1984. Student days. We drove all the way from Exeter to Bristol to see Billy Graham. Over 90 miles. I’ll never forget the scene. Huge stadium, filled to bursting with people but the weather was terrible. It was pouring with rain and we sat, bedraggled, in our seats, watching the great evangelist do his thing.
To be perfectly honest, he was rather a disappointment. I had always heard that he was a fiery preacher, that he would harangue us with heaven and hell and blitz us from our seats. He did none of that. His message was simple, straightforward, almost ‘boring.’ I had heard it all before – I’d been a Christian for over ten years by then.
And after twenty minutes, he wrapped it all up. Only twenty minutes?! We’d driven for hours to be there. Twenty minutes? Surely there was more. But there wasn’t. He was finishing up.
It was decision time.
And it was a simple call. Drenched to the bone in front of the massed crowd, he simply called people forward. No way, I thought. He’s not done enough. Will it be embarrassing if no one goes forward? What will they do?
But for the rest of my life, I will never forget what happened next.
They streamed forward. Thousands upon thousands of them. A flood of people surging forward, responding to the call. I remember watching in awe of what was taking place. Surely a twenty minute talk couldn’t produce that kind of effect.
Of course it couldn’t. No one can produce that kind of effect.
It send shivers up my spine to this day. To see what happens when God turns up and touches hearts. Billy Graham was used to this kind of thing happening. He’d been watching God touch hearts for decades and all he had to do was turn up himself. Be faithful. Preach the Word. God would do the rest.
What an awe-inspiring partnership.
As he passes into history, we remember Billy Graham not for his talents – of which he had many – but for the two richest virtues of the spiritual life:
Obedience and faithfulness.
He turned up. He was faithful. He played his part.
God did the rest.
Thank you, Dr. Graham for your faithfulness.
To God be the glory.
So, why is it so hard to convince the world that abortion is morally wrong?
One word: Emotions.
How do we come take a moral position nowadays, if we even take the time to think about morality at all? We do it largely by responding emotionally towards what we’re seeing. We don’t think it through, weighing the various arguments available. That’s far too much work. We don’t respond with our minds; we simply respond with our emotions.
And we respond especially strongly towards those who are suffering.
Consider abortion. It’s not really that hard to add this up. The fetus is a human being. That’s not even disputed really. We shouldn’t kill innocent defenceless human beings. Again not hard to see the sense in this position. QED. Debate over.
But of course, it isn’t. And that’s because the consequence of this conclusion is unwelcome.
The fetus is unwelcome.
So out come every possible argument you can imagine, some of which I have addressed. Each one is aimed at persuading us that the human beings in question ‘don’t really count.’
And we’re persuaded because we don’t want to think, we prefer to trust our feelings. In this case, we don’t respond emotionally to human beings we can’t see. We do respond emotionally towards women we can see.
That’s why we permit women to kill their unborn children in our society. Because our emotional sympathies are stimulated more strongly by women we can see than small human beings we can’t see.
The arguments in favour of abortion aren’t that difficult to dismantle. But tragically, it doesn’t make any difference. We will still dispose of these little ones routinely, for the most part because they aren’t convenient. And they don’t evoke in us an emotionally protective response.
That’s a terrible tragedy.
I hope you have been able to think through this issue carefully by reading my last five blog posts. I won’t be writing any more on this issue. I myself didn’t start reading and thinking through my own position until I was in my thirties. But once I did, it wasn’t hard to draw the conclusions I’ve argued for.
What you do as a consequence of reading these posts, well that’s up to you.
Thanks for reading.
In this contentious debate over abortion, it’s easy to find yourself miscast.
Pro-life advocates are seen as anti-woman. We want to ‘force women to suffer.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.
Pro-life is pro-life. All human life is valuable; female, male, big, small, able, disabled, whatever colour or creed, ALL human life matters. That’s why being pro-life isn’t anti-women, it’s in favour of protecting human life.
The consequences of our biology are unavoidable. Sex makes a woman pregnant, not a man. That’s not prejudice. It’s fact. And as a result, the pro-life position directly affects women far more than men. But the basic reality that a human being, a really small one, needs protecting remains the same.
No one will speak up for those with no voice . . . unless someone takes the difficult step of speaking up for them.
The violence of mid to late-term abortions is a horror, clear to anyone who knows anything about the procedure. But it’s not the raw violence of killing which should be the focus, as effective as those videos can be sometimes. It’s the reality that so many small people have their lives ended in such a routine fashion. We give them barely a thought. Pro-choice advocates can write blogs, do interviews, raise funds, but the unborn, they cannot defend themselves at all.
We cannot hold them, see them (without technology), hear from them. They cannot cry out for protection. They are small and vulnerable. Generally, our society is pretty good at giving care and protection to the vulnerable. The disabled have many benefits which previous societies never offered them. That’s good. Charities abound which care for those with cancer, addictions, debt, struggles of all kinds.
But the unborn? In our Western world, the debate is largely over. It’s been decided. We don’t and we won’t protect the unborn.
They are not worthy of our protection and care. And in many cases, we don’t feel guilty about this.
That’s for next time.
Time for another justification for abortion: It’s called the gradualist argument.
There are actually lots of gradualist arguments. Essentially, they assert the following:
At some point during pregnancy, the fetus acquires (something) and should be considered worthy of protection as a human being. Before that time, it can be destroyed.
That something might be one of the following (list not comprehensive):
Often, the word ‘personhood’ is used in the argument. This is a term used in the debate to argue that simply being a distinct human being is not sufficient.
I’m going to cover all of these in one go with the following response:
We’ve already established that the developing human fetus is human. That isn’t in question. What’s asserted here is that this developing human ‘doesn’t count’ as a human because it lacks something – insert that something.
It doesn’t count because it does not possess something or it can’t do something.
Think about that for a moment. Think of humans you know who don’t have something or can’t do something. We call these people disabled. They can’t walk or hear or see or leaving aside disability, maybe we even say they’re not conscious – they’re asleep.
What’s wrong with this objection?
Since when does the value of a human being depend on its being able to do something? Some human beings can hardly do anything. Consider a severely disabled person in a hospital bed. Do they not ‘count’ because they’re not in possession of something or they can’t do something? No.
Why do they ‘count?’ Because they are human. That’s it. There isn’t anything else. It isn’t their relationship to other human beings (an argument I heard on the Moral Maze). It is simply that they are human.
Human beings are valuable. We shouldn’t kill small defenseless ones who don’t yet possess certain abilities or characteristics. That’s not a good argument.
Value is something intrinsic, related to the essence of what something is.
Human beings are valuable not due to our possession of certain abilities but because of what we are: human beings. The moment you reduce our value to our capacities, you open the door to denying us worth when some of us don’t have those capacities.
Consider the person lying in hospital in a vegetative state. They’re capable of precisely nothing. They can’t breathe, can’t eat, can’t drink. And yet you know perfectly well that’s a person lying there. They haven’t become a piece of meat and bone, they’re an intrinsically valuable human being.
One final point. All of us were, at one point in time, really, really small. Yup, that was you inside your mum, just a tiny dot. Then you grew and grew and emerged into the world. You were exactly the size you were designed to be at that early stage. Really really small. It’s quite normal when you’re only 6 days old not to feel pain or have a functioning brain. There is no good reason to disqualify you for being exactly what you should be at that stage of your development.
That you couldn’t do much at that size is not a good reason to deny you moral worth.
Next time, why being pro-life isn’t being anti-woman. In fact, it’s quite the reverse.
Thanks for reading.
I finished my last post with this question: Is the fetus a human being?
A better question is this one: When does human life begin?
There isn’t even debate on this one. Not really. Try this article for size. Click here.
Human life begins at conception. A new human being is created with a unique and distinctive genetic code. There is no such thing as ‘a potential human being.’ The biological facts are clear. This certainly settles the ‘but it’s just my body’ argument. That’s simply false.
The debate should be over . . .
Is a zygote (first stage of human development) a human being? Yes.
Is it morally wrong to kill innocent, defenceless human beings? Yes. Debate over.
But it isn’t, is it? For many reasons. So let’s deal with the next objection:
If you outlaw abortion, women will just go and have ‘back-street’ abortions.
Commonly called ‘the back-street abortion’ objection. Why does the argument fail?
In the field of ethics, it’s common to try and assess how much harm is caused to different parties. In this case, however, only one side of the equation is being considered. It is true that harm may come to a woman having abortion. She may not want the child, or perhaps there is risk associated with the pregnancy. Could be any number of reasons why the abortion is wanted.
But what about the other side of the scale? We’re talking about another human being. That’s already established on the basis of biology. So, which is more harmful? Taking the life of the new human being or the potential harm to the woman? There is nothing more harmful than killing something. To induce death, that’s undoubtedly the worst. And no amount of harm to the woman can be considered sufficient to justify the taking of a human life. (Later, I’ll deal with the ‘life of the mother’ issue)
Given these facts, the ‘back-street argument’ fails.
Finally observation. Notice the euphemisms used in this debate. ‘End a pregnancy.’ ‘Terminate a pregnancy.’ ‘Pro-choice.’ ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ The language is critical here. And very powerful. You’ll never read ‘kill a child’ or ‘destroy a human life.’
Given the strength of the pro-life position and the power of these arguments, why generally speaking, do they fail in our society?
Next time, the clever twisting and turning, the manipulation of language employed to persuade us that abortion isn’t actually the taking of human life.
Is abortion morally wrong? I think it is.
Next few posts: dealing with the most common justifications for abortion.
First up: Pro-choice has to do with a woman’s right to do whatever she wants with her own body.
The ‘it’s my body’ argument.
Response: Is abortion a women’s issue? Is this about a woman’s right to choose? Well, that’s how it is characterised. But the thinking here is flawed. Why?
Because although abortion affects women far more profoundly than men, the reason why abortion is a topic for debate doesn’t have anything to do with ‘choice’ or it being ‘a women’s issue.’
Those two are smokescreens.
How so? Have you ever seen a sonogram? Ever seen a developing fetus in the womb? If you’ve had kids, you’ll know that viewing that squirming image on the screen generates strong emotions. That’s your child in there and you know it.
The issue is and always has been this one:
When does human life begin? Is that a human child wriggling about in there?
That’s the question. That’s what the abortion debate is all about. Someone who states ‘but it’s my body’ isn’t making an argument at all. They’re simply assuming that the fetus is part of a woman. But that’s the very thing the debate is trying to answer. Simply stating your view doesn’t constitute an argument. What’s needed is your grounds for believing that the fetus is ‘part of a woman’s body.’
Allow me to appeal to your intuition. You know the truth of this statement:
It’s wrong to kill innocent human beings.
You don’t need a Bible to know this. You just know it. That’s why this isn’t a religious argument. It’s a moral argument based on our moral intuitions. If it’s wrong to kill human beings, then the only question which needs answering is this one:
Is the fetus a human being?
Next time, I’ll answer that question.
What are you thinking about right now? Did you know that if you’re someone famous, what you believe – inside your head – could get you into big trouble?
If it gets out.
Okay, so you’re not someone famous. Nor am I, but my point is that this ‘trouble’ is generated not by behaviour, but by revealing the contents of your mind. Reveal beliefs which offend the dominant cultural belief-system and your entire sporting reputation may be on the line.
Welcome to the world of Margaret Court. (What a great name for a tennis player. If I’d been named Mikey Outside-half or Tommy Left Wing, my sporting destiny would have been revealed.) But back to serious commentary.
Margaret Court. Winner of the most Grand Slams by a female tennis player, 24. 11 in the Open era when it became much harder to win them. She is a tennis sporting great, no question. The equivalent of Rod Laver, another Australian great.
Until now. Until she revealed some of her beliefs.
Bad move. She’s a Christian and she told a Christian TV station that she disagreed with gay marriage. Apparently, her language was un-PC also, which didn’t go down well.
She didn’t lie, steal or hurt anyone. She just revealed her beliefs which conflict with our culture. Especially women’s tennis culture. Billy Jean King and Martina Navratilova are especially important in this regard. Both tennis legends, both gay, both activists for their sexual orientation. In female tennis culture, it’s a very bad move to offend them. Martina, in particular, is ticked.
In fact, it’s such a bad move that the court named Margaret Court Arena may now lose its name at the Australian Open. Having a court named after you is a great honour. But Sam Stosur, Australian former World number one, wants it removed. She has started corralling women’s tennis players for the cause, threatening to boycott the court. Because of Court.
They will probably win. Margaret Court’s name will probably be removed.
Our ‘tolerant’ liberal culture is tightening up. It’s more aggressive, more judgemental, more punitive than it once was. If you put a foot wrong, it will punish you.
Not for your behaviour. For your thoughts. Your beliefs.
What’s wrong here? Well, the idea that it’s how we think, or believe, which is so offensive. In just the same way that a ‘hate-crime’ criminalizes thought and belief, Margaret Court’s beliefs are on trial and found guilty. A ‘hate-crime’ is a criminal behaviour which is considered that much worse and therefore punished more severely because of the beliefs which are behind it. That’s why I don’t agree with the designation ‘hate-crime.’
Because only God knows the heart. Only God knows what we truly believe. And only he can judge us for our thoughts and beliefs. Hence the tenth commandment, which is a commandment relating to the heart: Do not covet.
In our society, we should criminalize behaviour, not thoughts and beliefs.
Because we’re not God. It’s as simple as that.
I’m sure you were as shocked as I was by Salman Abedi’s suicide attack last week in Manchester. There can be few horrors worse than losing a child. I can only look into the abyss and shudder.
Here are some – perhaps rather uncomfortable – thoughts on Islamic terrorism.
1) There’s a cancer in the heart of one of the world’s major religions and it’s no good talking about ‘one bad apple.’ Apparently, the security services – Harry to you and me – can’t keep up with the number of ‘potential bombers.’ They can track, what, one to two thousand at the most, and there might be more than that. All living in the U.K. No wonder, even though the chances of becoming a victim of terrorism are still very very small, the media attention has generated a great deal of fear.
One bad apple – or 18 bad apples, is no way to represent what happened back in 2001. A rough assessment of support for the 9/11 bombers in Iran has been calculated at around 30-40%. Sure, very very few would commit the crime, but like St. Paul at the martyr of Stephen, they approved. Millions approved. I know the U.K. isn’t Iran, but extrapolating from the numbers of ‘potential terrorists’ tracked by MI5, that means there are possibly thousands in the U.K. who approved of Salman Abedi’s act. That’s worrying.
2) Why did Salman Abedi choose an Ariana Grande concert? Have you asked that question?
Islamic fundamentalists hate liberal Western culture. It’s an abomination to them. And their attitudes towards British culture were on view in the recent BBC mini-series, Three Girls, which dramatized the cases of child grooming in Rochdale between 2005 and 2013. Nine men, mostly Pakistani, were jailed for up to 25 years for their crimes of child rape and abuse.
While in the dock, one of the men started shouting. He lambasted the entire court, accusing ‘the British’ of their permissive customs, namely allowing our young girls to get drunk, wear skimpy clothing and have sex before marriage. The shocking hypocrisy was not lost on the viewer. The man speaking was guilty of plying several under-age girls with alcohol and then raping them.
But what’s been revealed here? Self-hatred on the part of the man in the dock, that’s for sure. But also his hatred of our liberal British culture.
A couple of days after the Manchester bombing, I went on the Ariana Grande website to find out more about the artist. I watched a video in which two women made out, then a couple started having sex in an office setting, removing clothing with abandon and finally, an elderly couple started to become amorous on a bus. I won’t describe what happened towards the end.
This is the liberal culture which Islamic fundamentalists hate. It’s what Salman Abedi hated. Of that I’m fairly sure. Who knows how deep his own self-hatred went, but in blowing himself up in that location specifically, I’m sure he thought he was attacking our decadent Western culture. Or at least one of its representatives.
What lessons can we learn?
Well, I’m probably preaching to the converted when I say that the only antidote to hate is love. Christians know that love is costly, it hurts and even if we’re misunderstood, it’s always better to love and reach out than cast out and condemn. And if that includes reaching out to Muslims, all the better. Some Muslims are currently attending an Alpha course in my church. They’re ‘seekers’ and open to the truth. We pray they’ll discover the Way, the Truth and the Life. We pray they experience love in our midst.
But what are we to make of the sexually permissive culture which produces Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and the like? Would you take your 8 year-old to see an artist who sings about ‘walking side to side’ because she’s had so much sex, that’s how she walks now? How uncomfortable as a follower of Jesus to find myself horrified by the outrage of a terrorist and yet realize his views on our liberal culture might contain similarities with my own. It’s very unsettling.
It’s enough to make sure you don’t ever write about it on a blog.
We live in a very uncertain world and frankly, even though it might sound like a platitude, what’s more important is that it’s true: Only the God of the universe can provide security. Only he can keep us safe, because he holds all our lives in his hands. He gives and he takes away. And all he does is good, for he himself is goodness by his very nature. And he is love.
So, as Jesus urged so very often . . . don’t be afraid.
Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .
I feel like Bilbo . . . thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I’ve been holding my breath for so long now, I’ve forgotten how to breathe properly.
Been waiting for over five months now for an answer to a very important question. It’s like hanging, being suspended, at the mercy of ‘other.’ But it shouldn’t be.
It’s all about faith. Of course it is. Isn’t most of life about faith?
I often take inspiration from my favourite OT character, Abraham. Promised a son by a Voice. Then kept waiting for 25 years. 25 years! I have thought deeply about this. Why did Abraham have to wait for so long?
How are faith and waiting connected?
We tend to think of waiting as a sedentary or at least, a static act. Waiting at the bus stop. Waiting by the phone. But godly waiting can’t possibly be static. Abraham certainly didn’t stay where he was. Indeed, he travelled a huge amount. All over the place. He never stayed in the same place for very long.
So, when I think about waiting, I have come to see it as something we do actively.
But how can you wait actively?
Abraham, we’re told, believed God. He believed. And every time he failed to live as though he really believed, he got himself into trouble. He lied – twice – about his wife on visits to Egypt, because he feared man, not God. And he slept with the maid, when the waiting was just too much. His faith evaporated, and his life reflected the unbelief.
In some ways, we’re all waiting. During the day, we wait for the quiet of evening. During the week, we wait for the weekend. During term time we wait for the holidays.
But we don’t stop living.
We live as faithfully as we can during the week, with eyes on the present, but hearts also anticipating a glorious future. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Rom 8.19). Along with the creation, we’re waiting for the Day of the Lord, when God’s glory will be revealed.
This thing I’m waiting for is out of my control. I’m tired now and I struggle. But I believe. And if Abraham had to wait for 25 years for the son of the promise, then I’m in good company. One of my chapters is entitled ‘Greater Goods.’
In fact, the whole book is really about growth.
Why did I think I could write about growth without actually growing?
Adam stopped and sat down on a boulder next to the path. He drank deeply from his water bottle. Over to his right, he thought he could see his son, Ben. Yes, his son was scaling a rock face, ropes tied to his waist and his partner guiding him from above. No, hold on, who was that? He recognized himself on the ledge above, recollected the exhilaration of watching Ben make his way up. The day was one of sun-drenched perfection, wasn’t it? Yes, there they were enjoying the view out towards the mountains.
Adam placed his hand over his eyes and peered down towards the ocean, far far away. It seemed to undulate like a vast blue blanket buffetted by the breeze. He started walking and walked all afternoon. However, when he took a rest, he discovered he was no closer to his destination. The last scene he remembered was from yesterday. He’d helped a couple move into their new house. A whole crowd from church had been there, carrying wardrobes and tables and beds. All working together in a shared act of love.
And then it struck Adam. There would be no more scenes from his life because he had yet to live them. Before coming over the hill, he knew about the ocean, but thought little about it. Now he felt himself drawn towards the vast expanse that lay ahead. Not because he was eager to die, but because he had come to understand the value of every step of the journey. And because he felt deeply inside the truth that those steps were finite. One day, they would end. Which meant that each one was priceless, gifts held out to him by a loving Father. And yet when he contemplated the ocean far far away, he felt no fear. Only gratitude. And as he walked, he began to hum one of his favourite songs,
Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much.
I wrote this for a sermon I preached on 1 Corinthians 15. Death and Resurrection very much on my mind right now.
This is Part One.
OVER THE HILL
Adam was walking steadily uphill, the day bright, the breeze rustling the grasses which lined the path. As he passed a field on his right, he stopped short. Not far off, near a school building, a game of football was taking place. He watched as the boys flowed back and forth up and down the pitch. The strip one of the teams was wearing seemed familiar. And then it dawned on him that he was watching his team from when he was 12 years old. Yes, there he was, dancing round a fullback and sending a shot just past the post. And then in an instant, the players, the goals, the supporters who stood on the touchlines . . . they were all gone.
Adam continued on his way and came upon a busy street full of people. The scene was immediately familiar to him – yes, there was the watch shop where he’d taken his first job. Mr. Judd, the owner, hair wild and disheveled, crouched over the counter, peering down at several timepieces, a monocle squeezed into one eye. Adam moved on, but as he walked, his surroundings began to take on the appearance of a pencil drawing. Slowly, they faded away. He rubbed his eyes and was heartened to discover that the world was still there.
He found himself in a park, where families strolled and fed the ducks. The sun was setting and off in the far corner, he noticed a couple sitting together. His heart warmed as he watched the woman. She was so beautiful back then. The man knelt down and pulled a small box out of his pocket. Adam could hardly bear to watch. He could see beads of sweat forming on the young man’s forehead and when the woman peered down at the open box, she immediately tilted back and howled with laughter. In his rush, he’d left the ring at home and his belovéd, Jane, couldn’t hide her amusement, much to his embarrassment. It was a long time ago, but the memory still stung a little inside.
And so Adam walked, the gradient becoming steeper as he progressed further uphill. His first job, his promotion, his holidays, first house, the time when he’d come home distraught at being fired, he watched each scene and his heart and mind, well, he remembered it all as though it was yesterday.
And then he reached the top of the hill. When he looked back, he remembered well the many things for which he was grateful and all those things which had hurt and wounded him. His life was a mixture of joy and sadness, pain and exhilaration.
Adam knelt and gave thanks for it all. From the top of the hill.
And then he began the descent down the other side. Ahead of him the land was covered in a thin grey mist. He couldn’t see what lay ahead at all. Yet all of a sudden the mist cleared and before him in the far, far distance, an ocean stretched out all the way to the horizon. As he came down the path and strained to see, he made out two people, one his great-aunt, Doris, the other her best friend, Ethel, whom he’d come to know in the care home where she and Doris both lived.
He pulled out some binoculars. Yes, there they were, walking along a cliff arm in arm. Adam had to strain to see them but it wasn’t hard to work out what happened next. One moment they were there, the next they had disappeared over the edge. And then the scene became clearer. Dozens and dozens of elderly people reached the cliff and were taken from sight. On occasion, Adam saw young men and women running down the slope and throwing themselves over the cliff. Such a sight filled him with great sorrow, for such things should never happen.
And then he saw his parents. One after the other, they disappeared from sight and Adam wept for a loss too great to contemplate.
When he looked back, he realized that he could no longer see the gentle slopes of his earlier life. He was over the hill and could no longer see them as he had before. Instead, his attention was captured by the vastness of the ocean before him. It was endless and he began to turn his attention to the space between his footsteps and the cliff which drew him relentlessly towards his fate.
To be continued . . .
Discovering the Gift
...the One who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine."
Comment, comedy and capers for the faithful, faithless and fallible
Comment, comedy and capers for the faithful, faithless and fallible
The Bible, suffering, and the messy edges of life