In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon. (source: Wikipedia)
In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon. (source: Wikipedia)
_Frankly, I'm sick and tired of hearing this epic cop-out on the part of Christians: "I wonder if Jesus meant for the government to feed the poor, or for us to voluntarily give to make sure all the poor people have food." Many don't even wonder about the notion. They insist they know. Provision and care for the least of these -- the sick, the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the displaced, the marginalized -- is an individual mandate. Human institutions of government have no business worrying about such things.
What a load of Bull dung.
How many passages of God's word do they need?
He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (NAS, Proverbs 14:31)
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (TNIV, Exodus 23:6-9)
Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? (NAS, Isaiah 10:1-3)
The law of Moses and the Hebrews clearly issued an institutional way of providing for the poor that did not depend on the good will of any individual. Not only was individual generosity encouraged, but, as a matter of law, part of everyone's produce or income was to be set aside to aid the poor:
"And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (NAS, Exodus 23:10-11)
"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied. (NAS, Deuteronomy 26:12)
In Jeremiah 22, when the prophet delivers a scorching sermon about the treatment of workers, aliens and the poor, he specifically addresses both rulers (government) AND individuals.
Judgment Against Evil Kings
1 This is what the LORD says: "Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.''"
13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.
14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.
15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD.
17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
How many times and how many ways do we Christians need to hear it before we quit making excuses?
Amos 5: 11-12 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Isaiah 3:14-15 The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.
Jesus could not have been more clear as to the things which mattered most to him. No where does he exempt any human institution from his message. It's clear from the entire context of the Bible that the LORD views the responsibility of Nation States in the same manner as he views individual responsibility.
Matthew 25:31-46: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Jesus' commands to love and care for others were given as universals, without exempting any human organizations or institutions. All human institutions, governments and businesses included, are responsible to care for others --- especially since individual or private charity can never be or do enough.
No more excuses.
Some sad facts:
... as the prophet Madonna once sang. Okay, maybe you don't think of her as exactly a prophet, but it's true anyway. Life's beginning is a deep mystery; life's ongoing existence is a mystery (some people have more colorful words for it than that, depending on how well they enjoy their lives at the moment); life's ending is a profound mystery; and what exists beyond this life — not even just "when it ends", but I mean what is transcendent to this life, outside it, right now, as well — is for many a mystery. Even if we didn't think of life as a mystery, it's still more than we can fathom, a mystery nonetheless.
Which is why, for me at least, the ongoing and sometimes violent conflict over abortion seems to carry its own sadness, on a different level than the very real griefs that can occur for both mother and child (I obviously don't mean even to suggest that "I feel grief deeper than" anyone who has grappled with that issue firsthand — I don't presume even to know anything about their experience at all; I only mean that it seems there is another sadness beyond, or apart from, all that), no matter the outcome: because, in the understandably heated and sharply agonizing emotions that can arise on either side, the one thing that you'd think would shush or at least temper some of the arguing is often missing — and that is what I will call a real reverence for the wonder of life. Both sides will, of course, insist that they're taking their positions precisely because of a reverence for life — but I mean enough of a reverence that it can slow down either side, and give them pause to realize that, no matter what other facts are at stake, we simply don't know enough about life to make curt, sweeping policies or doctrinal stances that it should be this way or that way.
A brief history of abortion, and related things you might also not want to know
Abortion, our spectacular contemporary debate about it aside, is nothing new (as you probably know anyway); it has been practiced worldwide, throughout history, its origins lost in the proverbial depths of time — it was mentioned in Chinese lore reaching back at least 5,000 years ago, and the first documented instance was in Egypt, about 1550 BCE. (Please see links at the end of the article for sources used here.) Long before modern surgical procedures were introduced, a variety of herbal preparations were (and in some cultures, sometimes even in contemporary America, still are) used as abortifacients (substances used to induce a miscarriage). (Their modern, chemical counterparts — used about 17% of the time, most often before 49 days into pregnancy — induce what is called a "medical" abortion, as opposed to a surgical one.)
Most cultures of which we have record were, historically, generally willing to allow abortions before about three to four months — which is the general time a woman can first feel stirring inside, and in Western culture has historically been called quickening (that is, a "coming to life" or "becoming alive"); however, abortions after that point were almost universally frowned on or condemned. (Some ancient Greek writers indicated, in a few places, that they considered life to have begun at conception, but those scant references were tentative, and that view was not even always consistent within a single author's works.) Because, as far as anyone could tell, quickening was the first sign of life in the womb, most cultures — including in Christianity — typically considered that this was when life actually began, even though of course a woman could tell, well before then, that she was pregnant.
That distinction really can't be overemphasized (although I'm also not aiming to make of it more than it is, but only to use it to hold broader views in perspective): for the most part even the Christian world, up till the early 1800s, didn't consider that fully human life — in the historic Christian sense of "body, soul, and spirit" — emerged in the womb until the "quickening", the first sign that what was in the womb was indeed "becoming alive", even though they knew pregnancy began months earlier. (For example, in medieval Europe, the church imposed far less severe sanctions if an abortion was performed before the fetus "has life", that is, before quickening.) It was only with developments of medical science in the 19th century, and deepening understanding of how life grows from conception to birth, that the Christian world began more seriously to rethink its understanding of when life begins. (In the United States, increasing prohibitions against abortion through the 19th century were driven largely by physicians in the American Medical Association, along with legislators.)
That isn't to say that even early Christianity had a simplistic or monolithic view on abortion: generally speaking, while of course abortion is not even indirectly hinted at in the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures (although of course life in the womb is referred to in a variety of ways, but never with any precision), early Christian writings condemned abortion — yet, as mentioned, the almost universal view was that human life actually began at "quickening", rather than at conception. Some writers in the early Christian centuries denounced abortion at any stage — yet the whole time, the general view was that, at worst, abortion was more or less equivalent to any moral lapse, but not actually equivalent to murder, at least, not till after quickening.
Views were somewhat mixed, though, and were influenced by social conditions. For example, by the time of Constantine in the 4th century, broader recognition of the plight of poor families — who were often unable to care for more than a few children at most — led Christian thinkers to be more considerate and tolerant toward them if they practiced abortion (or even exposure — a practice, common in the classical world, where unwanted newborns, or those the parents were unable to care for, or who were severely disabled, were simply left out in the wild to die or be killed by animals).
The general Christian view, all through that era, seems to add up to how the ancient world generally saw it: that abortion after about the third month amounted to the taking of a life, while it wasn't certain that a pregnancy before that point was a fully human life to begin with, and therefore wasn't equated with murder. Augustine, for example (late 4th - early 5th centuries) thought, as was the view at least as far back as Aristotle, that a soul did not enter until "quickening", and therefore that abortion before that point was not murder — yet nonetheless he denounced abortion at any stage. A view along these lines was eventually formalized in the church by 13th-century Thomas Aquinas, whose view remained standard in the Roman Catholic Church until the mid-1800s, when it was then generally taken, instead, that the soul appeared at conception.
(That isn't to say that the Christian world is anywhere near monolithic in its views on abortion today, either. Far from it: from the Orthodox churches through all the Protestant and evangelical sects, views are mixed from denouncing all abortion to being extremely pro-choice, although two general views emerge:  exceptions are generally allowed in the case of medical necessity, or in cases of rape or incest; and  there is often more tolerance for earlier abortion, similar to the historic "quickening" view. Meanwhile, official church positions do not, of course, necessarily indicate people's actual practice at all: for example, about two-thirds of all women who have abortions in the United States identify as Christian, and about 20% of all U.S. abortions are performed on women who identify as evangelical or born again; while worldwide, abortions in predominantly Catholic countries occur at a somewhat higher rate than in other countries. Likewise, some 97% of U.S. Catholic women have used contraception, even though official church stance has opposed that since the 1930s, and only a little over 20% of them agree with the church's stance that all abortion is immoral. And meanwhile, throughout the Western, "Christian" world, especially through the 20th century, civil laws allowing or restricting abortion have varied widely and changed frequently.)
It should be said again: For about 1800 years, the Christian world more or less had few problems with abortions occurring before three months into pregnancy, because they simply didn't consider that actual, fully human life, in the biblical sense, had emerged in the womb before the first sign of "quickening".
It should be noted here, by the way, that even today in this country, the great majority of abortions (about 90%) still take place within that same time window — before three months. In other words, if most Christians still considered that genuinely human life doesn't really appear until about three months in, our entire, protracted battle over abortion would probably be almost nonexistent (or anyway confined to exceptional cases, and to abortions happening after three months).
(Just as a partial note on some other religious traditions, Islam generally views abortion after four months as forbidden, although it is still discouraged before that point; while in Judaism — though views on abortion are divided, among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches — the Talmud states that legal personhood does not begin until birth. Hinduism's classical Vedic texts condemn abortion from conception on, though cultural practices [such as a preference for sons] often overrule this. Buddhist traditional views likewise reject abortion at any point, although views are also divided or changing with regard to medical circumstances, and the Dalai Lama has stated that "I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance"; in fact the Buddhist view is complicated by its traditional perception of life as a continuum, with no discernible starting or ending points.)
Of course, aside from medical or surgical abortions as mentioned, there is one other form: natural abortions, which are usually called miscarriages. Depending on various factors (mainly age), roughly 15% of all recognized pregnancies miscarry (and about 80% of those happen during the first trimester, that is, the first three months — before what historically would have been called quickening); and it's estimated that many other miscarriages (up to 40% of all pregnancies) occur so early that they may not be recognized, because the woman may not even be aware that she is pregnant. (Another occasion of new life not surviving till birth are instances of vanishing twins, in which a pregnancy begins as multiples — twins or more — but one or more of the fetuses does not survive, and its body is absorbed by the mother and/or the other fetus[es]. By some estimates, at least 12% of all multiple-fetus pregnancies lose a "vanishing twin", and there may be many more than that, for which no evidence is medically detectable.) Among other things, one implication of this, for those who maintain that fully human life begins at conception, is that (from a Christian perspective) God must be implicated in causing, or at the very least allowing, a stupendous number of abortions (miscarriages) globally, every year. The very agonizing fact of miscarriage is for that reason extremely difficult to reconcile with the strict pro-life position common today.
Side note: the Bible's little-known stance on miscarriage and "abortion on request"
Actually, it's not like there is any clear "position" on miscarriage in the Bible: it's mentioned a few times (with certian penalties, if it is caused accidentally during a fight among other people), but one of the most unusual passages regarding miscarriage is Numbers 5.11-31 (part of the books of the Law that are recorded as having been given through Moses, and which amounted to a combined religious and civil law for the community of Israel — in effect its "constitution", as some commentators have called it). The context is, like much of the rest of Scripture, in terms of a culture in which women had by far the subordinate role, and had not only more disproportionately limited rights, but bore a disproportionate burden under the law as well.
(Although, to be fair, the prescriptions in Mosaic law were a far step ahead of the rest of the ancient Near Eastern world, in terms of making advances in women's rights, as well as other civil rights — it's sometimes forgotten that civil rights have to advance in partial steps, giving the culture time to adapt and move forward, or the society as a whole is likely not to accept them at all. Consider, for example, the protracted, still-ongoing battles over various groups' rights and equal treatment in American society — from women, to ethnic minorities, GLBT people, workers, children, and more.So while Mosaic law is hugely unsatisfactory from the modern perspective of civil rights, still it gave a lot fairer shake to all parties than did most other civil codes of the era.)
The specific scenario detailed in Numbers 5 is in the case of a woman whose husband suspects her of having cheated on him with another man (whether she actually did or not); if he just can't calm his suspicions, he and his wife are to appear before the priest, who then performs a certain ritual. The priest gives the woman some "bitter water that brings a curse" to drink, and invokes this curse: "If you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband .... may the Lord [make] your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries." The "bitter water" is described only as having been normal water (or sometimes, ceremonial holy water) with dust from the temple floor put into it, plus the priest writes the words of the curse-invocation on a scroll, then washes off that ink into the water as well, before the woman drinks it; however, the wording implies that, more than being simply a mystical expectation of metaphorically "bitter", accursed water, there may possibly have been some other "bitter" ingredient added, such as one of the herbal preparations often used as abortifacients in ancient times. It isn't known, but that's one of the possibilities.
(Incidentally, as an example of advancing understanding of rights and justice: in the case of this particular ritual, in 70 CE it was abolished altogether by the ruling Jewish council, who by then recognized that men, of course, weren't above suspicion themselves; and especially because the ceremony had come to be seen as mostly a way to pressure women into a confession, whether they had been unfaithful or not.)
Whatever was in the water, this was the expected result: "If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, ... When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry .... If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children." I won't comment here on the heavy social and religious stigmas that were put on women in that culture (which is of course a very worthwhile topic for a deeper look at how cultures, and their view of civil rights, grow and change); but what I will point out is the central point in this whole ceremony: in the specific circumstance described, the people call on God himself to perform an abortion (that is, to cause a miscarriage) — with the expectation that God would do just that.
The lessons to take away from that admittedly remarkable passage can't be missed: (1) under certain circumstances, people in this biblical culture expected God to, in effect, perform an abortion; (2) meaning, they could not have had the sort of unilateral, "God hates abortion" view that pro-life groups today often claim is Scripture's stance; and (3) keeping in mind that this was written in the law that was said to have been given directly from God through Moses, then from that perspective, it was God himself who instructed people to call on him to perform an abortion under those circumstances, with effectively a guarantee that he would, in fact, do just that. This is a biblical passage that you don't often hear about from pro-life groups (who, for the most part, are made up of Christians), or from religious ministers who oppose abortion; actually, I'd hazard a guess that most Christians taking a pro-life position probably aren't aware the passage even exists.
But for anyone who is interested in taking a serious biblical stance on the issue (and of course, I know there are plenty of people for whom that's not a concern; here I'm speaking directly to Christians), the point is inescapable: Whatever God's full perspective on abortion may be, still, since God promised to perform abortion on request in some cases, then he certainly can't have a unilateral view that "abortion is wrong". I would hope only that more Christians would be struck by the implications of that passage to take a more thoughtful, reflective (and prayerful) view of how we should view abortion — as we move on from here to take a deeper view of how or when life begins in the womb, in the first place.
Another side note: some other things the Bible does and doesn't say about abortion
Before moving on, though, it would be a good idea to make a brief (not exhaustive by any means) review of some key biblical passages that are often cited in support of a pro-life view — as well as some other passages that pro-life groups don't often discuss.
Ps 139.13-16: "... you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." The lyrical poetry in this psalm paints a beautiful scene of God's intimate work in the creation and development of life, as well as of his intent and plans for individuals' lives. However, it doesn't address the critical question of when in the womb fully human life begins; what it does is acknowledge God as the Author, Architect, or Artist of life. The very imagery of "knit together ... woven together" indicates a work in progress, as for example (to apply one of those metaphors literally) when a craftsperson is weaving a carpet or tapestry, it's possible to observe the work and see the emerging design, and to recognize what it's intended to be — yet also to realize that, for all intents and purposes, it won't be considered "a tapestry" while the artwork is still in process. Likewise, with human life, from a Christian perspective we look for fully human life when a soul or spirit is present in the new body (and it's generally acknowledged among Christians that genuinely human life is present only at that point) — but the question at the center of the abortion debate is when that takes place. And this passage doesn't give any hint of that.
Isa 44.2: "This is what the Lord says — he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, Jacob [the original name of Israel, the eponymous patriarch of the people of Israel], my servant, Jeshurun ["upright one", another name for Israel], whom I have chosen ...." This, like other images of creation, is of course a picture of God's intimate involvement in the formation of life. However, in a Christian-related discussion of when life begins, what's at question isn't whether God's creative process is at work the whole way through, just as he is seen as at work through all of life (that much is taken for granted); the question at hand is when in that process fully human life emerges — and once again, this passage does not address that at all, it speaks only of God's creative care the whole way through and beyond.
Jer 1.4-5: "The word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah], saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew [or, in the Hebrew, "chose"] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations'." This is often cited as an elegant, even intimate statement of God's closeness to those in the womb; however, it ought to be clear from the passage ("Before I formed you in the womb") that God is talking about his advance knowledge and plans for Jeremiah before he was even conceived, and isn't even referring necessarily to the months of development in the womb at all. Christian pro-life groups typically do not, of course, suggest that the human soul somehow has a preexistent state before conception.
Lk 1.41-44: "When Elizabeth [about six months pregnant with John the Baptist] heard Mary’s [the mother of Jesus] greeting, the baby leaped in her womb .... [and she exclaimed,] 'As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy'." If anything, this passage would seem to add support to the view that fully human life is present by the last trimester of pregnancy, since (as will be mentioned again further below) the neural signals ("brain waves") that we associate with conscious life or mind don't appear until about the 20th week — so the scene in Luke simply gives a picture of a time during pregnancy when most people would tend to agree that fully human life is present, anyway (keeping in mind that, in most cultures, it is after "quickening" at the third to fourth month that human life is thought really to be present). Most people are less in favor of abortions the later in term they take place, so again this passage is actually one that most people, on either side of the debate, could find agreement on — but of course it still doesn't touch on the question of when life begins.
Gen 2.7: "Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [Hebrew nephesh, often rendered "soul" here or elsewhere in the Scriptures]." This passage of creation is sometimes cited by pro-life groups to illustrate the combination of soul and body that makes up a human life — but you'll notice that the presence of the "breath of life" doesn't appear until the very end of the creative formation process, and in any case, it's that combination of "breath" and body that are said to make a fully living being. So once again (no matter whether this scene of creation is viewed literally or figuratively), it speaks of the end result as a human, with no detail on where or how in that process human life (or soul) emerges.
So none of these passages, which are those most often cited by pro-life groups as showing that Scripture supports their position, even have anything to do with the question of when human life begins at all. On the other hand, here are some other passages, which pro-life groups typically don't bring up at all:
What the Bible says about abortion is [nothing]: This is actually a sort of non-pasage, since of course neither the Hebrew nor Christian texts say anything at all about abortion, even though (as mentioned above) it was an utterly common practice in the ancient world. In the Law, for example, extensive passages are devoted to cautioning Israel away from the practices of the cultures they were about to live among (as well as not to return to the practices of Egypt, where they had just left), and all those cultures (especially as documented in Egypt) practiced abortion. If that were such an abomination to God, it's very surprising that it wouldn't have been given specific attention (compared to, meanwhile, such "abominations" as wearing clothing of mixed fabric, or of planting more than one kind of crop in the same field). But with all the great pains that were taken to warn Israel away from practices of surrounding cultures, abortion finds not the slightest mention at all. Of course, pro-life groups will often point to ...
Ex 20.13: The sixth of the Ten Commandments, "You shall not kill [or "murder", as in some translations]." Actualy, of course, pro-life groups bring up this passage, all the time, as a universal command which would thus also apply to abortion. But because the Old Testament historical chronicles are replete with scenes of battle in which God is said to have commanded (or helped in) the destruction of enemies, many Christians (not just those who identify as pro-life) distinguish between murder and the killing that is often said to be justified as part of war. (Suffice it to say that views on killing scenes in Scripture vary wildly , from "That can't be from God at all" to "God was just working within the context of those cultures and times", and about everything in between.) However, when pro-life groups cite this commandment as a blanket provision that would also prohibit abortion (and meanwhile, also often emphasizing God's special love for children, both the unborn and young ones), they don't often take into consideration other passages in which children (including the unborn) suffer horribly, like ...
Gen 6.13; 7.23: "God said to Noah, 'I am going to put an end to all people ....' Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals ...." (God announcing what today would be called mass murder, if humans were to do it, which would have included not only living children but unborn children.)
Num 31.17: "Now kill all the boys ["every male among the little ones", in some translations]." (Moses giving instructions in a battle between Israel and an enemy people.)
Deut 3.6: "We completely destroyed them ... destroying every city — men, women and children." (Moses recounting how Israel had destroyed some of their enemies along the way to the promised land.)
Deut 20.16: "However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes." (Moses giving instructions to Israel, who are preparing to enter the promised land.)
Josh 6.21: "They ... destroyed with the sword every living thing in it — men and women, young and old ..." (Account describing how Joshua's army destroyed Jericho.)
Josh 10.28-40: "He put the city ... to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it. He left no survivors .... The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there .... The city and everyone in it he put to the sword .... [They] put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it .... [They] put it to the sword, together with ... everyone in it .... Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors ...." (Account of Joshua and his army destroying everyone alive, in half a dozen cities.)
1 Sam 15.3, 8: "'Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants' .... all his people he totally destroyed with the sword." (The prophet Samuel giving instructions from God to King Saul, on waging battle against some other enemies of Israel, which Saul proceeded to do.)
Isa 13.16, 18: "Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes .... they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children." (A prophetic warning against Babylon, of an attack by another nation that God says that he himself will stir up against them.)
Hos 13.16: "... their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open." (The northern nation of divided Israel, Samaria, being warned about destruction that would come upon them "because they have rebelled against their God".)
Even when pregnant women aren't specifically mentioned in those passages, obviously, in scenes where "every living thing" is described as destroyed, pregnant women and their unborn children would have perished along with everyone else. Some (usually more fundamentalist) Christians will point to these scenes as portraying destruction of those who opposed God or his people (and therefore claimed to be justifiable, in context of the times) — but apart from all other debates about rationales for those deaths, pro-life groups nevertheless cannot justify that killing, and at the same time maintain that God (or Scripture) is unilaterally opposed to the killing of unborn humans, especially since one of the most common pro-life appeals is that abortion is "the killing of innocent life". Even if all the people in those accounts (even young children? even infants?) could be supposed somehow to have been guilty of offenses deserving death, the pro-life position cannot at the same time insist that "abortion kills an innocent life" yet justify doing that very thing. They would have to acknowledge either that (1) the unborn children killed in these events were not innocent (but somehow shared in the guilt of the adults — as also even the infants and young children would have had to do); or that (2) if the unborn children were innocent, then for some other (unknown) reason, killing of innocent, unborn human life would still have to be accepted as sometimes justified, after all. In either case, the fundamental commandment "You shall not kill" cannot be held up as a universal, overruling commandment against abortion.
Of course, neither of those outrageous suggestions has to be accepted. A third alternative is that (again, setting aside all debates about whether those slaughters were justifiable) the issue of abortion is simply a different matter altogether, and "You shall not kill [or "murder"]" isn't an absolute prohibition against abortion. (Since there would have been plenty of arguably innocent lives who also perished in those scenes — infants and young children, at the very least — a main issue with those accounts isn't really abortion, but of innocent life perishing at any time.) As we saw from the view generally held throughout history (including by Christians), the real question about abortion is when genuinely human life begins — and, again, that question simply is not addressed nor answered by Scripture.
Which brings us back (finally) to looking more closely at the astonishing process of how life begins, to see if that helps us inderstand its mystery any better.
Fearfully and wonderfully made
"You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb .... I am fearfully [that is, "awe-inspiringly"] and wonderfully made" (Ps 139.13-14). No one would dispute the wonder and amazement of the growth of life in the womb (not only of humans, but of any living thing as a new life appears) — the more it's studied, the more astoundingly complex, multidimensional, and interactively dynamic the whole system appears. But the miraculous complexities in the womb aren't often recognized, in the public debate on abortion, for the complications they can dramatically force into the dialogue.
For example, let's suppose for the sake of the discussion that fully human life does indeed appear at conception. Oh wait, that should be, at the "moment" of conception, right? Well — not so fast. Conception doesn't at all happen in a moment, as it were in the twinkling of an eye. Conception is a process of many stages, from the point at which a sperm cell first contacts an ovum, through the process of its penetrating the protective layers around that cell, to the fusing of its outer membrane with that of the ovum, to the initial mixing of its genetic material with that of the egg, to the final combining of both gametes' chromosomes to form a zygote ("joined together" or "yoked together" organism), at which point it doesn't stop but keeps moving seamlessly into the increasingly complex process of beginning to divide and become multicellular. So, what "moment"? There is no moment; it's a complex process. When, during that process, then, is the human soul or spirit supposed to enter, emerge, or be created in the forming zygote? We want to put our finger neatly on some point as if to measure creation, and say, "Behold, here is the human soul," or "There it is" — but all we know is that, sooner or later, the soul God gives is indeed within us.
Well then, so maybe we can't exactly pinpoint when the soul, when fully human life, emerges along the process of conception. But after that's accomplished, surely the full human life, soul and all, is present in that tiny, new, incipient individual, right? Let's look at some of the things that happen next. Over the next few days, the zygote begins dividing into more cells, which arrange themselves into a hollow sphere (a blastocyst) with a lumpy mass on its inside wall. All of this is, of course, the fertilized ovum, the zygote, the newly conceived life, multiplying its tissues. So it must all be part of the newly growing human life, of what will become a new child, right?
Well, part of it is: the lumpy mass on the inside of the sphere develops into the embryo (then fetus, then child); the outer sphere becomes much of the placenta, the organ that attaches to the mother's uterine wall and enables the exchange of nutrients into, and wastes out from, the embryo. But this developed from that same fertilized egg cell! So shouldn't it be considered part of the new living human that is growing there? (As it happens, various cultures, spread as far afield as Nepal, Malaysia, Hawai'i, and Nigeria, have traditionally considered the placenta either a sibling to the new child, or actually a part of it, and in some cases will give it a reverent burial after the child is born.) If the tissues that become the placenta start from the same, single, fertilized egg — which, according to some people, must be when a human individual originates — is that actually part of the living baby that gets thrown away at birth (or, in modern times, used for various medical purposes)? If it isn't part of the living child, why not? Do we now have to develop some theory, or doctrine, to account for how the soul would be resident in only part of the tissues that grow from a fertilized egg, while other tissues grow around it?
And yet there may be a further complication. In some cases, two sperm manage to fertilize a single ovum, which develops as a hydatidiform mole, a form of pregnancy which almost always ends in miscarriage (and in certain cases can even turn cancerous). What would be going on there — would an incipient soul appear with some kind of reduplication on account of the father's dual genetic contribution? (I'm not even sure what kind of complication to speculate on, in that case.)
But wait again — in some other cases, a blastocyst never even develops the embryocyst (the lump of cells on its inside wall, that become the embryo). Yet this is the group of cells that developed from what seemed to be a perfectly successful conception, a fertilization of ovum by sperm. Did fully human life appear at conception, or didn't it? If it did, what is happening to this little piece of life, that never has a chance to grow and be born in the first place? (Medical science refers to the result of this as an "empty sac" miscarriage — the sac of the blastocyst that never develops an embryo, and is eventually discarded and flushed out of the body.)
One person, or two, or ...?
As if that isn't uncertain enough, even in more ordinary circumstances as the little blastocyst continues to develop, up until about two weeks after conception there's still a chance that it can actually split into two (or more) separate blastocysts, each of which may then go on to develop into an individual human being: we call these identical twins (or triplets, or other multiples). Now wait — I thought we were absolutely certain that a whole, individual human life was formed right at (the moment, or process, or whatever, of) conception. Is it or isn't it? Because if it is, then how in the world are we supposed to explain identical twins — are they really the same person, somehow bizarrely divided "just as if" they were really two individuals, and only "appearing" to have individual minds and personalities? (Try suggesting that to any twins you know, plus try figuring out how that would work out in cases of law, and never mind how to explain it to the twins' respective spouses and families.) Or when the blastocyst splits, are we to speculate that the soul or spirit somehow splits too — to produce two unique individuals (which, of course, is what even the most "identical" twins or other multiples are)? I'm not sure even the most hardcore, doctrinaire pro-life person has ever suggested either of those possibilities.
(Actually, one theological writer, from a major branch of Christianity, has in fact suggested that "the evidence would seem to indicate not that there is no individual at conception, but that there is at least one and possibly more," and that, "similar to processes found in other species, one twin could be the parent of the other asexually". Frankly, if you want my take on it, not only does this seem — ah, inconsistent [to put it politely] with medical definitions of conception, parenting, and offspring, but it would introduce more complications than it would solve, not least of which would be  determining which sibling was the "parent" of the other, especially  in cases of triplets or other multiples [would you have various parent-child-parent "generations" there?], and  it would throw all kinds of monkey wrenches into understanding family relationships, including  that whole "honor your father and mother" thing and  incest, plus  don't even ask about custody, insurance coverage, or other legal rights and responsibilities in such a sibling = parent relationship. Oh, and  cards for Fathers' or Mothers' Days? Run that one by your friendly Hallmark representative, if you really want to make their day! Or weird them out.)
Well okay, so maybe we'll have to allow that whenever the soul appears in a human life, it's probably some time after the blastocyst goes on to develop further into an individual (or individuals, if it splits to form identical multiples). Oh no — there are still more complications that can happen. In some cases where twins begin to develop, the embryos fuse or merge, so that what results are conjoined twins. Not a problem there, usually, as far as recognizing two individuals — even when (as in some rare cases) one twin is almost nothing but a head and part of an upper body, yet still with a unique mind and life.
But where it gets more perplexing is in cases where the head of one twin never develops, so that one is merely an organically alive body (or part body) hanging off a fully alive sibling; or when one twin's head is embedded actually inside the body of the other, the body kept alive by their shared circulatory system but otherwise with no chance of ever having reached individual life in the first place; or in some cases, where one person has two hearts (and usually various other extra organs or limbs, sometimes including dual reproductive systems); or even where one twin is embedded entirely within the body of the other (these and similar conditions are typically known as the development of a parasitic twin — which occurs from twin embryos never fully separating in the first place — and even when the "host" or autosite twin survives to birth, it's rare that the person survives beyond early adulthood). Were these genuine, fully human lives at some early stage, only to perish when they somehow never fully developed, or were partly consumed (as it were) by their sibling? Or had fully human life still not quite emerged in them, on account of their physical bodies (or at least, brains) not having the chance to develop enough?
(By the way, in describing these extreme medical anomalies, of course I'm in no way intending to be morbid, nor to indulge in any sort of 19th-century style, "freak show" voyeurism; I'm merely trying to look more closely at all of the very real circumstances that can throw into question our sometimes too-simple understanding of when human life begins.)
And perhaps the strangest path of all for twins to take is chimerism — cases in which two individuals begin to develop (not from a single zygote, but as fraternal twins do, from two egg cells fertilized by two sperm cells), but early on the blastocysts fuse so completely that only one individual is born, yet who has the genetic material, the DNA "fingerprint", of two individuals (this is one form of what is also known as a genetic mosaic). (Chimerism takes its name from the mythical Greek chimera or chimaera, a creature that was supposed to have been a hybrid or fusing of various other animals.) And the person so born may never even know that is the case, unless genetic testing happens to reveal it — although in some cases, chimerism may be indicated by external clues, such as variegated patches in hair color or skin complexion, or eyes of two different colors. (A few rare legal cases, for example in child custody and welfare, have had decisions overturned when a mother, who had been shown not to be genetically related to her children — whom the court was then about to take from her, on that cause --- proved with further testing to have two sets of DNA, resident in different bodily tissues, one of which did of course match that of her own children.) However, to mix the matter even more, if the two incipient embryos were of different genders, various intersex conditions can result, in which the single individual who is born has physical characteristics of both sexes. So the question then becomes, not only "Is this one individual or two?", but "Is this person one gender or two?" (The wide range of intersex conditions, which result from a whole suite of genetic or other phenomena, is a subject that deserves its own thoughtful treatment for another time — because that is a place where, the closer we look, we see that the boundaries God draws between "male and female" are not nearly so crisp and tidy as we suppose, or often as our laws and theologies declare that they must be.) In the case of chimerism, the question of "When does individual human life begin?" is given the added twist of "What's an individual, in the first place?" — since, if we maintain that human life begins fully at conception, then when two distinct conceptions fuse into one individual person: (1) has one individual been, as it were, "consumed" by the other, or (2) do we need to rethink our understanding of "individual", as well; plus (3) does fully human life emerge sometime further along in the gestation process, or (4) is some combination of all the above true?
So a person, again, is ... what?
And since we're exploring the limits of when life begins, and what an individual is, we might as well go all the way and ask what it is that makes up a conscious, sentient person in the first place. You knew I'd have to ask that, didn't you? Or maybe you hoped I wouldn't go there. Anyway, without diving headlong into another (worthwhile) discussion that is way out of the depth of this article, the short answer to "what makes for a conscious, sentient person?" is — we don't really know.
Obviously, in general terms we do know: duh, a person is any of these living human beings that are all around us, including ourselves. But once again, the closer we look at the details, the less certain it gets, whether we like it or not.
For example, setting aside all the medical anomalies described above, when — in normal brain development before birth — could the mind (or soul, sentience, consciousness, or other term you care to use) be said first to emerge? The answer, once again, is: we don't really know. As mentioned above (in the biblical passages section), the neural activity ("brain waves") commonly associated with consciousness, sentience, and intelligence hasn't been recorded before about the 20th week of pregnancy — but on the other hand, the neural connections that make actual cognitive and emotional response possible continue developing for months after birth itself, yet few today would suggest that a baby doesn't become a genuine person until several months into life. (Although some cultures have in fact reserved full "personhood" for some time after birth: for example, in biblical Israel, a census was ordered that counted only individuals a month old or older [and only males too, at that, although that was a different cultural artefact: see Num. 3.15]. Part of the reasons for that, however, had to do with higher rates of infant mortality.)
Not only that, but many of the movements (of head, limbs, hands, even crawling movements, and even smiling) that we associate with conscious life actually begin with activity in the brain stem, which is the first and most primitive brain structure to develop (and produces such movements long before the rest of the brain grows, and can do so even in anencephalic infants — children born with no other brain development beyond the brainstem).
But then, that would bring us full circle, right back to the question of quickening — the first movements that a mother can sense in her womb, although those are happening long before full brain development in the child. Remembering the age-old, historic view of many cultures and religions, that quickening is the first sign of fully human life — and comparing that to more modern views, that fuller, more sentient brain development is a requirement for fully human life — we're left with: what?
So when could we say that what we recognize as a fully human life (using such terms as you like: having mind, soul, spirit, sentience, consciousness, etc.) emerges or appears? Would it be right at conception (still, that's at whatever point along the process of conception we might point to) — or when the initial cells differentiate into what will become the embryo and other tissues (but then, that's thrown into question in cases of twins, conjoined parasitic twins, or chimerism) — or when quickening is sensed (although that happens when only the most primitive brain structures have developed) — or when higher neural activity ("brain waves") appear at around 20 weeks — or even when fully conscious sentience finally develops, several months after birth?
But what we do know is — at one point there is not a life, and then behold, now there is.
Life is a mystery ...
Well then, what do we do as far as forming some sort of consistent view about abortion? To tell you the truth, I honestly have no idea. And that wasn't my intent in writing this article, anyway. What I was hoping was that — on this understandably emotionally-charged topic, where strong feelings and beliefs can move us (as they often have me) to take a quick, decisive view of issues — people might instead take a little deeper breath, take more thought, take a more nuanced view, take all sides into consideration, and aim to "be quick to listen, slow to speak" (Jas 1.19) on the shoulds or shouldn'ts of abortion.
We really cannot point to any stage between conception and birth when fully human life, when a soul, appears; what we do see is that somehow, somewhere along the way, it emerges (for lack of a better word — and, just maybe, emerge will prove to be a closer description about its creation than the "instant" creation or appearance that many of us tend to suppose, when we think about that at all). We have, all through history, been at best troubled and ambivalent about abortion (or at least, troubled most when it occurs after three months' pregnancy or so — the "before three months" window is, all in all, the closest that human cultures have come to agreeing on when it might be at all acceptable); we also live in a world where, from a Christian standpoint, God causes or at the very least allows untold millions of natural abortions (miscarriages) every year. We think we know what makes up a human mind (or what shows the presence of a soul, of a fully human person); yet when we look at what really happens all through pregnancy, especially taking into consideration all the anomalies that can happen, we — well, we really come up blank. We see birth as a beautiful, successful completion of pregnancy (which, when God willing all is well with mother and child, it is) — and then we come to find that emergence of what we could call a fully human mind isn't even finished till sometime after that.
Life is a mystery. Life is precious and beautiful. Life does not happen as we define that it should, it happens in a far more astoundingly complex way than we ever supposed (or maybe, than we'd even care to know) that it could. Life is something to protect, treasure, and nurture — but it should be something that also humbles us, to some extent hushes us, that stills our turbulent thoughts and tempers our sometimes-heated words, and that leads us to more carefully or prayerfully consider how to approach it and its mysteries.
I'm not going even to venture to prescribe some sort of should or shouldn't about abortion; for one thing, I'm a man, and I see it as breathtakingly arrogant for any men to venture commentary on the should/shouldn't of abortion (unless women ask for their opinion). At least 75% of public opinion on abortion, currently, is offered by men — 100% of whom, of course, will never have to deal with the issue anywhere as closely as women do (and even when it is those men's wives or sweethearts who have dealt with it, still as close as the man is, he is worlds removed from any woman's personal experience); so for my part, I'd venture that 0% of men should have any say about abortion. The other reason I won't offer commentary about abortion (except, as here, describing statistics or medical facts about it) is that — life is a mystery. And I'll end there.
Postscript: the wonder of life
Life humbles me. Creation, no matter how that's described or defined, amazes me. The more we know about how we're made, the more awesome and wonderful that creation process looks, because the more we find out about life, the less we find that we really know about it.
I hope you'll find at least a few things useful in all that I've dumped on you here. I hope and trust God that people will have been given some food for thought, and I know that among you are those whose thoughtful insights, wiser than anything I could offer, may add to public dialogue — in such a way that it will help to influence public opinion, religious views, and eventually public policy, so that together we can find more just, merciful, compassionate, and realistic ways of approaching a subject that we have never quite found a satisfactory response to.
In fact, for anyone out there who may be the one eventually to craft a public policy that will, at last, provide the wisest and most merciful approach to this whole, emotional, often heartrending subject, I'd like to suggest a name for that bill, asking you to please keep it in consideration:
The "Life Is a Mystery" Act. And how about if the first words of that act began something like, "Let us bow in humility and reverence at the wonder of life ...."
[A note on the illustration: I selected da Vinci’s sketch of four fetuses because he was probably the first to dare to ask, imagine, and investigate things that no one in his time — maybe no one ever — had dared to ask. This image wasn’t chosen for some shock value, of course, but because we, too, need to dare to ask and explore questions that we haven’t dared look at before, and look at them in compassion and deep wonder.]
(Roger Smith is a featured blogger for The Christian Left; he also blogs, when he gets around to it, at Roger's Shrubbery.)
That's right. You heard right. And it was all inspired and sanctioned by God Himself.
Here's the story:
Genesis 41:25-42: And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God hath shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years: the dreams are one. And the seven thin and illfavored cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He showeth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine shall consume the land. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following, for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh seek out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up a fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store for the land against the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land perish not through the famine." And the counsel was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, "Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Inasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou." And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
So the next time your Republican friends or family say such things are "evil," you tell them to quit talking blasphemy against the eternal God and what He did for Egypt. Oh and tell them that God doesn't change. He would approve the same plan today. Conservatives are wrong, about pretty much everything.
Corporate America is sitting on a colossal $2 trillion in cash -- $1.4 trillion in the S&P's top 20 alone -- but that does little for the public.
Depending on whom you talk to, it's either a huge rainy-day fund if the economy heads for a double dip, or it's top executives feathering their nest in order to grab huge year-end bonuses. Read more here.
Or is it that they're holding all their money until they get their way with more tax cuts and more deregulation? Or is it that they want President Obama to fail so badly that they're going to hold their money and keep the unemployment rate high with the hope that it will ruin him (and thus once again usher in the good old days of Reaganomics where Republicans give them everything they want)?
One thing we know for sure is this: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." -- Galatians 6:7
Here's a little story about what God thinks of the behavior of these corporations:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
At the end of the day these corporations are able to get away with this hoarding because our politicians refuse to write policy that would put a stop to it. What's even more disgusting is that one way or another most of these corporations are doing well because the US taxpayer came running to the rescue of an economy that had been gutted by 30 years of Reaganomics.
We are all well advised to collectively return to the vineyard soon, and see what our servants have been up to. If we don't, we might find ourselves buried.
Matt 18:23-35 Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and kneeled before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. "But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ " So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him in, and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."
by Chris Hedges (This is an article by Chris Hedges that no major publication will print.)
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School . Please see the rest of his Bio at the bottom of this article.
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School , told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”
The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.
He was not a man to use the word fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider returning to the United States . It was a suggestion he followed. He left on a night train with framed portraits of Adolph Hitler placed over the contents inside his suitcase to hide the rolls of home movie film he took of the so-called German Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi, and the few individuals who defied them, including the theologians Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer. The ruse worked when the border police lifted the top of the suitcases, saw the portraits of the Fuhrer and closed them up again. I watched hours of the grainy black and white films as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge .
He saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society. He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams . Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.
His critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me that if the Nazis took over America “60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute.” This too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg , including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.
Two decades later, even in the face of the growing reach of the Christian Right, his prediction seems apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an 80 to100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups - The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma , has included in his campaign to end abortion a call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune, believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from South Carolina , wants to ban single mothers from teaching in schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Bush won 77 percent of their vote. The polls found that a plurality of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had been “moral values.”
President Bush must further these important objectives, including the march to turn education and social welfare over to the churches with his faith-based initiative, as well as chip away at the wall between church and state with his judicial appointments, if he does not want to face a revolt within his core constituency.
Jim Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, who held weekly telephone conversations with K arl Rove during the campaign, has put the President on notice. He told ABC's “This Week” that “this president has two years, or more broadly the Republican Party has two years, to implement these policies, or certainly four, or I believe they'll pay a price in the next election.”
Bush may turn out to be a transition figure, our version of Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used “values” to energize his base at the end of the 19 th century and launched “Kulturkampt”, the word from which we get “culture wars,” against Catholics and Jews. Bismarck 's attacks split the country, made the discrediting of whole segments of the society an acceptable part of the civil discourse and paved the way for the more virulent racism of the Nazis. This, I suspect, will be George Bush's contribution to our democracy.
DOMINIONISTS AND RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
The Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1973 by Rousas Rushdooney, is the intellectual foundation for the most politically active element within the Christian Right. Rushdooney's 1,600 page three-volume work, Institutes of Biblical Law, argued that American society should be governed according to the Biblical precepts in the Ten Commandments. He wrote that the elect, like Adam and Noah, were given dominion over the earth by God and must subdue the earth, along with all non-believers, so the Messiah could return.
This was a radically new interpretation for many in the evangelical movement. The Messiah, it was traditionally taught, would return in an event called “the Rapture” where there would be wars and chaos. The non-believers would be tormented and killed and the elect would be lifted to heaven. The Rapture was not something that could be manipulated or influenced, although believers often interpreted catastrophes and wars as portents of the imminent Second Coming.
Rushdooney promoted an ideology that advocated violence to create the Christian state. His ideology was the mirror image of Liberation Theology, which came into vogue at about the same time. While the Liberation Theologians crammed the Bible into the box of Marxism, Rushdooney crammed it into the equally distorting box of classical fascism. This clash was first played out in Latin America when I was there as a reporter two decades ago. In El Salvador leftist priests endorsed and even traveled with the rebel movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador, while Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with conservative Latin American clerics, backed the Contras fighting against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the murderous military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and Argentina.
The Institutes of Biblical Law called for a Christian society that was harsh, unforgiving and violent. Offenses such as adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy and homosexuality, merited the death penalty. The world was to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States. Rushdooney dismissed the number of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust as an inflated figure and his theories on race echoed Nazi Eugenics.
“The white man has behind him centuries of Christian culture and the discipline and selective breeding this faith requires...,” he wrote. “The Negro is a product of a radically different past, and his heredity has been governed by radically different considerations.”
“The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of the magic are control and power over God, man, nature, and society. Voodoo, or magic, was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (see The Religious Right , a publication of the ADL, pg. 124.)
Rushdooney was deeply antagonistic to the federal government. He believed the federal government should concern itself with little more than national defense. Education and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology remains at the heart of the movement. It is being enacted through school vouchers, with federal dollars now going into Christian schools, and the assault against the federal agencies that deal with poverty and human services. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is currently channeling millions in federal funds to groups such Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing , and National Right to Life, as well as to fundamentalist religious charity organizations and programs promoting sexual abstinence.
Rushdooney laid the groundwork for a new way of thinking about political involvement. The Christian state would come about not only through signs and wonders, as those who believed in the rapture believed? , but also through theestablishment of the Christian nation. But he remained, even within the Christian Right, a deeply controversial figure.
Dr. Tony Evans, the minister of a Dallas church and the founder of Promise Keepers, articulated Rushdooney's extremism in a more palatable form. He called on believers, often during emotional gatherings at football stadiums, to commit to Christ and exercise power within the society as agents of Christ. He also called for a Christian state. But he did not advocate the return of slavery, as Rushdooney did, nor list a string of offenses such as adultery punishable by death, nor did he espouse the Nazi-like race theories. It was through Evans, who was a spiritual mentor to George Bush that Dominionism came to dominate the politically active wing of the Christian Right.The religious utterances from political leaders such as George Bush, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson and Zell Miller are only understandable in light of Rushdooney and Dominionism. These leaders believe that God has selected them to battle the forces of evil, embodied in “secular humanism,” to create a Christian nation. Pat Robertson frequently tells believers “our aim is to gain dominion over society.” Delay has told supporters, such as at a gathering two years ago at the First Baptist Church in Pearland , Texas , “He [God] is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me.” Delay went on to tell followers “If we stay inside the church, the culture won't change.”
Pat Robertson, who changed the name of his university to Regent University , says he is training his students to rule when the Christian regents take power, part of the reign leading to the return of Christ. Robertson resigned as the head of the Christian Coalition when Bush took office, a sign many took to signal the ascendancy of the first regent. This battle is not rhetorical but one that followers are told will ultimately involve violence. And the enemy is clearly defined and marked for destruction.
“Secular Humanists,” the popular Christian Right theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote in one of numerous diatribes, “are the greatest threat to Christianity the world has ever known.”
One of the most enlightening books that exposes the ultimate goals of movement is America's Providential History , the standard textbook used in many Christian schools and a staple of the Christian home schooling movement. It sites Genesis 26, which calls for mankind to “ .have dominnion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” as evidence that the Bible callls for “Bible believing Christians” to take dominion of America.
“When God brings Noah through the flood to a new earth, He reestablished the Dominion Mandate but now delegates to man the responsibility for governing other men.” (page 19). The authors write that God has called the United States to become “the first truly Christian nation” (page 184) and “make disciples of all nations.” The book denounces income tax as “idolatry,” property tax as “theft” and calls for an abolish of inheritance taxes in the chapter entitled Christian Economics. The loss of such tax revenues will bring about the withering away of the federal government and the empowerment of the authoritarian church, although this is not explict in the text.
Rushdooney's son-in-law, Gary North, a popular writer and founder of the Institute for Christian Economics, laid out the aims of the Christian Right.
“So let's be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” (Christianity and Civilization, Spring, 1982)
Dominionists have to operate, for now, in the contaminated environment of the secular, liberal state. They have learned, therefore, to speak in code. The code they use is the key to understanding the dichotomy of the movement, one that has a public and a private face. In this they are no different from the vanguard, as described by Lenin, or the Islamic terrorists who shave off their beards, adopt western dress and watch pay-for-view pornographic movies in their hotel rooms the night before hijacking a plane for a suicide attack.
Joan Bokaer, the Director of Theocracy Watch, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell University , who runs the encyclopedic web site theocracywatch.org, was on a speaking tour a few years ago in Iowa . She obtained a copy of a memo Pat Robertson handed out to followers at the Iowa Republican County Caucus. It was titled, “How to Participate in a Political Party” and read:
“Rule the world for God.”
“Give the impression that you are there to work for the party, not push an ideology.
“Hide your strength.
“Don't flaunt your Christianity.
“Christians need to take leadership positions. Party officers control political parties and so it is very important that mature Christians have a majority of leadership whenever possible, God willing.”
President Bush sends frequent coded messages to the faithful. In his address to the nation on the night of September 11, for example, he lifted a line directly from the Gospel of John when he said “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” He often uses the sentence “when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law,” words taken directly from a pro-life manifesto entitled “A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern.” He quotes from hymns, prayers, tracts and Biblical passages without attribution. These phrases reassure the elect. They are lost on the uninitiated.
CHRIST THE AVENGER
The Christian Right finds its ideological justification in a narrow segment of the Gospel, in particular the letters of the Apostle Paul, especially the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus in the Book of Acts. It draws heavily from the book of Revelations and the Gospel of John. These books share an apocalyptic theology. The Book of Revelations is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, offering up a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. Martin Luther found the God portrayed in Revelations so hateful and cruel he put the book in the appendix of his German translation of the Bible.
These books rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They focus on the doom and destruction that will befall unbelievers and the urgent need for personal salvation. The world is divided between good and evil, between those who act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan. The Jesus of the other three Gospels, the Jesus who turned the other cheek and embraced his enemies, an idea that was radical and startling in the ancient Roman world, is purged in the narrative selected by the Christian Right.
The cult of masculinity pervades the ideology. Feminism and homosexuality are social forces, believers are told, that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus is portrayed as a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt. This cult of masculinity brings with it the glorification of strength, violence and vengeance. It turns Christ into a Rambo-like figure; indeed depictions of Jesus within the movement often show a powerfully built man wielding a huge sword.
This image of Christ as warrior is appealing to many within the movement. The loss of manufacturing jobs, lack of affordable health care, negligible opportunities for education and poor job security has left many millions of Americans locked out. This ideology is attractive because it offers them the hope of power and revenge. It sanctifies their rage. It stokes the paranoia about the outside world maintained through bizarre conspiracy theories, many on display in Pat Robertson's book The New World Order . The book is a xenophobic rant that includes vicious attacks against the United Nations and numerous other international organizations. The abandonment of the working class has been crucial to the success of the movement. Only by reintegrating the working class into society through job creation, access to good education and health care can the Christian Right be effectively blunted. Revolutionary movements are built on the backs of an angry, disenfranchised laboring class. This one is no exception.
The depictions of violence that will befall non-believers are detailed, gruesome and brutal. It speaks to the rage many believers harbor and the thirst for revenge. This, in large part, accounts for the huge sales of the apocalyptic series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In their novel, Glorious Appearing , based on LaHaye's interpretation of Biblical Prophecies about the Second Coming, Christ eviscerates the flesh of millions of non-believers with the mere sound of his voice. There are long descriptions of horror, of how “the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.” Eyes disintegrate. Tongues melt. Flesh dissolves. The novel, part of The Left Behind series, are the best selling adult novels in the country. They preach holy war.
“Any teaching of peace prior to [Christ's] return is heresy.” said televangelist James Robinson.
Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, instability in Israel and even the fighting of Iraq are seen as signposts. The war in Iraq was predicted according to believers in the 9 th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of men.” The march towards global war, even nuclear war, is not to be feared but welcomed as the harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms millions of non-believers to a horrible and painful death.
THE CORRUPTION OF SCIENCE AND LAW
The movement seeks the imprint of law and science. It must discredit the rational disciplines that are the pillars of the Enlightenment to abolish the liberal polity of the Enlightenment. This corruption of science and law is vital in promoting the doctrine. Creationism, or “intelligent design,” like Eugenics for the Nazis, must be introduced into the mainstream as a valid scientific discipline to destroy the discipline of science itself. This is why the Christian Right is working to bring test cases to ensure that school textbooks include “intelligent design” and condemn gay marriage.
The drive by the Christian Right to include crackpot theories in scientific or legal debate is part of the campaign to destroy dispassionate and honest intellectual inquiry. Facts become interchangeable with opinions. An understanding of reality is not to be based on the elaborate gathering of facts and evidence. The ideology alone is true. Facts that get in the way of the ideology can be altered. Lies, in this worldview, become true. Hannah Arendt called this effort “nihilistic relativism” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
The Christian Right has fought successfully to have Creationist books sold in national park bookstores in the Grand Canyon , taught as a theory in public schools in states like Alabama and Arkansas . “Intelligent design” is promoted in Christian textbooks. All animal species, or at least their progenitors, students read, fit on Noah's ark. The Grand Canyon was created a few thousand years ago by the flood that lifted up Noah's ark, not one billion years ago, as geologists have determined. The earth is only a few thousand years old in line with the literal reading of Genesis. This is not some quaint, homespun view of the world. It is an insidious attempt to undermine rational scientific research and intellectual inquiry.
Tom Delay, following the Columbine shootings, gave voice to this assault when he said that the killings had taken place “because our school systems teach children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud.” (speech Delay gave in the House on June 16, 1999 )
“What convinces masses are not facts,” Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism, “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the “masses” inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.” (p.351)
There are more than 6 million elementary and secondary school students attending private schools and 11.5 percent of these students attend schools run by the Christian Right. These “Christian” schools saw an increase of 46 percent in enrollment in the last decade. The 245,000 additional students accounted for 75 percent of the total rise in private school enrollment.
THE LAUNCHING OF THE WAR
Adams told us to watch closely what the Christian Right did to homosexuals. He has seen how the Nazis had used “values” to launch state repression of opponents. Hitler, days after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations. He ordered raids on places where homosexuals gathered culminating with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin . Thousands of volumes from the institute's library were tossed into a bonfire. Adams said that homosexuals would also be the first “deviants” singled out by the Christian Right. We would be the next.
The ban on same sex marriages, passed by eleven states in the election, was part of this march towards our door. A 1996 federal law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. All of the states with ballot measures, with the exception of Oregon , had outlawed same sex marriages, as do 27 other states. The bans, however, had to be passed, believers were told, to thwart “activist judges” who wanted to overturn them. The Christian family, even the nation, was under threat. The bans served to widen the splits tearing apart the country. The attacks on homosexuals handed to the foot soldiers of the Christian Right an easy target. It gave them a taste of victory. It made them feel empowered. But it is ominous for gays and for us.
All debates with the Christian Right are useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. It is not mollified because John Kerry prays or Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday School. These naive attempts to reach out to a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to them that we too have “values,” would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. They hate us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution. Our opinions do not count.
This movement will not stop until we are ruled by Biblical Law, an authoritarian church intrudes in every aspect of our life, women stay at home and rear children, gays agree to be cured, abortion is considered murder, the press and the schools promote “positive” Christian values, the federal government is gutted, war becomes our primary form of communication with the rest of the world and recalcitrant non-believers see their flesh eviscerated at the sound of the Messiah's voice.
The spark that could set it ablaze may be lying in the hands of an Islamic terrorist cell, in the hands of the ideological twins of the Christian Right. Another catastrophic terrorist attack could be our Reichstag fire, the excuse used to begin the accelerated dismantling of our open society. The ideology of the Christian Right is not one of love and compassion, the central theme of Christ's message, but of violence and hatred. It has a strong appeal to many in our society, but it is also aided by our complacency. Let us not stand at the open city gates waiting passively and meekly for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching rudely towards Bethlehem . Let us, if nothing else, begin to call them by their name.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009, and granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”
Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.
Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.
He has written eleven books, including “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Truthdig and Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”
Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.
My personal evolution to become part of The Christian Left — or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Practice the Golden Rule”
So Roger, you're on the "Left". Let me guess, you're a dyed-in-the-wool raving liberal '60s hippie?
I consider myself a member of The Christian Left (both generally, and with this organization) too, and while of course there's always a lot more complexity and nuance on both ends of the spectrum than labels like "right" or "left" might paint it, there are clear distinctions too.
I know of plenty of sincere Christians, including some ministers, who align very strongly with the values of love, compassion, and mercy that The Christian Left champions — and in the case of the ministers I'm thinking of, who have also taken a vocal stand against the "religious Right" — yet who also may either draw the line at some other social issues (abortion and same-sex relationships seem to be the Big Two bogeymen, usually), or maybe have a different approach to some things (say, healthcare) than others do on the political "Left". And they might also be uncomfortable with identifying themselves with the term "Christian Left". (Part of that also stems from the social and political baggage, as some see it anyway, that comes with the catchall term "left", which I trust open dialogue will clear up in time.)
And of course, there are those on the "Right" too, who don't march in quite the lockstep on every issue that a lot of public voices might give the impression they do. I grew up religiously and politically conservative — though, this was in the 1960s and '70s, before "the Right" began its headlong lunge toward ever-further-right polarization and hardcore ideology — and it was exactly over the Right's growing "hardcore-ism" in the 1980s (both politically and religiously) that I began standing more and more at arms' length from what called itself "conservative", and not keeping in step with them.
Eventually (in the early '90s), I found myself at a wonderful church, whose pastor was one of those I mentioned earlier, who took an outspoken stance against the religious Right (which was his background, as well — and he's the son of a prominent pastor who heads a large, conservative denomination), although at the same time he was one of those who wouldn't consider himself on the "Left". He just didn't see that the Christian "Right" was actually following Jesus, whom they said they wanted to follow — not when you compare their acts, words, and attitudes to his, anyway.
Yeah, all that's interesting, but The Christian Left takes on a bunch of political issues, like public healthcare, that the Bible never talks about, right?
Finally, the protracted national debate over healthcare a few years ago shocked me as I listened to the ever-more-openly callous position that both the political and religious Right dug into, and it forced me back to review the abundant biblical passages (I've been a 35-year Bible student, and went through an excellent, conservative graduate theology school) concerning care for the poor, ill, or oppressed.
To my real dismay, I found that for decades I had practiced denial ignoring the very obvious stance of the Bible: that it IS very much part of government's responsibilities to care for the poor and needy (as it is also everyone's responsibility to help, of course); I had simply always believed what I'd been told in my youth, that "the Bible's commands to help the poor are directed at individuals or the church, not at the government" (and, trusting those who taught me that, I never questioned it). Jeremiah 22 and the first half of Proverbs 31 are but two of very many passages that bluntly state government's responsibility to help the poor.
The answer was so clear as to make me ashamed that I'd denied it for so long: it is absolutely part of government's direct job to care for the poor (including, in this case, those who can't afford healthcare for themselves or their families), for the direct reason that the Golden Rule is a responsibility for all people to practice toward all others, and of course every act or policy of government is not only enacted by people, but has real effects on the real lives of other real people.
That, if anyone asks, is the central reason that governments are NOT exempt from responsibility to practice the Golden Rule ("In everything, do for others what you would want them to do for you", Mt 7.12 and Lk 6.31). Government "of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE [and an observer who heard Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address noted that he emphasized the word "people" all three times]" — remember that? There's no abstraction in government: whatever government does has direct impact, sooner or later, on people, an impact that people in government are accountable to take thought for, "in everything".
That sounds very ethical and idealistic, and all. But what about being "fiscally responsible"?
"Fiscal responsibility" or "accountability"? Fine; as long as consideration for the direct and immediate impact on people is put first. Will a "fiscal accountability" measure first have a direct impact of threatening more people's livelihoods, homes, ability to feed their families, to afford healthcare, to keep from getting ill or dying sooner? Then that gets taken care of first — that's where "responsibility" should show up first, as care for people. The nation is "we the people", not "we the financial bottom line" (which is what emphasis on putting "fiscal accountability" first ends up making it into).
Long-term impact is vital too, of course; but trumpeting a policy's alleged long-term impact, when the immediate impact is real hardship and agony for people, ends up valuing natural selection (as even some conservative voices are now saying openly: "These are tough choices, and some will suffer, but ...") over genuine care for people. "We the people", by the way, implies a concern for one another, to stand together as one, not an Ayn Randian, pseudo-Darwinian national policy of "survival of the fittest".
Care for the poor, the sick, the needy? Yes: that's a responsibility for people in government to extend to ALL the people in the nation they serve. There's no excuse to skirt around that.
But, that means taxes! I don't want the government taking my money ...
And since, in a free country, We the People ARE the government, and our taxes are our contributions to a pool of funds to be used for the common good (contrary to a lot of conservative objections, taxes are not "the government taking" anything, which is the most common right-wing canard to dodge that) — then for example when it comes to an issue like healthcare, the only clear solution is for our (democratically agreed-on) taxes to support a program of national healthcare, the public healthcare that other developed and prosperous nations provide to all their citizens (and, of course, to add or expand other social safety nets besides healthcare). I appreciate the view of my friends in Canada, who are (rightly) appalled at the callous selfishness they see in America, and whose typical view on healthcare is, "We see our taxes as our gift to one another, to help one another out." That, if you ask me, sounds a lot more like what a "Christian nation" would be (since there are a lot of people on the Right who insist that's what America is or is supposed to be). "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fufill the law of Christ [his command, "Love one another, just as I have loved you", Jn 13.34]" (Gal 6.2).
So have I gone through my own evolution to become part of The Christian Left? You bet I have. Now I'm joining with thousands of others (as of this writing, The Christian Left on Facebook counts more than 26,000 members) to call the Christian Right, Middle, or Anywhere Else, to just do what they say they want to do: follow Jesus.
Love one another. The Golden Rule. Carry each other's burdens. The "least of these".
Oh yes, and speaking of his views on the poor and needy, those who say they want to follow him might keep this in mind: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or needing clothes, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'" (Mt 25.44-45).
People matter. Our care for them, for the "least", for those who cannot provide for themselves, matters. If we want to live in a society where we believe "We the People" are what comes first — and if those who say they want to follow Jesus care about actually having the same care for others that he does (let's hope they do) — then the values of The Christian Left (which, we are glad and privileged to find, are also held by very many of our friends there who are NOT Christian, or not religious at all!) are values that our whole society should be sharing.
"We the People": the Golden Rule, not survival of the fittest.
Article by featured blogger Roger Smith, who also blogs at Roger's Shrubbery
We get letters like this all the time. We also get shorter similar comments on the Facebook page every day. We thought we'd share them with you. It's the reason we come to work every day. Thanks so much for being a part of our community. We couldn't do it without you. Before we started this page, we felt the same way you did: Alone.
"Thank you, God, that I am not alone. A person in my life tells me I can't be Christian unless I believe the Christian Right, and I don't. I knew that person was wrong, and I love them. I am just so thankful to know I don't have to carry a torch of hate in my heart to be saved. I don't have to hate anyone to talk and walk with my Lord. I don't have to condemn others to be forgiven. The tenants of that teaching are not the teachings of my Christ! I will not fear the messages of hate because my God is with me. God has answered a prayer and lifted a burden from my heart. Thanks be to Jesus and glory to God. Finding this site gave me reason to rejoice."
October 17th, 2011
Here's another one:
"Re: Your Facebook and Website
Where have you been all of my life? I read your website here for the first time and this is how I have felt all of my adult life. We on the left need to start speaking out about the incorrect version of what it means to be a Christian. So many people think it is the cheap, quick, selfish way of becoming "born again." They are told it saves their souls and perhaps a baptism of sorts is a requirement (not convinced of this). The deeds and actions they lead and the statements they make are far from Christ like. I of course fail to be completely Christ like as well however. We as a nation have forgotten about social justice and the common good of man kind. In fact I believe our nation is about as far from a "state of grace" as it can be because of it.
I think we as the Christian Left are asking people to do what is difficult (help the poor, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, give up material excesses, forgive, be humble, etc.), and the Christian Right is asking people to do what is simple: get dipped in water and you’re good to go. That’s why our road is much more difficult and will never be as popular. However, we still need to reveal the real truth of Christ and his teachings."
January 4th, 2011
By Charles Toy
“I’m sick and tired of trying to measure up to your expectations! It's impossible! You’re God! You have all the power! You’re perfect! You live in perfection! I live in this s--t-hole! You have no idea what it’s like! No idea at all what it’s like to be me!”
That’s what I said to God 21 years ago. I was angry and I was having a MAJOR pity party.
A voice spoke to my soul. I didn’t hear it with my ears. I heard it loud and clear in my spirit.
“Yes I do know what it’s like to be a human being. I became one. I know exactly what it’s like.”
I could not have come up with that at that particular time and in the frame of mind I was in.
It was all I needed to hear. God had delivered the perfect message to me when I needed Him most. My spirit was calmed immediately.
The next week-end I went to a Baptist men’s retreat for the week-end. Unbeknownst to me, there was an author speaking at the retreat, Jeff VanVonderen. He had just written a book called, “Tired of Trying to Measure Up.” Imagine that. The very words I had said to God days before. I bought the book at the retreat and read the entire thing. Again, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
There's an old saying: "Was it a coincidence, or was it God? It was probably God." Amen to that I say.
I still get mad at God sometimes, but he’s patient with me that way. After having a handful of experiences like the one I just described, it’s pretty hard for me to doubt Him.
Does he do these things in your life? I bet he does. Sometimes we just have to be willing to listen.
About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is a founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit.
Roger Smith has to tilt his head to shake the words out, as you can see. He is an organizing member of The Christian Left who also blogs at "Roger's Shrubbery."