June 27, 2005

John Kerry and The Modified Pro-Life Position

Here's a blast from the past. I wrote this article before the 2004 election, but it was deemed too "political" for publication on LifeWay.com. It's not so much about John Kerry as it is about a particularly prevalent pro-choice perspective (say that 5 times fast), which demands a response. More recently, and somewhat related to this article, is Hillary Clinton's comment that she'd like to make abortion a "rare" thing. And without further adieu...

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Before the last presidential election, Democratic candidate John Kerry made a curious statement. Curious, not because he had never said it before, but because it represented a belief that ran against the grain of his entire political record on the matter. Kerry is not alone in his cognitive dissonance; his turns out to be a popular, though poorly reasoned, position.

Kerry has been an unquestionable champion of "a woman's right to choose," and "the right to privacy" – these being slogans of abortion rights advocacy. In fact, NARAL and Planned Parenthood have given Kerry a perfect 100 percent rating for his strong voting record on this issue. But in an interview that ran in the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald, Kerry told the paper, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

Now, I don't mean to pick on Kerry specifically – though it is fair to take our potential leadership to task on critical issues – I only wish to use him to point out a common sentiment among "pro-choice" advocates and to act as a surrogate for the philosophy I mean to address. Kerry's statement represents what pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf terms, "the modified pro-life position." Basically, he has a personal problem with abortion, but thinks that each woman should have the freedom to make her own choice about it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for giving women choice: the choice to marry vs. stay single, to seek employment vs. being a stay-at-home-mom, to drive a minivan vs. an SUV, etc. The question here is, "what are we giving these women a free choice to do and what might be so wrong with it?" The answer to the first question is so obvious and uncomfortable to discuss that abortion advocates much prefer to keep the attention on the word "choice"; everyone likes choices. The question as to what might be so wrong with choosing to "terminate" a pregnancy is implicitly answered in Kerry's statement.

Kerry says he doesn't like abortion, and has even said elsewhere, in more abortion friendly discussions, that he would like to make it "rare." So what's not to like about abortion in his view? Is it like removing tumors, where he'd rather not have need of such operations? No, it can't be that, because removing a tumor is a good thing. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with such an operation; it's the development of tumors that we'd like to avoid. But the analogous question here might be, "once a tumor is discovered, what ought we to do with it?" When we think on this, the profound differences between a tumor and a developing child begin to emerge.

I think we can all agree on the idea that avoiding unwanted pregnancies is the ideal, even though we may disagree on how best to address this issue, but it is a separate discussion entirely as to what to do once a woman has found herself to be pregnant. The key to answering this question is found in Kerry's own words: "I believe life does begin at conception." With this statement, Kerry has voiced the foundational belief on which the pro-life position is built, though he doesn't seem to affirm the implications of what he has said.

Overall, Kerry's comments imply that he doesn't like abortion because he believes that life begins at conception. This gives him less wiggle room. He's affirming, up front, that it's not just a "tissue mass" that we're talking about here (as Planned Parenthood would have us believe); it's "life." We don't typically lament the removal of unwanted tissue – when's the last time you mourned over your toenail clippings or after having a wart removed? – we only lament the loss of something of value. And if that unwanted tissue turns out to be a human life, then we've got ourselves a real problem. However, if it's not life, then what's to lament or discourage, especially if the woman doesn't even want the pregnancy in the first place. So the fundamental question becomes, "what is the unborn?" If it is a human life, then no justification is adequate for killing it; if it is not, then no justification is necessary.

Kerry says he thinks it is a "life," and he "opposes" the idea of taking it. Senator Kerry's overall position might be paraphrased as follows: "I am personally opposed to abortion because I think it takes the life of an innocent human baby, but I think every woman should have the right to do so if they choose." Now, I'm sure that he would never be caught stating it so blatantly, but when you put it all together and remove the spin, it seems apparent that this is exactly what he is implying.

So, if abortion is morally equivalent to murder, why in the world would he ever support anyone's right to commit it? Can you imagine someone saying, "I think Africans are valuable humans, but I think everyone should have the right to enslave them if they choose" or, "I think Jews shouldn't be exterminated, but every country should have the right to practice their own policies in the privacy of their own borders"? Perhaps some held to these views, but their names are certainly not listed in the honor rolls of history. If abortion really is murder, then America's 1.3 million abortions per year represent its own modern holocaust. Kerry can only seek to escape the logical conclusion of his belief by fleeing down one of four tenuous paths.

1) Perhaps he doesn't really believe that a fetus represents "life." Either he is being disingenuous when he calls it that, or he is simply unable to make a firm mental and emotional connection between the idea of a valuable human being and a hidden "thing" within a swollen belly. But trust me: if wombs had windows this debate would never even have gotten started. That's why Planned Parenthood does not use ultrasounds or visual aids: so that mothers can make "informed decisions" without being confused by such extraneous facts as what exactly it is they are thinking about terminating. Unfortunately for them, un-politicized science is friendliest to the pro-life cause. By textbook definition, "life" begins at conception. We're not talking hamsters or eggplants here; human parents beget human life, even if that human may undergo various stages of development.

2) Perhaps he subscribes to the idea of "degreed personhood." This modern ploy separates the concept of "human" from "person"; and a human is not a person until they reach some arbitrarily defined stage or show some degree of possession of one or more key attributes. Now, last I checked Webster's dictionary defined a "person" as "A living human," so this tactic smells of an ad-hoc metaphysical redefinition for purely political purposes. It is this kind of philosophical gymnastics that facilitates the idea that adult monkeys are more persons than one-year-old humans, or that Africans and Jews are non-persons that may be enslaved or exterminated, or that mentally handicapped and Alzheimer patients fail to pass the test of "personhood" and are thus candidates for euthanasia. This is a frightening road with an ugly destination that has been traveled at least once in recent history.

3) Perhaps he thinks that the "pro-choice" position is a "neutral" stance – that government just shouldn't be involved in the decisions of individuals in this matter. Abortion advocates reflect this attitude when they say things such as, "don't like abortion, don't have one." But this misses the point of the objection and is as vacuous as saying, "don't like murder, don't commit one." You can only make choices within the boundaries of what has been deemed permissible by the government, and with Roe v. Wade the government has not taken a neutral stance in this debate; it has declared that the unborn is not a member of the class of protected citizens in this country. Declaring someone a "non-person" is not a neutral act; it is a potential death sentence. Stepping aside to allow someone to extinguish what you believe to be a human life is not neutral; it is an example of moral negligence. And to advocate public funding for such a thing (which Kerry and others have sought to do in certain cases) is outright complicity and a slap in the face for a large taxpaying demographic who feel that abortion should not be an available choice in the first place.

4) Perhaps he believes that even if the unborn really is a human life, the mother's rights trump those of her baby. This position is loosely represented in the claim that the mother has the "right to control her own body." The implication is that the fetus – connected to and contained within the mother, as it were – is merely an appendage or property of hers. First, this results in the absurd conclusion that a woman may have four arms, two heads, and, in some cases, a penis. The fact that things like the DNA and blood type of this "appendage" are different from the mother's only compound the difficulties. Second, arguing this way is really just another manifestation of position 1, which amounts to a claim that the fetus is not really a human life after all. Third, it is a gratuitous claim to say that while the child is within the womb his or her life is owned by the mother and is at the mercy of her desires or convenience. This is illustrated by the fact that after birth, even if it is a dramatically premature one, it is a criminal offense to assault the baby. The idea that a ride down a canal or a snip of a cord can bestow human rights borders on the mystical. If one can be convinced that the child may be killed a day before delivery, it is not a substantial leap of reasoning to conclude that it can be killed a day (or more) after delivery. Further alarming conclusions follow from there.

I am disposed to think that John Kerry's position on the issue of abortion is simply an attempt to appease the Right with his rhetoric and the Left with his legislation, but if I can't succeed in being generous to him personally, I am at least confident that there are others who sincerely hold to the modified pro-life position. Unfortunately, the "neutral" high ground taken by some individuals is of no benefit or consolation to the lives lost to the politics of tolerance. Abortion rights legislation empowers individuals to exercise their will to do that which is believed to be murder. It is a bit like telling your son you hate murder, but that he is free to come to his own conclusion about it and then unlocking the gun cabinet, just in case.

Ultimately, the modified pro-life position is a rational and moral failure, and those who hold to it are accomplices to the crimes that they claim to disdain. While the mother's hand may ultimately control the gallows (often encouraged or pressured by the hand of the father, parents, or social agencies), John Kerry and company are among those who are helping to insure that the gallows exist for any who may choose to make use of it.

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June 23, 2005

Stem Cell Reality Check

Here is an interesting MSNBC interview with James Thomson, the first scientist to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells. It contains some interesting admissions. I've included some of the highlights below, along with my comments.

Some of Thomson's pronouncements might seem surprising: that supporters of stem-cell research are overestimating the prospects for transplantation cures, that the current stem-cell lines aren't well-suited for such applications anyway, and that there's no need to resort to therapeutic cloning right now — or perhaps ever.

Critics point out that embryonic stem cells are not being used in any clinical applications yet, while alternatives such as adult stem cells figure in scores of therapies. Thomson acknowledged that the field was still in its formative stage: "There have been companies that have gone into stem cells, but nobody’s made any money."
Much has been made, especially by the media, over the embryonically derived stem cells even in the face of the many adult stem cell therapeutic successes. Thomson does not deny the shortcomings of ESC research.

It’d be very nice to clear up [the misinformation] as much as possible. You can still make an informed choice and be for it or against it, but at least it’d be based on the real facts. I guess the news media aren’t really the media to educate. The news media failed in that role. … I don’t know how to change it, because every time I have an interview with some guy and try to go through what the science is, they talk about curing Alzheimer’s.
Note that Alzheimer's is not considered a viable candidate for stem cell therapy in spite of it's continued use as a dangling carrot.
There are 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States, and a large percentage of those are going to be thrown out. Regardless of what you think the moral status of those embryos is, it makes sense to me that it’s a better moral decision to use them to help people than just to throw them out. It’s a very complex issue, but to me it boils down to that one thing.
It is a factor worth considering, but I do think that the status of the embryo is germane to the discussion. If they are not persons, then there is no debate; you can do anything you want with them. If they are persons, then we need to rethink the idea that they are just "going to be thrown out." For example, I've got a lot of stuff stored in my garage that I don't want. Should I throw it away or give it to Goodwill? That's a relevant discussion unless I find out that I've got some priceless antiques in the lot, then it's a whole new ball game.

If the embryos are valuable persons, then perhaps we need to step up programs like this, which attempt to find these "things" a home. If Thomson thinks they are persons, but wants to put them to utilitarian uses nonetheless, then perhaps he would also consider making organ donors of the thousands of death-row convicts, since they are just going to die anyway.

That’s separate from creating embryos. That offends a lot more people, and I can understand why. You’re creating something that’s a tool, and you’re making a tool out of this thing. I haven’t seen polls, but just in my personal conversations, using things that are about to be thrown out offends almost no one, including fairly devout Catholics – whereas actually making something into a tool offends a much larger percentage of the population.
But if the existing embryos are not valuable human persons, then the "tool" that you're making is not either. And if they are, then the whole tone of this debate must change -- the "just trash anyway" mentality presupposes non-personhood.

If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn’t know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is.
FYI: by "nuclear transfer" he means "cloning." Here he admits that there is no clinical difference between a conventionally produced embryo, a clone for "reproductive" purposes, or a clone for "therapeutic" purposes. An embryo is an embryo. Consequently, the moral concerns over the treatment of this embryo -- be it abortion or stem cell harvesting -- logically and consistently apply.

The trouble is that most of these transplantation therapies are going to take a while to get to, and my personal guess is that there will be other technologies that go around the need for nuclear transfer.
So, he's admitting that this stuff may be way down the road, and he's also admitting that it is not a panacea, i.e., there are other viable alternatives to embryonic stem cell therapies via cloning technology. This, contrary to Ron Reagan Jr.'s spectacle of disinformation at last year's Democratic National Convention. Note: you can find my reply to Ron's speech here, which also serves as a good overview of the embryonic stem cell debate.

In a kind of “silver lining to the dark cloud” thing, it’s almost better that Bush was elected. President Clinton did not fund this research. It’s nice to yell at the republicans, but moderate Republicans have been some of the biggest supporters of this. Even though it’s a compromise, and even though the compromise does not represent good public policy, it got the field going, it got federal funding going for the first time.
Uh oh, are we our own worst enemy?

Nobody can actually isolate and expand and grow [adult stem cells] in useful ways. But we can already make blood in very reasonable quantities from human embryonic cells.
This is the most discouraging claim made in the interview, but I am not at all confident that it is an accurate one. Note, for example, this article and this one, which suggest otherwise. And if someone at his academic level is ignorant of (or being dishonest about) the potential of adult stem cells, then there is little hope for the media and the teaming masses.

For the latest news on stem cell research see this resource, which makes a point to highlight the alternative breakthroughs that do not compromise human life.

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June 21, 2005

9/11 Memorial Perversion

Here is an excerpt from a distressing email I just received:

The small band of radical 9/11 families that fascinate the media are now dominating the committee planning the memorial at Ground Zero. They plan to build a 300,000 sq. foot museum called the International Freedom Center that will not focus on 9/11, but recount the failures of the U.S. including exhibits on slavery, segregation, etc. It'll be the "blame America first" museum. What's worse is that they are funding this with our tax dollars.

Some of the other families - many, many more than those behind this museum - are trying to take back the memorial. There's a
website with news about it and there's a petition to gather signatures that they can use to persuade our representatives to do something about this. So far, none want to get involved. And they need to raise their profile - no major media outlets have taken notice yet. I heard about it on Laura Ingram's show and apparently they had their first appearance on Fox News this morning.

For a good overview of this issue, see this article:
http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006791
Here is a direct link to the petition page, which I urge you to consider:
http://takebackthememorial.org/petition/

June 18, 2005

Terri Schiavo Redux

Here is a brief exchange I had in STR's blog comment area on the topic of Terri Schiavo, which I thought might be worth capturing.
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Anonymous said: "She was brain dead. Her body was running on autopilot and as long as food was pumped into her she would have continued on in her vegetative state. . . .You can't just keep the bodies of dead people artificially going just because we have the technology to do it."

A tube ain't so high-tech, even here in Tennessee where I come from. It's not like she was getting cardio-pulmonary assistance.

On a higher-brow note, let's not make the mistake of thinking that a "person" is equivalent to a "brain," or that "life" is equivalent to a particular level of operational ability. That's a dangerous path to set foot upon. There was a world of difference between an animated corpse and Terri. And no matter how flattering and non-representative you think the film footage is that we had been treated to, even on its best day a corpse cannot follow balloons and smile at its mother's voice. I don't care how damaged her cranial organ happened to be or what "hope" she had of recovery; Terri was home even though the lights weren't always on.

Anonymous said: "Terri's brain had deteriorated because of the lack of oxygen it suffered at the time of the heart attack. By mid 1996, the CAT scans of her brain showed a severely abnormal structure. At this point, much of her cerebral cortex is simply gone and has been replaced by cerebral spinal fluid. Medicine cannot cure this condition. So the presence of smiles, grimaces, vocalizations, and eye movements alone is not relevant to the question of whether Schiavo has retained any degree of consciousness or may benefit from therapy."

But it is relevant to whether or not she is "alive." You seem to be equating "value" and our responsibility to care for her with an ethic that includes quality-of-life or potential for improvement. Feeding someone is not extraordinary means, and it seems reasonable to think that if all they require for continued life is a bit of food and water, then what right have we to debate over whether or not they are truly responsive or conscious or a candidate for extermination. Our thinking in such cases as this will have far-reaching impact on our culture, in this and other related issues.

Anonymous said: "I want you people to know that I completely support Melinda and the rest of you in our fight against moral wrongs like euthanasia. I just think that Terri Schiavo was a bad choice to further our cause and that spreading bad info about her and her condition (essentially gossip) does nothing to help our argument."

Perhaps some of the details are mistaken (on both sides), but our case was never dependent on whether Terri could recover or if she had a significant level of consciousness. Our point is that human life should be valued wherever it is found and at whatever level of physical or mental utility. Killing may seem an expedient and even compassionate solution in some situations, but as we are not the authors of life, so we are not the arbiters of death. Just as pro-choice advocates would like to ascribe "life" by degree, so would the death-rights advocates judge and execute "death" by degree.

Additionally, we are not materialists; we believe that there is a binary distinction between life and death that involves the "soul." If you are a materialist (or you do not believe in an "authority" which reigns over our souls), then our common cause will eventually reach its point of conflict in this debate.

Anonymous said: "So, we get to the real issue we should be discussing--aside of Terri. What are acceptable conditions for medical treatment and what should be allowable? If someone leaves their wish in writing that they do not want to be on a feeding tube or any other support under a certain set of circumstances, do we honor their wishes? What if someone comes along that says they can help rehabilitate the person? Even if this is against their wishes? . . . This should be a lesson for everyone. Put your wishes in writing and let everyone know that you have done so."

Here's an interesting question (I honestly don't know): if they were unequivocally brain-dead, would their wishes even be a factor in the equation? Was the entire debate regarding Terri only because there was doubt about the status of her "life?" The other question I have is over the issue of being able to order your own execution (verbally or in writing) in the event that things go bad. Is it morally permissible to take your own life any more than you may take someone else's? And if we admit this, just how bad may things get before we permit a mercy killing? Where will the line be drawn between suicide and death-with-dignity?

Anonymous said: "You tried to define feeding someone as not being extraordinary. The Florida courts had to follow their statutes when they decided to pull the tube from Terri. You and I agree that the feeding tube, in our opinion, is not extraordinary. However, the Florida Legislature has defined it differently. . . . Right or wrong, the courts have to follow the law."

I'm not so much concerned as to what the law says as I am about whether the laws are just, or are open to interpretive abuses.

June 17, 2005

Alcoholic Pride

In one debate over the issue of homosexuality I was able to steer the conclusion to an identification of homosexuality as an "abnormality," whether biological or psychological in origin, all moral judgments aside. I then pointed out that the problem with this condition is that it offers its "sufferer" positive reinforcements; the indulgence of sexual desire, whatever its source or legitimacy, is a powerful motivator. This is not the kind of thing offered with something like a congenital ailment or a phobia. I doubt I'll ever witness a gout pride march or an arachnophobia rights protest in my lifetime.

The thing that seemed most equivalent to homosexuality for me to point out was alcoholism. The alcoholic is typically in denial that he has a problem, gains subjective benefits from indulging his condition, risks health issues in its pursuit, and can always blame it all on genetics or a bad childhood if he is taken to task. The advantage of this analogy is that the dangers and shortcomings of alcoholism are readily admitted by all people, no matter how pleasurable and legal drinking itself may happen to be. Even the alcoholic himself will tend to agree that alcoholism is a bad thing, he usually just denies that he qualifies as one.

Well, it appears that the alcoholism comparison may have less force than I once thought. According to this group of drinkers there is nothing wrong with inebriation as a lifestyle choice. Their spokesman, Frank Rich of Modern Drunkard magazine, says that "it's all about drinking without apology or remorse," and claims that "alcohol makes us better human beings." His magazine extols the [short-term] benefits and pleasures of alcohol consumption, offers community for those of like mind, and attempts to win credibility for their cause by pointing out all the respected and productive alcoholics of history.

Sound hauntingly familiar? But why not use the tactics of the gay activists, they've worked well so far?

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June 15, 2005

Letter to a Disgruntled Wiccan

Here's a reply I recently sent to a lady who emailed us some rather scathing criticism. Her complaints were in regards to this brief article on Wicca by Susie Shellenberger, editor of Brio magazine.
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Dear (name withheld),

My name is Scott and I am the editor for the apologetics area of LifeWay.com. "Apologetics" is the branch of Christianity that is devoted to such things as defending it from criticism, showing evidences for its truth claims, and interacting with competing non-Christian beliefs and worldviews. Your emails have been forwarded to me, and, as you can imagine, I deal with many such questions and complaints as this -- it is right up my alley.

I hope you don't mind if I classify your original email as a "rant," and you'll forgive us if we are disinclined to answer these kinds of responses (though we often do anyway). It is my experience that such things are meant to vent steam, and little productive dialog is birthed from such a thing. However, you have won me through your second email by your self-analysis (seeing the irony in "judging" us for being "judgmental") and your willingness to admit your mistake.

I do not think there is any sin in "judging" in the sense of being discerning and sifting good ideas from bad, but when we condemn others for doing so we cast ourselves into a mire of contradiction. A truly "tolerant" and "non-judgmental" person must remain silent in all things if he is to be consistent. As it turns out, in order to practice "tolerance" one must first disagree with a person; we don't "tolerate" someone that we agree with.

My Christian worldview permits me to believe that other ideas can actually be mistaken (or closer to and farther from the truth). It also allows me to expect and understand that other people disagree with me and will challenge my beliefs. I can sympathize with you taking issue with my religion and any truth claims I may make, but I could not be sympathetic if you held to such ideas as, "we ought not judge others" or "all religions are equally true." If you wish to step into the battleground of ideas it does no good to first throw away your weapons.

The particular article that provoked your response is not one that happens to fall within my area of control (www.lifeway.com/apologetics). It was not specifically designed as a formal or detailed response to the Wiccan religion; it is more of an in-house Christian article, i.e., for those already persuaded of the truthfulness of Christianity. For this reason, it did not take great pains to frame itself in a way that would be acceptable to someone sympathetic to Wicca. But no matter how polite and affirming any article might be, from a Christian perspective there would always be the assumption that Wicca is a mistaken belief system. That in itself will be offense enough for some people. It seems that the mere idea that one thinks their beliefs are true is an affront in this postmodern age. But even the average Wiccan holds most of the key doctrines of Christianity (among other religions) to be false. As one high-profile Wiccan recently stated in an email exchange with me: "I have to admit that some claims within religions may be inaccurate. Christians believe that non-Christians are doomed to eternity in Hell. I'm pretty sure that's just wrong."

The most unfortunate thing that I see in this article is its mention of Satan in conjunction with Wicca. I understand that Wiccans despise and reject the Satan connection, and this article does indeed mention that "witches claim they don't even believe in Satan - let alone worship him." In my view, the primary mistake is making satanic connections to this religion over and above any other religion. In the world of non-Christian religions, paganism (if you'll allow me to use that in relation to Wicca) might be said to get a "bad rap." It is as though paganism is inferior to the other more populous world religions, which Christians, by the way, hold to be equally mistaken.

Please understand, it is not that we believe Wiccans to be consciously seeking "evil" (in the popular sense of the word), or intentionally serving Satan; it is that we believe all non-Christian religions are in some sense tools and products of satanic deception. Satan is not so much concerned about people consciously worshipping him (I'm sure that many who do so only bring him bad publicity); priority-one for him is any lie that will draw people away from the Truth. There are many ways to fall, but only one way to stand straight. We happen to believe Christianity to be that Truth. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that His sayings were accurately captured in Scripture, and Jesus made as many statements about such things as Satan, demons, judgment, and hell as He did about love, peace, and heaven. Now, we may theoretically be wrong, but our reactions to, and assessments of, such things as Wicca are at least consistent with our overall religion. The ultimate question is whether or not classical Christianity is indeed true, and if that is the case, then Wicca is a deception by logical necessity.

For you to defend Wicca you must first be willing to condemn the Bible and historic Christianity as a systematic whole. This is something that few are willing to directly do even if they believe it in their heart, since it disarms them of their ability to take the role of the inclusive and tolerant alternative to the narrow-mindedness and dogma of Christianity. In fact, your own comments did not address the truth claims of Christianity, only this particular article and the alleged behavior of some "Christians."

Very few of your comments were even relevant as a defense of the Wiccan religion, but were more in the nature of slander and stereotyping of Christian individuals. Claiming that Christians kill people who disagree with them, invoke wars and hate crimes, and throw bombs into mosques and Hindu temples is a bit excessive, and not at all relevant to the accuracy of the article in question. Since your implied purpose was to set the record straight regarding Wicca and not to take Christianity to task, I'll address only your relevant comments now.

You said: "You make cruel and unjust claims without any actual research"

I haven't discussed this with Susie to know how much exposure she's had to Wicca or how much time she's put into investigating it, but I think it is safe to say it is greater than zero effort, which is what your statement implies. The fact that she successfully relates it to goddess worship, earth reverence, witchcraft, and spell usage indicates that she is not just making blind and random claims.

You said: "All I saw were closed minded lies"

I think you must admit that she got a few things right, even by your own standards. If Susie claimed Wiccans were a retirement club for lawyers who liked to torture gerbils you would probably just react with a good laugh at our expense. It is the fact that the article comes within target range that gives you cause for concern.

As to "lies," I don't think Susie is intending to deliberately mislead her readers about Wicca. I'm sure she would like to address the genuine beliefs and their genuine problems. You might contend that she is off base in her assessment, but most of your case would be dependent on demonstrating that the Bible is a hopeless muddle from top to bottom; for it has much to say against pagan religion in every chapter. Unfortunately, this would leave you without any basis for attempting to clarify for us what Jesus really "wanted" or what He really "died for."

As to "closed minded," I wonder if your mind is made up (i.e., "closed") that Wicca is a valid religion and represents the way the spiritual world really is. I wonder if you are "open" to the possibility that God is a personal and triune being that has created the world and stands outside of space and time, and was uniquely incarnate into the person, Jesus of Nazareth. Imagine for a moment that biblical Christianity is true, as Susie does, and then consider what things cease to be error in her article from that framework of understanding.

You accused her of "Calling Wiccans devil lovers"

There was no explicit mention of "devil lovers" in her article. She, in fact, admits that Wiccans do not even acknowledge Satan. I think what she was really saying is that Wiccans are unwittingly pawns of Satan, but as I clarified earlier this could also be said of any number of other religions, or particular beliefs, that are opposed to the knowledge of God (Ephesians 6:12 & 2Corinthians 10:5).

You said: "Wicca is an open minded religion, in fact their one rule is 'an if it harm none, do what ye will'"

Ah yes, the "Wiccan Rede." I'll not descend into a discussion of the problematic nature of this minimalistic ethic. Your point is to show that Wiccans are not the evil pointy-hatted witches of fairy-tale fame. Point noted, but there's a lot more to virtue than simply not bashing others in the head, and when you ultimately get to define "harm" for yourself you can do no wrong by definition. No matter how benign you may take the rituals and beliefs of Wicca to be, if they run contrary to the nature and knowledge of the true God of the universe then they are of immeasurable "harm." Additionally, peacefulness or minding one's own business is an inadequate measure of the truth of a religion. If this were so then I'd be inclined to give the Amish the seat of honor.

I hope this letter has given you some understanding of where Susie is coming from. I'm sure you still take issue with the Christian assessment of Wicca, but I hope that you can at least appreciate that if we believe our Scriptures to be inspired by God, that we are logically justified in believing what it says about pagan beliefs and practices. Perhaps there is then room for a principled dispute between our opposing belief systems, practicing a view of "tolerance" in its classical sense, i.e., disagreement in a civil and respectful manner. Perhaps you might also be interested to see this article on Wicca, from our apologetics area, that is more precise and technical in nature.

Sincerely,
Scott Pruett

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June 06, 2005

How We Know That Sex Is Sacred

Our secular culture has worked very hard to sell us on the idea that there is no particular design or purpose to sexual relationships, consequently, sex may be enjoyed at the discretion of the individual. The only constraints are that it be "responsible" and "safe," and that the participants are "ready" and "willing." Any teleological consideration of its design, such as between a man and woman, or its context, such as in the formal bonds of marriage, have come to be viewed as mere social conventions. And what Scripture has to say on this matter is of no consequence to the pagan mind (and very often to the modern Christian one as well). However, there are very plain "signals of transcendence," as Peter Berger would call them, that there is something very special about the act of sex. Here are several that come to mind.

The heinousness of rape

Witness the testimony of any rape victim and you will notice an overpowering sense of humiliations, emotional distress, and rage. For many of these victims, there is psychological damage that can plague them and their relationships for years to come. These kinds of profound effects are largely absent from almost any other kind of personal crimes, even violent ones. There is something different about sexual crimes -- something personal and sacred that has been violated. And it is something that even promiscuous persons claim to experience.

Imagine two scenarios with the same woman. In one scenario, she is kidnapped at gunpoint, forcibly given a hairstyling and manicure, made to eat ice cream, given a massage, and then sent on her way. Now imagine her to be kidnapped and forced to have sex -- even with an attempt to be gentle and offer pleasure, and using a condom as well -- and then released unharmed. Both of these scenarios deal with things that are potentially pleasurable and, presumably, morally neutral. Both involve lack of consent on the part of the victim. I think I could easily predict that in the first example the victim would come away more mystified than distraught. In the second case, there would be many tears and criminal charges would be sought. But what could be the difference, then, in the eyes of the sexual libertarian? Anything that would be appealed to in order to make the second example different or more abhorrent would begin to make my case.

The infidelity factor

There's nothing that will tear apart a relationship faster than sexual infidelity. A man could work with another woman, see a movie, exercise, or even have a deeply personal conversation with her, but if there is even a hint of sexual overtones to the interaction the spouse will come undone. And it is not just the physical aspect, since many gynecologists have quite successful marriages. It does not even matter if a relationship is outside of a formal commitment, like marriage. An expectation of fidelity is the unspoken assumption among relationships, no matter how transient.

There are certainly exceptions to this rule, where both parties have made some open arrangement, but even then there is often something withheld from outside partners. For example, I was watching a program on this topic where a liberal pastor was discussing her "swinger" lifestyle and she mentioned that she and her husband had chosen to reserve kissing only for each other. "We feel like that is just too personal" was her rationale. This is reminiscent of a line from the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts, who plays a call girl, informs Richard Gere's character that she has a policy of not kissing her clients. What a strange upside-down sexual ethic this is! The very thing that we hardly bat an eye at when done by adolescents becomes a measure of fidelity for the promiscuous. It would seem the moral vacuum begs to be filled.

Those making such open arrangements often have difficulty dealing with their violated intuitions. I once watched a "Behind the Music" special on '70s punk rocker Billy Idol where he and his wife shared the story of their breakup. It seems that they had an arrangement that they could "sleep around" as long as they didn't flaunt their lovers in the presence of one another. One day Billy made a rather graphic call to a mistress. The trouble was, he was in a room with a baby monitor and his wife heard the conversation on the other end. It was too much to bear, and she promptly filed for divorce. The ironic thing is that even though Billy thought he was being discreet, and was abiding by the spirit of the promiscuity agreement, his wife couldn't handle the situation when the ugly truth raised its head from the shadows of her repressed intuition.

The contempt of promiscuity

I've often wondered why in our liberated and libertarian society prostitution is not more broadly legalized. Which aspect of that profession is in question? It certainly passes the popular criteria of "consent," and restrictions on what adults may do in private are falling like dominos. Perhaps it is the health risks inherent in promiscuous sexual practices, but most prostitutes already take precautions, and if we intend to legislate sexual health issues then we would have to rethink those evaporating sodomy laws. No, I think the issue relates to the cheapening and threatening availability of sex. What woman wants such opportunities presented to her husband or son, or aspires for her daughter to seek such a career? And how many men will put their reputations (or marriages) on the line to fight for legalized prostitution?

Even where prostitution is legal and the culture is liberal, it is not seen as a noble career. Schoolgirls do not typically dream of being call girls and men do not put them on their A-list for potential wives. But if there is nothing truly sacred about sex, then different people have every right to ascribe different value to it and engage in it as often and freely as they so choose. It would be no different from an artist who paints only for her own home versus one who paints for others on commission. Anyone who devalues the prostitute (or gigolo) does so either out of bigotry or out of their intuitive awareness of its profound cheapening and violation of the sanctity of sex.

The "love" connection

Remember that old Meatloaf song, "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights?" The couple in the song were, in its own words, "barely seventeen and barely dressed." But before the boy made it to home base the girl wanted to know something: "before we go any further, do you love me? Will you love me forever?" Even though society as a whole is fairly sexually liberal, it is only the minority who are promiscuous to the extreme that they will consciously pursue one-night-stands. And of those who do, it tends to be an attitude acquired sometime after virginity has been lost and the ideals of young love are a distant memory. Virginity is not left easily or without emotional investment. Women seem to have the greatest moral intuition in this matter partly, I think, because they are more keenly sensitive to the social and emotional issues that are contributing factors to why sex must be sacred. At minimum, a girl prefers to have "love" involved because she likes to think that she is doing something special -- that her body and, particularly, her virginity, is worth something for which "love" is suitable compensation. But if sex has no real objective value, then she could just as well reserve kissing, giving a massage, or playing double solitaire for that someone special. I think it's safe to predict that we'll never hear something as odd as, "I'm sorry I can't play monopoly with you. I'm saving myself for marriage."

But why pick "love" as that special qualifier for sexual license? Is it "love" as mere emotion? Even though society seems to have distilled love primarily down to an emotion, if it were all about a feeling then a boy could "love" his way into numerous sexual relationships, for surely one may have strong "emotions" for more than one person at a time (well, at least it is the fantasy of many an adolescent boy). In reality, with "love" comes certain behavioral expectations, which tend to include devotion and fidelity. Is it just fidelity for a day and devotion till the next best thing comes along? No. There is generally some assumption, or at least hope, that the relationship will endure. If there were some plan or suspicion of an end, then a profession of love would ring hollow. This is why one of the most common prose of the romantic is "I will love you till the end of time." The pinnacle of romantic love is an exclusive, selfless, and enduring dedication to another person, and the pure and institutional expression of this is marriage. The love sought by discriminating lovers in their desperation to sanctify their sexual unions is a mere shadowing of the rightful place that God has made for it.

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Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN