When does human life begin? Part Four

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.





When does human life begin? Part Three

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):

  • Brain functioning
  • Consciousness
  • Viability
  • Sufficiently ‘human-looking’
  • Sentience (feeling of pain)

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.



When does human life begin? Part Two

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.


You can’t buy God. That’s religion, isn’t it? Paying for God’s approval. Good behavior that earns God’s favour and love. Or let’s face it, a much baser assumption, you’ll get what you want. The prosperity gospel. Ugh.

But you can’t download God either.

This is a truth we struggle to cope with. Really? Stay with me.

Almost everything we do nowadays is done through the medium of the computer. All our shopping. Our social interaction. It’s the source of our news, our entertainment, our information, even our wisdom. It’s a tool so powerful, surely it should be possible to download the Creator himself.

But of course, that’s not possible. Downloading is initiated and controlled by the user. Genesis 3 reveals that we have an innate desire to be God, to be in control, the ultimate master of our own destinies. And we know how Genesis 3 ends.

You can’t download God because you can’t control him. He is unfathomable and like the wind, he blows who knows where. The desire to download God is like wishing you could herd cats, lasso the moon, make a woman love you.

You can’t. Because ultimately you’re not in control.

Time, instead, for a little faith.

Power 2

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the question, “what makes the world go round?” Sex? Money? Religion? You may remember that I argued that in the end, it’s all about Power. And yet, near the end, I claimed that Power and Love are intimately related.

That’s what I’d like to explore today.

How are Power and Love related?

Rather inevitably, perhaps, we must turn to the subject of God. The greatest power in the universe is God himself. Of course. That’s a no-brainer. And his first act in Our Story is to create, to display power on a scale which our puny minds cannot even fathom. We might think we can conceive of the creation of the universe, but we cannot. In Scripture, it is clear very early on, that God is defined in reference to his power. He is Elohim, the all-powerful Creator.

So Power is in view from the first moment.

But so is Love.

In traditional Christian theology, the universe is brought into being out of Love. Why create at all? Given his foreknowledge of our sin and its horrendous consequences, why bother? Two reasons: self-revelation and Love. The latter drives the former. He creates and reveals the wonders of his glory because he is Love. One of his eternal attributes is his knowledge of the costs of creation. In his state of perfection ‘prior’ to creation, he knows eternally that creation entails sacrifice. And not just any sacrifice, but the most heart-rending exhibition of self-giving love which can be conceived. Carried out to restore and renew a broken world. This self-sacrificial act will be seen as the very definition of Pure Love.

So, right from the start, both Power and Love are in view. They are intimately related.


 It is not simply that God is powerful; it’s also the case that he’s extremely interested in the issue of Power itself. Our first sin was not only Pride, it was also a power grab. We actually believed, for a very short time, that we could live in our world according to our own rules. That wisdom sufficient for running our world and our lives, without the need for God, was accessible to us. The Fall is one massive, damning reminder that we are not powerful. We hurt, we hurt others, we fight, we destroy and then we die. Every day, we’re constantly reminded of how little power we have. We thrash around desperately seeking to exert power which we do not possess. In addition, God has chosen to use a particular form of power to point to himself.

This form is called the Miracle.

Right from the start, he used miracles. He absolutely loves them. Parting seas, staffs into snakes, talking donkeys, rocks spouting water, you name it, it’s all happening in the Old Testament. I don’t think there’s a book in the Bible that doesn’t either contain them, or refer to them. They’re everywhere. And of course, the most important event in human history is well, let’s just call it The Miracle. AKA The Resurrection. Why this obsession?

Given our very secular society today, I’m tempted to say, ‘he wants to irritate the heck out of atheists!’ I don’t actually believe that, though. I think he’s making a point about himself and about us. Breaking the normative rules of nature is surely a sign, isn’t it? What is more powerful than the wind and the waves which threaten to kill us? Only the one who can tame them, surely? Miracles tell us that God is powerful and we are not. Simultaneously. The dominant theme of the Old Testament is God’s saving power and the need for the Hebrews to trust Him. He’s powerful. They are not.

We’re still learning that lesson.

Faith is the correct response to God’s power and our lack of it. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Whenever I hear someone say ‘I feel out of control,’ I like to remind them (gently!) er, ‘you never were in control.’ Being human, by definition, entails ‘not being in control.’ It’s the state of not being able to control one’s environment, relationships, possessions and on and on. Faith is foundational to a fruitful, peaceful human life. No wonder we read, without faith it is impossible to please God.

One final thought.

While we may not be ‘in control,’ that doesn’t mean we don’t exercise power. Some of us exercise quite a lot of it. So, how should we use it? I think there’s a lot of wisdom in Philippians chapter 2.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Humble people don’t abuse power. They follow their Master, who gave himself up for us. And what happened to him after he showed us how to live? After he had healed the sick and cared for the outcast?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.

We’re once again among the Great Paradoxes of God. The most powerful people on earth, it turns out, are those who humbly give their lives away. In the New Living Translation, Luke 9.24 says this, if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

If you seek to hold onto power over your life, you will lose it. If you love, if you give up your life, you will save it. He who humbled himself, who made himself a servant, is the one who is highly exalted.

The Power of God is seen most clearly in those who demonstrate the Love of God.

Power and Love, when conceived of correctly, are intimately related.

Praise Almighty God, whose love never ends, whose love never fails.

© Richard Collins 2014


Living in hell

One of the immutable facts of the universe is that you can never experience someone else’s pain. You can hear about it; you can empathize; you can evaluate it perhaps, but you can’t actually feel it. The reason for this is that pain isn’t simply a physical thing. It’s felt in the brain and the soul.

At the same time.

And that should mean something.

What I’m about to describe is in no way designed to seek your sympathy. Or even your understanding. It’s simply a description with some comments which I hope you’ll find interesting and maybe even thought-provoking.

I don’t know what your pain threshold is; mine’s not great. Perhaps that’s why the last four days of my life have been the worst of my entire life. I’ve thought a lot about writing that. I didn’t want it to be an exaggeration. Will I be exaggerating, I wondered, as I pondered the idea of recounting my experience on my blog? Er . . . well, as it happens, no, I’m not exaggerating.

What happened to you, Richard? Were you captured by natives and put in a pot to boil? Were you attacked by soldier ants and bitten to within an inch of your life? Boils? Locusts? Actually none of the above.

Gastroenteritis. At least, I think it was. Picked it up from my son after he came back from camp with it. He vomited through the night, slept the following day and night, then got up and was fine. Oh the wonder and strength of a youthful immune system.

So, here goes. Sunday afternoon, I’m watching the Wimbledon Final. King Fed (as he’s known in my home) vs. Djokovic. Enjoying the game but feel unwell and can’t see the match out. I’m out from 3pm to 7pm. Up briefly, then sleep through the night. From Monday afternoon to Thursday afternoon, all I can say is that I was in hell for the next three days.

I thought about that phrase a lot: I’m living in hell.

First, the previous conditions which exacerbated the situation: chronic back pain and a condition I simply call Fatigue. No, the doctors haven’t managed to figure it out.

So, generally when you’re unwell, you lie there feeling grotty. Head hurts, you cough, that kind of thing. This was on a completely different level. The stomach cramp was so bad, I simply couldn’t get comfortable. Due to the back pain, I couldn’t find a position in which to relax. Every few minutes – sometimes more – I managed to flush literally gallons of water through my system. Did you notice my avoidance of the D word there? Oops. Just using the first letter probably brought the word to mind. Sorry. At times, I had chills and after a while, I was so tired, I thought, ‘I’m going to need to go to hospital to get a sedative, because I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. My body won’t allow me to.’ For those who understand the 1-10 pain measurement system, I would say I lived at a 5-6 constantly.

I discovered a few things down in that dark place inhabited by people who suffer greatly. (And I confess right now that my suffering doesn’t even begin to compare with many millions on this planet who experience far worse than me.) First, when you’re in this kind of pain, you start to lose control of your mind. You can’t control what you think about because the pain addles your brain. I found I couldn’t concentrate on the radio, because it gave me a headache. I couldn’t watch TV for the same reason. I could only lie there adjusting my position every few seconds – on average, around every 20 seconds or so – desperate to find one which my body would allow me to stay in for longer.

Did I pray? Well, of course I did. But I found that the pain wouldn’t allow me to concentrate for very long. I did pray for healing frequently. And I recited the 23rd Psalm. But as I lay there, I wanted the answer to a deeper question than simply, ‘will God deliver me from this hellish place?’ I wanted to know if severe pain would give me a window into some kind of spiritual nirvana, some deeper experience of God, some greater insight perhaps, a sense of the divine presence felt especially deeply. I really wish I could tell you that great suffering brings a soul closer to God.

Maybe for some it does.

But not for me. At least not on this occasion.

However, I was reminded of something which I think about a lot. It’s the fact that human beings always, always seek to invest suffering with meaning. Pain forces the human being to seek some kind of higher purpose behind the immediate suffering which s/he is going through. The only thing worse than suffering itself is the thought that it has no meaning, that it just . . . is . . . and there is no particular purpose or value to it. It is the atheists whom we should pity. However, when your stomach feels as though it has churned up your entire intestines and will spit them out with your next bowel movement, I can assure you that you are in no place to think deep thoughts about the significance of your suffering. The only consolation I had was the thought that God exists. He loves me. His own suffering in Christ means that he knows mine intimately. Apparently, he is not taking my pain away – even though I have pleaded – but he has given me life and that is a gift of inestimable value. I can thank him for his goodness and if I do that, I will never go wrong. Ever.

As I recover this evening – I write this on Friday evening, a day later – I pray that I will never diminish a person’s suffering. Ever. I don’t think I’ll ever see people in hospital in the same way ever again. I know, I know. It sounds melodramatic and of course, it is. But on a certain level, it’s true. Severe suffering comes with an invitation, bizarre as that might sound. It comes with a note saying ‘My world suffers greatly. Please care for it. In my name.’

I believe there is always something to learn, even if what you learn is something you thought you already knew.

On this occasion, my suffering came with a direct benefit which was rather unexpected.

I lost 12lbs! Twelve pounds! In four days.

But I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. Ever.

Be blessed.

© Richard Collins 2014

Next time: Power 2.

Thanks for reading.



Welcome to Mirth and Melancholy

Welcome to Mirth and Melancholy, a blog to make you smile and one to make you think. Or violently disagree. If after reading here, you do neither, then this blog is not for you. Did you know that there are approximately 180 million blogs? Each one wants some of your precious time. So do I.

But only if your visit here makes you laugh or think. Or cry for that matter.

Posts will be weekly. My comedy will appear as permanent pages under Smile or Smirk on the menu. The posts will include anecdotes and opinion, primarily addressing the central theme which dominates my every waking hour: theodicy. Exploring the reasons why God has written a story in which human suffering features so prominently. I have a few thoughts on these related themes too: Justice. Equality. Love. Sport. To name just a few. My first post is a comedy piece called Beginner Dentists. Enjoy.

Oh my gosh. Does this make me a blogger? What a hideous word. I feel like I’m just a whisker from some very environmentally-unfriendly activity, or well, I’d rather not say . . .

Finally, please share. It has taken me years to get here, so stymied have I been by the technology. But now I’m here, I’m learning what to do. I’m sure you know so much more than me. Tweet. Re-tweet. Post to Facebook. Can you Re-Facebook? I don’t think so, but don’t worry, they’ll work out how to do that eventually. Enough said.

Share the love, people, and make my stats hit the heights. Many thanks.