Does the Tucson Shooting Show that Atheism Poisons Everything?

Christopher Hitchens tells us that “religion poisons everything” as he points to what he takes to be grave missteps by the likes of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jerry Falwell, and Pius XII. But then, what about the atheist Jared Lee Loughner, who shot six to death in Tucson, including a nine-year-old girl? (You may have seen the YouTube video, where he declares that he “won’t trust in God.”) Might we Christians use Loughner’s case to retort that “atheism poisons everything”? And could we throw in Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” and Timothy McVeigh, the “Oklahoma City Bomber,” for good measure? Not really. This tit-for-tat won’t get us far. Instead, we need to go broad brush for comparisons.

Take hospitals, for instance. I recently visited a church attendee under care at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital, founded by the Evangelical Covenant Church. As for myself, I’ve have tests or treatments at Lutheran General, out near O’Hare, and Evanston Northwestern, with some Methodist roots. Also, a few years ago, I had to rush a church softball team member with a broken nose a few blocks to St. Francis Hospital (part of Resurrection Health Care).

Back when I taught at Wheaton, I would pass Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s on the drive into Chicago on the Eisenhower. And in those days, our middle child was born at Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.

In 2008, when I broke my wrist in a Southern Seminary basketball game in Louisville, we had the choice of two nearby hospitals, Baptist and Norton, the latter with historical connections to the Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Presbyterians. Had we gone west rather than east, we could have used Jewish Hospital at the downtown curve of I-65.

Certainly, there are public hospitals associated with municipalities and universities, as well as for-profit hospitals across the land, but the absence of professedly-atheist hospitals is remarkable, given the atheists’ posture of moral superiority. Where is the Voltaire hospital, the Nietzsche clinic, the Bertrand Russell out-patient service? Maybe Bill Gates (atheist) can team up with Warren Buffett (agnostic) to build a hospital in honor of God-denying David Hume or Jean-Paul Sartre, but it’s hard to see how those old skeptics could stir one’s eleemosynary impulses. Maybe the atheists could name one for Castro or Che Guevara, whose Cuban healthcare system Michael Moore praised in the movie, Sicko. The problem is that these enemies of the Church had to kill and imprison a bunch of people to establish their “revolutionary” setup, such as it is.

In contrast, those Swedish Covenant Christians with a healing ministry down in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood did it all without coercing or being coerced. Not surprising, since nothing could be more natural for believers than to build a hospital honoring the Great Physician, who restored sight to blind Bartimaeus, who raised Lazarus from the dead, and who gives eternal life to all to turn to Him in repentance and faith.

–Mark Coppenger (Southern Seminary) for BibleMesh

Theologians Release Online Bible-Learning Innovation

April 11, 2011

Theologians release online Bible-learning innovation

CHICAGO—BibleMesh, the newest online portal for Bible learning, will officially launch its first course, “The Biblical Story,” at the Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference in Chicago April 12.

“The Biblical Story,” is completely online with nothing to download. It teaches the overarching story of Scripture through animation-rich video, anchored by New York City pastor Tim Keller. Through a wide range of short articles, interactive quizzes and teaching videos, featuring scores of internationally recognized pastors and scholars, the course shows how all of Scripture points to Christ, from Genesis to Revelation.

BibleMesh has been in development for three years, including a year of testing “The Biblical Story.” It has been used by churches, by educators, and by individuals seeking a deeper knowledge of Scripture.

Published by former American Standard CEO Emmanuel Kampouris, BibleMesh contributors include Alistair Begg, Christopher Ash, David Jackman, Harry Jackson Jr., Joshua Harris, J. Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Peter Akinola, Philip Ryken, Rico Tice, Terry Virgo, Wellington Boone, and many more.

“BibleMesh is not just facts. It’s a whole-Bible theology approach to learning the Bible,” said Greg Thornbury, one of the project’s theological editors. He added that the “The Biblical Story” is useful for seekers, new believers, and seasoned Christians needing a refresher course in biblical knowledge.

Discounts are available for groups.

Also featured on BibleMesh’s website is “Thesis,” a blog applying scriptural truth to everyday life.

For additional information, visit www.BibleMesh.com.

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A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: On Being a Speciesist

Believing as I do in the priority of the human species among all other animal species probably makes me, ironically, a dinosaur. Happily, I’m not alone. Attorney, author, and activist Wesley J. Smith is also a proud speciesist. His latest book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, is not only a carefully documented analysis of a movement, it is a tacit defense of human exceptionalism.

It was Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, the father of the contemporary animal rights movement, who coined the term “speciesism” in his mid-1970s manifesto, Animal Liberation. Like the labels “racist” and “chauvinist,” a speciesist is a person who discriminates against another class of persons. In this case, someone who discriminates against animals by not giving them the same rights as people. I confess, I’m a speciesist then.

As Smith chronicles, the mission of the animal rights movement is to eradicate the notion of human exceptionalism. As Ingrid Newkirk, president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in Washingtonian magazine: “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all mammals.” What Ms. Newkirk meant by that, however, is entirely different from what most of us understand about our common mammalian identity. Newkirk later told a New Yorker reporter that “the world would be better without humans in it.” Using the language of the early abolitionists, some in the movement even argue that we should “liberate” all the animals from zoos, stop using dogs as guides for the blind, and give animals “equal consideration” as people.

Smith’s carefully researched, accessibly written, and copiously footnoted volume shows the toll the animal rights moment has taken on humanity. Far from peace, love, and understanding, the animal rights movement not only propagates human self-loathing, but often promotes violence against humans, incongruously, for the sake of loving animals. For instance, one popular animal liberation instruction manual is called, A Declaration of War: Killing People to Save the Animals and the Environment.

To be fair, most animal rights activists are not violent, but many have drunk the PETA cool-aid and find being human a liability rather than a gift. Although decent people clearly differ on whether or not we should use animals for food or for research purposes, almost no one thinks we should treat animals inhumanely. And where true violations of animal welfare occur, authorities are usually quick to prosecute.

Why, then, has the animal rights movement gained so much momentum in the United States and Europe? Largely because of the erosion of the West’s belief in “intrinsic human dignity,” says Smith. Where humans are devalued, animals are supervalued.

In a New Republic essay, “The Stupidity of Human Dignity,” atheist scientist Stephen Pinker argued that appeals to human dignity are really a way to sneak in new religious values. So I say, let’s not sneak anything in, let’s be quite candid. At the end of the day, human dignity is grounded in the Judeo-Christian affirmation that every human being is made in the image of God, the imago Dei. One doesn’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to believe that that’s the case, but we should be honest that the notion owes its origins to the revelation of God, not to the canons of science.

And what has that legacy bequeathed to us? It would take more space than we have here even to begin to outline that inheritance, but suffice it to say that belief in human exceptionalism has been the bedrock of human medicine, democracy, international human rights, religious liberty, the rise of hospitals, abolition, civil rights, and a host of institutions we take as evidence of a civilized society.

A society devoid of the concept of human exceptionalism is too ghastly to imagine. It would be a world like that of Hobbes’ Leviathan, red in tooth and claw. For while humans may contemplate animals rights, animals do not consider human rights at all. Which world is more conducive to human flourishing? The one where human exceptionalism is protected or the one where animals are given human rights? The one where human slavery is evil and keeping Koala bears and sheep in comfortable habitats is not? The one where the sanctity of the great apes is respected and humans—especially the unborn, disabled, and elderly—are loathed and killed?

–C. Ben Mitchell (Union University) for BibleMesh

Overlapping Magisterium: Engaging Culture from a Philosophical-Theological Viewpoint

We live in an age in which it has become fashionable to talk about the rising tide of agnosticism and atheism.  But the truth of the matter is that we live in a society flush with faith.  You have to have faith when you live in uncertain times. You go looking for answers. As long as human beings have been walking planet earth, they have consulted spiritual authorities — priests and prophets, artists and magicians, philosophers and theologians.  These key intellectuals and leaders often set the course which a culture will take. And people follow. Worldviews are born.

In our time, Western societies stand on the brink of a great turning point in history. For nearly two millennia, our mores and systems of government have been influenced by three ancient civilizations: Jewish, Greek, and Roman. But it was largely Christian thought, shaped by biblical revelation, that brought the pieces together into a coherent framework. The idea of one true God gave inspiration to the foundational notion of modern science — that the natural world can be understood because a rational Creator put it together in the first place. No one doubts that the Bible has inspired more works of art, music, and literature than any other single text.

By way of contrast, the past two centuries have called into question the truth claims of the Scriptures.  Certain crucial thinkers since the eighteenth century have sought to distance the conclusions of philosophy or science from the results of theology.  The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould suggested that science and logic could be decoupled from faith — they are “non-overlapping magisteria,” as he memorably put it. Once considered complementary, the two disciplines have been decoupled. They often regard one another with suspicious minds.

But it was not always this way.  Pick up any standard text from an introduction to philosophy and you will find great works of philosophy written by . . . great theologians. Anselm, the twelfth century Archbishop of Canterbury, devised the ontological argument, one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God.  But he did so in the context of a supplication. “Lord, it is Your face I seek,” he prayed. “I believe in order to understand.”

Anselm was not alone. A long line of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known — men like Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards — saw an uninterrupted line between the truths that could be acquired by the rational mind and those revealed to us in God’s Word. They saw no contradiction. What’s more, they saw theology systematically, and believed that the Lord Jesus Christ gets glory when biblical truth is organized in such a way that believers can simultaneously think rightly and live rightly.  For it is a dubious proposition indeed to suggest that people can act better than what they know.

It is unwise to abandon anything simply because it is old or tried or reliable.  For the Scriptures themselves are ancient. Rather, we begin this blog with a prayer ourselves — that a Christ-centered knowledge of the Bible would lead to the loftiest — and yet most practical — intersections between philosophy and theology.

Greg Thornbury (Union University) for BibleMesh

The Checkout Clerk Is an Ethicist, and So Are You

In Moliere’s 17th-century play, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (“The Rotarian,” so to speak), a Mr. Jourdain asks his tutor to help him write a love letter. When asked, in return, whether it should be a work of poetry, Jourdain says no. In that case, it’ll have to be “prose,” replies the tutor. But Jourdain doesn’t want that either – until he’s told it’s got to be one or the other. When he finally figures out he’s been speaking prose all his life, he feels pretty sophisticated; he now has a fancy word for what he’s been doing right along.

Well, sophisticated or not, everybody is doing ethics all the time, whether they know it or not. Judgments of moral value and duty are everywhere, whether we’re saying, “That checkout clerk shouldn’t chit-chat with the customers when the line is so long,” or “I’m happy to recommend Bob for a teaching job at ETHS.” In these ordinary ways, we’re revealing our notions of responsibility and decency, or the lack thereof. We’re calling one person blameworthy and the other praiseworthy.

These judgments find their way into every crevice of our lives. I see it every semester in my ethics classes at Southern Seminary. Salted in among the typical papers on divorce, capital punishment, and homosexuality are essays on TSA screening, public school spanking, eating out on Sunday, Braille worship material, Zoloft and Prozac, business “middlemen” in Malaysia, Bible smuggling, Muslim-veil bans, and autopsies.

When students tackle these topics in class, I press them to propose biblically-serious, working rules and principles, and then trace the implications. If the government can’t pat me down at the airport, does that mean army doctors have to keep their hands off me at a military induction physical? If we allow Muslim women to walk around town in veils, should I be allowed to walk around town in a hockey goalie mask? When does it get too creepy or ridiculous? Where do we draw the lines? And how should we tweak our proposals?

So that’s where I’ll be working in this blog — talking about the moral implications  and presuppositions of all sorts of things, both historical and contemporary. We may look at the Magna Carta or Jimmy Carter, at Waterloo, Watergate, or water boarding – “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper [or magazine, book, or mouse] in the other.”

Okay, enough prose. Let me try my hand at poetry:

If he could see the moral grid
Behind the things he said and did
He’d notice every Bible norm,
For joy to which he should conform.

If culture isn’t biblical,
Futility is cyclical,
Wrong to ruin, dumb to dumber,
Ever back to folly. Bummer.

–Mark Coppenger (Southern Seminary) for BibleMesh

Welcome to Thesis, the BibleMesh Blog

On behalf of the BibleMesh team, welcome to the new blog of BibleMesh. BibleMesh is the online discipleship tool designed to teach Scripture as a single, Christ-centered narrative and help people from all backgrounds grow in their knowledge of the Bible.  We’re calling this blog Thesis.

We have started Thesis to help people understand that the Bible applies to all of life. The Bible is not merely a collection of dramatic stories and moral examples. While cinematic in its scope and deeply instructive in matters of piety, it is a message of salvation, a true story about a God who saves sinners and enables them to be “salt” and “light” in a decaying, darkened order (Matthew 5:13-16). This blog is our attempt to equip Christians to be just that: salt and light. We can best do so by helping you to think carefully and thoughtfully about our culture and society from a robustly Christian standpoint.

We will address a plethora of topics on this blog. We will look directly at scriptural passages and their application for our modern lives. We will peer into Church and world history and derive strength and wisdom from the past. We’ll range over a host of topics that draw our interest and require a word of insight, whether Enlightenment philosophy, bioethical practices, or the pleasure of reading. Fueling all of these forays is a restless curiosity about this strange and beautiful world God has made and a desire to think well about it. Among our regular contributors will be expert theologians and BibleMesh editors Mark Coppenger, Michael McClenahan, C. Ben Mitchell, and Greg Thornbury, in addition to other provocative and faithful voices.

We have already posted a number of entries to get you started, but please take note of our first series on the blog, one that tackles an issue that is at the center of our mission: Christian cultural engagement. In the blogs that follow, our editors address how Christians are to carry out this duty within crucial disciplines—ethics, philosophical theology, historical theology, and bioethics. This series, as with the content of this blog in general, will help stimulate your own reflection in these areas.

Enough telling. We’re glad you’re here. We trust that in reading you will have as much fun, and as much spiritual profit, as we have in writing.

–Owen Strachan for BibleMesh