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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

My preference is not to use the theological labels “Arminian” and “Calvinist,” but I feel the need to respond to Christian academic philosophers who apparently cannot get through the week without attacking the beliefs of their Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems conservative Christians are fair game if they do not meet the standards of Arminian thinking.

Last month I read a tweet about the research of a Houston Baptist University professor whose academic mission is to prove “what is wrong with Calvinism.” Dr. Jerry L. Walls went to Princeton Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and has a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

His dedication to his mission includes video lectures on his website and You-Tube where he explains the blunders of those who fail to embrace the enlightened ground of Arminianism.

Yes, Arminian professors have every right to turn a blind eye to important issues dear to conservatives such as opposition to abortion and assisted-suicide and the defense of religious liberty. Such professors are free not to instill in their students the importance of uniting with other conservatives to oppose dangerous trends in culture. If they want their students to feel smug in their perceived theological superiority, so be it. It’s called academic freedom. And, certainly, there is nothing surprising about being a cheerleader for Arminianism in liberal circles.

But why all the anti-Calvinism at an evangelical university? What is so threatening about Calvinism that obsesses Arminian professors to the point that they will throw their Calvinist brothers and sisters under the bus?

In today’s hostile climate for Bible-believing Christians, is it helpful to consume a lot of intellectual energy undermining the platform of Calvinists such as Albert Mohler who provides excellent biblical analysis on today’s culture? Even if the Arminian assault is not directed specifically at Mohler or another defender of Bible Christianity, does it not still help liberalism?

In the bigger picture of principalities and power, how many Bible-believing Christians really care about the so-called Arminian-Calvinist debate?

If it makes any difference, I ask these questions as a non-Reformed person. If you are looking to label me, think D.L. Moody proto-fundamentalism.

Let us park what appears to be theological arrogance and let liberals do their own work of tearing down conservative Christians.

 

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The statement of Barack Obama on the sadistic beheading of James Foley contains a worldview and it is this worldview, which is currently dominant in Europe and not quite yet dominant in America, which is the reason we will lose the war against barbarism. The worldview is called “Progressivism.” (more…)

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It is not just pro-life activists that lament the fact that the practice of abortion is rampant in Canada.

The practice seems virtually limitless thanks to the concomitant promotion of promiscuity and the vested interest in maintaining the status quo.   A practice that drew an extraordinary 1 million signatures in opposition in 1975 (at a time when the national population was only 23 million) is now readily accessible through a combination of public and private clinics, completely subsidised through public healthcare.  The Ontario government is so biased against the public’s perception of the public good that it has actually blocked public access to the statistics.

The disunity in the pro-life camp

Yet it isn’t only the strength of the vested interests that have created this wretched situation.  There is also a failure to oppose it with any strength or conviction.  It is not just the politicians who lack strength – it is the voices behind them.  This lies in part to divisions within the pro-life camp.  My critique of gestational legislation as an acceptable policy is widely shared, a source of frustration for some pro-lifers, because they see it as an achievable aim (unlike a total ban).

Yet that is where they are wrong.  Gestational legislation ought not to succeed for the reasons I have given. It cannot succeed because it needs unity within the camp to do so.

Action requires unity

If pro-lifers really want to be pragmatic and do something about the hideous act of abortion, they should begin by working with people that agree with them, rather than seeking to compromise with those who don’t.

I would add that the demand for compromise is also uncharitable.  Christians should not be compelling others on matters of conscience.

Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken in a spirit of unity which would be both achievable and highly effective.

If the point is to unite the pro-life camp, and we all are willing to support incremental legislation, which is the way to win battles in the war, then I think those who agree on the principles need to collaborate and to prioritize areas where I presume there is consensus in the pro-life camp.

Practical steps

  1. Defunding abortion:  This is to my mind one obvious place to begin.  Why should a voluntary medical operation (often taking place in private clinics) be fully funded by the public health care system when others are not?  The question should be asked, why should my tax dollars go to fund someone else’s lifestyle choices, particularly when I consider them (and the industry around it which promotes rampant promiscuity and sexual experimentation) immoral?   There is a clear lack of equity.  If GSA clubs can be opened in schools on the basis of one student’s request (even in protesting Catholic schools), then surely elective operations cannot receive universal coverage in the face of strong opposition by taxpayers.
  2. Personhood status:  The motion to revise the 400 year old view of the personhood of the fetus by MP Stephen Woodworth is well worth supporting.  The case for doing so on the basis of legal precedent alone is very strong, as Margaret Somerville makes clear.
  3. Informed Consent legislation: Abortions performed for those under 18 should require parental consent.  You can’t vote before then in Canada (i.e. you’re not considered a responsible adult), so how can abortion be permissible?
  4. Partial-birth abortion ban:  This practice could be halted if legislation were passed determining a partially-emerged child to be no different than a fully-emerged child, and thereby killing it subject to all the same penalties as murdering a child.  It is a barbaric practice that would surely bring the odium of the public.
  5. ‘Cooling off periods’:  There could be legislation requiring a woman to wait 24 hours after approaching an abortuary and receiving information on the physiological and psychological consequences of abortion for the mother.

All these are practical measures to which I would expect almost all those who are in the pro-life camp could agree.  As such, they must be pursued with vigour.

I think that the first two options are the priority, because the first has a multiplier effect of undermining the nefarious industry that profits from the practice,  and the second has the potential to do far more.

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While hopeful of a united front within the pro-life camp, I have dismissed an incremental approach that takes the form of gestational legislation.  Please note, I do think some incremental approaches should be pursued, but not ones that legally discriminate against persons that fall under an arbitrary limit.

But I also suggested that any success in achieving gestational legislation would effectively neuter the pro-life cause thereafter.  I want to expand on that here.

The chief reason is that the position clearly does not even have the courage to reflect the convictions of those that espouse it, and many pro-lifers do not.  Even its advocates acknowledge that gestational limits impose an arbitrary determination on when life begins, but they excuse it as a tactical manoeuvre.  But they fool no one, and that is precisely why any legislation would be ineffective.

For one thing, the pro-life movement would be exposed for operating on false pretenses, and having a ‘hidden agenda’.  Since integrity is essential to the pro-life cause, positions that are so nakedly cynical must be rejected out of hand, particularly in an age marked by cynicism and ‘interest group politics’.

Furthermore, laws cannot effect change on their own, though it is characteristic of legal positivists to think that they can: hearts and minds must be changed to be willing to follow them, and that can only happen when laws are clearly connected to morality and the public good.

The medical establishment in Canada has already demonstrated between 1969-1988 that it viewed the unborn to be unworthy of the treatment of persons, aborting large numbers and thus overruling the standing prohibitions on abortion (using its own, varying, prudential judgment as medical experts, and its own understanding of ‘harm’). There is every reason to think it would do no differently with a gestational limit on abortion.

Finally, adopting a compromise position also renders the pro-life movement defenseless against the same practice being implemented at the other end of the war on life as it has been given by God:  euthanasia.

Gestational limits and euthanasia

On that front, I understand that Malcolm Muggeridge predicted that the next step after legalized abortion would be legalizing euthanasia … and he was right.  Both the legal and medical establishment is moving in that direction.

Why was it so obvious to him?  For the reason I have articulated throughout these posts.  Muggeridge saw that the primary battlefield was the issue of sovereignty and the authority of the state to define life and law over against God and the criminal code which rested on common law or Biblical law in the English tradition.  In Canada, the State’s expansion of its sovereignty has largely transpired through an unelected judiciary which appeals to the terms of the Charter, interpreted in opposition to this same tradition.

 

The Messianic state and the ‘official’ human being

The modern Messianic state sees itself as the author, giver and definer of life, hence its increasingly frequent redefinitions of marriage, family, gender, human rights, and so forth.  The economic needs of the modern socialistic state will lead to increasing pressure for euthanasia against the will of patients in the same way it has promoted a sexual agenda in schools, defying religious objections and the will of parents.

I can envisage a time very soon when the state will seek to determine an upper limit to life and recommend mandatory euthanasia as a therapeutic measure for the good of one and all.  It is already effectively happening in places like the U.K Would we pursue incremental legislation then based on an age of death as a practical countermeasure?  If the pro-life movement were to proceed in establishing gestational legislation on abortion as its modus operandi, then it would be expected to do so as a ‘reasonable accommodation’.

The law of man and the law of God

The issue is not finally about life in the womb, it’s about sovereignty and law – is it God or man who decides?  The history of the West, as even its critics acknowledge, reveals the triumph over the barbarism of paganism and the Caesar-cult through the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the consequent implementation of Biblical law.  It formed the foundation of the modern nation state and the rights and liberties enjoyed within it.  These liberties are currently under assault as an explicitly anti-Christian definition of human nature and thus of human rights ensues.

Can the state be “pre-political” and essentially define a new religion for the people like that of pre-Christian paganism? We can’t win the pro-life cause until we asset the supremacy of God in these areas again.

This is my final objection to gestational limit legislation.  It conceives the pro-life position too narrowly.  I see the butchery of the unborn by the medical establishment as an extension of public policy as a symptom of the overreach of the State into areas that are ordained by God to lie in the provenance of the church and the family.  Our war is not against flesh and blood, but the principalities and powers, which tend to reside in impersonal institutions.

The true war (the larger pro-life issue) is a struggle against the Messianic state, which claims to determine all of life – when it begins, when it ends; what constitutes a ‘quality’ or ‘healthy’ life; what ‘charity’ or welfare is; what marriage is; the nature and prerogatives of the family (which includes the content and nature of education); the nature of human sexuality; the nature of justice and injustice, etc..

The point I want to argue is that the only consistent position to take in a war that is already upon us on all these fronts simultaneously (because theological liberalism and the human sciences, which have followed their lead, have been preparing the battle for the past two centuries) is that it is God alone who defines what life is in all its aspects, not the State.

That’s the ‘big picture’.  It’s the tale of two cities in our age.

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In my last post, I suggested a host of problems with pursuing legislation on ‘gestational limits’.   They ranged from the principled objection that it would co-operate in an evil act to the pragmatic objection that it would be a pyrrhic victory that would probably save very few, and would likely neuter the pro-life stance ever after.

I will address the last point in the next post.

The foundation for the position I expressed in LifeSiteNews was that as Creator God alone can and does determine what life is.  No individual or group, church or state, had the authority to usurp the divine prerogative, and all attempts to do so were sinful.  The law that had been put in place in 1969, overturning a ban on abortion and making a panel of doctors the adjudicators of life and death, was a symptom of the problem, and its fruits were immediately apparent.  It resulted in an extraordinary increase in the number of abortions, which sharpened still further when the Supreme Court struck down all protection for the unborn in 1988.

Since then, it has become an issue of a “woman’s right to choose” rather than the doctors’.  The Supreme Court requested that Parliament act to address the post-1988 state of lawlessness, but the problem is the same: elected officials cannot fix the fundamental problem of usurping the divine prerogative by setting an arbitrary limit.  Parliament is not sovereign; it is accountable to God. (Rom. 13:1-7)

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Divergent principles within the pro-life camp

Still, I recognise that there are those in the pro-life camp who have argued that saving a life could not possibly violate a principle, and that even if gestational legislation on abortion did little, it would be better than saving none.  This is at root a utilitarian argument which operates on the principle that every life, considered in isolation, is intrinsically valuable.  Since every life is intrinsically valuable, efforts should be made to enact legislation, however limited – here in the form of gestational limits – in order to maximise the good.  The strongest version of it I have read is here:

The first point to recognise is that this is a different principle than saying that God ordains and rules over every person irrespective of age, and that the abortion of an innocent is an intrinsic evil.  The article itself does add complexity to the discussion by making what on one level is an extremely helpful distinction rooted in the threefold office of Christ, the munus triplex, as prophet, priest and king. 1

But the distinction of offices also adds confusion. The crux of the debate is really rooted in two things:

1) The new claim of the intrinsic good of every life.
2) The consequent utilitarian calculus of a new principle, which leads to theological and logical contradictions.

As someone from the Reformed camp, I recognize the three-fold distinction and find it valid and helpful, but is it the grounds for fundamental contradictions?  Can Christ be divided against himself?  Can Christ’s prophetic role be separated from his kingly role so as to be at odds with it?  Can truth and action be at odds?  And can every life actually be intrinsically valuable if life as a whole is not? 2

It is the kingship of Christ and the authority of his law which is at issue, and the change in principle is identified by the characterization of Christ`s lordship as a matter of politics.  We live in a democracy in a pluralistic society.  Nonetheless, Christ, risen and ascended, rules as king now, and he does not delegate it to the church to allow for diplomatic negotiations that accommodate moral relativism.  If the church had thought otherwise in the first centuries, there would have been no martyrs.  But their witness is unmistakable: the earliest Christians pronounced Kyrios Christos, Jesus is Lord.

Gestational limits and legal positivism

Finally, the approach to the law and our understanding of what the law entails is also at stake.

It seems to me that those who would promote gestational limits on abortion assume the validity of a species of legal positivism.  Legal positivism certainly grows as a school of thinking throughout 20th century jurisprudence, an age marked first by anti-Christian public ‘neutrality’, and in the past few decades, a growth in an anti-Christian public embrace of a species of paganism, much like that of ancient Rome.  Many have grown up to think no other view of the law is even possible, though the history of Western jurisprudence speaks much to the contrary. 3

But inherent in this view is the belief that ‘law’ is essentially a matter of social convention, and that there is no necessary connection between law and morality.  In that event, a crime merely becomes a transgression of the governing party’s policy.  This is at the heart of totalitarianism, a rejection of Christ’s Lordship, and a denial of God’s moral ordering of the world.  Even if it is a provisional stance, it already co-opts a view of the law as the world’s standards rather than God’s.  This seems to me untenable to the Christian.

Concluding thoughts

For Christians to oppose gestational legislation and uphold God’s standards as the only acceptable or workable standards for Canada is not to deny the State any role in Canada.  Not that long ago, God’s standards were Canada’s.  Christians have been happy for the State to acknowledge God’s rule in these areas in law (this is what has happened throughout the course of Western history); indeed, we think it right that it does so, and we are not alone in that.  Even recent non-Christian commentators such as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas4 and Italian atheist statesman Marcello Pera5 have argued that a Christian foundation is essential to all human rights.

But that does not mean that the State can determine them according to its own varying judgment.  That belief, a core assumption of legal positivism, is at the root of the problem, and Christians cannot bring about a true pro-life stance by adopting the same tactics and arguments, as if we were merely engaging in a form of power politics.

 

We are in the world, but we must not be of it.

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ENDNOTES

1.  Christ’s three ‘offices’ are also distinct aspects of the church’s ministry in relation to the issue of abortion. Christians are not just involved in awareness campaigns against the evil of abortion (prophet), or in politics (king), leaving pregnant women in difficult situations to fend for themselves. They are involved in pregnancy care centres (priest).

2. Furthermore, if the new claim of the intrinsic value of every life is true, the ethical consequences are also significant.  To name a few obvious ones, unwittingly taking a life in self-defence or in the situation of a just war against an enemy combatant would become intrinsically evil.  Scripture does not support such a position.

3.  Harold Berman’s magisterial two-volume work on Law and Revolution, subtitled The Formation of the Legal Tradition and The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition (Harvard University Press, 1983, 2006) and Jonathan Burnside’s recent God, Justice and Society: Aspects of the Law and Legality of the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2011), both strongly argue against the development of legal positivism and the consequent departure from Biblical law as the societal standard of the West.

4. “Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern chatter.” (Jürgen Habermas, Time of Transitions, Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151, translation of an interview from 1999)

5. Marcello Pera, Why we should call ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies, Encounter Books, 2008.

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In my previous post, I mentioned how pleased I was that the pro-life movement was united around the principle of the sanctity of life from conception.  Sadly that does not entail unified action.  Its proponents still have to agree on what strategy to take in confronting the systematic attack on life.  An agreement on principles alone does not make a course of action easy or straightforward.  Prudential judgments are involved precisely in those situations where two people agree on the principle of what is at stake, yet can weigh the circumstances differently and come to different ethical judgments.

Yet judgments are only prudent or practical when principles have not been compromised.  Otherwise wisdom is severed from truth, and we’ve chosen to inhabit a relativistic universe.  Life cannot be honoured there.

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A few weeks ago I was asked by LifeSiteNews for my opinion on the moral validity of pursuing legislation that would set gestational or “upper limits” on abortion. These laws would aim at limiting the number of abortions by forbidding abortion after a certain gestational period, e.g. 20 weeks. [At 20 weeks, it has been widely acknowledged by the scientific community that a child feels pain, and is viable outside the womb]. It is an issue that profoundly divides the pro-life movement.

I received significant feedback on the topic from a number of people, several of whom disagreed with the position I took. For the most part, while impassioned, the replies were considerate and took pains to argue the strength of the opposing argument.

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