Why Ethics Depends on Origin

In my last post I mentioned how much I appreciated the intellectual integrity of Penn Jillette for saying that he respects Christians who share their faith and evangelize, because if you really believe the gospel, then the only appropriate response is to share it with others.

Today I’d like to address the opposite approach: a very common and yet completely contradictory set of beliefs about the meaning and value of life.

I recently came across this quote from well-known atheist Steven Pinker, author of the book, “How the Mind Works.”

“When it comes to ethics, ethical theory requires free rational agents whose behavior is uncaused. Now, ethical theory can be useful even though the world as seen by science does not really have uncaused events.” – Steven Pinker

Do you catch what he’s saying? He’s essentially saying that ethics are useful to society, but that they really have no basis in reality. In other words: ethics help society function, but in a view of the world in which there is no God who created you, ethics are completely baseless.

To put it simply: if there is no God who created you, there is absolutely no rational reason for saying that you are any more important than a stick. And you really have no original thoughts or creativity. Everything you do is programed, nothing is uncaused. You are just a hunk of matter, and therefore your life is utterly insignificant.

And yet, Pinker is saying that in spite of this, we should live as if human life is special and we as human beings are valuable, because it is helpful to the functioning of society, even if it isn’t true.

Here’s the point: an atheistic/humanistic worldview is incredibly conflicted.

On the one hand, modern Western society is obsessed with self-esteem. Our schools put a huge focus on telling kids that they are unique and valuable. We affirm that every life has innate value. And yet, at the same time we have a secular worldview which says that if there is no God, you still have to live as if human beings are significant, even though in reality they are not at all.

In other words, if your origin is insignificant and your destiny in insignificant, then the conclusion is that your life and everyone else’s life is insignificant. However, at the same time we are told to believe that we must pretend that it is.

That’s not intellectual integrity, that’s intellectual schizophrenia.

Atheism has an inherent problem with human rights: on the one hand our modern Western culture believes in individual human rights, and yet on the other hand, there is a push for an existential and eschatological narrative which undermines the very foundation for believing in equal individual human rights.

I have written more on this subject here: Atheism and Human Rights: An Inherent Problem.

Christianity, on the other hand, tells us that human beings were created by God, in His image, and therefore our lives have innate value and purpose – even if there is nothing that we can contribute to society, such as in the case of handicapped individuals.

Furthermore, the message of the gospel is that the lord of the universe left His heavenly throne and came to the Earth in order to save us by giving His life in order to redeem us — which means that you and your life have more value than you can even comprehend.

Modern Western culture has held onto the belief in individual value and human rights, something which has its basis in Christian doctrine and theology, while trying to eschew Christian doctrine and theology in the areas of origin, existence and destiny.

Ethics depend on origin. If you believe that human life has equal and inherent value, please remember where that idea comes from: the Word of God.

Atheism and Human Rights: An Inherent Problem

I recently heard someone mention something, which made me want to probe a little deeper. What this person said was that there is an inherent problem for atheists who believe in human rights, which is probably most of them in our modern age.

Why is that?

Here’s the problem: If there is no God, then how did you get here? Why are you alive?  It was through a series of natural selection which saw the survival of the fittest and the death of the weak.

In other words, the reason you are here, in an atheistic evolutionary model, is because your ancestors trampled on their competitors, who were the weaker of that given society.

So, if that is the entire basis of how humanity evolves and makes progress, then on what basis should we advocate for human rights?  To do so would not help further the progress of humanity, but only slow us down, according to this line of thinking.

Here are a few examples of people, who are atheists and who realize this inherent problem with atheistic evolutionary belief and our modern notion of universal human rights:

“The Darwinian worldview must look upon the present sentimental conception of the value of the life of a human individual as an overestimate completely hindering the progress of humanity.”

“The human state, like every animal community, must reach a higher level of perfection through the destruction of the less well-endowed individual. The state has an interest in preserving the more excellent life at the expense of the less excellent.”

Robert Kossmann, “The Importance of the Life of an Individual in the Darwinian Worldview”, 1880: German medical professor whose views influenced later Nazi regime attitudes and actions.

Richard Rorty (1931-2007), a committed atheist, also acknowledged that the basic assumptions upon which his worldview operated could not account for human rights since the struggle for survival eliminates the weak with no regard for any overarching morality.

Rorty admitted that “the concept of human rights came from ‘religious claims that human beings are made in the image of God,’ and admits that he reaches over and borrows the concept of universal human rights from Christianity, even though at the same time acknowledging that his atheistic Darwinian view gives no basis for a belief in universal human rights, but actually encourages just the opposite: the extermination of the weak by the strong.1

It was in fact this very view which led to the attitude in Nazi Germany that people with handicaps were an unnecessary burden on society, and that it was therefore better to put them to some good use for the common good, i.e. inhumane medical experimentation without consent. It was this same view which led to the devaluing of human life by the Soviet regime.

And yet, in our day, it is generally thought that it is perfectly normal to be an atheist and to believe in human rights at the same time. The problem with that is that such a person is ignoring the inherent contradiction between these two, and borrowing the concept of intrinsic human value from Christianity although it is not a natural result of atheistic reasoning. At least Rorty was willing to admit it!

Because if human rights means that we are not supposed to trample upon weak individuals, then that contradicts the basic premise of how atheistic evolutionary theory of human progress works!

Rorty and other atheists see this inherent problem, and yet they have no answer other than to say: if there is no God, there should be no human rights, but yet I believe that human rights are there.

The problem is: they stop right there and don’t allow reason to take them to the next logical step, which is to say: Okay, if there is no God, there should be no human rights, but yet I know that human rights are obviously there…  and so: maybe I was wrong about there being no God…

I can’t help but believe that there are some who sense this inherent problem and allow it to lead them to belief in God – I pray that more will – and not just any god, but the God of Christianity, the only God who gave his life to redeem people of all tribes, tongues, nations, ages and ability-levels, because he believed that they all had an equal level of intrinsic value as human beings. He is a God who associated with the weak and marginalized, even to the point of becoming one himself in order to save others. If you believe in human rights, you got it from him.

 

1. [Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth, pp. 225-226, quoted by Gary DeMar in ‘Why Atheists Can’t Account for Human Rights’]

Does Forgiveness Simply Mean Suppressing Your Feelings?

In reading through some material for a class I’m taking on Christian ethics, I ran across an interesting discussion of the ethic of forgiveness, related to Jesus as Priest (part of that being that one role of priests in the Old Testament is that they were mediators of forgiveness between God and humans).

Here is the quote from Esther Reed in the book “The Genesis of Ethics”:

Christian ethics has much to share with – as well as to learn from – the survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. A problem for both is that forgiveness is too often confused with passive acceptance of wrong, or the suppression of hurt and anger.

The supposed virtue of self-control, and the ideal of self-sacrifice or martyrdom, can lead women to believe that in accepting abuse and exploitation they are doing what Christianity, especially in its support for family values, requires. For neither, however, does forgiveness properly equate with sweeping wrong aside. Rather, it has regard for the specifics of a person’s situation and never trivializes any suffering endured. Anything less is what Bonhoeffer calls ‘cheap grace’, because there is no recognition of guilt and no call for genuine repentance.

I recently spoke about this very thing at White Fields Church – on the oft-missunderstood topic of ‘turning the other cheek’ and what that means, because it has often been taken to mean allowing people to walk all over you or permitting people to abuse you. I don’t believe that’s what it means – and I explained that in detail in a study titled “Loving Your Enemies” – the audio of which can be found here.

The American Religion of Parenting

A few days ago I was scanning Twitter and was intrigued by the title of an article: How American parenting is killing the American marriage

The article is a very insightful critique of the culture of parenting – or “religion of parenting”, as the author calls it – in our society, and the results of it.

Of particular interest to me was how the author points out that there is an unspoken understanding in our society that the value of a human life peaks out at birth and diminishes from there.

The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, “Middle-aged accountant on board.”

Today I talked with a great lady from our church who heads up an outreach called “Project Greatest Gift”, in which we provide Christmas gifts for children in foster care. Weld County told us that many of the children in foster care are living with elderly people, and they asked if we might be willing to provide gifts for the caretakers this year as well.
This seems like a great opportunity for us to show that we value all human life, both young and old.

Another important insight of the article is how this religion of parenting has led to a quickly rising divorce rate among empty nesters:

In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose. Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?

I think that one of the things the Christian church has done well is championing marriage. The writer to the Hebrews says: “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” (‭Hebrews‬ ‭13‬:‭4‬ ESV) I have had the privilege to see successful Christians marriages that thrived even after the kids left the house, because they made their marriage and not their children the center of their family.

How Does Marriage Affect Violence Against Women and Children?

How Does Marriage Affect Violence Against Women and Children?

This article in the Washington Post this week showed that statistically, women and children in married families suffer far less domestic violence than those in other situations.

Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father.

As Christians, one of the best things we can do for society is to uphold and promote strong biblical ethics.

…The Harder They Fall

On my way home from church on Sunday I saw a Facebook message saying that the pastor of the largest church in the movement I’ve long been associated with had resigned due to moral failure.

I hate hearing this kind of stuff.

Over the last several days I have seen tons of posts on social media from other pastors about this pastor’s fall. I understand that they want to address what’s going on. I understand that they are upset and want to talk about it. I’m not sure if we should be posting that kind of news everywhere though. At what point is it just gossip? Gossip is still gossip if you present it as a “prayer request”. Isn’t it spreading sensational news about someone else’s junk that really has no bearing on us personally?

I opened the CNN app on my iPad on Monday, only to see an article on the front page about this pastor’s moral failure and resignation. Great – more fuel for those who are always looking for fodder against Christianity and the Church.

I’m upset that someone in that man’s position would risk his legacy, his family and the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ for some fleeting moments of pleasure.

I am sad for his wife and kids who have to go through all of this in the public eye. I am concerned for that church, and pray that the people who attend there will have the maturity to walk through this process as a body, faithful to the heart and will of God.

I am glad to see that high moral standards are upheld, and exceptions aren’t made for someone because they are gifted, talented and popular. Personally, I loved listening to that man teach. He is truly a gifted communicator. I heard someone put it this way: “David kills Goliath no matter how you read the story, but some teachers are able to make the story come alive – whereas other teachers make you wish someone would hit you in the head with a stone and put you out of your misery.” This man is a great teacher. But I am glad that his skill and celebrity were not used as an excuse for making an exception to the rules for him when it comes to moral standards for those who will serve as leaders in the God’s church.

This situation is one more sober warning for Christians, and especially for those of us in leadership and ministry, that we must watch over our hearts with all dilligence, because it is from the overflow of our hearts that our actions proceed.

 

Marijuana Leglaization Changing Colorado

A few weeks ago I had my first experience meeting someone who had relocated his family to Colorado because of medicinal marijuana. This man, a professing Christian, told me his story of being so sick with intestinal issues and nausea, that he couldn’t eat for several months. During this time he lost about 200 lbs (he was big to begin with), and was unable to work. His doctors from his home state encouraged him to try medical marijuana – he travelled to Colorado and looked into it, then moved here and later brought his family. This man explained to me that he doesn’t drink alcohol and had never gotten high in his life – but that marijuana as medicine has helped him greatly. He’s now able to hold down food and a job.

What are we to make of this – especially as Christians?  Certainly there is a difference between getting high and taking medicine. But is marijuana a legitimate medicine? Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN seems to think so. Not long ago Gupta was outspoken against all forms of marijuana legalization, but has recently come out in favor of medical marijuana. 

I have written before on this blog, that I’m not a supporter of the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Interestingly, the man I mentioned above is not a supporter of it either. He moved to Longmont, a city with a moratorium on both medicinal and recreational marijuana sales, because he said he doesn’t want to be in a place with a lot of dispensaries because of all that comes with them. I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. My teenage son got a prescription for codeine recently after a tooth extraction. There’s a big difference between using codeine (a narcotic) for medical purposes and taking codeine or any other prescription drug recreationally.

On the local news last night, it was reported that Colorado is now a major destination for college kids on spring break. Doesn’t take a lot of guessing to figure out why: Denver has become the Amsterdam of the Americas. Yes, this brings in a lot of tax revenue, so much so that CNN Money reported today that Coloradans may be looking at getting a tax break because of the millions of dollars pouring into state coffers from recreational marijuana taxes, which are only expected to increase as recreational sales increase – but is it worth it?

CNN posted another video this week mentioning a lot of the same concerns that I’ve also expressed: namely that the legalization of marijuana won’t actually kill the black market for marijuana since it is taxed so highly, but will simply increase recreational marijuana use all across the board by making it more mainstream, especially amongst teenagers. Everyone agrees that wouldn’t be good – but in fact, it is already happening.

The encounter I had with the man mentioned above was my first – but I suspect it will not be the last. The legalization of marijuana is changing Colorado.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Should I Tithe if I’m in Debt?

One of the questions I am frequently asked as a pastor is whether people who are in debt should tithe to their church, or if they should rather dedicate that money to paying off their debt.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, my wife and I have paid off our debt. More about that in this post: Debt Free!

First of all, I should say that the New Testamnet does not require that a person give a tithe (10% of their income donated to the congregation where they worship) per se. Although this requirement did exist in the Old Testament for the nation of Israel, the New Testament teaches that we are to give unto the Lord not out of obligation but from a cheerful heart, to contribute to the work of the Lord and the community of faith. Many, however, including myself, believe that the Old Testament standard of a tithe, although not required by the New Testament, is a good guideline for giving.

According to Business Insider, the average American household is $6,500 in debt – that’s consumer debt not related to their mortgage.

The average American household carries $6,500 of consumer debt

There is a good chance that MOST people in any given church in America are in thousands of dollars of debt. That means that there are multitudes of faithful Christians who desire to honor God with their money by giving to Him of their first fruits and investing in building His Kingdom and spreading the Gospel – who wonder if giving a few hundred dollars in tithe to their church every month should rather be directed towards paying off their debt.

The short answer? Yes, I think you should regularly give tithes and offerings, even if you are in debt.

I know that some people will not agree with that – but please understand that I do not say that lightly at all. I too am in debt, and yet I tithe. I don’t want to be in debt, in fact, I’m working very hard to get out of debt. Last year we had some unexpected expenses which we deemed worthy of going into debt for. So, I say this as one who is in the same boat – carrying debt and struggling with whether to give a tithe or offering to my church or use that money to help pay off our debt.

I too am in debt, and yet I tithe

Here is why I tithe even though I have debt:

The tithe is not God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.

I tithe because it is a values issue, and it trains my heart. By making the first check I write every month my tithe check, I am making a clear statement of my priorities and values. And it sends a message to my heart, that for us, we would rather invest in the Kingdom of God and the furtherance of the Gospel than just buying more stuff.

‘But, wait’ – you might say: ‘You wouldn’t be using that money to buy more stuff, you would be using that money to pay off your debt for the stuff you already bought.’ That’s nice in theory, but in practice, most people, with a few hundred more dollars in their pocket, won’t regularly devote that money to aggressively paying off their debt, it will just be a cushion on their budget.

The key to getting out of debt for many people is changing your lifestyle, not having a little more money – and tithing helps you change your lifestyle.

People who have more money – guess what they do? They spend more money. I watched a documentary on Netflix the other day about how an astonishing number of professional athletes go broke within just a few years of retirement. They had a lot of money and they spent a lot of money. What we need is a lifestyle change, not just more money. I have found that letting go of some of my money and giving it to God as the first thing I do when I get paid releases me from the grip of money – and helps me to change my lifestyle.

I have found then when I tithe vs when I don’t tithe, I don’t really end up with more money in my pocket, or get ahead with getting out of debt.

A sacrifice is only a sacrifice if it hurts.

David said, I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24)  The woman who gave 2 mites – it was a relatively insignificant amount to the rest of us, but for her IT HURT. And Jesus publicly commended her for giving in a sacrificial way, although she could have just as well used that money to buy milk or bread which she probably had need of. She gave sacrificially, and Jesus not only commended her for it – God made sure it was recorded for all time so that generation after generation could learn from her example.

Worship and sacrifice are very closely related. We all sacrifice for what we worship. If we don’t sacrifice as an act of worship, well just put some thought into what that says about who you worship…

God is looking for vessels He can pour into, who will then pour back out what He has given them in ways that He desires. If we show ourselves faithful stewards with little, he will entrust us with more. I believe that God honors those who step out in faith and give radically and generously – because He is a God who also gives radically and generously, and when we do that, it aligns us in a greater way with His heart.

Is this a hard, fast rule? No. It’s a principle. But yet, it is the one principle, which God challenges us to test him on (see Malachi 3:10).

God loves a joyful giver. He doesn’t want people to give out of a sense of coercion or obligation. But this is a principle of which God says: “If you want to live the full life that I have designed for you, if you want to experience joy, then walk in this way,” – ‘the way everlasting’.

Marijuana Legalization and the Effect on Kids

One of my most popular posts on this blog so far was one I wrote about marijuana legalization and Christianity.

In that post, I mentioned that one of the greatest concerns I have with legalizing marijuana is NOT that I want to legislate Christian moral values on people who aren’t Christians (read more about that issue here) – but that it will make it more accessible to children, something that no one on either side of the discussion wants.

It seems that my concern is legitimate, and that this is already happening. The Denver Post published an article this week titled: “Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization”. Here are some quotes from that article:

  • [Mike] Dillon… a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.
  • school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization (even though it is still prohibited for anyone under 21) is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity. It is also believed to be more available.
  • “Kids are smoking before school and during lunch breaks. They come into school reeking of pot,” “They are being much more brazen.”
  • when school officials were asked to identify the reason for students’ expulsions. Marijuana came in first. It was listed as being a reason for 32 percent of expulsions.
  • National statistics also point to marijuana being more prevalent in schools. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th- and 12th-graders nationally, while the use of other drugs and alcohol has held steady or declined.
  • “They need to know how destructive it is to the adolescent brain,”

I remember when I was in high school, kids brought pot to school and smoked it at school. I certainly don’t want my kids doing it though, and it seems to me that legalization will only make it more accessible – the facts show that is already happening.

What do you think? Is this something we should be concerned about?

Marijuana Legalization and Christianity

This week a Gallup poll came out which showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. In fact, in the past year, the support for marijuana legalization surged from 48% to 58% of those polled. Here in Colorado, we live in a state that has had medical marijuana legal for years and which voted last November to legalize its recreational use as well. Not to mention that here in Boulder County, whether it’s legal or not, people in this area have been smoking a lot of pot for a long time and will continue to do so. A friend of mine who just moved to BoCo wrote this about how prevalent marijuana use is just in his daily commute. Just the other day I was talking to someone about Lyons High School (thinking ahead for our kids); they said it’s a good school – but that it’s known for the kids there smoking a ton of weed.

Marijuana is here to stay. It’s already been legalized in this state, and will soon be regulated. Interestingly enough though, I have heard almost NOTHING from Christian leaders on this topic. I have, however, heard a lot of people talking about it – including Christians, saying things like: If marijuana becomes legal and readily available in the same way that alcohol is, then is there anything wrong with trying it out? If you can buy it in a shop and it becomes socially acceptable, then is there any reason to not occasionally indulge?

Up until now, pastors have been telling people they shouldn’t smoke pot because it’s illegal, and the Bible instructs us to honor the laws of the land we live in (Romans 13). But now – guess what: game changer! Marijuana is no longer illegal! Drinking alcohol in moderation is more or less acceptable in most Christian circles these days – so if marijuana gets put in the same legal category, then is it okay to treat it the same way?

These are real questions that people – including Christians – are considering. If Christian leaders aren’t talking about what people are actually thinking about and talking about, then we have become irrelevant and are not engaging people and bringing God’s word to bear on the time and place we live in, as we are called to do.

So, what should be the Christian response to the legalization of marijuana?

What does the Bible say?

The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana – just like it doesn’t say anything about tobacco or chemical weapons or genetically modified food. But there are principles the Bible lays down which apply.

The “don’t do it because it’s illegal” argument is soon to be off the table, so what should our position be towards recreational marijuana use? The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana in particular, but it does speak about mind-altering drugs – in Greek: farmakeia – which were used recreationally rather than medicinally.

Also, the Bible tells us not to be drunk, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit – i.e.: Don’t be under the influence of substances, but be under the influence of God’s Spirit.

The differences between marijuana and alcohol

More and more people are speaking up about how much safer marijuana is than alcohol. You never hear about people committing violent acts because they are stoned. Marijuana has also not been shown to cause long-term brain damage as alcohol has.

But the difference between marijuana and alcohol are that you can drink alcohol without getting intoxicated. It’s possible to drink wine (like Jesus did) or beer with a meal to enjoy the flavor without getting drunk. No one smokes marijuana just for the flavor – the very point of smoking it is mood alteration.

Will marijuana legalization change anything?

It’s clear by now that adults are going to smoke marijuana whether it is legal or not – which is why more and more people are saying, ‘why not tax it and regulate it then?’. It has been estimated that up to $40 million dollars in tax revenue could come in from recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, which would be earmarked for schools. Regulating marijuana, they point out, could also kill at least part of the black market for it, which inevitably leads to violent crime.

Certainly marijuana use would increase once it’s legalized – as people who were once worried about doing something illegal would no longer have to worry about that. Also, and this is a concern for me – it would make it more accessible to kids, because they would no longer need to find a dealer, they will just have to find a friend with an older brother who is willing to buy it for them – just like with alcohol and tobacco.

I smoked pot when I was a teenager, before I gave my life to the Lord when I was 16. I have family members who smoke pot regularly, and I don’t want my kids to smoke pot. I don’t want them to check out or get intoxicated to cope with life or to have fun – whether with alcohol or marijuana or any other substance.

Legislating morality and the real issue

There are plenty of things the Bible instructs us not to do that are legal in our society, such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, sorcery, etc. Christian maturity means being able to discern and choose for yourself, from a heart-felt response to God’s grace rather than needing to have someone hold your hand and dictate to you what to do.

There are plenty of ways to harm yourself which are completely legal. You can go buy some glue and sniff it and get high – legally. There are also ways to harm yourself, however, which are illegal, such as chemical food additives, cocaine, certain medications, meth, etc. which we consider detrimental to society and harmful to people, which we have banned and we don’t give people legal avenues to indulge in.

For us as Christians, the point is clear: marijuana is intoxicating. We should not be intoxicated or controlled by substances, but by the Holy Spirit. It’s pretty cut and dry.

For society in general, it’s a question of whether or not it would be helpful or harmful to have more intoxicated people everywhere and to make a mind-altering drug more accessible to children than it already is.