they do have many good things to say, overall – especially when it comes to their economic views – they tend to let conservative (Austrian) economics walk ahead of their Christian beliefs. While they do attempt to tie their beliefs back to Christianity, it’s often filtered heavily through a dedicated philosophical viewpoint; the end product is something that would appear foreign to the early Christians. Of course, the same can be said of Christian Marxists or Christian Communists who look at the book of Acts and go, “See, Communism!” But just as we think it silly to justify Communism via Scripture, it’s equally absurd to justify individualism (or laissez-faire capitalism) via Scripture.

Enter Joe Carter’s latest article, making an argument in defense of sweatshops. To give some background onto why he would do this, let me just quote him:

Liberal and conservative, right and left, red state and blue state—there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to divide political and economic lines. But one of the most helpful ways of understanding such differences is recognizing the divide between advocates of proximate justice and absolute justice…

The primary appeal of absolute justice is its purity. Why align with compromisers and those who are satisfied with “good enough” when you can fight for full justice? Being satisfied with proximate justice sounds more like an excuse to do less rather than a principled position.

The primary appeal of proximate justice is its realism. Since absolute justice is not attainable this side of the new heaven and new earth, settling for less is the best we can ever expect. When absolute justice is our standard we can even end up allowing injustice to continue and flourish.

 

With that understanding, he goes on to write:

But first I want introduce one of the most paradigmatic, and controversial, of proximate justice positions: the defense of sweatshops.

A sweatshop is the pejorative term for a workplace that has working conditions those of us in the West deem socially unacceptable. Because of Western laws and norms, sweatshops are now found mostly in developing countries…

The absolute justice advocate would say that the working conditions in sweatshops are unacceptable—and the proximate justice advocate would agree. But the proximate justice advocate would ask, “What are the alternatives?” Invariably, the absolute justice advocate’s preference is either unworkable, unrealistic, or would lead to worse living conditions for the sweatshop worker.

Proximate justice requires that we don’t improve people’s lives or bring them justice by making their lives worse. As Benjamin Powell says, “Because sweatshops are better than the available alternatives, any reforms aimed at improving the lives of workers in sweatshops must not jeopardize the jobs that they already have.”

To summarize Carter’s own words, the argument is essentially, “Yeah, sweatshops aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing, so it is what it is.” He points out that in places such as China, while we might find the conditions deplorable, the Chinese factory workers like it because it’s better than the alternative:

What Chang is saying is that whether we understand or agree, the Chinese workers believe accepting their current working conditions is better for them than their realistic alternatives and that the work will help them to life a better life. Many of us intuitively understand this point because it has to with meeting material needs (e.g., without the factory job the workers might not be able to feed their families). What we have a harder time understanding is when people endure less-than-optimal working conditions for other needs, such as self-actualization.

Thus, the argument boils down to that while things might not be ideal, they’re better than an alternative, or, it’s better to be a slave than to starve. Now Carter would certainly object to such a summary, but his objection would be without merit as it’s almost word-for-word what he says, only without the round-about way of saying it.  Continue reading

Further Thoughts on Planned Parenthood or, Why Not the Church?


IMG_0330The debate and controversy over abortion might seem relatively new, something arriving in the last century, but in the ancient world the practice of abortion wasn’t entirely uncommon. Both the Greeks and Romans engaged in it, as well as infanticide. The early Christians, unsurprisingly, forbade abortion and infanticide. The morality of protecting human life within Christianity is a constant from our foundation to the present day, but how that life is protected has changed. In our earliest days the Church would take care of women or abandoned babies, helping them along the way. Today we protest and petition Caesar, whereas in the ancient days Christians protested the action, but petitioned the heart. Therein lies the difference.

With all the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and its utility to a community contrasted against the abortions it provides, there’s one question few people have asked: Why has Planned Parenthood supplanted the Church? Why is it that a pregnant woman, unable to provide for her pregnancy, is sooner found knocking on the door of her local clinic rather than her local church? Even if she doesn’t seek abortion and instead seeks medical aid, the Church seems to be the last place she’ll go. It seems that we’re faithful to our roots in keeping our morality, but not in living our morality.

What is the greater harm to the world; a doctor selling the parts of a baby, or a Christian refusing to provide church funds to help a pregnant woman because she “conceived in sin?” Perhaps we could argue over which is worse – and certain trafficking and profiteering in human body parts ranks up there – but it’s impossible to deny that our actions are somewhat responsible for the current evils. What if, when a woman needed prenatal care, she knew she could go to her local Church and they could at least get her in with the right services? What if she knew a local member who would employ her and give her maternity leave, without fear of losing her job? What if she knew that all her needs – and the needs of her child – could be met by the simple act of walking into a Church? Even with the State’s blessing on abortion, surely we’d see abortion rates plummet.

Perhaps our problem is we see the abortion debate as a debate over an issue and not over persons. Abortion, as a term, is quite abstract. As someone trained in philosophy I can sit here and provide solid arguments on why a fetus is a human being with certain rights and never once mention religious reasons, but such a debate often ignores the realities of the world. After all, once aware a Holocaust was taking place in Europe, the world did not engage in academic debates over whether it was right or wrong, but acted against it. Likewise, there is no real debate over the rightness or wrongness of abortion, everyone, at some level, knows it’s wrong. But few, especially within the Church, are taking action against it beyond calling for legislative change. I believe we act this way because we treat abortion as an issue and not as a crisis of humanity.

Yet, abortion is a crisis in every sense of the term. That a woman feels her only resort is to kill her child in order to get by in life indicates she faces crises in her life, that pregnancy is the last one and she cannot handle it. Abortion is the act of taking one life, but always takes two souls; the body of the child is crushed and destroyed and the soul is lost, but the mother’s soul faces years of pondering and regret thereafter. Abortion is always a tragedy, for both the child and mother, for while the two are separate, they are linked.

The solution to ending abortion is to act as our forefathers did, to engage the person and serve the community. Where our ancestors had an advantage – they were unified and didn’t have thousands of denominations to overcome – we are disadvantaged, but the present time requires us to put aside some differences for the common good. Perhaps we can pool our resources and begin to offer an alternative, a better organized alternative, to Planned Parenthood. While we may never be unified in the time of the Divine Mysteries, perhaps we can find enough unity to protect life and bring a little more light into this dark world.

Lions, Tigers, and Humans, Oh My! About the Life and Outrage


Kevin Carter's famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo, 1993

Kevin Carter’s famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo, 1993

As everyone has heard, Walter Palmer of the United States shot Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, causing international outrage and making people hate dentists even more than usual. People are rightfully upset; the lion posed no threat to Palmer, he merely wanted to mount the head (and leave the body) as a trophy, the death served no purpose, and worst of all, the killing was illegal. People are (rightfully) calling for prosecution against him. Others have gone a bit further, arguing that we ought to capture him, hunt him, tie him down, and skin him alive. Of course, such suggestions are hyperbolic, but the rage is there.

Where we aren’t seeing any anger or rage, however, is over other doctors choosing to kill humans and sell their body parts. The videos are so upsetting that even Planned Parenthood’s staunch defender Hillary Clinton admitted that the organization ought to be investigated. Imagine if Jimmy Kimmel broke down in tears over this controversy, or Piers Morgan called for the killing and selling of the doctor’s body parts. Why is it that a lion – majestic though it is – gains more sympathy and attention than a human being, who is infinitely more majestic than a lion?

Rage also lacks in multiple other areas. There are no celebrities shedding tears over the fact that one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa face hunger and starvation on a daily basis, or that nearly half (46%) live on less than $1.25 a day. Africa remains a continent in crisis, but we avoid outrage because such outrage would demand action, and action requires work, and we’re lazy. It’s understandable and noble to be upset over the unjust killing of an African lion; but it’s inexcusable to lack any feeling or outrage over the death or suffering of an African human.

Rage lacks – at least for the white portion of America’s population – for African-Americans who live in fear of the police. A week can’t go by where we hear about another innocent black man (or recently, black woman) getting killed by the police under suspicious circumstances (at best). Yet, more energy is spent over the unjust death of a lion than the unjust death of a black man in an Ohio Walmart, or black child in an Ohio park, or black woman in a Texas jail cell.

The saying “life is cheap” isn’t exactly true; for Dr. Palmer to kill Cecil the Lion it has cost him his business, his reputation, and – hopefully – his freedom. The man deserves justice for what he has done, there is no doubt. Life, for Dr. Palmer, certainly isn’t cheap and comes with a cost. But, there is a certain truthfulness to the saying if we simply say, “Human life is cheap,” unless of course you’re Planned Parenthood, in which case human life is quite profitable.

Lord knows we can’t be outraged over every act of murder, over every loss of life, as we’d simply stew in anger for the rest of our days. It seems that as humans we sometimes require violence on our brethren almost as much as we require oxygen. Their blood is our water, their body is our bread in some twisted, evil, demonic version of the Eucharist. Perhaps, however, we should show some outrage over the loss of human lives. Not just hashtags on Twitter, but protests and – hopefully – action. Not on a legislative level, but on a personal, communal level.

We can ask the government to investigate Planned Parenthood (and we should require such a thing), but we can’t ask them to investigate the life of a woman considering an abortion. Only on the local level can a community come together and help such a woman and provide care. We can ask the government to send money and food to Africa, but we can’t ask them to do so in a sustainable way. After all, such an action is basically neo-colonialism, and colonialism is what got Africa into this mess in the first place. Until we begin to help Africans make Africa stronger on a personal and communal level, we won’t see much change. We can ask the government to put laws in place that keep police accountable, and we should, but there’s only so much they can do. Until the community – especially the white community – stands up against police abuses against African-Americans and other minorities, nothing will change in any drastic way.

Human life is valuable by virtue of being human. Human life is more valuable than any other type of life on this planet. That doesn’t give us an excuse to abuse such life (because we are dependent upon it, and they are still God’s creation and we are their stewards, not masters), it does mean that for all the noble and justified effort we put into preserving animal life, we ought to put at least as much into preserving human life. After all, when we cheapen human life, whether that life belongs to a fetus, a person of a different color, or a person of a different nationality, we inherently devalue our own life as well.

Oh the Things You Shall Never See: The Culmination of Individualism


IMG_0259What began as a YouTube video spreading across mostly conservative websites has gained some attention from mainstream media outlets. That video is, of course, of a Planned Parenthood executive admitting to selling body parts (or, as Planned Parenthood clarified, “tissue” for research), which is not only explicitly illegal, it’s highly unethical. I’ve written enough about abortion on this site that, I believe, there’s simply no refuting the absolute immorality of the act. By every scientific standard, from conception to birth, what exists inside a woman and grows within her is a human being.

After all, we wouldn’t say that in donating a limb, lung, or leg that we’re donating the woman’s limb, lung, or leg. Everyone, regardless of their leanings on pro-choice or pro-life, admits that what’s being sold by Planned Parenthood was formerly the fetus, not formerly the mother. It’s not her body we’re selling, it’s the fetus’ body we’re selling; so to say a woman can do what she wants with her body, while true, is inapplicable in the abortion debate as the fetus isn’t a part of her body (in the same way that her skin, or arm, or heart is a part of her body).

But what is true is that the fetus is entirely dependent upon the mother for existence. Up until about 7-8 months (thanks to modern medicine), a fetus must depend upon the mother’s body for sustenance. It is here where many attempt to make the ethical argument for bodily autonomy: The mother is autonomous from the fetus, therefore even though the fetus is a human being, and human beings are entitled to rights, those rights cannot trump the autonomy of the body. In other words, at the very moment you impact my body I can kill you.

I’ve written about the contradictions conservatives show in being pro-life while supporting anti-life actions, but liberals aren’t any better. See, abortion is ultimately an argument that arises from individualism. One cannot, within the bounds of reason, sanity, and science, argue against the humanity of the fetus or embryo. It is a human being and there is nothing magical about vaginas (or C-sections) wherein a fetus is sprinkled with fairy dust and comes out a new creature, a human being. From conception to birth, from infancy to childhood, from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from adulthood to elderly, we’re dealing with a human being. Human beings, by virtue of being human beings, hold innate value; if we did not, then a majority gets to decide who has value and who doesn’t, and if history is any indicator allowing the majority to decide who is valuable and who isn’t always ends in horrible things.

The only real defense for abortion – other than appealing to the practical outcomes, such as healthcare, woman’s future, and so on, which though real concerns are not arguments for choice as they’re arguments against a horrible system – is to appeal to the autonomy of the individual. But who among us is actually autonomous? Who among us can say that we live in a vacuum where our decisions do not impact the world, where we can live in complete isolation without aid from anyone else? The idea of individual autonomy is a leftover value from the Enlightenment, and it’s a horrible value, one that acts as a centerpiece for Randian Objectivism, modern conservatism, modern liberalism, and pretty much any daft frat boy roaming a college campus. The idea that as individuals we are autonomous is just stupid on the face of it, but somehow it’s held as a sacred and divine right when it comes to abortion (and only to abortion).

Think about it: Does a business owner have a right to do anything and everything he wants with his company? After all, if he’s an autonomous individual, why should he be held accountable to his employees (in treating them fairly)? Why should we, as a society, care about the poor, or bombing other countries, or about any societal obligations if we are autonomous individuals? We can’t say, “Do what you want so long as you don’t harm anyone,” because abortion harms a distinct, different, and wholly other individual.  In the end, we must acknowledge that we do have ethical obligations to others, and the closer the relationship (especially our involvement in creating that relationship), the bigger those obligations become.

See, Americans are individualists when it’s convenient. Americans are apt to speak about being fulfilled in a marriage, but hardly ever in fulfilling a marriage. An American might defend a woman’s right to her own body when it comes to abortion, but criticize that same body if it gets too fat for our tastes. We believe we have a right to do what we want with our bodies, but by God you better not smoke in my vicinity. When you smoke in public, your actions towards your body impact those around you; when you get an abortion, your actions towards impact the fetus within you. In both cases, your choices negatively impact another human being.

Our obsession with an individualism of convenience allows us to never question which sweatshop made our clothes, never allows us to question the treatment of workers, never allows us question abortion. By ignoring our societal obligations we continue to rob human beings of life, both in the womb and even outside of the womb (do you think we were thinking about the common good when we bombed the hell out of Iraq?). “So long as there is life, there is hope,” so the maxim goes. But if we consistently destroy life for our selfish desires, no matter how noble we think those desires might be, then what hope do we have?

So yes, what Planned Parenthood is doing is quite disgusting, but it simply adds to the already horrendous act of abortion. It’s quite sad that a group that offers other good services – needed services – to women feels it must engage in such a horrible act. Some attempt to say that, “yes, but abortions only account for a fraction of what they do!” But who cares? If abortion is the taking of a human life, does it matter what percentage it accounts for? Abortion in and of itself is wrong and it’s quite difficult to make a strong argument in support of abortion. Again, the only legitimate arguments boil down to the health of the mother, the cost of healthcare, the sacrificing of the mother’s career, placing the child in perpetual poverty, and so on; but all of these deal with procedural failures on the part of our society and speak nothing to whether it’s right or wrong to kill a fetus.

In the end, we really need to look at ourselves and ask if this is a society we want. Do we really want a society where not only we allow the killing of other human beings, we allow the profiting off of their body parts? Do we want to live in a world where life isn’t valued, but harvested? Such a world is dark and disgusting, but such a world has existed in the past, and we condemn previous generations for allowing that world to exist. Shall we be condemned as well?