On August 12, 2013, Rush Limbaugh made the following statement on his radio program:
“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”
This, of course, is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, millions of American political conservatives and Evangelicals believe Rush is right on just about everything, but Limbaugh is clearly wrong this time. The error of his statement is not in whether or not climate change is occurring, nor in whether or not observed changes are due to human activities, but in making a false connection between belief in God and whether or not human activities can affect the climate.
To start with, there is no connection between “believing in God”—or even more specifically being a Christian—and having a certain position on a scientific issue such as climate change. The Bible does say that the creation groans because of human sin (Romans 8:22), so we should expect there to be environmental consequences for our actions, but the Bible does not say what those consequences will be. Ascertaining the ramifications of our actions is part of the human task of understanding the creation, expressed in our age through science. Limbaugh’s statement is the theological equivalent of saying, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in genetics” (or chemical bonding theory, or plate tectonics, or general relativity, etc.).
Second, there are sincere and intelligent believers on both sides of this issue—scientists, Bible scholars, and laypersons. All of these have intellectual reasons—biblical and scientific—for holding their positions.
And finally and most importantly, the theological basis of Limbaugh’s statement is flawed. When I’ve heard this sort of statement before, it has been based on the premise that God has built sufficient robustness into his creation to offset or minimize the damage caused by humans. An illustration of this from climate science is the concept of a negative feedback. A good example of negative feedback is how the atmosphere responds to a global temperature increase. If the temperature of Earth were to increase, evaporation of water from oceans and other bodies of water would also increase, which would lead to greater global cloud cover, which would increase the albedo (reflectivity) of Earth’s atmosphere in regards to visible light, which would result in more solar energy being reflected back into space, which would result in a lowering of global temperatures which would offset the initial warming. This is all good and true, but it isn’t easy to measure or predict the degree to which the increased albedo would offset the initial increase in temperature. But that is a scientific issue, not something to be decided by unsubstantiated theological pronouncements.
If we apply the same sort of reasoning to the human body—another part of God’s creation—the error becomes obvious. The human body uses negative feedbacks as well. If someone smokes a cigarette, the body responds in ways to offset the introduction of foreign material. If a person smokes just one cigarette in their lifetime, the chances that there will be long-term negative consequences, such as emphysema or lung cancer, are negligible. If a person smokes a pack of cigarettes a day over a period of decades, the odds become virtually certain that there will be negative health consequences. This is despite the fact that most of the air that enters a heavy smoker’s lungs in the course of those decades is the ordinary nitrogen-oxygen-argon mix of the atmosphere.
The Genesis creation account states that the Earth God made was good, and that he intended its occupants—human and non-human—to flourish. Once sin entered the picture, human management of the creation could still maintain (or even enhance) that flourishing to some degree, but now the possibility also exists that we can cause serious damage to the creation. It is clear that our activities can all too easily lead in the direction of harming the creation—its water, land, air, and organisms—rather than healing it. The “global warming couldn’t happen” position ignores the reality and disastrous consequences of human sin, and leads many to bury their heads in the sand in the face of potential environmental consequences of that sin.
When Christians enter into the climate change debate (or any other environmental or natural resources discussion) with an attitude of “humans can’t mess up the Earth all that much,” it is inevitable that they will come to conclusions like “global warming, if it is happening, couldn’t be caused by humans.” This is analogous to atheists starting with the assumption that there is no God, and then coming to a “scientific” conclusion that God is not necessary for the origin of the universe.
My short response to Rush Limbaugh’s statement would be:
“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe that human activities have no environmental consequences.”
One who accepts Limbaugh’s philosophy towards the environment will automatically conclude that the idea of human-caused global warming is wrong at best and an evil Satanic hoax at worst. Scientific evidence will be deemed “good” if it supports their side, and “bad” if it does not. But there is no Biblical support for having this “it simply cannot happen” approach to the scientific question of climate change.
On the other hand, if one adopts what I consider to be a more biblically accurate approach—acknowledging that we do not know the limits to the consequences of our actions—then they can follow the evidence where it leads. Most scientists who are actually involved in climate change research, including Christian scientists, are presently convinced that the evidence points towards a significant human impact on Earth’s climate. That is not the end of the matter, but objectively, that is where things stand right now.
Grace and Peace
The Christian Post has printed at least three guest columns which discuss Rush Limbaugh’s statement. The first and third of these are critical of Limbaugh; the second is in agreement. Here are some excerpts:
1. Climate Change: Evangelical Scientists Say Limbaugh Wrong, Faith and Science Complement One Another — by Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman, Evangelicals, and meteorology/climatology professors at Texas Tech and the University of Washington.
Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.
Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.
We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.
We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh’s statement but we weren’t surprised. One of us had previously been dismissed by him as a “climate babe.”
This isn’t meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He’s simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not.
2. God, Rush, and Global Warming — by Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
Ironically, these climate scientists-Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman-acknowledged at the outset, “Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements ….” Why is that ironic? Because, having acknowledged that, they then took Limbaugh literally-precisely what one must not do with hyperbole-and castigated him for meaning something they acknowledge he didn’t.
So, what was Limbaugh’s point when he said, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade warming”? Not that no theist can believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases can contribute positively to earth’s temperature. Rather, that it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems. It’s that latter belief that’s encompassed by the shorthand “global warming.”
Now I ask you, does an infinitely wise designer plan something to be so fragile that a proportionately tiny stress will cause it to collapse? Does a good architect, for instance, design a building so that if you lean against a wall, the rest of the building reacts by magnifying the stress of your weight until the building collapses?
But that’s what’s assumed in the theory of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW): that a proportionately tiny stress can cause catastrophic consequences. The theory is that CO2′s rising from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-which itself is a relatively tiny part of the entire climate system, which includes the oceans, land masses, all living things, and even energy from the sun and cosmic rays from stars in distant galaxies-will raise earth’s temperature so much as to threaten catastrophic harm to human and other life.
Such a result would come only from a design that made positive feedbacks vastly outweigh negative feedbacks. In other words, it would make the rest of the climate system magnify rather than offset the warming effect of CO2. Yet natural systems are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks-otherwise they’d all have collapsed long ago.
So God’s wisdom in designing earth’s climate system is hard to reconcile with belief in CAGW [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming].
So, does belief in God make belief in CAGW utterly impossible? No. But it’s very difficult to reconcile the two beliefs.
3. Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design? — by David Jenkins, president of ConservAmerica Education Fund (ConservAmerica used to be called Republicans for Environmental Protection).
Beisner writes “The Bible teaches that earth and all its subsystems – including the climate system – are the product of a God who is an infinitely wise Designer.” Nothing to quibble with there, but he then concludes – as Limbaugh has – that an infinitely wise designer would not create something so fragile that mankind can mess it up.
That view is at odds with both Biblical scripture and physical evidence.
Just as God has charged us with the responsibility to care for His creation, he has also granted us the ability to harm it. Man has demonstrated the capacity to level mountains, foul the air and water, drive animal species to extinction, develop weapons capable of mass destruction, acidify rain and damage the earth’s ozone layer.
While nature is resilient over time, it is also intricate and fragile. The smallest bacteria or virus can kill the largest person or animal. A minute amount of airborne mercury can travel up the food chain and ultimately harm an unborn child.
Another climate-related viewpoint Beisner and others have expressed is that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are gifts that God wants us to dig up and use without limitation.
One must be careful when ascribing intent to God, especially when the claim appears to run counter to His design.
Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth’s processes to sequester excess carbon, might prefer that we respect His design and look for other ways to heat our homes and power our cars?
Beisner and Limbaugh, in peddling the notion that God designed the earth and its atmosphere to be immune from mankind’s actions, are also implying that we can do anything we want to it without serious consequence.
Does that sound like something God would say?
Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.
I was alerted to Rush Limbaugh’s statement by Climate Conservative: Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design?
|The following item was originally posted in November 2010, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.
Yesterday, I wrote about a new advertising campaign from Answers in Genesis. In this present entry, I’ll take a look again at an advertising campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association. I have done a little editing to improve the article.
The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign [in 2010], urging us all to “Consider Humanism.” I can summarize the logic of their ad campaign with one word: Nonsense!
This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.
The graphics I’ve seen have this format:
- What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
- What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.
Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”
I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.
There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:
This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.
I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.
The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system from the surrounding nations—including worship of Baal and Molech— that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.
Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” But then isn’t the God whom he could imagine one modeled after Einstein’s own thoughts in some way?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads—and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer—so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:
I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.
First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.
Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.
Genocide is quite simply wrong. I can say that as a Christian who believes in objective morality. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong—right and wrong are at best social constructions to them—but I take them at their word that they really do believe for some reason that genocide is wrong.
Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil. From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:
- God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe before the final judgement, he is within his rights to do so.
- The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
- All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what all sinners deserve.
- The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and not given as a general command for how Israel should interact with its neighbors.
- God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
- Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
- We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.
This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.
If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.
If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, including morality and ethics. This ad campaign by the American Humanist Association was downright silly, and demonstrated that their rejection of Christianity has an irrational side to it. Christianity, in contrast to atheism, offers a solid foundation for both reason and morality.
Grace and Peace
One cannot have a complete biblical doctrine of creation without incorporating what one believes about the future of creation. Some Christians believe in the utter annihilation of the present world when Christ returns; that God will completely destroy Earth before establishing the eternal order. This doctrine can, unfortunately, lead to what some have called “disposable earth theology.” In the perspective of some Christians, it really doesn’t matter what happens to planet Earth because it is going to be destroyed anyway.
I believe the disposable earth teaching is biblically wrong for a number of reasons. It is more gnostic than Christian in that it teaches that only what is “spiritual” goes on to eternity, while everything physical gets wiped out. It is more biblical to say that there is a good amount of continuity between the present world and the eternal world. For example, our bodies will somehow be changed when we are resurrected, but we will still be ourselves. I will still be recognizable as Kevin Nelstead, though with some much-needed improvements. Likewise, planet Earth will still be planet Earth.
Two talented men in my local church have started producing a web tv program called Dead Reckoning TV, which I highly recommend. In episode 17 for their first year, Dr. Brian Mattson and Jay Friesen focus on the future aspect of the doctrine of creation and how that should effect our day-to-day living in the present age. For the core part of his argument, Dr. Mattson states:
When you have a robust doctrine of creation in your Christianity, when you realize that the God who made all things good is restoring this good world that’s been corrupted and destroyed by sin, it’s actually quite impossible to be so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good. You know, our eternal hope of the new heavens and the new earth empowers—is the engine that drives—our current living. In Romans chapter 8, which is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, when Paul talks about how our present sufferings aren’t worth being compared to the glory that is going to be revealed in us; it is in that very context, when he is talking about future glory and the liberation of creation that he talks about us presently having the resurrection spirit so that we don’t follow the old way of doing things, we follow the new way of doing things. The kingdom of God, by the Holy Spirit, is breaking into the world as it is right now, and enabling us not to be slaves of sin but to be slaves of righteousness. It’s that future day; it’s that next world that is actually empowering us in the present world.
You know, the idea of a new creation—not going to heaven, not life after death like I said a couple episodes ago, but life after life after death, the restoration of all things, the new heavens and the new earth, as the Bible puts it—it means that the present world matters. I mean, think about that, a renewed creation means that creation matters. It’s not an ejection seat, we’re not just piling into a lifeboat to bail out of this place. God still loves his world, it’s the world he made. A renewed creation means creation matters. How can we be “heavenly minded and no earthly good” if that’s true?
I encourage you to watch the entire episode: Ep. 17: Making All Things New. The Future.
Ligonier Ministries has posted an excellent article which can help us think through how to speak and write about issues that are controversial within the Christian church. Some important values as I write articles for The GeoChristian include that I would communicate with grace and humility, that the body of Christ would be edified, and that non-believers would be pointed to Christ.
The article is Consider Yourself by Burk Parsons. Here are a few excerpts:
Controversy exists because God’s truth exists in a world of lies. Controversy is the plight of sinners in a fallen world, who were originally created by God to know the truth, love the truth, and proclaim the truth. We cannot escape controversy this side of heaven, nor should we seek to. As Christians, God has rescued us out of darkness and has made us able to stand in His marvelous light. He has called us to go into the darkness and shine as a light to the world, reflecting the glorious light of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And when light shines in darkness, controversy is inevitable.
The difficulty comes when we try to discern truth from error in the church of Christ.
“What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?” — John Newton
Parsons then offers ten questions to help us determine if and how we should engage in controversial issues. Some questions that are most applicable to our debates about Earth science include:
1. Have I prayed?
2. What is my motive?
3. Am I striving to edify others?
6. How will I treat the person with whom I disagree?
9. What is my ultimate goal?
10. Am I focused on God’s glory? (Are we serving God’s kingdom or our own kingdom?)
Doing these things, and doing them well, is more important to me than the age of the Earth, flood geology, environmental responsibility, or a host of other topics that surface from time to time here on The GeoChristian.
Grace and Peace
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)
According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
In Genesis 3, as we know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:
Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.
Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”
A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened.
That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.
That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.
(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )
Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?
There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.
This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.
Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:
- A broken relationship with God.
- Broken relationships with one another.
- A broken relationship with the creation.
- Frustration in work.
- Pain in childbirth.
- Physical death.
- Decaying bodies.
All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?
Grace and Peace
CHELYABINSK METEOR WAS REALLY AN AMERICAN WEAPONS TEST – At least according to one Russian politician, as reported at Russia Today: US tested new weapon, no meteor in Chelyabinsk – Russian LibDem leader.
Astronomy Picture of the Day has a good video of the meteor.
LEAVING THE HATE CHURCH — Two granddaughters of Fred Phelps—pastor of the heretical “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church—have left the “church.” Here are a few thoughts from an article in Christianity Today (The Westboro Baptist in All of Us):
Most of us wouldn’t go to the same lengths as those at Westboro, but collectively, we have our own prejudices, rigid rules, regulations, and zealotries. These drive us to marginalize, cast aspersions upon and exclude others within our own churches, Christian organizations and institutions who so much as dare to differ, even slightly, from our own political or theological stances.
“Zealotry is conscious zeal to be radically committed, so radically committed that one goes beyond the Bible to defend things that are not in the Bible…. Zealots…convince themselves that, even though the Bible does not say something, what they are saying is really what the Bible wanted after all.” — Scot McKnight
“The underlying assumption is that my thoughts are God’s thoughts; my cause is God’s cause. This divine alliance makes me exempt from obedience in order that I might bring about God’s purposes.” — Tim Gombis
The CT article is directed at Christians, but there is a little bit of Westboro in everybody.
INTOLERANT TOLERANCE – Many “progressives” preach tolerance as the highest virtue, and then act a little Westboro-ish towards anyone who disagrees with them. Ligonier Ministries has a review of two recent books on tolerance: The Intolerance of Tolerance and A Queer Thing Happened to America.
GREEN ELEPHANTS FOR PRESIDENT — The top leadership of environmental organizations such as The Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace were given the opportunity to pick a list of greenest presidents. The top two vote-getters were Republicans: Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. See America’s Greenest Presidents. (HT: ConservAmerica)
Why Teddy Roosevelt? He clearly loved nature and did much to set aside land for preservation and stewardship.
Why Richard Nixon? The Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act…
What does the current crop of Republican leaders want to do about all of this?
AT MIZZOU, EVERY DAY COULD BECOME A NO-TEST DAY – No exams on Wiccan, Pagan holidays at University of Missouri? I would feel discriminated against because Good Friday is not a school holiday.
PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANITY CONTINUES — How China Plans to Wipe Out House Churches and Four Missionaries Arrested in Benghazi May Face Libya Death Penalty (post-Arab Spring “democracy” at work).
IF I ONLY HAD A (CHIMP) BRAIN – If my wife sends me to the store with a list of more than three things, I must have them written down. If I were a chimpanzee however, I could do much better. Chimps have better short-term memory than humans.
Here is my belated Martin Luther King Jr. Day post, a quote from How Martin Luther King Jr. Overcame “Christian” White Supremacy by Southern Baptist Russell D. Moore.
On the question of civil rights in the American Christian context, there is little question that, with few exceptions, the “progressives” were right, often heroically right, and the “conservatives” were wrong, often satanically wrong. In the narrative of the dismantling of Jim Crow, conservatives were often the villains and progressives were most often on the side of the angels, indeed on the side of Jesus.
But regardless of personal faith, the civil rights heroes indicted conservative hypocrites, prophetically, with the conservatives’ own convictional claims. And, as Jesus promised, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”
The arguments for racial reconciliation were persuasive, ultimately, to orthodox Christians because they appealed to a higher authority than the cultural captivity of white supremacy. These arguments appealed to the authority of Scripture and the historic Christian tradition.
This authority couldn’t easily be muted by a claim to a “different interpretation” because racial equality was built on premises conservatives already heartily endorsed: the universal love of God, the unity of the race in Adam, the Great Commission and the church as the household of God.
With this the case, the legitimacy of segregation crumbled just as the legitimacy of slavery had in the century before, and for precisely the same reasons. Segregation, like slavery, was shown to be what all human consciences already knew it to be: not just a political injustice or a social inequity (although certainly that) but also a sin against God and neighbor and a repudiation of the gospel. Regenerate hearts ultimately melted before such arguments because in them they heard the voice of their Christ, a voice they’d heard in the Scriptures themselves.
Grace and Peace
This is why President Obama should be pro-life:
Here’s my “potential” story from Roe v. Wade week two years ago: Fifty million little leaguers and pianists later.
Grace and Peace
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. — John 1:1,14 (NIV 1984)
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary claims of the Christian faith is not that God created the universe (many philosophers believe there must be something outside of the universe that created the universe), or that God can work miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea, but that Jesus Christ (the Word of John chapter one) was God in the flesh. In verse one, it states that “the Word was God,” and in verse fourteen John writes that “The Word became flesh.”
This means that the God who created the entire universe (with all of its laws, energy, and matter), who knows both the position and momentum of each subatomic particle in the universe, and without whom the universe would cease to exist in less than a nanosecond—this God of “all there is or was or ever will be,” became a human being. Not only did God become fully human (while retaining full deity), he became a zygote, a fertilized ovum, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
Much of this is mysterious to us. How can someone be fully God and fully human? How can God, as the second person of the Trinity, be compressed into a single human cell? We don’t fully know, but we can be filled with wonder.
This tells us several important things about the God of the universe:
- God is not the God of the deists; a God who winds up the clock of the universe and then lets it run its course without intervention. God is not only involved in the day-to-day running of the universe, he actually has stepped into his creation to become a creature.
- God cares deeply about human beings. God does not look at the heart-wrenching suffering and injustices in this world with indifference, as some accuse him of doing. Instead, God entered into this mess in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born into poverty, saw and experienced great sorrow and suffering, was sentenced to death in a series of unjust trials, and was severely beaten before being nailed naked to a roughly-hewn piece of wood. This is not a God who ignores our pain, but who takes the sin of the world upon himself.
- Zygotes matter to God. Embryos matter. The Word became flesh at the point of conception. This tells us that a fertilized egg—a zygote—is fully human, which implies that to kill a zygote (i.e. abortion) is the moral equivalent of murdering any other human.
Grace and Peace
A great evil happened today: twenty young children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
As always, some will respond to an evil action by asking, “How could there be a God?”
I respond to tragedy by asking, “How can there not be a God?” For if there is no God, we cannot describe the shooting of twenty kindergartners as inherently evil. We all recoil at what was done in Newtown, Connecticut this morning, and I am not saying that an atheist does not consider mass murder to be evil. It is just that they can only do so by borrowing the concept of “evil” from theists.
I could not live with a philosophy in which murder, rape, child abuse—and a long list of other horrors—were only considered to be “evil” because we as individuals or as a society do not like them. I understand that we theists have a “problem of evil” when we consider that God is good, and God is all-powerful, and yet evil exists. I am familiar with the solutions to this problem, and know that none of them are completely satisfactory. But non-theists and atheists have a “problem of evil” of their own; one that is also unsolvable. The problem is that if there is no God, then nothing is really “evil,” except by our preferences.
I will stick with the Christian answer—that evil is an intrusion on God’s good creation and that the beginning of the end of evil occurred through a great act of evil (the crucifixion of Christ) that God turned into a great act of his goodness—even though I don’t completely understand how everything ties together. Only in this Gospel (Good News) answer is there hope that one day the “problem of evil” will be a thing of the past.
Grace and Peace
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” — Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)
In Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls on Christians to do two things at once. The first of these is that we are to speak the truth. The second is that we do so in love. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good at multitasking.
The second part of this Biblical imperative is the greater challenge for most of us. The greatest commandment of Scripture in regards to human relationships is that we love one another. It is easy to get caught up in the issues we care deeply about—whether in the areas of doctrine, science, politics, or social issues—and to start looking at the other person as our adversary or enemy who needs to be set straight.
The challenge before me, and us, is to learn how to “speak the truth in love.” How do we “speak the truth in love” on topics such as creationism or the environment, when we think the other side takes a position that is, at times, both wrong and harmful?
My first suggestion is humility. We are not God; we do not know it all. For instance, all of us certainly could misunderstand the Bible. YECs would say, “Yeah, you certainly don’t understand the Bible,” and I am sure that there are things that I don’t get completely right in regards to Genesis. I do sincerely believe that the Bible is ambiguous on topics such as the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also believe that there are things YECs read into the text that are not there, and that they are guilty at times of a hyper-literal over-reading of the text in ways that were not intended, and I would like to see more humility on their part as well.
We also need to be humble in regards to our science. We, as individuals and as a scientific community, do not know everything we think we know. This goes for both old-Earthers and young-Earthers.
Second, sometimes it is best to be silent. This is hard for me, but it is better to say nothing at all than to speak the truth in an unloving way. I don’t need to win every debate, and need to be aware that I could easily club a brother or sister to death with my arguments from either the Bible or science. Victory is not the highest goal.
Third, I think we need to seek to find common ground. I have tremendous areas of agreement with my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in terms of my view of both Scripture and the world, and I need to seek to build on that. I ask that they would seek to do the same.
Fourth, I think it is better to use neutral terms and phrases, such as “Creationist X is incorrect because…” than “What Creationist X says is complete and utter nonsense.” I may think that what Creationist X says is nonsense, but in order to love to them as a brother in Christ, I need to be careful.
Fifth, it is important to keep primary issues primary, and secondary issues secondary. Of course, this is a bit of a challenge when we cannot agree on what is secondary and what is primary. I will say that it is more important to me that I maintain unity with a brother or sister in Christ than it is that I win a “debate.”
Sixth, name-calling is off limits. Those who disagree with me are not nincompoops or extremists, and I am not a compromiser or a so-called Christian.
I have no doubt that you can scroll through my 1000+ posts on The GeoChristian and find instances where I have not lived up to these standards. In a way, this is an exploratory blog post. What is fair (and loving) in a formal or semi-formal debate could be different than what is loving in a dialog with a lay Christian without a science background who has only read young-Earth literature.
I have a couple questions:
- How do I say “Creationist X is wrong wrong wrong” in a loving way?
- What are other ways in which we can succeed or fail at “speaking the truth in love” as we discuss Earth issues we feel passionate about?
Grace and Peace
P.S. I intend to start a new series called “GeoScriptures,” in which I will examine verses or passages that relate in one way or another to the Biblical doctrine of Creation. This verse on truth and love seems like a good place to start, as it is easy for all of us to miss this high standard as we discuss issues on which there might be disagreement.
Another rapture prediction! – Hal Lindsey was wrong (The Late Great Planet Earth). Edgar Whisenant was wrong (88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988), Harold Camping was wrong (his well-publicized prediction of the rapture in 2011).
Don’t worry, however, because the Bible tells us that the rapture will really be in 2014 or 2015. So say the folks over at redmoonrapture.com. Why? Because there will be “blood moon” lunar eclipses on Passover in both of those years, as well on the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Trumpets.
They even have a countdown clock to help you prepare:
Jesus said that he didn’t know when he will return. I don’t know either. I think I’ll go plant a tree.
YECs aren’t YEC-y enough — So says www.fountainsofthegreatdeep.com. Most of them “Deny Scripture by Embracing the Heliocentric Myth and are thus False Teachers.” “You won’t find any Earth ‘spinning’ and ‘wobbling’ heliocentric ‘sun worship’ mysticism inside here!!!”
Moldy Jesus image on shower wall – ”HOUSTON (KTRK) – A family in Splendora claims they have a holy vision inside their home, an image of Jesus created by mold in a bathroom. They say the image is giving them strength.”
Watch the video from KTRK in Houston.
I think they would gain more strength from reading their Bibles, praying, worship, holy communion, fellowship, and service.
And I think they need to clean their bathroom.
What Americans consider to be sinful — From The Atlantic: birth control (good), adultery (bad), suicide (bad), suicide if the doctor does it (not as bad)…
What should Congress cut?
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, American Evangelicals are most likely to favor reducing funding for the following items in the federal budget:
- Aid to the world’s poor
- Health care
- Scientific research
- Aid to U.S. poor
In each of these cases, Evangelicals were more likely than non-Evangelicals to favor spending cuts. At the same time, Evangelicals were considerably more likely than non-Evangelicals to favor increases in military spending.
I’m all in favor of some serious cuts in the federal budget, but what does it say about American Evangelicalism when the number one item we would slash funding for is “aid to the world’s poor?”
Note: my question is not, “Should government be involved in humanitarian foreign aid?” but more along the lines of “Why do Evangelicals view governmental humanitarian foreign aid as of such a low priority?”
Article in Christianity Today: Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed
Grace and Peace
“It’s OK if someone is a Christian, as long as they aren’t fanatical about it.”
We all know what they are talking about. Religion is OK to most people (except to Richard Dawkins and kin), as long as people don’t get fanatical about it.
Fanatics make the news, and it isn’t pretty. Fred Phelps and his band of funeral protesters. Islamic extremists blowing themselves up in a crowded subway station. Perhaps your relative, neighbor, or coworker who is rather pushy or judgmental in your opinion.
Fanaticism among believers is clearly one reason people are turned away from the Christian faith. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has some good thoughts on fanaticism in his book The Reason for God:
“Pharisaic people [i.e. moral fanatics] assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the esence of what we think of as fanaticism.
“What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.
“Think of people you consider fanatical. they’re overbearing, self-righteous, opionionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self -improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8:7). What strike us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.“
—from Chapter 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice (emphasis added)
God, help me to be a fanatically loving, forgiving, serving, understanding, and humble. Help me to be increasingly committed to Christ, and therefore to be fanatic about loving the people I come into contact with.
Grace and Peace
Almost twenty years ago I got into a discussion about abortion with a female coworker in the break room. I’m not sure how the topic came up; I don’t go around looking for controversial topics to debate with my coworkers.
She was in her mid- to late-twenties, and like me, was at the beginning of a rewarding career with good pay and benefits. I had overheard her before talking about abortion rights, and knew that she was rather outspoken on the topic. She knew that I was a Christian, so I assume she knew I was pro-life. She explained to me that she had had an abortion as a college student. She was pregnant by a man she didn’t really care about. She asked me, “Where would I be now if I hadn’t had an abortion?” She explained that she probably wouldn’t have finished her college education, and therefore wouldn’t have the good job she had now.
I don’t remember what I said, but I clearly remember what I was thinking. I remember thinking that things may have worked out just fine for her; she was intelligent and hard working and she may have found a way to get a start in a good career. Maybe, maybe not. But the thought that stood out most was another answer to the question “Where would I be now?” She was thinking entirely in terms of career and economics. Now, these are important, but are they the only important things in one’s life? Are they the most important things? My answer to “Where would I be now?” —at least in my mind—was, “Perhaps you would be at a little league baseball game or at a piano recital.”
This frames the question in the right way, as a moral question—”What is it that is being done in an abortion?”—rather than “What’s it going to cost me to have a baby?” There is a cost to keeping a baby (and a cost to the moral decision to have sex in the first place), but the more significant question is “What is this thing inside of a mother’s womb?” What is inside the womb will grow up some day to be a little league baseball player, a pianist, a friend, a lover, a parent, someone who contributes to the world in unimaginable ways.
Or that life can be extinguished so someone can have a better career.
I didn’t say any of this. Perhaps I am too nice at times, not wanting to upset others. But I’m saying it now, and hope and pray that some other scared mother will choose to save her baby, and experience the blessings of parenting.
Grace and Peace
P.S. Today, January 22, is the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision that legalized most abortions in the United States. Since that time over fifty million abortions have been performed in this country.
A few items from the many tabs I have open in my browser…
Mammoths in the meadows? — Japanese researchers hope to replace the nucleus of a fertilized elephant egg cell with the nucleus of a woolly mammoth, then implant the cell in an elephant’s womb to create a living woolly mammoth. This is much more feasible than the scenario in Jurassic Park, as we have what should be pretty close to intact woolly mammoth cells, recovered from frozen carcasses in Siberia. From Yahoo News/AFP: Researchers aim to resurrect mammoth in five years.
Moral blind spots — What things do we accept as normal that future generations will look at as morally reprehensible? Kwame Anthony Appiah asks that question on the Washington Post site: What will future generations condemn us for? Appiah comes up with the following list:
- Our prison system
- Industrial meat production
- The institutionalized and isolated elderly
- The environment
Amy Hall at Stand to Reason Blog comments, “I think Appiah misses the key element of these past atrocities [slavery and lynching]: they involved a denial of intrinsic human value in a particular group of human beings.”
What would I add to the list? Global poverty — Over a billion people without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, education, security, etc.
A missions leader I know recently wrote:
In a world that is cruel to the marginalized, where cycles of poverty keep generations in often hopeless circumstances, where basic needs like clean water, sanitation and a meal a day can be only dreamed of and where corrupt governments, officials and institutions deny basic justice we need to be reminded of the heart of God. The prophet Micah said it cogently: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Global Warming Trends — NASA reports that 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record: Earth Observatory — Different Records, Same Warming Trend.
Diamonds do not form from coal — Geology.com addresses this common misconception: How Do Diamonds Form? (Somewhat related: a refutation of the young-Earth creationist assertion that carbon-14 in coal proves that the Earth is young can be found here: Carbon-14 in Coal Deposits).
Religious discrimination in academia — From The Evangelical Ecologist: Stars Shine on Christian Researcher — The University of Kentucky discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell because he is a Christian, and they left an e-mail trail as proof.
Cleansing the internet — I think this is a great idea: having the default internet service pornography-free. If you want porn, you would specifically have to ask for it as part of your internet package. This could happen in the near future in the United Kingdom. From Cranach: Default blocking of all internet porn. This would not be censorship, as a person who wanted access to pornography as part of their internet package could still request it. One reason I think it would be a great idea: young people in our society are exposed to way too much sexual content that they are not ready for, as in this news report: Calif school eyes accounts of sex by 2nd graders.
Grace and Peace
One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.
The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.
The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:
- “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
- “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
- “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
- “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
- “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
- And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).
Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:
Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.
Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.
Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.
Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.
a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.
b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.
c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.
d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:
i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.
ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).
iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).
iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).
v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.
These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration
Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.
a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.
b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.
c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.
Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.
Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?
Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.
Grace and Peace
Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated in the United States for his vision and leadership in the civil rights movement. In my previous post, I argued that Christianity provides a much more solid foundation for human rights than secularism, and Martin Luther King’s Biblically-based arguments for equality illustrate this nicely. He did not argue that African-Americans should have the same rights in America as Whites because it just seems right (the secular “natural law” basis for human rights) or because society would work better that way (a secular “social contract” approach) but because God has created all humans with intrinsic dignity and worth.
One of King’s most famous works was his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was written in response to clergy who thought King was being extreme in his quest for equality under the law. It is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some quotes I would like to share in honor of Dr. King’s legacy:
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
I have tried to stand between these two forces [black complacency and violent black nationalism], saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
…too many others [white religious leaders] have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
May our eyes be open to the injustices that still pervade this world of sin, and may we be moved to prayer and action.
Grace and Peace
Timothy Keller, in chapter nine of The Reason for God, discusses the origin of human rights. Do humans intrinsically have unalienable rights, or are these rights something that we have arbitrarily come up with? Keller outlines three possible answers to this question, following Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz:
- Human rights come from God. God has created us and endowed us with certain unalienable rights.
- Human rights are based on “natural law.” People have rights because nature dictates that they should.
- Human rights are created by us. It is in the interest of societies to grant people rights.
Dershowitz rules out the first answer, but Keller makes a case for it being the only option that gives us a reliable foundation for human freedom and dignity. The natural world is ruled by violence and predation, and doesn’t seem to be the best place to go looking for fundamental laws that protect the weak of society. To say that human rights are created by us is rather frightening, as rights that are granted by the majority can just as easily be taken away.
After outlining the options, Keller makes a case that “the Biblical account of things… explains our moral sense… better than a secular view.” No one has been able to make a convincing case that humans have “unalienable human rights” apart from those rights originating from a Creator. If we believe that humans do indeed have rights that ought not to be trampled upon, then perhaps this itself is evidence for the existence of God. Keller concludes the section with a plea to follow through on our sense that human rights really do exist, outside of ourselves:
If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?
Grace and Peace
P.S. The question of whether or not it should be considered immoral to napalm babies was introduced in the chapter with a quote from Yale law professor Arthur Leff. Leff doesn’t accept the idea that human rights come from God, but he can find no other reliable origin for those rights. Leff writes:
As things are now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved… There is such a thing as evil. All together now: Sez Who? God help us.
P.P.S. Keller is not saying that secular people (skeptics, atheists, etc.) advocate immoral things like napalming babies. Quite the contrary, he argues that in general these people know that certain things are right and wrong. Why would they think this way if there were no underlying reason for them to do so?