Early Evil: The Legalization of Abortion in Russia (1920)

On November 20, 1920, the nascent Soviet government released what it termed a simple “public health announcement.” The statement, a missive intended as law, proclaimed a new, fully-funded program for women: legalized abortions, available free of charge at state-run hospitals. By keeping abortions high and the birth rate low, Soviet leaders and their sycophants hoped to keep more women in the labor force, economically viable and controlled by the state.

The legalization of abortion in the Soviet Union emerged as but one important facet of a systematic extermination program of a theologically-grounded social morality. Only months after the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, the new regime issued a series of marriage laws which undermined the importance of wedlock and approved an extremely permissive “no-fault” divorce clause. Other leading authorities had earlier endorsed state-sanctioned promiscuity—labeled “free love”—as a viable alternative to marriage. Regarding the state’s disdain for wedlock, “The people’s commissar of justice . . . stated that the main purpose of the legislation was to undermine religion-sanctified marriage,” blessed by the church (see Mervyn Matthews, “Soviet Social Policies,” in The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe). By subverting family life, the Soviets self-consciously attempted to defy what even they seemingly knew: that marriage is a decidedly religious act, performed in the presence of God.

To its dismay, the government witnessed its agenda wildly succeed. Divorce rates skyrocketed. In Moscow, state statisticians reported a rate of three abortions to every one live birth, a shocking population reduction which in 1936 led Stalin to seek desperately for a way to limit the damage. Unaware of the grim realities produced by the legalization of abortion, social liberals in America lauded what they deemed the progressive nature of Soviet thinking on the issue. As journalist Marvin Olasky writes, “even . . . the sedate American Journal of Public Health in 1931,” argued on the basis of Soviet practice that legalized abortion was “the only means for women’s emancipation” in modern times.

Despite modernist fantasies, abortion did not emancipate Soviet women. It placed them in a brutal bondage, a slavery that remains to the present hour. Recently, the Russian Health Ministry revealed an abortion to live birth rate of 1.7:1 in Russia, a number five times higher than in the United States. Epidemic abortions among these young women have produced an unintended consequence: widespread infertility. As a result, researchers estimate a twenty-five percent population decline in Russia during the next half-century, a deterioration which makes one wonder whether such numerical decline will inevitably lead to cultural demise.

Other countries would do well to learn from the tragic legacy of the long Soviet war against the family. The way a nation regards marriage and the protection of its unborn children presages the long-term health of its society. Disregard toward such defining cultural institutions is nothing less than anger directed toward God, who created them. But such defiance is never taken lightly, for although even “the wrath of men praises [God] . . . He is to be feared by the kings of the earth” (Psalm 76:10, 12 ESV).

The BibleMesh Team

Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes?

Over at the Christianity Today Theology in the News column, I have published a piece entitled “Atheists in the Foxholes–as Chaplains” which draws off of the strange but true reality that atheists are currently lobbying for the right to serve as military chaplains.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Here is the essay’s teaser:

The military chaplain is a staple of the armed forces. Many have suggested that the sense of mortality that one feels as bullets fly and bombs explode lends itself naturally to prayer and supplication of a divine being. The axiom “there are no atheists in foxholes” emerged based on battlefield scenarios.

There may soon be atheist chaplains in foxholes, however. A recent story in The New York Times, titled “Atheists Seek Chaplain Role in the Military,” covered recent efforts by atheist members of the armed forces to secure chaplaincy positions for atheists. More than 9,000 military personnel self identify as atheist or agnostic, the Times reports, and some claim that many more members of the military adhere to these camps without reporting their preference. Conversely, about 1 million troops say they are Christians. They represent roughly 70 percent of troops and about 90 percent of chaplains.

Read the whole thing.

Toward the close, I wonder out loud whether atheism possesses the resources to tolerate, even respect, other faiths.  Christianity surely does.  But if theism is merely a crutch for the weak, the drug of choice for the masses, how can atheists respect Christians and minister to them in a meaningful way?

Leading atheists are on record as arguing that “religion poisons everything,” as our own Mark Coppenger has shown.  Can an atheist chaplain following the lead of a figure like Christopher Hitchens meaningfully minister to a theist if that contention is true (and it most assuredly is not)?  It seems to me that atheists are often better than their beliefs.  It’s a good thing.  If atheists acted more consistently upon their beliefs, they would seek to accelerate the weeding out of the weak, the pruning of the pitiful.  If they truly believe that the strong have a genetic right–or obligation!–to advance, they ought to act on their belief.

Thankfully, many do not.  Why?  Well, for at least one reason.  Atheism does not work well.  It is not functional for rational people.  We are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and as a result we care for others, we love, we seek however haltingly the betterment of the weak.  We naturally want to hope, to believe that things will go well.  We do not, many of us, incline toward despair.  Atheism leads easily, effortlessly even, to nihilism.  But life in our fallen world is filled with wonder and discovery and purpose and growth and happiness. So most atheists are not consistent.  Atheism, we see, is basically unliveable.

This will surely prove true when in the heat of battle.  It is not natural for a human being created in the image of God to think of a fellow human being as but a clump of atoms.  It is natural to treat humanity with dignity and respect, to see life as purposeful and good.  Atheism cannot fund such a worldview–or such a chaplaincy–but Christianity can.  Jesus Christ has embodied nothing less than this sort of perspective.  So should we.

Atheism: The Faith of the Fatherless

Sigmund Freud felt contempt for his father, Jacob. After all, Jacob was weak and unable to provide for his family, relying instead on money from relatives. When persecuted for his Jewish heritage, the elder Freud allowed ruffians to knock his hat off and call him a “dirty Jew.” Jacob also was likely a sexual pervert whose sins caused his children to suffer acutely. Yet he spent hours studying the Bible and other Jewish literature with his son. So it should have been no surprise when Sigmund associated God with his weak, perverted father and rejected Him.

The modern era’s most famous psychologist, Freud argued that the concept of God is merely a wish fulfillment derived from childish needs for protection and security. An infant, he said, receives sustenance and comfort from his parents. But when, according to Freud, he is old enough to realize that parents offer no ultimate answer to life’s needs, he posits the idea of God to ease insecurities. Ironically, the theory Freud developed to discount belief in God may be more appropriate to explain atheism. Indeed, like Freud, many famous atheists from the post-Enlightenment period had negative feelings about their human fathers and translated those feelings into religious beliefs. “In other words, an atheist’s disappointment in and resentment of his own father unconsciously justifies his rejection of God.” So argues New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, who, in his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, has identified 20 famous atheists from the modern period who had negative experiences with their fathers.

Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, resented his father, Ludwig. Early in Nietzsche’s life the two enjoyed a close relationship, but Ludwig died months before Friedrich’s fifth birthday, leaving the younger Nietzsche feeling that his father was weak and sickly. He retained that feeling all his life and associated it with his father’s Christianity. Not surprisingly, his chief criticism of the Christian God was that He suffered from an absence of “life force.” Thus, Nietzsche spent his career demeaning Christianity as a sign of weakness, a slave mentality.

Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century, argued that one must discard the idea of God and invent his own values. Underlying that philosophy was deep animosity toward his father, who died when Sartre was only 15 months old. For the rest of his life, Sartre hated fatherhood. He often wrote about fathers as metaphors for burdens and condemned paternity. According to one of his works, “There is no good father, that’s the rule … Had my own father lived, he would have lain on me full length and crushed me. As luck would have it, he died young.”

The French skeptic Voltaire (who did believe in an impersonal God removed from human affairs but rejected the God of Christianity) despised his father so deeply that he refused to go by his given name, Francois-Marie Arouet. Though he wrote extensively about his father, he said virtually nothing positive and believed himself to be the illegitimate son of a family friend. Once, his father became so angry at Voltaire for not studying law that he authorized authorities to imprison his son or exile him to the West Indies.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was another noted atheist and hater of her father. Once she attempted to kill him with a ten-inch butcher knife. Upon failing, she screamed, “I’ll see you dead. I’ll get you yet. I’ll walk on your grave!”

In his book, Vitz notes that Stalin, Hitler, and Mao all resented their fathers too. Conversely, 21 famous theists from the same period enjoyed amicable relations with their fathers. They included the likes of Blaise Pascal, William Paley, William Wilberforce, John Henry Newman, and G. K. Chesterton.

Of course, family strife is not atheism’s only cause. And the experience of atheists does not prove that their arguments are wrong. However, if we wish to reach them personally, we must take psychological realities seriously and note that lack of fatherly love can leave deep scars, making trust in the heavenly Father much more difficult.


It’s Flattering, But . . .

The other day, the BibleMesh team received a photograph of a banner bearing our trademark motto, “One God. One Book. One Story,” along with “2011 The Year of the Bible.” It was hanging on a church fence in the UK and, no doubt, was doing some good, lifting up the Bible and its unity around the gospel of Christ. But nobody cleared with us? Well, so what? And wouldn’t it be churlish to object?

In this connection, I’m reminded of Luke 9:49-50, where Jesus rebuked his disciples for their turf-mindedness: John was complaining, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus responded, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” If we’re all working for Jesus, what does it matter which group of disciples gets the credit?

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. When I worked in the Southern Baptist denominational office, I was tasked with superintending the official logo, which features a cross rising above an open Bible, with a globe positioned behind it. It’s a handsome, compelling image, and it proved to be popular among non-Southern Baptists too. Others would use it on brochures, stationery, and church signs, and I would drop them a line reminding them of its provenance. Since the people using it were evangelicals, we didn’t press beyond this.

But when we started a new publication called SBC LIFE, the shoe was on the other foot. Our original “flag” at the top of the front page featured a sans serif font, with the logo set against a blue background, SBC set against green, and LIFE set against red. When our attorney ran a check, we found that LIFE magazine, which had ceased regular publication, said we had come too close for comfort. Though there was no confusing the two periodicals, we had to flip the color backgrounds, putting green behind LIFE, and then go with a serif font. No problem.

But how can one be so picky, and imperious? Since when does somebody own the block, white LIFE and a red background? the image of a cross, a globe, and a Bible? the expression, “One God,” or “One Book,” or “One Story”? Well, first of all, one doesn’t “own” the elements in isolation, but only as they’re juxtaposed and assembled in unique ways. And if we couldn’t “own” these assemblies, we would have a lot more chaos and penury. What of the vacationing family who is shocked to find escargot or chitlins under the Golden Arches, and the real McDonald’s chef who loses his job because tourists drive by instead of risking another menu shock?

A trademark is matter of reputation, something the Bible values. For instance, Proverbs 21:1 says that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” and Ecclesiastes 7:1 says it is “better than precious ointment.” And throughout the New Testament, Christians are exhorted to behave in such a manner that the Christian “brand” is associated with integrity, diligence, and thoughtfulness. Not surprisingly, “respectability” shows up in the list of qualifications for church leaders in 1Timothy 3.

So we need to be careful with reputations, and, by extension, logos and mottos. If not, we can sow distrust, confusion, and even unwarranted honor.

But what if a church doesn’t have the resources to come up with their own cool trademark? Well, first, ‘resources’ is the operative word here. It really did cost us time and money to work out this six-word expression, along with the “mesh-dove” graphic. And churches should know there’s a lot of great, affordable Christian imagination on call out there (much of it free from denominational offices), and it can be joy to establish your own identity within the body of Christ.

As Jesus said, in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” It really helps to know which of the groups and programs saying “Lord, Lord” are the real deal and which of those claiming fealty to Scripture can be trusted. That’s why we need “signatures” to keep things straight.

In a sense, it would be flattering to find your name attached to an excellent piece a stranger wrote, but most of us would just as soon decline the honor.

The Gay Basketball Star and an Emerging Cultural Narrative

If you’re a sports fan, did you see the news about former Villanova Wildcats basketball player Will Sheridan coming out of the closet?  And the stories about Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts revealing the same?  Whether you like basketball or not, you should care about these stories as a Christian.  The way each narrative has unfolded in the press shows the direction our culture is traveling on the issue of homosexuality.

Christians need to be very aware of the way the mainstream media is treating these kind of stories.  For the broader culture, homosexuality is the new civil rights cause–and just like the civil rights cause, homosexuality is entering the cultural mainstream at least in part through sports.  Reporters are treating gay athletes like heroes, praising their “courage” and “authenticity.”  Read the stories I’ve linked to above, and do a Google search on each topic to find more coverage if you like.  You will find this narrative in spades.  The (religious) parents of Sheridan and other athletes making headlines (like the mother of “Kye Allums,” the first transgender woman’s basketball player) have had a terrible time accepting the newfound orientation of their children.  The writers interviewing these parents treat them with empathy–but take great pains to show how they have accepted this shift and continue to grant “unconditional love” to their children.  The rightness of homosexuality is a given, while opposition to it is a clear transgression.

Here’s a snippet from the ESPN story on Sheridan that backs up this claim:

Josie Sheridan always preached unconditional love, and she meant it.

And when the test came — when her son, whom she calls her best friend, sat her down — loving him wasn’t hard. But accepting the news was.

“Devastated. I was devastated,” she said. “I mean, I was disappointed. Not in him, but in things that were taken away — not having a daughter-in-law, grandchildren, things like that.”

But after the initial shock wore away, Josie looked at her son and saw something that had been missing — happiness. He was always a good child (“too good to be true,” his high school coach once told her), but a tickle in the back of her mind, a mother’s instinct, told her he should have been happier….”Once I saw him, so happy and content, that’s all I needed,” Josie said. “I never loved him any less. In fact, I think I love him more. I’ve always been so proud of him, but he has such courage. This takes courage.”

Christians need to sort through this narrative carefully.  We are those who tout the cosmos-shaking love of a magnificent God, after all.  We have a stake in love.  But our understanding of God’s grace–the channel of His love–differs markedly from that of our culture.  God fully accepts all who are His children, and he never lets them go (John 10:27).  Yet this does not mean that God approves of sin.  Those who choose an evil path will not meet with God’s love, but his justice.  We will taste his wrath.   The only way to escape this wrath is through a complete heart change, full repentance, a renunciation of all our sin.  Only when we have repented of sin and turned completely from it may we experience God’s salvific love.

So the love of God is not a contentless love, an actionless love.  It is the polar opposite of love as culture defines it.  Cultural love requires no change.  In fact, man-centered love requires that no change be required.  Biblical love calls for the reverse.  Wherever love is, change is.  That is, when God loves a person, he profoundly changes them, whether they are gay (contra Romans 1), vainglorious (contra James 3), an adulterer (contra Proverbs 2), or caught in any number of other sins.  He does not accept their prior orientation; in order to meet his holy standards, he requires a new orientation.  He actually makes the sinner “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  True love, God’s love, is transformative, not static; active, not passive.  This is because in the Christian concept of salvation, love and holiness work together.  God’s love shed abroad in our hearts does not compromise God’s holiness.  Love enables us to meet God’s holy standards, to stand pure before him.

Tragically, our culture believes the opposite.  Many people, of course, believe in only the vaguest, weakest sort of God to begin with.  In their understanding, God enfranchises and approves of their authentic selves.  The person they believe they need to be–this is the person God wants them to be.  He (or she, in cultural understanding) acts as the Great Actualizer, the One who Makes All Dreams Come True.  This excellent article about celebrities and spirituality in the Wall Street Journal makes this quite clear.  God is like the supportive friend in a rom-com: always there, always rooting you on, never confronting you or making you feel bad, perpetually guiding you ever so gingerly to your best self.  It is this deity, not the Lord of heaven and earth, who stands behind us today, urging us onward.

All these things are in play in the cultural homosexual narrative.  There is not to be any pushback for those who come out of the closet or wish to change their gender.  Like God himself, we are to accept in full the natural orientation of those around us.  Those of the broader culture who disagree with this idea generally have very little moral foundation from which to respond to this narrative.  Robby George and the Catholic natural law school have mounted their arguments, and bravely so; evangelicals are declaring their biblical convictions on the matter, calling the culture to biblical truth.  These and other efforts are salutary, but outside the gracious intervention of God, we should not expect some sort of radical embrace of them by the gatekeepers of western thought.  Such is surely possible, but this is a strong narrative.  To those who have no biblical understanding of morality, it is the new civil rights cause.  Those who stand against homosexuality today will increasingly be equated with those who accomplished the hateful subordination of African-Americans in this country.

None of this means that we should run to the hills.  We should stay right where we are.  We should contend for truth.  We should befriend and show the most genuine kind of love to all kinds of people who are sinners just like we are and lost just like we were.  We should not shrink back, but should declare a far more magnificent brand of love than the culture knows, a strong love, a transformative love, a judgment-killing love.  Lost and hopeless, the culture will offer its narrative of acceptance.  We, in turn, will offer a greater narrative of salvation.  In prayer, we will never stop asking the Lord to do great work in our day to turn the hearts of the people to him (1 Kings 18:36-37).

Mortimer Adler: Learning Is a Pain

Philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) wrote on everything from how to read a book to the existence of God; he sought to help people think clearly on any subject. This was partially the impetus behind his founding of organizations like the Institute for Philosophical Research, the Aspen Institute, and the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas. He was very quiet about matters of faith, but later in life he converted to Christianity and, in 1999, Roman Catholicism.

The following quotation about learning is from an essay titled “Invitation to the Pain of Learning” published in the 1941 Journal of Educational Sociology. Adler saw a destructive dumbing-down trend in education and warned that there is never any learning without working.

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally—the parent even more than the teacher—wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be given every avenue for unimpeded expression, which of course is pleasant; and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as possible. What cannot be accomplished educationally through elaborate schemes devised to make learning an exciting game must, of necessity, be forgone. Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the character of a serious occupation—just as serious as earning money, and perhaps, much more laborious and painful . . .

Not only must we honestly announce that pain and work are the irremovable and irreducible accompaniments of genuine learning, not only must we leave entertainment to the entertainers and make education a task and not a game, but we must have no fears about what is “over the public’s head.” Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles. The school system which caters to the median child, or worse, to the lower half of the class; the lecturer before adults—and they are legion—who talks down to his audience; the radio or television program which tries to hit the lowest common denominator of popular receptivity—all these defeat the prime purpose of education by taking people as they are and leaving them just there.

–The BibleMesh Team