Friday, September 19, 2014

Animal-based ethics

Many on the left often advocate the rejection of Christian sexual ethics with the argument that lifelong monogamy is unnatural. And by unnatural they mean not merely among human beings, but among animals. In their worldview, of course, man is simply an animal—a highly evolved animal, to be sure, but an animal nonetheless. And how better to gain an understanding of ourselves than to study what is “natural” in the animal world? David Barash, author of The Myth of Monogamy, tells us:  “There has been quite a revolution in scientific understanding of the lives of animals and we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at other creatures.”[1] Presumably, Barash would take exception to Pope’s famous line, “The proper study of Mankind is Man.” Perhaps he would wish to rewrite it to something like, “The proper study of Mankind is Manimal.”

Meghan Laslocky, author of The Little Book of Heartbreak:  Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages, opined for CNN, “The bottom line is that flings are far from folly, at least in the animal kingdom.”[2] Her piece was accompanied by a slideshow telling us such helpful things as:  Penguins mate for a year and then move on to a new partner; male elephant seals have harems of as many as 100 females; Bonobos regularly engage in frequent sex with multiple partners; swans, which have been traditional symbols of fidelity, really aren’t monogamous.

At the Huffington Post we learn what can only be regarded (by some at least) as a startling statistic: “Only 3% to 5% of all the mammal species on earth practice monogamy.”[3]

In all these observations there is an implicit argument that runs something like this:

What is natural for animals is natural for human beings.
Having multiple sex partners is natural for animals.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is natural for human beings.

There is another argument implied, too, one that uses the conclusion as the minor premise.

Everything natural is good.
Having multiple sex partners is natural.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is good.

Looking to the animal kingdom to find norms for human behavior, however, is an instance of what Paul refers to as worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As Rushdoony has pointed out, “in any culture the source of law is the god of that society.”[4] The same can be said of ethics, for law is simply the institutionalization of ethics for application to society. Looking to the animal world for guidance in ethics is, in effect, the divinization of the animal world.

Animal-based ethics is an inversion of the created order. The pre-fall order was:


The fall involved man paying heed to an animal and asserting a right to overrule God so that the order was inverted.

God [5]

This is essentially the order which is now being advocated. But are we really sure we want to travel this road? I happened across this article yesterday, Chimps are naturally violent, study suggests. As it turns out, chimps will attack other “communities” of chimps in order to increase the size of their territory, gain access to greater supplies of food, and have more females with which to mate.

For years, anthropologists have watched wild chimpanzees “go ape” and attack each other in coordinated assaults. But until now, scientists were unsure whether interactions with humans had brought on this violent behavior or if it was part of the apes’ basic nature.
A new, 54-year study suggests this coordinated aggression is innate to chimpanzees, and is not linked to human interference.
“Violence is a natural part of life for chimpanzees," Michael Wilson, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Live Science in an email.

You can watch an example of this aggression, including chimpanzee cannibalism, here.

Since this is “natural” is it also good? Should it be used as a guide for human behavior?

The evolutionary presuppositions of those who advocate animal-based ethics deny the most important thing to know about man, namely that he is created in the image of God, which means that he is qualitatively different from—and superior to—the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28). Scripture admonishes us, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Peter echoes this when he describes certain men who “count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime” and who “have eyes full of adultery” as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Pet. 2:12).


Animals are irrational. They are governed by their instincts, their appetites, their urges. But as bearers of the image of God, we are called to better things.

[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 4 (emphasis in the original)
[5] I am indebted to Steve Schlissel for this insight.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jurisprudence without the prudence

We have seen much in the news recently about attempts by those who call themselves the Islamic State (IS) to establish a new Caliphate—a sovereign state governing the entire Muslim world under Islamic law (Sharia), derived from the Quran and the Sunnah (the example of Muhammad).

Here is an example of the “wisdom” of Quranic jurisprudence:

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise (5:38).

Pardon me for not thinking this very wise. We might call it jurisprudence without the prudence. A thief, presumably, is unwilling to work for his own support. After the imposition of Sharia, he is rendered unable to work, at least not at full capacity. How, exactly, is this any better for him or for society? And lest you are tempted to think that this is an archaic penalty no longer applied, you might want to view this video, but not if you have a weak stomach.

Contrast this with Biblical law. In the Bible, two things are required of a thief:  (1) he must return what was stolen (or the exact equivalent, if it has been disposed of), and (2) he must pay an additional amount as a penalty. This additional amount also goes to the victim rather than to the state. The amount varies from twenty to four hundred percent of the value of the stolen property. The precise amount depends on a number of circumstances that either aggravate or mitigate the guilt of the crime. If the thief does not have the means to make restitution immediately, he is required to work off his debt…not an easy thing to do if he is missing a hand, as per Islamic law. How is the victim to be restored if the perpetrator is maimed? Much better is the admonition of the apostle Paul,

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Eph. 4:28).

Further Details
If a thief has a change of heart and voluntarily comes forward to confess his crime without otherwise being found out, he must return what was stolen and add twenty percent of its value (Lev. 6:1-7; Num. 5:6-7). This is the smallest penalty prescribed in the law and encourages repentance and voluntary restitution.

If a thief does not have a change of heart, but is caught with the stolen property in his possession unharmed, he must restore what he has taken and pay an additional amount equal to the value of the stolen property. Scripture supposes a case of stolen livestock. “If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Ex. 22:4; see also vv. 7, 9; and cf. Isa. 40:2; Rev. 18:6). The thief must restore the stolen property and add one hundred percent of its value.

If a thief kills or sells stolen livestock, he has a much higher cost to pay:  five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep (v. 1). As the table below demonstrates, this constitutes a penalty of three hundred percent in the case of a sheep, and four hundred percent in that of an ox.[1]

Thief gains
Thief pays
Net loss

Two questions present themselves at this point. First, why the greater penalty for livestock killed or sold as opposed to found alive in the thief’s possession? According to Cohn, it is because the killing or selling of the stolen animal implies the thief is a persistent offender.[2] Cassuto offers a different explanation.
The reason…is possibly this:  if the owner of the animal is able to recover his own beast, which is dear to him, it is sufficient for the thief to add another beast like it, but if the thief is unable to restore the stolen animal, he must give the owner additional compensation.[3]
It may be better however to think something more than simple theft is in view. In other words, the thief is not stealing for his own personal use, but in order to turn a profit from his thievery. He is trading in stolen goods—slaughtering stolen animals to sell the meat or else selling the live animals. This is a more serious crime. Consequently, the punishment is greater.

The second question is why should a greater penalty be imposed for disposing of (killing or selling) a stolen ox than for doing the same with a sheep? The answer may be that the theft of an ox imposes a greater hardship on the owner since he is deprived of its labor value, which a sheep does not possess.[4] In stealing an ox, a thief is stealing a man’s livelihood and thus putting his life and the life of his family at risk. As Bush explains,
This higher degree of penalty was annexed to the theft of oxen on account of their great value in the rural economy of the Israelites; for they used no horses in their husbandry. The ox did every thing [sic] on their farms. He plowed, he threshed out the corn, and he drew it when threshed to the barn or garner. If therefore the theft of an ox was more severely punished than that of any thing [sic] else, it was on the same principle on which an increase of punishment is inflicted for the crime of stealing from the farmer his plough, or any part of the apparatus belonging to it.[5]
Others explain the difference as being due to the greater effort that must go into the raising and training of an ox.[6]

In light of the requirements laid out above, what are we to make of what Solomon says in Proverbs? 
If a thief is caught, he will pay sevenfold;     he will give all the goods of his house (Prov. 6:31)
In this context, “sevenfold” is hyperbole. It means abundantly (cf. Gen. 4:15, 24; Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28; Ps. 12:6; 79:12).

[1] The Code of Hammurabi requires thirtyfold restitution for the theft of “an ox, or sheep, or ass, or pig, or boat, from a temple or palace,” and tenfold restitution for stealing the same from a freeman (§ 8). The Hittites originally required thirtyfold restitution for theft, but moderated the penalty to fifteen-fold, without making distinctions between victims (§ 57ff.).
[2] Haim H. Cohn, The Principles of Jewish Law, Menachem Elon, ed., (Jerusalem, Israel:  Keter Publishing House, 1975), col. 496
[3] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282. Italics added.
[4] Soncino Chumash, p. 479
[5] George Bush, Commentary on Exodus, p. 323
[6] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Court Rules Founding Fathers Unconstitutional

JESTER NEWS— In a move that was widely expected among court-watchers, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that reading the Founding Fathers in public schools and appealing to them in legal arguments is unconstitutional. “We have been watching this court for sometime now,” said Gary Shyster, a lawyer with the ACLU, who filed a brief in the case. “We knew that it was only a matter of time.”

Christa Phobe, executive director of Hysterical Americans United for the Removal of all Traces of a Christian Past, was elated with the court’s decision. “We knew we had a strong case since the court had previously ruled against the posting of the Declaration of Independence in government buildings because of its appeal to ‘the Creator.’ If the Declaration had to go, we knew the rest of the Founding Fathers’ writings couldn’t be far behind.” 

The case originated when Ima Bigot of Berkely, California objected to an assignment her son was given in his high school government class. He was to play the part of our first president and deliver Washington’s Farewell Address to the class. “It’s offensive from beginning to end,” Ms. Bigot said. “I can’t believe they would subject our children to such blatant religious indoctrination.” 

The portion of Washington’s Address which was found to be especially troublesome is found near its midpoint:  “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.” “Can you believe this guy?” asked Bigot. “What does Washington know about patriotism?  All this God and country stuff doesn’t mix. It’s just un-American.” 

Writing for the majority, circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt said, “The members of this court have long held that to appeal to the Founding Fathers on legal questions is to foist a religious point of view on matters of state, and of course we can’t have that.” 

The ACLU hailed the decision. “We see this as the huge step toward our ultimate goal, which is to see the court rule the Constitution unconstitutional,” Shyster said.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alike, Yet Different: A Wedding Sermon

The Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, began his short, but masterful book on The Christian Family by observing that the history of the human race begins with a wedding. This is significant because marriage is one of the things that sets human beings apart from everything else that God has made. Man is unique in this relationship. He is created differently in this respect from those creatures both above and below him—that is, differently from both angels and animals—and created for different purposes, too.

The animals he created by the word of his command. He literally spoke them into existence:  “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures,” he said, “and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:20). And in obedience to his command, they sprang into being. “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds, livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so” (Gen. 1:24).

And God blessed the creatures he had made and bid them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And so they have done to this day—but only by blind biological impulses, only by the force of instinct, not out of the distinctively human motives of love and commitment.

The account suggests that God created many pairs of each kind or species of animal, and not just a single pair of each. And it seems that the angels were created all at once, in their full number, without the need, for either marriage or procreation, for Jesus tells us that the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. 

But the Lord was pleased to create man differently. He made only a single pair, not many; and he created them with the utmost care. He didn’t merely speak Adam into existence, but carefully formed his body from the dust of the ground. His soul he created by breathing into him the breath of life. 

Eve he crafted from the substance of Adam’s own body, from his “side.” I say “crafted” because in verse 22, where the English text says, “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman,” the Hebrew says he “built” into a woman. The word, and thus the imagery, is taken from the world of architecture. So, too, is the Hebrew word that most English translations render as “rib.” Literally, it means “side.” And the word is often used of that which gives a structure its form and strength. There is craftsmanship, and indeed artistry implied in the use of the terms. Rabbi Moshe David Cassuto says the idea is that just as a builder takes raw materials and constructs a beautiful building from them, so “in the hands of the Lord God, the raw material taken from the man’s body received the lovely form of the woman... [F]rom an ordinary piece of bone and flesh the Lord God fashioned the most comely of his creatures.”[1]

There also seems to be a sacral aspect to God “building” Eve. This Hebrew word, which is translated as “rib” and refers to what gives a building its strength and form, appears most often—almost exclusively, in fact—in connection with the building first of the tabernacle in the wilderness, then of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, and finally of the eschatological temple mentioned in Ezekiel. The use of this particular word to describe the building of Eve suggests a sacred aspect to the joining together of a man and woman as husband and wife. Marriage truly is a sacred institution.

Before giving the precious gift of a wife to Adam—in fact, before he even made her—the Lord wished to teach Adam to value her above all things, and to look upon her as his only true counterpart and equal. And so he brought all the different kinds of animals to Adam, to see what he would name them. And undoubtedly Adam noticed that with each kind of animal there was both a male and a female. They were like each other, yet different. And the differences were such that they were complementary to each other; not complimentary in the sense of giving each other compliments—saying nice things about each other, but complementary in the sense of completing each other. Adam noticed that each animal had a true counterpart that was both alike and different:  alike in species, but different in sex. “But for Adam, there was not found a helper fit for him [or, corresponding to him]” (v. 20). There was no one like him, yet different, as was the case among the animals. 

Adam was alone. 

And the Lord gave his judgment—his assessment—of the situation. “It is not good,” he said, “that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And so the Lord remedied the situation by making a woman. He didn’t make another man, as if what Adam needed was merely male friendship, as important as that is; rather, he made a woman to be his only true counterpart and equal, and he hers.

Andy, I trust that you have now and will continue to have very meaningful friendships with other men. And Vanessa, I am sure that you have very meaningful friendships with other women. What a godsend it is to have good and faithful friends! It really is a tremendous blessing. But it is not they who complete you; they are not the ones whom God has given to you to be your counterpart in life. Andy, he has given you Vanessa. She is your Eve, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. She is the one who completes you. And Vanessa, Andy is your Adam. God made him for you, and you for him. There will be times, Andy, when you go out with the guys and have a good time together. And Vanessa, there will be times when you hang out with the girls, and that’s all well and good. But both of you remember that you have something really special and unique in each other. Devote yourselves to one another and cultivate your relationship.

When the Lord had finished building Eve, he presented her to Adam, and Adam said,

This at last is bone of my bones
            and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
            because she was taken out of man (Gen. 2:23)
“This at last,” he says, “is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” The Lord had marshalled all the different kinds of animals and brought them before Adam, to be named by him. And as the day wore on, Adam must have marveled at God’s creativity as he saw this great menagerie paraded before him. But he must also have wondered:  “Is there no one like me? Is there no one made for me?” And then finally, when God built Eve and brought her to him, his joy was palpable. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” How delighted he was! Here at last was someone who was like him. And what a beauty she was, the feminine form in its perfection! 

It is fascinating to consider that in this scene the Lord is acting not only as Creator, but also as matchmaker and Father of the Bride. “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”

And then we are given this further instruction, “Therefore [that is, because of what God has done in creating a man and a woman and bringing the two together as true complements of each other] a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).

We might recognize in the creation of Eve a theme we find throughout God’s creative work in Genesis. We find a series of events in which things are separated from each other and given a distinct form and identity and then joined back together again into a new form as complements of each other.

In the first instance, we find the Lord separating light from darkness. The light he called Day, and the darkness he called Night. And then he joined the two back together again in a complementary fashion so that a period of light, followed by a period of darkness makes one full day. The two come together to make one.

On the second day of creation, the Lord said,
“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven [the sky] (Gen. 1:6-7).

Here find the formation of the heavens and the earth. It takes place by a process of separation. Two things are separated from one another and given a distinct form and identity, yet joined back together again as complements, neither able to fulfill their purpose without the other.

We find the same thing going on as the Lord gathers the waters under the expanse into one place so that dry land emerges. The dry land he called Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called the Sea, neither existing independently of the other, but the two of them together forming a complementary habitation for all his creatures.

I trust you can see where this is going. God did the same thing when he created Eve. He separated her from Adam. He took of the substance of Adam and from that substance, he made Eve. He gave her a distinct form and identity and purpose, and then he joined the two back together again in order to make one.

Andy and Vanessa, the Lord calls you each into this union in order to complete each other. The Lord said that it was not good for Adam to be alone; and had he chosen to create Eve first, he would have said the same thing:  “It is not good for the woman to be alone.” In making them male and female, he made them to be perfect complements to each other. And they were perfect companions for each other because they were just the same, except entirely different. Just like Adam noticed among the different kinds of animals, a male and a female—like each other and yet different—so he now noticed in this woman standing before him someone who was both like him and yet different from him—and that their differences were exactly suited to each other, exactly what each needed.

Men and women are different. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. And they are different by God’s design and for his purposes. How are men and women different? They are different anatomically, of course. That much is obvious. But they are also different psychologically, in their mental and emotional make-up. This is only controversial in a politically-correct environment. Otherwise everybody knows men and women are different. You don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to figure it out. You only need a little experience with life. As much as our culture wishes us to believe that the sexes are interchangeable or that their differences are not innate but merely culturally conditioned, we know better.

The differences, of course, give rise to the proverbial battle of the sexes where we think we have to ask the question, “Which is better, a man or a woman?” Let me be the first to tell you that this is a foolish question because it’s an unanswerable question. And it’s unanswerable because it’s incomplete. It’s like asking, “Which is better, a hammer or a saw?” You have to ask the further question, “Better at doing what? Better for what purpose?” A hammer is better for pounding in nails, and a saw is better for cutting lumber. Tool-makers have designed each for a specific purpose and given them a composition and form suited to the purpose. And God has done the same for man. He has made men and women to be different, and he has given them natures that are suited for the purpose for which he created them. Rather than allowing these differences to become sources of contention and strife, we ought rather to cherish the differences, to enjoy the differences, to rejoice in them, and to benefit from them. The differences are meant to complete us. If we fail to recognize this we undermine the God-given potential of the relationship.

A man should be glad that his wife is different from him. Do you remember the scene in My Fair Lady where Dr. Henry Higgins, a character played by Rex Harrison, is frustrated in his relationship with Eliza, played brilliantly by Audrey Hepburn? At one point, Higgins breaks into song and asks “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I am sure he is not the only man who has ever had that thought cross his mind. And I am sure that there has been more than one woman in history who has asked the same question…except in reverse. The differences between men and women have led one author to write a book with the provocative title, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. And sometimes it does seem like we are from different planets!

But I say again that a man should be glad that his wife, as a woman, is different from him. Sometimes the differences might prove to be a source of frustration to him…you know, much like they might prove to be a source of frustration to her. But unless he has a brick where his brain ought to be, he’ll understand that the differences are good. They are beneficial because what she brings to the table as a woman completes him, in the same way that what he brings to the table completes her. Her strengths as a woman compensate for his weaknesses as a man; and his strengths as a man compensate for her weaknesses as a woman.

Andy and Vanessa, recognize the differences, acknowledge them, appreciate them, understand them, and enjoy them. The Lord has created you with a need for each other.

Give yourselves wholly, entirely, and exclusively to each other, heart, mind, body, and soul as long as you both shall live. Amen.

[1] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis:  From Adam to Noah, pp. 134-135

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby, Mother Jones, and Justice Ginsburg

Mother Jones today posted an article with what it calls “The 8 Best Lines From Ginsburg’s Dissent on theHobby Lobby Contraception Decision.” Here they are, with a few of my own quick observations.

1.  “‘In a decision of startling breadth’ [the decision] would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find ‘incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’”

See my response to number six below.

2.  “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”

To be clear, Hobby Lobby provides coverage for more than twenty different kinds of contraception. The company’s objection to the Affordable Care Act’s (aka Obamacare) mandate focuses on four kinds of “contraceptives” that are not contraceptives at all, but abortifacients that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, thus resulting in the death of the newly conceived child. All of Hobby Lobby’s female employees will continue to be covered for the other forms of birth control.[1]

3. “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."

These statements are irrelevant. To my knowledge no one is making the claim that Hobby Lobby is a religious organization rather than a for-profit corporation. The point at issue is this:  May the federal government force the owners of a privately owned business to act contrary to their religious convictions?

4. “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”

There’s that slippery word “contraceptives” again. Let us not forget that the issue in the case is drugs or devices that act as abortifacients. But even if we modify the statement accordingly, the point is technically true. The decision a woman makes will not be “propelled” by the government. Nevertheless, the government will be forcing the owners of a company to act contrary to their religious convictions by paying for them.

5. “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

This also is irrelevant.

6. “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision.”

The decision undoubtedly raises a lot of questions about how its principles apply to other religious objections to the ACA, but this only highlights the problems of government-mandated healthcare. If we didn’t want to deal with all these tough questions, we shouldn’t have ventured down this path in the first place. It seems to me that we have three options. First, we can enforce a one-size-fits-all national healthcare plan with no exceptions (not even for unions or other Obama supporters) and simply say, “To hell with your religious concerns.” Second, we can examine each religiously based objection case by case. Or we can go to a free-market approach to healthcare, which is hands down the best solution.[2]

7. “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

This actually was not what the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude. It was designed to preclude a federally funded church.[3]

8. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

No, actually it was a highly partisan President and Congress who led us here. The court has simply made a modest attempt to limit some of the damage.

[1] Perhaps Ginsburg is thinking in terms of the precedent set by the decision that might result in companies owned by devout Roman Catholics refusing to provide coverage for any contraceptives whatsoever. But so be it. That is their right as business owners. It seems odd to me that the mantra of the left, that the government should stay out of the bedroom, wants the government to see to it that their activities in the bedroom are funded by taxpayers.