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Full disclosure: I’ve never smoked marijuana and if it were legalized I still wouldn’t smoke it.  As a Christian I also agree with the traditional interpretation that the biblical prohibition against drunkenness from alcohol (c.f. Proverbs 20:1 and Ephesians 5:18) should logically be taken as a general principle and be extended to marijuana and any other intoxicating drug or substance.  In other words, I am in agreement with those who say that, biblically speaking, getting high is as  much a sin as getting drunk.  Despite all this, I believe the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. represents the best and most just solution to what the The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls a “failed” global war on drugs.  Truthfully, I believe this would be choosing the lesser of two evils, but the evil of maintaining the status quo seems too great not to.

In high school I had a friend who smoked marijuana recreationally and once told me that he felt no remorse for doing so because it was a victimless crime, hurting no one.  I always remembered that because it’s a sentiment that most marijuana users I’ve known feel.  In the back of my mind I always thought, “Yeah, but what about the effects on your mental and physical health?! You can’t say it’s completely harmless if you are the one being hurt!”  However there are people who would refute that.  This became more clear to me than ever during the run-up to the voting on Proposition 19 here in California.  While I’m no scientist, I listened carefully to radio debates and read a couple good newspaper articles about the latest medical findings concerning the effects of marijuana use.  Surprisingly, occasional and recreational use of marijuana did not appear as destructive as I had thought, with experts citing a lack of evidence of it being a carcinogen or doing anywhere near the damage tobacco does.  From what I learned, there is still substantial evidence of chronic use interfering with and harming mental health, causing psychological and physical addiction, and causing respiratory problems.  But, the risks just seem to pale in comparison to those of other popular substances.  So was my friend right?  Is marijuana, overall, just as harmful as regulated substances like tobacco and alcohol?  These facts alone probably don’t make for the best argument for complete legalization but I certainly think they justify less harsh criminalization.

The not-so-exotic cash cow

As I’ve thought about my friend’s rationale, and heard it repeated by other marijuana users since, I think I understand more clearly the logic.  The assumption behind its harmless nature was that the weed they were puffing came from a tranquil little farm in the forests of Northern California maintained by Earth-loving hippies.  I’ve known and been around lots of marijuana smokers in my day and, from personal experience, this seems to be the dominant view here on the West Coast.  Is it true though?  Does all that dank, chronic really come from the mythical lands of British Columbia, Hawaii, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Eugene?

According to a Los Angeles Times article, in which they cite findings by the RAND Corporation, 40 to 67% comes from Mexico.  That’s a lot of Mexican pot.  In another interesting article, the RAND Corporation says this “accounts for 15 to 26 percent of the export revenues generated by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.”  And, as reported in the July 11, 2011 edition of TIME, “According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Americans consume $65 billion worth of illegal drugs annually, roughly what they spend on higher education, and most of those drugs are either produced in Mexico or transit through it.”  That’s a lot of money.  Marijuana being the most popularly used illegal drug in the U.S., that is indeed a lot of money and a lot of pot.  And this brings up the issue of the Mexican drug cartels.

Murderjuana

According to the same TIME article, “Drug-related murders in Mexico have jumped an alarming 760% since 2005.”  That’s 1,776 in 2005 up to 15,271 in 2010.  In the border town of Juarez alone, 3,200 of its residents were killed in 2010 earning the city the highest murder rate in the world.  Almost 70 Mexican journalists have been murdered by drug gangs since 2007.  Drug-related kidnapping in Mexico has jumped up 317% since 2005.  I have heard bits of similar news over the past couple years but the TIME article was disturbing and saddening to me to a new depth.  I look at this and wonder how an American pothead can feel good about themself while lighting up that joint.  This violence and devastation is not a well-kept secret and unless you’re growing your own marijuana you are most likely aiding it.  Put bluntly, you’re supporting terrorism.  To my friend who thinks his puffing is harmless, I would say, “…it’s only as harmless as the source of your bud!”  Odds are, your bud is dripping with blood.

As a Christian with no intention to smoke marijuana, I agree with experts like the Global Commission on Drug Policy that marijuana should be legalized, controlled, regulated, taxed, and grown in the U.S. Not for the silly reason of just increasing tax revenues (though that would be one small benefit), but in light of the facts that, 1) Marijuana is already widely used in the U.S. and shows no signs losing its appeal; 2) Sporadic use is not risk free, but doesn’t seem to be any worse than the risks associated with alcohol and tobacco; and 3) Marijuana is partly responsible for the money and power given to the homicidal cartels in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. I’m obviously not a policy expert but I can bet that legalization would create new, unforeseen problems. From a Christian standpoint, I also must acknowledge that allowing any sin to flourish in a society will ultimately prove to be harmful to the society. This is why I believe legalization would be the lesser of two evils.

Legalize It

The evil and violence in Mexico and Latin America is encroaching on America so doing something to help stop it there and prevent it from coming here is valid in my opinion.  And it is even more valid when we’re talking about a substance that we already have such a hypocritical opinion of as a nation–medical marijuana, inconsistent punishments from state to state, etc.  This is not Ron Paul’s libertarian argument to legalize every drug; I’m not so sure the pros of legalizing something as dangerous as cocaine and heroin outweigh the cons.  To me this is a matter of justice.  Justice for the orphans, widows, and other innocent victims of violence from Colombia to Mexico to the U.S., all stemming from a substance we already half-heartedly embrace.  I admit that this is complicated and I have oversimplified some things, but I still feel the best thing we can do is legalize it, and not just in California because that wouldn’t be enough: Legalize it nationwide.  America’s—and Mexico’s—“drug war” is exacerbating the violence. This wouldn’t eliminate all the violence, but at least it would reduce some of it. And that would surely be a positive step forward.

Thoughts?

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“Christians who cannot yet deal with the issues calmly and compassionately should keep their mouths shut, and they should certainly stay away from the front lines of ministry and public policy debate.”  This is the stern advice given by Christian author Thomas E. Schmidt towards the end of his book, Straight & Narrow?: Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate.  It’s good advice and I hope to follow it here as I write what is sure to be my most controversial post yet.

For a long time I’ve been feeling like I should gather my thoughts and write something about Proposition 8’s banning of gay marriage here in California.  Yet at the same time I felt like whatever I wrote would probably be titled something like, “Why I Don’t Care About Gay Marriage,” and be about two paragraphs long.  Yes, it’s a complex issue, but since I hold the traditional and orthodox view of the Bible which recognizes homosexual behavior as sin, and given the U.S. already has LOTS of legalized sinful behavior (greed, adultery, divorce, pornography, and on, and on), then what difference would it make if homosexual people were allowed to marry?  Wouldn’t it just be one more sinful value of a culture and society that is already full of sin?  Another drop in the bucket couldn’t possibly make a difference, so who cares?  This was, basically, my thinking.  My basic assumption here was that gay marriage was harmless to society, or if there was harm it was too vague and therefore probably inconsequential.  But after reading Schmidt’s book I wonder if it would do real, tangible harm and is therefore like any other area of injustice that needs to be fought against.  I realize that may sound odd and offensive to some but I will explain along the way.

Read this book

First it should be noted that Straight & Narrow? is not really about gay marriage or any other policy debate.  Schmidt’s book is about homosexuality in general.  Over half of his heavily foot-noted book carefully discusses the data regarding homosexual lifestyle and behavior primarily in the U.S.  Everything from the causes of homosexual desires to the physical, psychological, and spiritual effects of acting on them is covered in this 180-page book.  Schmidt, being a professor at Christian college, has aimed his book primarily at Christians and therefore spends the other half of the book in full-fledged dissection and refutation of the revisionist interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition which affirms homosexual behavior as either neutral or blessed by God.  This last reason was why I wanted to read his book, but the other half of Straight & Narrow? is what moved me to finally organize my thoughts and write something about this topic.

I think every Christian who is willing to seriously think, discuss, and vote about issues surrounding gay marriage owes it to themselves to read this book or one like it.  This book helped me understand my own heterosexuality better, not just the somewhat-removed-from-me topic of  homosexuality, and I think it will help you too.  Secondly, this book uses the word “compassion” in the title and I found it to be quite accurate for describing Schmidt’s writing.  It’s kind of token to say, “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” so it’s also pretty insufficient to say you’re tolerant or open-minded because you have gay friends.  Real understanding relies on truth, not anecdotal experiences we have with a few of our friends.  And in order to have deep and lasting compassion we need solid understanding, and understanding requires facts not anecdotes.  Schmidt’s book is extremely factual, but it is tempered with compassion from cover to cover.  Pulling together a vast number of secular health studies we see a picture of homosexuality in his book that is brutally honest and pretty grim, but it is always handled gently and compassionately.  I can’t say the same about the ways I’ve heard the topic addressed at church.  Can you?

We’re so awkward

And, since I’m on the topic of church: one of the big problems for us Christians when it comes to this issue of “gay rights” is that we don’t talk much about sex–whether inside the church walls or outside–so when we finally do start talking about sexual things it is often awkward and unproductive.  It’s kind of like when your parents tried to have “the talk” with you when you were a teenager (if they tried at all, of course).  Misinformation, generalizations, stereotyping, scare tactics, and a baseless Puritan ethic seem to define a lot of those parent-child discussions, and the same goes for those pastor-church discussions that many of us have heard.  Plus,  it’s often too little, too late.  Let’s get specific when we talk about sex–‘nasty’, graphic specific, if necessary–or else these discussions aren’t going to get us anywhere.  We’ll never truly understand and appreciate our incredible God-crafted sexualities, or know how to protect and use them.  Instead we’ll just continue drifting along in naive silence while letting the world give us our real “Sex Ed” in the form of Internet pornography, sitcoms, Maxim, Cosmopolitan, romantic comedies, and our stumbles into masturbation and premarital sex, ignorant to the harm we are inflicting upon ourselves and others.  It doesn’t have to be like this.  We need to drop this ridiculous hush-hush attitude.  The world dropped it a long time ago and its voice seems to be getting louder every day.  In fact, if we had spent less time being afraid of our sexuality and more time extolling the virtues of God’s creation of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife, and actually being “salt and light” in our culture, then I doubt we would be in this predicament of trying to defend something publicly (men and women having sex with each other) that up until now we’ve been uneasy even discussing privately.

Paul’s point about homosexuality in Romans 1 is that the people’s abandonment of God led to abandonment of their God-given sexualities.  So, if homosexuality is on the rise in our culture rather than hailing it as a sign of the End Times shouldn’t we take it partly as an indictment against the Church for either not reaching our culture with the truth, or for pushing people away from it?  How can we expect people who don’t know God to embrace his sexual order?  Schmidt sums this up well when he states that, “the first evidence of worshiping something other than the true God is that humanity will make of itself something other than true humanity.”  We should not be surprised when non-Christians embrace homosexual behavior–or any other sin–as something good.  It should also not fill us solely with zeal to debate and enforce Christian ethics through legislation.  It should fill us with compassion above all else.  As Schmidt rightly points out, “the Gospel is ultimately not about changing laws but about changing lives.”

Justice

This brings us not to the discussion of gay marriage, but, really, to the broader questions about gay rights and justice–topics that, as I mentioned, the book is not primarily concerned with.  Starting first with the concept of justice, it’s crucial to remember that “justice” is about using power to protect or rescue from abuse those who don’t have the power to protect or rescue themselves.  Justice is central to God’s very nature and this has been revealed as plain as day in the over-arching themes of the Bible.  I hope this website has been clear in proclaiming and upholding that truth.  Because God is about justice, working for justice–through prayer and action–is what Christians need to be about too, as unpopular and inconvenient as that might be for us.  When we think about homosexuality then, is there any injustice being done?  Yes, but not in the way we’re usually told to think about this issue.  As Straight & Narrow? details, homosexuals and their allies have successfully transformed what was first deemed a psychological disorder by health professionals in the mid-20th century into a legitimate personal identity, and thereby turned the debate into an American civil rights issue.  The powerless and abused, in the movement’s terms, are people with homosexual desires who can’t act on their urges the way that heterosexuals can act on theirs.  The image of an oppressed minority in the same vein as an ethnic group was intentionally marketed and has taken root in many equality-minded societies around the world.  This strategy continues to prove effective.  However I see this as misleading and as a distortion of true justice for two main reasons.

First, contrary to the message of advocates, the homosexual population does not make up a large or even “sizeable” minority nor is it the equivalent of an ethnic group.  According to the official health and demographic studies done in Europe and North America referenced by Schmidt, homosexuals make up about 1% of the population of Western nations.  For some perspective, this would be comparable to the American Indian and Alaskan Native population–according to the 2010 U.S. Census data.  3 million Americans seems like a lot of people, but if we look at how highly visible homosexuality is in our culture and how frequently it is discussed in our news and portrayed in entertainment then we would easily conclude that this population is significantly larger–when in fact it is proportionally quite small.  I’m not suggesting a conspiracy on the part of the ‘liberal media’ for painting an inaccurate picture and neither does the book, but this disproportionate representation is no accident and should be understood as an indication of advocates’ success in pushing their cause to the forefront.  Truthfully, the fact of these extremely low numbers hurt a movement that is working to achieve a sense of normalcy akin to ethnic groups.  This is probably why we don’t hear these kinds of statistics cited very often.  Not being up front either by inflating or ignoring statistics is certainly dishonest and unjust on one level, but I feel that the greater injustice occurs when homosexuals equate their struggles with those of historically oppressed people groups, namely blacks.  Our invisible sexual desires are but a miniscule component of what makes us human.  The science, as Schmidt points out, is inconclusive as to “what makes someone gay”, however, we must always remember that desire alone does not define who we are.  What Schmidt stresses repeatedly–and the Bible affirms–is that we are more than the sum of our sexual urges.  They shouldn’t define us or dictate to us who we “are”, gay or not.  Race and ethnicity, however, though also just a component of our humanity, are distinctions that we wear on our sleeves our entire lives, 24 hours a day.  They mark our culture, our language, our lineage, our heritage as people.  Black people living in America have had to endure unspeakable evils all the while being unable to hide their blackness.  Homosexuals on the other hand can, and often do, hide their sexual desires and have also successfully earned a high status for themselves despite social stigmas–in fact, Straight & Narrow cites that the education and income levels are statistically higher among homosexuals than heterosexuals.  Elevating sexual desire to the level of skin color is wrong and I would think that many black people–who, by the way, outnumber homosexuals by a good 35 million–would find that logic offensive to their struggle.

Second, homosexuality is not harmless and therefore complicates the notion of justice.  One of the core tenets of homosexual advocacy is that homosexuality is as benign as heterosexuality and poses no threat to a society’s well-being.  The angle of this argument comes from the idea that homosexuals won’t harm heterosexuals so we shouldn’t be afraid of each other.  While it may be true that little tangible harm comes to heterosexuals, the harm afflicted upon homosexuals via the homosexual lifestyle is substantial.  Schmidt dedicates an entire 31-page chapter of his book to citing medical report after medical report in order to pull back the wool on the traumatic realities of homosexual sex and lifestyle.  The chapter is not a scare tactic or a taunt, it is a sober disclosure of what the medical community has known for a long time: homosexual sex acts and lifestyle are extremely damaging to the human mind and body.  I won’t go into tons of detail because Schmidt does a way better job than I ever could, so I will simply quote his conclusion on the matter and encourage you to read his book:

No honest look at current scientific research allows us to view homosexual practice as peaceable and harmless.  For the vast majority of homosexual men, and for a significant number of homosexual women–even apart from the deadly plague of AIDS–sexual behavior is obsessive, psychopathological and destructive to the body.  If there were no specific biblical principles to guide sexual behavior, these considerations alone would constitute a compelling argument against homosexual practice.  Our bodies must not be martyrs to our desires. (Page 130)

It is this reality that complicates any discussion of justice because if true Godly justice is about using power to protect/rescue those who don’t have the power to protect/rescue themselves, wouldn’t we do well to limit the extent to which homosexual behavior is permitted?   For the safety and well-being of those with urges to act on potentially destructive desires shouldn’t we restrict their ability to do so?  No Bible-believing, Jesus-worshiping Christian should want extreme, Sharia-style prohibitions against homosexual behavior, but if in this case “legislating morality” is synonymous with protecting people from harmful behavior then why should we should shy away from it?  (See, I told you this was a complicated discussion.)

When we advocate for legislation that restricts drug and alcohol use, or criminalizes prostitution, or creates safer building codes, or bans unsafe chemicals, we are attempting to legislate morality.  Our morals tell us that people should be protected from other people and, at times, from themselves, so we create laws to ensure that this happens.  Every law, therefore, is a legislation of some form of morality.  The real question that we need to ask ourselves is what type a morality we want to legislate: Christian morality or secular, humanist morality?

Back to the topic of gay marriage

In setting aside the debate about the potential effects of gay marriage on society–which is a valid debate–we are able to ask more fundamental questions about gay behavior itself.  These are questions I haven’t answered for myself, but as you can see they take a very different angle than the one taken by the so-called “religious right” that, to many, appears concerned only with its own personal well-being and the status quo.  I feel strongly that these are the kinds of questions Christians need to be asking if we are really concerned with biblical justice and having real compassion on our homosexual neighbors.  But we must first have understanding–both of homosexuality and of our scriptures.

But what about the issue of gay marriage?  What have I learned from all this?  If the homosexual lifestyle is harmful on an individual level, is there also harm to society if we allow homosexuals to marry?  I wouldn’t call it the “traditional Christian view”, but the one that the seems to be all over the media and seems to be perceived as “what Christians think” is the sensational belief that God will do to America what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29) if we allow gay marriage.  To this I would respond that our society already reeks of violence, greed, fornication, gluttony, materialism and just about every other sin and vice, so it is highly unlikely–and very unbiblical in my view–that allowing gay marriage would hasten Christ’s return and the end of the world.  As to the other perceived “Christian viewpoint” that gay marriage effectively represents a threat to God’s institution of marriage and the family, I would agree with Straight & Narrow? that it probably does and I would encourage you to read Schmidt’s book for a few thoughtful reasons why if you aren’t sure about this.  However, it doesn’t take a master theologian to recognize that divorce, spousal and child abuse, infidelity, children born out-of-wedlock, absent fathers, and unloved and undisciplined children have been effectively eroding Christian family values in America for decades and will continue to do so unless something changes, drastically.  Simply preventing gay marriage isn’t going to preserve our Christian society when we don’t have one to begin with.  If we Christians want to initiate a societal change and uphold Christian values then we can start by trying a lot harder to stop participating in these already existent evils ourselves and then humbly help others do so as well.  Then we can start having this gay marriage debate with a little integrity.  Let’s not be hypocrites; let’s first take the plank out of our eye, and then we will see clearly to remove the speck from our society’s eye (cf. Luke 6:42).  May God help us be salt and light in our world.

Peace.

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After being troubled—and admittedly intrigued—first by the Catholic hysteria over Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame on May 17th , and then by the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller at his church in Wichita a couple Sundays ago, I began thinking once again about the ever-volatile issue of abortion.

For several years the issue for me came down to the simple fact that ultimately abortion is the murder of a human and, therefore, against God’s will for us.  This appears to be the perspective of anti-abortionists also—minus the “God” part for those who aren’t spiritual and/or religious.  For those who believe abortion is indeed murder the whole issue is very black and white: you’re either OK with murder or you aren’t.  So, given the Catholic church’s dogmatic anti-abortion stance, I can understand the outrage by its leaders and their calling for rebuke and discipline of Notre Dame for inviting our non-anti-abortion president to speak at a Catholic university.  For anti-abortionists it seems that if you’re not 100% against abortion then you logically must be pro-abortion and, put simply, pro-murder.

The interesting twist to this is that Obama, from what I understand, isn’t pro-abortion at all, he is pro-choice.  I know this because it was two of his speeches during his campaign that I can trace back as being the first time I ever heard a reasonably convincing and intelligently articulated reason for advocating pro-choice policies in government.  I didn’t give the issue much thought at the time but I now see that it was those speeches that planted some of the seeds of my pending re-analysis of the abortion-is-murder view that took place after these two recent events.  Yes, Barack Obama changed my life…haha, not really.  Well, maybe just a little bit.

The grayness in the middle

From listening to him talk about his feelings on the issue I saw that he has not taken one of the usual black or white stances, but instead has settled in the grayness of the middle: uncertain, yet open.  Call it political shrewdness if you want, but as I’ve listened to his words I’ve realized that he isn’t just not dogmatic, he is actually agnostic about the whole thing.  An agnostic position would acknowledge that central to the black and white stance of being pro-life is the definition of “human” that includes a fetus.  Then, rather than challenging this definition, it would conclude that any definition of “human” is impossibly subjective because it hinges on philosophical perspectives that not everyone shares.  This would result in a position that is devoutly pro-choice while affirming many of the pro-life and pro-abortion arguments.  In other words, an agnostic perspective would strip the issue of its contentious morality and philosophy and approach it as an issue of ensuring social equality among those with different beliefs.  If I’m right and Obama’s current stance truly reflects his heart’s conviction then it is a very humble thing for him to openly be saying, “Hey, I don’t know what the right perspective is, so who am I to tell others what they can and cannot do?”

I’m not saying I agree with Obama’s conviction but, practically speaking, I think its right for him to take this position because until there is some sort of Executive Order or constitutional amendment articulating once and for all the definition of human life, when it begins, and under what circumstances its destruction is “murder”, a President can’t enforce anti-abortion laws without imposing religious and philosophical dogma at the same time—which is what the Constitution is supposed to protect us from.  In not choosing sides in the debate it may seem that Obama, by default, is imposing pro-abortion dogma—i.e. that abortion is OK—on those who are convinced abortion is murder.  But, again, if the issue is seen as morally subjective then it becomes chiefly a political issue about two groups being able to hold to and practice their beliefs equally, which would not be possible if the anti-abortion stance was enforced.  And since the President is clearly not convinced by the abortion-is-murder premise of the pro-life movement I think it’s safe to say that he will continue to maintain this position and favor policy that reflects it while in power.

I know that might be a lot to wrap one’s head around but understanding where Barack Obama is coming from has helped me by shedding light on a lot of the drama that seems to follow the issue of abortion.  Again, I’m not suggesting that I completely agree with his position, but in the last couple weeks I have come to agree with at least one aspect of it: abortion is not a simple black and white issue.

Thou shall not murder fetuses?

Thinking about his position in the contexts of the two recent events led me, for whatever reason, to that seemingly simple assumption I had made for many years about abortion being murder.  Now, anyone reading my past few blog entries knows that I am burdened by the evils of violence and murder especially when it is touted as justified, so rethinking my stance on abortion might come as a surprise.  Yet in doing so I came to a not-so-simple fork in the philosophical road of my mind, the same fork that Obama seems to remain stuck at: Is a fetus really a human being or it is it a human-to-be?  Anti-abortionists would say “fetus = human”, pro-abortionists might disagree.  But when my anti-murder mind pondered this question a simple, naturalistic answer was the first thing that came to me: a fetus is a human-to-be.  A human, I thought, is defined by being self-aware and biologically self-sufficient, independent from its mother.  In that sense, a fetus is not fully human because it is still in its development stage and, as crass as it may sound, it is almost like a parasite until it’s born.  Taking this naturalistic angle further, I reasoned that the mother’s body is therefore the only authoritative judge in deciding at what point her fetus must exit the womb and thus become a living human.  So, as far as biology is concerned perhaps the definition of “human” is not a spiritual/religious/philosophical question at all, it is a physical reality determined by the umbilical’s detachment.

“Wow,” I thought. “That’s certainly not something I’ve ever heard in churches.”  Every time I’ve heard abortion mentioned in churches it’s been for the purpose of condemning it.  So, I had to ask myself, “is this explanation even biblical?”  Knowing whether or not God had fetuses in mind when He gave us the law not to murder would tell us conclusively whether a fetus is a human being or a human-to-be and thus resolve the whole issue of abortion for us.  I have no verdict yet, but in defense of scripture and God’s sovereignty this view does nothing to diminish God’s hand in creating and nurturing the fetus.  King David wrote of God saying that “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalm 139:13-15)  Nor does it take away from God’s genius in creating humans as unique and preeminent among everything else He had made when He “created man in his own image” and ordained that we “rule over” the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15).

Whether a naturalistic perspective is right or wrong, Christians can all agree that humans truly are special.  In a unique and mysterious way we reflect the glory of God like nothing else in all the physical world.  If God views us like this it is no wonder that His desire would therefore be that humans love and not murder each other.  These simple truths probably make up a lot of the rationale that anti-abortion Christians use to defend their position.  However, in considering a naturalistic explanation, I no longer feel so comfortable in extending these truths beyond that of fully-developed humans.  The reason for this is that if our commitment to preserving the life of a fetus is based simply upon the concept that human life is sacred then why should our inclusion of the fetus as “human” be as far as we extend the definition?  Is not the egg a human organism?  Is not sperm alive?  What about organs?  Muscles, tissue, cells, bacteria, germs?  Where do we draw the line?  Where does our extension of sacredness end?  Is it not all of these unique and glorious creations of God that make us “human”?  Labeling this “sacred” and that “not” is a pretty precarious game that I’d rather let God play.

A true Pro-Life movement values more than fetuses

If we believe the sacredness of humanity extends beyond living, birthed humans then to be consistent surely we must include anything laced with human DNA—fetus to freckle—in our definition of human and conclude that destroying any of it would be manslaughter.  If, however, we are not consistent in this perspective and our extension of “sacred” ends at the fetus, then we put ourselves in the position of having to determine at what point a fetus comes into existence—i.e. at what point God has created a human inside a woman—and be committed to preserving its life from that moment on.

I’m no doctor, but I do know that this event is not the same with every sperm and every egg inside of every woman, so unless you are monitoring the whole scene with fiber optic cameras this really is “the secret place” that David wrote about.  Regardless, at some point a child is conceived and the formation process begins—a process that is performed by God himself.  My point here is not that it is impossible to know whether or not a fetus is a human due to the fact that the start of fetal development is mysterious.  My feeling is that if the entire development process is unseen and inaccessible without advanced technology then perhaps we should be more cautious in painting such a black and white picture about what’s going on in the womb.  Besides, it is largely in God’s hands whether or not a fetus even survives to see the light of day, so if we believe humans are sacred shouldn’t we be more preoccupied with preserving the lives of the humans around us who already see it?  Isn’t that what “religion” is supposed to be about anyway (e.g. James 1:27)?

As a Christian, I don’t really know what I believe at this point but I do know that I see some unfortunate and un-Christian inconsistencies and contradictions among those who define a fetus as unequivocally human and advocate pro-life policy, making me even more skeptical about their efforts.  For example, if preserving human life is so important to anti-abortionists why is the same raucous not being raised over the various factors contributing to miscarriages (i.e. genetics, poverty, substance abuse, etc.)?  And if it is murderous and unnatural for a fetus to die of manmade causes, why isn’t women’s health a focus of the movement?  And if you believe all life is “sacred” shouldn’t universal health care, or at least drastic reform, be a key component of being “pro-life”?  Or what about the consistently high rate of homicide among African-American males?  Surely those lives are precious too, right?  Or what about the daily death of 35,000 of the world’s malnourished children?  Are young children that die ‘in Africa or somewhere’ less important than aborted fetuses in the America?  Or what about the ghastly infant mortality rates that exist among the world’s poor?  Or what about the “sacred” humans that are being killed for the sake of America’s ‘national security’?  Someone who is “pro-life” certainly can’t condemn abortion and condone America’s deadly military incursions at the same time.

If an individual or a movement would dare to attach to itself such a righteous and noble title as “pro-life” but not be prepared to live up to its high calling of spreading compassion evenly then it risks earning another, less-desirable title: “hypocrite.”  While no one can be perfect or address everything, this movement is clearly more concerned with its single, pet social issue than about preserving human life in general.  This is important because it illustrates once again how vital it is for us Christians not to get sucked into “pop-justice” movements without first thoughtfully considering the big picture of God’s will lest we misrepresent Him and His truth in our zeal, waste our time, and lose our credibility in the process.  This whole foray into the abortion issue has also been another lesson for me to be careful not to label something black and white and close the book on the issue because you never know when you might be persuaded to open it again or by who.  (Thanks, Barack)

Peace,
The Lord is God

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The other day my wife and I watched the fascinating and at times overwhelming documentary, “The Corporation.” (View the trailer on the “Education” page of our site)  This was the second time I’ve watched it and it was certainly more emotionally and intellectually digestible this time around than the first.  In the film there is a section that looks at the hormone rBST that is used on 1 in 3 dairy cows in the U.S.  This artificial growth hormone is injected into cows to increase milk production.  The drug works so well that it can do much harm to the cow–infections and immobility are chief among the resulting problems.  The FDA has approved its safety for us humans, but meanwhile it continues to harm cows and raise eyebrows around the world as to why we continue to use a questionable drug to increase milk production while our government gives subsidies to farmers to not produce it since we already have too much.  Having read an interesting article the previous day titled, “The Case Against Meat,” the question of what my Christian response to such things ought be was already on my mind.  And, after discussing these things with my wife over a delicious bowl of vegetarian udon, God solidified an initial response for me which I would be unfaithful to ignore…

1.  rBST does enough harm to cows that, where possible, I believe it is best to avoid purchasing the resulting milk.  “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest,” says God (Exodus 23:12).  God has compassion and love for all the finite beings He has created.  If we don’t, what does that say about our heart?  How well do we know God if we don’t show compassion and restraint in our use of the animals He created and entrusted to us?

2.  In the finite, over-fertilized, and increasingly globalized world we live in I believe that, where possible, it is best to eat lower on the food chain.  That is another way of saying: eating less meat is economically, physically, socially advantageous.  This is a hard one because I love eating meat.  Lamb, steak, sausage, hamburgers–I’m all about it!  But, with regard to chemicals in our food, can I really trust the FDA to know the long-term effects of the chemicals used to grow, clean, and process our food when the rest of the Western industrialized world usually disagrees with it?  Case in point: rBST is banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada over human (and animal) health concerns.  It seems like as fast as companies are creating new chemicals to make our products ‘better,’ old chemicals that have been around for several years are getting banned because of their recently discovered dangers.  No one really can predict what a chemical, fertilizer, hormone, etc. is going to do to the human body or the environment until we’ve used it for a while (e.g. DDT, CFC’s, lead, asbestos, etc.)  My concern when it comes to the fancy new chemicals labeled “safe” by the FDA is one of stewardship of my finite body and our finite planet, and my realization is that we eat meat like we have an endless supply of grain, water, and land to produce it while being unconcerned and unaware of the amount of chemicals we’re ingesting and how they will affect us.  This is a complex issue which requires more of my attention but for now I need to be more serious about asking myself if I really want potentially-dangerous chemicals pumped into the ground, the plants and animals I eat, and subsequently into me?  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” says the scripture (1 Cor. 10:31).  Understanding how inextricably linked we are to our environment and to the rest of the world, I believe not purchasing chemically-treated plant and animal products, where possible, is a way to honor the God who made them.

Pondering this response I found myself staring at the same obstacles that I’ve faced in the past concerning these issues: Organic food is expensive; Cage-free meat/eggs is expensive; Can I really trust that food is “organic” or that meat was produced in compassionate ways?; I don’t know how many chemicals and hormones are used in meat and I have no idea how to find out, or how to learn if they’re bad for me; Does that mean I shouldn’t go out to eat anymore since I have no clue about the nature of a restaurant’s ingredients?; I like eating a variety of things and there are some flavors I would have a hard time not having in my diet anymore; All this takes so much time and effort!  As I thought about these objections raised by my pallet, wallet, and sense of comfort, I saw more clearly than ever what was at stake and that most of the objections amount to nothing more than desires for comfort.  Specifically, they have to do with preference.  The Euro-American diet that I have grown accustomed to over my life is one such preference.  The elements in this diet are what I, and most Americans, have an appetite for.  But, an appetite is just a preference.  Preferences are hard to change.  And, dietary preferences are especially hard to change when our appetite for the main elements of the Euro-American diet–eggs, meat, cheese, sweets, etc.–is reinforced by the overabundance of these products on the consumer end.  In order to overcome these obstacles I, and anyone else who feels similar convictions, has to be willing to question their preferences and be willing to redirect their appetite toward a different diet.

“The Corporation” makes the point several times that the business corporation is something that we invented and continue to allow to exist by giving it power.  At any time that power can be taken away and the business corporation model can be scrapped–just as slavery was.  Our laws were created by us.  What is “legal” was made legal by us.  In the same way, our concept of what a diet should consist of and what “tastes good” was created by us.  We are creative beings to whom God has given dominion over His planet–a planet that is endless in flavors, aromas, textures, and combinations thereof.  If we are scared or unable to make necessary changes to our diets, spending habits, entertainment choices, or anything else, it’s because we no longer have power over them; they have power over us.  I hope to make the shift toward a diet that is more compassionate, chemical-free, and sustainable, and I will change my preferences whether U.S. farmers and grocery stores help me or not.

Peace,
The Lord is God

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FORWARD

And there off in the final round of this Mr. Olympia 2008 competition…Jay Cutler goes for his last mandatory pose. He turns to the judges so that they can see his profile. He raises his heal to flex his calf. Hands clasped he pulls his front most arm with his rear arm across his chest and below his pec line. He raises his chest and expands his rib cage to complete a beautiful Side Lifted Rib Cage pose. Jesus Christ is up next. The Son of God slowly crouches to the stage. His Holiness’ knees bend and He places His palms flush against the stage and rests His face on the ground. This routine completes a marvelous Humble Before the Father pose. The crowd ohhhhh’s and ahhh’s. Jay Cutler has one last chance to seal his victory. Cutler makes his move. It looks as if we have the Incredible Hulk pose made famous by Lou Ferrigno. With his arms forward and down, he creates an arch in the front of his body. Firsts clenched. His traps pull up and his chest flexes to complete his Crab Most Muscular pose. But wait…what’s this? It would seem that Jay Cutler is…is…deflating right before the eyes of the judges. It appears as though Jesus’ pose has packed with it a prayer that has cast a defeating blow to Cutler’s pride. His immense boulder like shoulders have been reduced substantially and look smaller with every moment. His giant muscles have shrunk all over his body and he now looks scarily normal. Jay Cutler cries out in anguish with the thought that he will lose his Mr. Olympia reign just after 2 years of being on the top. The Mr. Olympia trophy is replaced with a crown at the last minute as a recognition of the amazing feats of Jesus at the 2008 Mr. Olympia competition. To top it off we now have a donkey on the stage and I am pretty sure they don’t allow animals in at the gates. Jesus has now hopped onto the donkey and is riding the thing right through the crowd. With fans cheering the crowned King onward out of the arena His donkey can’t help but leave behind some parting gifts for the onlookers. Watch your steps folks!  Can’t say you see that everyday.

BACKGROUND

The very first Mr. Olympia competition was held on September 18, 1965. Big names to come out of the competition have included the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Austrian Oak”, and Lou Ferrigno, who played the role of the Hulk in the 1970’s television series.

Bodybuilding, the art of displaying the muscles, is a recent phenomenon. Similarly, competitive bodybuilding, the sport, did not exist prior to the late 19th century. “Father” to the sport, Eugen Sandow from Germany, enjoyed displaying his physique and developed exhibitions where people would pay to admire his body. The spoils from these exhibitions blossomed into the first excercise equipment for the masses, which later inspired a culture of bodybuilding throughout the world. In 1901 the first bodybuilding competition was held in London, UK, known as the “Great Competition”.

Mr. Olympia competitions were originated and organized by brothers Ben and Joe Weider. The Weider brothers wanted to create a venue for the top bodybuilders to continue beyond that of the Mr. Universe competitions, which started in 1948. Winning the Mr. Olympia title is considered to be the highest accolade in the sport of professional bodybuilding. Taking the title has other incentives besides being the best in the sport. Since the conception of bodybuilding, the total prize money for a competition has increased from $1,000 to over $285,000 today.

TODAY

Jay Cutler is the current Mr. Olympia champion. He has won both 2006 and 2007 Mr. Olympia competitions. He will be competing at the September 25th-28th Olympia Weekend competitions in Las Vegas. He will be defending his title for the second time.

THE OBVIOUS INJUSTICE

Jay Cutler is 34 years old. His height is 5’9. He weighs 310 pounds in the off season. His 2008 Off Season Nutrition Strategy states that he eats 6 meals a day. His first meal of the day is 15 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, 4 slices of Ezekial toast, 1 cup of dry Ezekial and 1 cup of coffee. His second meal of the day includes a 10 oz. steak with 2 cups of rice. His third meal of the day includes 10 oz. of chicken with 4 cups of rice. His fourth meal consists of 10 oz. of buffalo meat with 2 cups of rice. His fifth meal, 10 oz. of turkey, one cup of Ezekial cereal and 2 slices of Ezekial bread. Meal six consists of 3 scoops of Nitro-Tech and 4 slices of Ezekial bread.

The following is an excerpt from the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ron Sider:

“A former president of World Vision visited the home of Sebastian and Maria Nascimento, a poor Brazilian couple whose home was a one-room, thatched lean-to with a sand floor. Inside, one stool, a charcoal hibachi, and four cots covered with sacks partly filled with straw were the only furniture. He wrote this heart-rending account about his visit:

‘My emotions could scarcely take in what I saw and heard. The three-year-old twins, lying naked and unmoving on a small cot, were in the last act of their personal drama. Mercifully, the curtain was coming down on their brief appearance. Malnutrition was the villain. The two-year-old played a silent role, his brain already vegetating from marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition. The father is without work. Both he and Maria are anguished over their existence, but they are too proud to beg. He tries to shine shoes. Maria cannot talk about their condition. She tries, but the words just will not come. Her mother’s love is deep and tender, and the daily deterioration of her children is more than she can bear. Tears must be the vocabulary of the anguished soul'” (p. 8).

THE CORRUPTED BODY

In the Bible, Paul urges Christians not to conform to this world’s pattern of evil systems and ideas. I think that warning is relevant today and is particularly important when we examine what is happening within America’s increasingly pro-enhancement culture.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world–the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches–comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever (I John 2:15-17 NRSV).”

Bodybuilding, as a whole, couldn’t be a more obvious example of loving worldly things. It is an ever present moment by moment expression of ones riches. Jay Cutler can afford to eat the way he does and therefore has a greater opportunity to express his riches through his massive body. As Alan M. Klein states in Little Big Men, “Bodybuilding is a subculture of hyperbole. In its headlong rush to accrue flesh, everything about this subculture exploits grandiosity and excess.”

Pride about our bodies is just another sinister agent waiting to harden our hearts to the suffering throughout the world and has been made all the more effective of a plot against humanity by the litany of legal and illegal enhancements (Cell-Tech, Anator P70 and Nitro-Tech just to list the ones that Cutler admits to taking). Shortcuts to feeling powerful every moment exist so why not take advantage of them? Lets look at this accumulation of bodily flesh for what it truly is–oppression. For men this is a particularly crucial issue and must be addressed with heightened urgency because there is more on the line than most realize.

THE HIDDEN INJUSTICE

Men are by and large most susceptible to this idea that buff and big is better. I personally have had to grapple with this underlying coercive force deeming my manliness by how much I can bench at more than a few junctures. I am 5’10. I fluctuate between 130 and 140 pounds, depending on what I am doing athletically. Most people like the joke that I am too skinny and need to fatten up. Only now have I realized the injustice layered behind the critiques about my body image.

Americans are accustomed to thinking that people who are skinny are unhealthy and people who are big and strong are healthy. There is an even more controversial myth as well that has been perpetuated by Americans underneath their very noses. The myth that it is our solemn right to be big and strong.

Humans have the God given right to sacrifice and to suffer for the sake of the oppressed so that good deeds may be done. We all have the choice when it comes to our bodies to pour out love and compassion by resisting the temptation to fill our stomachs with more than we need. We have the right to lessen our body size and to be less powerful to bring about shifts in resource accumulation and to free ourselves from the bondage of a body image centered society.

God placed in every human interesting eventualities that are too important to overlook and that help to understand the deceptive lies in “bigger bodies are better” rhetoric. When analyzed together we see that even within our very physiological compositions there exist mechanisms to help us live out God’s call to take care of those who have little:

Point # 1: As we age we need less calories because typically we lose muscle mass. A trend that people usually counter with strength building activities. Are we supposed to counter this process though? Why don’t we just eat less and eat healthier?

Point #2: More muscle mass means higher metabolism (which means you will need more energy/food which is contrary to our bodies natural survival mechanisms)

Point #3: Eating healthy foods in reasonable quantities and exercising on a regular basis is the most efficient use of food intake for our human bodies.

FLEX FOR THE KING

Filling out your shirt with you new muscles is a great feeling. Strength gains does an immense work in raising self esteem and well-being. I love to work out and to work hard. God wants you to be fit and ready to join Him in any adventure, even ones that are demanding on your body. Yet, we all must resist the temptation to let society tell us what is fit. We must resist the enhancement culture of the United States of America and deem for ourselves what is readiness for the good works that God has for us. Men, don’t let society bring you down to the simplistic understanding about eternal truths. These bodies will fail and will not last us in the end. Do not line up for yourselves expressions of your riches through your body, but line up instead treasures in heaven. Do justice by resisting excessive and glamorized versions of yourself today.

Much love,

Brish

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