Category Archives: Ethics

Ethics Course “180” Review

Many people have asked me why I am teaching a course on Ethics at the church.  The implication is that it is unnecessary in some way:

  • because people already know how to act
  • because our positions are already reasoned and settled
  • all we need to do is toe the company line

But just as with all other areas of teaching in the church, the body must listen carefully and ensure that the reasoning and conclusions that we hold to and act upon are truly correct (Biblical, rational, logical, consistent, Godly).  So we are holding a class at the church and one of the first things we did was view a provocative video put out by Ray Comfort.

It is not safe to assume that simply because someone has a forum, audience, or church that their declarations are sound.  I have never been content to simply tell people what to believe (even though my teaching has a proven record of reliability :-)), rather people need to be exposed to process, argumentation, and reasoning. We need to know how to think not simply be bullied into what to think.

As a preface to my critique of Ray Comfort’s video “180” let me assert a few things:

  1. I agree with the major premise of the video:  Abortion is a moral issue with grave consequences.
  2. I applaud his engagement with culture, his desire to challenge and change people with the gospel message.
  3. I believe he has good motives.
  4. I understand that the video is not a formal presentation of arguments for and against abortion.
  5. I was moved emotionally by the video and was hopeful that those in the video who said they had changed their minds were sincere and that the change was a real and lasting change.

Having said that, the video is flawed.  I would not use this video as a means of persuasion – either for the gospel or for a position on abortion.  Here are my problems:

Continue reading Ethics Course “180” Review

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Intro to Ethics – Wednesday Study

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(The video feed is raw, so the volume is spotty, I will edit and update the post, if you are reading this then suffer through an unedited mp3!)

On Wednesday nights at Olive Grove Church we are studying Ethics together.  Last night was an introductory night where we outlined some basic terms and categories then watched a modern presentation of a Christian moral perspective on Abortion by Ray Comfort called 180.  I use the video as a discussion starter on ethical methodology and communication.  I challenged our audience to view the video critically by asking three questions as they watched:  What is missing from the presentation?  What is wrong with the presentation?  Would you find it compelling if you were an opponent of the view proposed?

Here are the notes/handout

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A Man’s Moral Worth

Henning von Tresckow was a Major General in the German Wehrmacht and a chief conspirator in the Valkyrie plot (he is played by Kenneth Branagh in the modern movie “Valkyrie” which starred Tom Cruise). He spoke these words to a fellow conspirator Fabian von Schlabrendorff who is the source for these words:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing.  Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the whole world.  When, in a few hours time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify in good conscience what I did in the struggle against Hitler.  God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope that for our sake God will not destroy Germany.  None of us can bewail his own death, those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus.  A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.” *

Despite the atrocities of the Nazi’s, it is not right to conclude that honor and integrity were dead in Germany.  There were many heroes who failed in their attempts to right a very badly listing ship.  Overwhelmed by the ferocity and speed of Hitler’s evil, these men were caught in an avalanche of proportions they could never even imagine.  By the time they figured out the depth of the horror and the corresponding and seemingly immoral option left to them (assassination), Hitler was well on his way.

Once we know what we are willing to sacrifice our life for we will have a better idea of how we should live our lives.

*quote taken from Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

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Soccer and Morality

I cracked open the LA Times this morning, a not so routine activity for me anymore.  We gave up our home delivery over a year ago and only recently subscribed to the Sunday Times for the coupons (Kelly is a coupon-money saving fiend).  Even so, Sunday is not a great day for my paper perusing so this morning I read the Sunday Times Sports Page.  Being one of the few soccer fans in the USA, I stumbled across an article entitled: “FIFA firmly stuck in the past” (sic, ? no capitals in titles anymore??) written by Grahame L. Jones.

FIFA (the governing body for soccer worldwide) has decided against using technology to assist referees in their decisions.  This post is not about my opinion about that (I have strong opinions about that by the way) rather I was struck by Grahame L. Jones’ perspective as to why FIFA should have allowed it.  In response to “Swiss curmudgeon Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA’s increasingly tiresome president, who turned 74 on Wednesday” Jones had this to say in the article (he first quotes the old “curmudgeon” and then replies):

“The application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level,” Blatter wrote on FIFA’s website after the rules-makers last weekend rejected the use of any technology now and in the foreseeable future.
“This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV.”
Why?
Why should youngsters kicking the ball around for fun on a dusty field in, say, El Salvador, need to abide by the same rules that apply to multi-millionaire athletes gliding across manicured lawns in Europe in pursuit of personal glory and silverware?
It makes no sense to demand the same of both. The higher the level of competition, the more there is at stake. The need, therefore, is to take every step to ensure that the sport at the highest level is as free from human error as possible.

“Why should youngsters kicking the ball around for fun on a dusty field in, say, El Salvador, need to abide by the same rules that apply to multi-millionaire athletes…?” Why indeed.  Now I know that this is not a piece on ethics and morality but the ease with which that sentiment was penned and the universal appeal that it makes is a sure sign of the erosion of any sort of belief in absolute morality.

The rules are not the same for the rich and the poor. Our values have moved from being rooted in the revelation of the sacred or even the equality of humanity to what is described here as “personal glory.”  This moral philosophy inevitably leads to the belief that “people who are privileged are more important than people who are not.”  This is what sport has come to not because of something inherent in sport, rather something that is inherent in man.  It is simply reflected here in this bald values statement intended to argue for something unrelated to morality but so revealing about our core values as a society.  It is like the slip of the tongue in a casual context that makes us look deep into our actual beliefs and values. We may not admit this in a formal moral argument, but it rears it’s ugly head as we cry “foul” on behalf of the the privileged in their pursuit of their personal glory which is then so graciously shared with the peons who gather round for a crumb.

I think I might ref some AYSO soccer matches instead of watching the World Cup.

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We Did It!?

I wrote this blog post the day following the election, November 5, 2008.  I decided to postpone posting it because of its sarcasm, and I really don’t think the issue is gay marriage, rather how we impact and influence society and culture.  Now, here is where people will get sidetracked from my argument, so let me clarify.  I am not “for” gay marriage.  The phrase gay marriage is an oxymoron.  The gay lifestyle and disposition has no appeal, people do not aspire to homosexuality, they resign themselves to homosexuality.  Parents do not hope for gay children, and for good reason:  the gay lifestyle and predicament is a burden not a nobility.  It argues against itself.  Christianity  should offer hope and freedom.

Last night, Californians saved marriage.

It was almost pulled away from us by the gay population, but we beat them back at the ballot box.  Christianity prevailed.  We did it.  We saved marriage.  If we had lost, marriage as we know it would be lost forever.  It would have been our fault that we didn’t get out the vote.  But thank God we did, who knows what my household would have been like today if we hadn’t.  Congratulations.

I have been holding out saying much about this until the election was over.  Now it is time to talk about politics and the influence of politics on the church and it’s method and message.

First, we got caught in lies.

Political rhetoric is shamefully obtuse and deceptive.  It leaves out key facts that paint the full picture and it speaks in hyperbole, mostly to engender a response most often a response of fear.  So, Barack Obama was said to have voted “present” in many of his Senate votes as if that were a bad thing when in fact it isn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  So McCain was “attached” to the Bush administration so that he could be marginalized by people who want “change”.  So the economic crisis is pinned on the President when the realities are much more complex.  And the Prop. 8 campaign also spoke in hyperbole.

Here is a quote from the Prop 8 website (“protectmarriage.com” even the name is hyperbolic):

“It is imperative that all pastors and Christian leaders view this for what it is: an irretrievable moment, with profound and lasting consequences.  We must vigorously support Prop 8, as if our ministries and our lives depend on it.  Ultimately, they will.”

That is the end paragraph, the conclusion of a lengthy quote which included statements like:  “hinge of history”; “major change point”; “threatens to forever muzzle Bible believing Christians”.

I disagree.  Yesterday was not an irretrievable moment.  My ministry in no way was dependent on the outcome of prop. 8.  My life was not in danger.  This will not be a shining historical moment for the church, nor would it have been a blight on our history if the proposition failed.  Bible believing Christians will never be muzzled, even if called to die for the gospel proclamation. In many periods of church history, the voice of the church has never been as clarion as it is when the church was persecuted.

This kind of language is harmful to the church and it’s message.  Critics are rightly branding this speech as “untrue”.  Is it worth it to have the reputation of truth tarnished by the language we use to “get out the vote”?  I say it is not.  And today, we will begin to feel the repurcussions of our political dalliance.

Second, we forgot our mission.

Our voice, our strength, our purpose is not to change society or protect our values through legislation.  I heard yesterday on the radio (Southwest Radio Church) that the gospel message needed to be 90% law and 10% grace (they claimed to be quoting Wesley). Now the book of Galatians says that the law is a tutor that leads to Christ.  But this is not a template for evangelism nor is it a template for influencing culture.  If the passage is read carefully, faith precedes the giving of the law!  This is Paul’s argument in both Romans and Galatians.  “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  We don’t preach the law, we preach Christ crucified.

Third, we are missing/losing the more important battle.

Pursuing the battleground of the law when we have lost the battleground of the mind, is to lose the war.   Christians have abdicated the intellectual arena of our culture.  It used to be that the presence of Christian thinkers permeated the major universities of our nation.  The minds of the leaders and opinion makers of the nation were first indoctrinated and influenced by truth and a Christian worldview.  That has changed dramatically.  The rise of  Christian colleges and universities has caused a void in the secular university.  The best and brightest Christians are no longer teaching or attending the major universities.  That change has extended to the market place, where now we seek businesses marked with the sign.

Policy makers and opinion shapers are also the unique home of the secular.  Christian youth are not encouraged to enter the fields of journalism, media, politics or law.  We see those areas of our culture as tainted, ungodly.  This abdication has hurt the cause of truth.  It has hurt the cause of Christian values being the underpinning of our society.  And the more we play the fortress game, the further the divide will become and the more we will bemoan the encroaching evil all around us, and the more we will appeal to the past (this is a nation founded on Christian principles) and the more we will resort to muscling our views on this increasingly secular and non-Christian society.

The real battle lies in our ability to re-enter the culture war and fight the battle for the mind.  It is an intellectual battle and unfortunately there is a raging anti-intellectualism in the evangelical movement.  It is a lifestyle change but we are too comfortable in our modern monasteries that we call church with the accompanying accoutrement of cloistered lifestyle choices:  homeschooling, Christian colleges, exclusive social circles.  All these things, if designed to protect us from “the world” instead of preparing us to engage our culture, keep us from really winning the war.  It is not an election war; it will take much longer than an election cycle.

Lastly…

Proposition 8 just seems like bad strategy to me.

First, it will go before the same 9th Circuit Court at some point when challenged legally.  They have already made their opinion clear on the issue.  There is a good chance “the voice of the people” will be overturned by the 9th Circuit on legal and constitutional grounds rather than on Christian moral grounds.  I am willing to be shown wrong on this point, not being a legal expert, but all propositions must in fact be constituional or they will not become law.  The proponents of Proposition 8 say this is exactly why this was put in the form of a constitutional amendment, nonetheless, it will be challenged.

Second, is the issue homosexual marriage? or is it homosexuality period?  Christians are not simply opposed to homosexual marriage, we are opposed to homosexuality.  It isn’t going away.  If we are opposed to homosexuality and not simply homosexual marriage then shouldn’t we really support legislation against homosexuality?  The reason we would answer no to this is the same answer we should not fight in this arena. America is not the church.  We don’t legislate church law.   Homosexuality cannot be overcome by the law, only by the gospel.

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Proposition 8 & The Church

I do not intend this post to be an endorsement for or against Proposition 8 rather to raise some issues as to how the church involves itself in issues like the one surrounding Proposition 8.

The Proposition

Proposition 8 is an initiative on the 2008 California General Election Ballot.  If passed it would force an amendment to the California Constitution to include the statement “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

“Prop. 8 is About Preserving Marriage; It’s Not an Attack on the Gay Lifestyle. Proposition 8 doesn’t take away any rights or benefits from gays or lesbians in domestic partnerships.  Under California law, “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections and benefits” as married spouses. (Family Code §297.5.) There are no exceptions. Proposition 8 will not change this.” (This is from “Protect Marriage – Yes on 8” Campaign)

The Position

There is a great deal of heat surrounding the proposition and the Constitutional amendment.  I just watched a half hour video mailed to the church free of charge from AFA (You can watch the video at American Family Association) calling on churches to inform their congregations to register and to vote for Proposition 8.  The video was full of clips from homosexual “marriages” performed in courthouses soon after the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 22 (passed in 2000 by California voters) was unconstitutional and opened the door for gay marriage in California.  It also made it clear that it was the duty of every pastor to get the word out to their congregations to register to vote and to vote yes on Proposition 8.

The Problem

The problems raised by the amendment and the PR campaign are numerous and regardless of your position, conversation on the process is a must. Political rhetoric has its own rules and agendas. When the church gets pulled into the “silly season” Continue reading Proposition 8 & The Church

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TED | Talks | Dan Dennett: A secular, scientific rebuttal to Rick Warren (video)

Daniel Dennett is the author of “Breaking the Spell,” a book about religion being the result of natural phenomenon. As a result of this premise he desires the “facts” of all religious belief to be a mandatory part of education in America. It is a fascinating video as he critiques Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life”. His final plea is for people to discard the notion that morality is dependent upon the existence of God.

I find some of his observations to be fascinating, especially his observation that humanity is driven by culture which is driven by religion and the connection he makes to the idea of domination. It is important to listen to people like Dennett, they challenge us to examine our “interpretation” of facts. The interpretation of the facts he presents are driven by an anthropocentric world view, and he embraces human “design” in reverse engineering. All the things that theologians want to say about God, atheists want to say about humanity.

More to come later, I have a lot to say, but I am being distracted from sermon preparation…

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.494434&w=425&h=350&fv=bgColor%3DFFFFFF%26file%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fstatic.videoegg.com%2Fted%2Fmovies%2FDANDENNETT_high.flv%26autoPlay%3Dfalse%26fullscreenURL%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fstatic.videoegg.com%2Fted%2Fflash%2Ffullscreen.html%26forcePlay%3Dfalse%26logo%3D%26allowFullscreen%3Dtrue] from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

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Sex with Robots, David Levy on Stephen Colbert

I heard David Levy on the radio a few weeks ago, nobody better than Stephen Colbert to highlight the problems with humor and sarcasm. The philosophical underpinnings are more disturbing than the moral challenges with this sort of industry. Philosophically, people will not have a problem with this and it probably will embrace it openly. As you listen to the guy you will notice that he sees no problem whatsoever with sex with a robot. The reason for this is that he is a materialist, as are many people in the world (at least when it suits them). Since he believes that all that exists is the physical/material, he correctly concludes that there is no problem with sex with a robot, or any other kind of sex for that matter. The moral component is difficult to supply if you are a materialist, because all we are dealing with is what the “material” needs or wants.

Christianity does not support materialism, rather we would philosophically be considered dualists (at least of a sort, a longer discussion for another post). Since Christianity assumes more to life than a physical component, we attribute a spiritual quality to sex. It is more than simple physical procreation. This philosophical underpinning gives foundation to monogamy, fidelity and purity in the sexual experience. Sex is not made up of simply the physical activity but includes the underlying spiritual component. Christianity will have a problem with this not simply because of the moral component, rather we are most uncomfortable with the materialist underpinnings that leads to moral .

Unbelievers and believers who are not adept at critical thinking and have not evaluated their mindset and personal philosophy will fall into the trap of being materialists at one level, and moral at another. For instance, when it suits people they argue that if it happens in the privacy of a bedroom, it is private and is nothing more than “sex”, like an itch that needs to be scratched. It didn’t include the spiritual component. So we try to divorce the biological act from the spiritual act, as if there was no inherent connection. If we are only material beings, with no spiritual component, we are simply talking about a physical activity. It is simply biological function without the procreation element, or the STD element. But the Scripture doesn’t know about this dichotomy. Christianity is about correspondence between thinking and acting.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.927360&w=425&h=350&fv=videoId%3D147893] from stevebag.vodpod.com

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