Ethics Articles

Articles: Principles


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles


Columbia Encyclopedia: ethics

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ethics and meta-ethics

Swearing Oaths (Free Methodist Manual)

Playing God (EFC, 021200)

Summum Bonum (Bloesch, p.26ff)

Joseph Fletcher and the Dangerous Situation Ethics (John Mark Ministries)

Can We Be Good Without God? (Christian News, 041108)

Secularism and Its Discontents: The debate over religion and politics is in desperate need of sanity (National Review, 041227)

We all have moral bank accounts (, 050322)

A Call for Courage on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Christian Post, 050222)

The Cause of Life--Where We Now Stand (Christian Post, 050127)

Robust faith III (, 050326)

Robust Faith or Flabby Religion? Part IV (, 050402)

Protecting the lives of others is fundamental to civilization (, 050509)

>>Politics Without God—Europe’s Secular Crisis (Christian Post, 050602)

Reaping What We Sow—The Harvest of Moral Relativism (Christian Post, 050729)

Bonhoeffer Now (Christian Post, 060206)

Evangelicals and the Brave New World: Why Natural Law Can No Longer Be Ignored (Christian Post, 060907)

Culture Warrior (, 061006)





Columbia Encyclopedia: ethics

Sixth Edition.  2001.




in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. Moral principles may be viewed either as the standard of conduct that individuals have constructed for themselves or as the body of obligations and duties that a particular society requires of its members.


Approaches to Ethical Theory


Ethics has developed as people have reflected on the intentions and consequences of their acts. From this reflection on the nature of human behavior, theories of conscience have developed, giving direction to much ethical thinking. Intuitionists (Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Clarke), moral-sense theorists (the 3d earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson), and sentimentalists (J. J. Rousseau, Pierre-Simon Ballanche) postulated an innate moral sense, which serves as the ground of ethical decision. Empiricists (John Locke, Claude Helvétius, John Stuart Mill) deny any such innate principle and consider conscience a power of discrimination acquired by experience. In the one case conscience is the originator of moral behavior, and in the other it is the result of moralizing. Between these extremes there have been many compromises.


The Nature of the Good


Another major difference in the approach to ethical problems revolves around the question of absolute good as opposed to relative good. Throughout the history of philosophy thinkers have sought an absolute criterion of ethics. Frequently moral codes have been based on religious absolutes. Immanuel Kant, in his categorical imperative, attempted to establish an ethical criterion independent of theological considerations. Rationalists (Plato, Baruch Spinoza, Josiah Royce) founded their ethics on a metaphysics.


All varying methods of building an ethical system pose the question of the degree to which morality is authoritative (i.e., imposed by a power outside the individual). If the criterion of morality is the welfare of the state (G. W. Hegel), the state is supreme arbiter. If the authority is a religion, then that religion is the ethical teacher. Hedonism, which equates the good with pleasure in its various forms, finds its ethical criterion either in the good of the individual or the good of the group. An egoistic hedonism (Aristippus, Epicurus, Julien de La Mettrie, Thomas Hobbes) views the good of the individual as the ultimate consideration. A universalistic hedonism, such as utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham, James Mill), finds the ethical criterion in the greatest good for the greatest number.


Twentieth-Century Ethical Thought


Among ethical theories debated in the first half of the 20th cent. were instrumentalism (John Dewey), for which morality lies within the individual and is relative to the individual’s experience; emotivism (Sir Alfred J. Ayer), wherein ethical considerations are merely expressions of the subjective desires of the individual; and intuitionism (G. E. Moore), which postulates an immediate awareness of the morally good. Agreeing with Moore that the morally good is directly apprehended through intuition, deontological intuitionists (H. A. Prichard, W. D. Ross) went on to distinguish between good and right and to argue that moral obligations are intrinsically compelling whether or not their fulfillment results in some greater good.


Important ethical theories since the mid-20th cent. have included the prescriptivism of R. M. Hare, who has compared moral precepts to commands, a crucial difference between them being that moral precepts can be universally applied. In his arguments for virtue ethics, Alasdair C. MacIntyre has cautioned against unbridled individualism and advocated correctives drawn from Aristotle’s discussion of moral virtue as the mean between extremes. Thomas Nagel has held that, in moral decision making, reason supersedes desire, so that it becomes rational to choose altruism over a narrowly defined self-interest. See also bioethics.



See H. Sidgwick, Outlines of the History of Ethics (1902); A. C. MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics (1965); M. Warnock, Ethics Since 1900 (1979); W. D. Hudson, A Century of Moral Philosophy (1980); P. Singer, ed., Applied Ethics (1986).




Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ethics and meta-ethics


1. Ethics and meta-ethics


What is ethics? First, the systems of value and custom instantiated in the lives of particular groups of human beings are described as the ethics of these groups. Philosophers may concern themselves with articulating these systems, but this is usually seen as the task of anthropology.


Second, the term is used to refer to one in particular of these systems, ‘morality’, which involves notions such as rightness and wrongness, guilt and shame, and so on (see Rectification and remainders). A central question here is how best to characterize this system. Is a moral system one with a certain function, such as to enable cooperation among individuals, or must it involve certain sentiments, such as those concerned with blame (see Morality and ethics; Moral sentiments; Praise and blame; Reciprocity)?


Third, ‘ethics’ can, within this system of morality itself, refer to actual moral principles: ‘Why did you return the book?’ ‘It was the only ethical thing to do in the circumstances.’


Finally, ethics is that area of philosophy concerned with the study of ethics in its other senses (see Ethics in Islamic philosophy). It is important to remember that philosophical ethics is not independent of other areas of philosophy. The answers to many ethical questions depend on answers to questions in metaphysics and other areas of human thought (see Aesthetics and ethics; Ethics and literature; Metaphysics; Pragmatism in ethics). Furthermore, philosophers have been concerned to establish links between the ethical sphere of life itself and other spheres (see Art and morality; Law and morality). Some philosophers have, for philosophical reasons, had doubts about whether philosophy provides anyway the best approach to ethics (see Theory and practice; Wittgensteinian ethics). And even those who believe philosophy has a contribution to make may suggest that ethical justification must refer outside philosophy to common sense beliefs or real-life examples (see Examples in ethics; Moral justification).


A central task of philosophical ethics is to articulate what constitutes ethics or morality. This project is that of meta-ethics. What is it that especially constitutes the moral point of view as opposed to others? Some argue that what is morally required is equivalent to what is required by reason overall, whereas others see morality as providing just one source of reasons (see Normativity; Practical reason and ethics). Yet others have suggested that all reasons are self-interested, and that concern for others is ultimately irrational (see Egoism and altruism; Self-interest). This has not been seen to be inimical in itself to the notion of morality, however, since a moral system can be seen to benefit its participants (see Contractarianism; Decision and game theory).


The moral point of view itself is often spelled out as grounded on a conception of equal respect (see Equality; Respect for persons). But there is some debate about how impartial morality requires us to be (see Impartiality).


Another set of issues concerns what it is that gives a being moral status, either as an object of moral concern or as an actual moral agent (see Moral agents; Moral standing; Responsibility). And how do our understandings of human nature impinge on our conception of morality and moral agency (see Morality and identity)?


Once we have some grip on what ethics is, we can begin to ask questions about moral principles themselves. Moral principles have often been put in terms of what is required by duty, but there has been something of a reaction against this notion (see Duty). Some have seen it as outdated, depending on a conception of divine law with little relevance to the modern world (see Anscombe, G.E.M.; Schopenhauer, A.); while others have reacted against it as a result of a masculine overemphasis on rules at the cost of empathy and care (see Feminist ethics; Wollstonecraft, M.).


These doubts are related to general concerns about the role principles should play in ethical thought. Situation ethicists suggest that circumstances can lead to the abandonment of any moral principle, particularists arguing that this is because it cannot be assumed that a reason that applies in one case will apply in others (see Moral particularism; Situation ethics). The casuistical tradition has employed moral principles, but on the understanding that there is no ‘super-principle’ to decide conflicts of principles (see Casuistry). At the other end of the spectrum, some philosophers have sought to understand morality as itself constituted by a single principle, such as that not to lie (see Wollaston, W.).


Duties have been seen also as constituting only a part of morality, allowing for the possibility of heroically going beyond the call of duty (see Supererogation). This is a matter of the scope of the notion of duty within morality. There are also issues concerning the scope of moral principles more generally. Does a given moral principle apply everywhere, and at all times, or is morality somehow bounded by space or time (see Moral relativism; Universalism in ethics)? This question is related to that concerning what is going on when someone allows morality to guide them, or asserts a moral principle (see Epistemology and ethics; Moral judgment; Moral knowledge). How is the capacity of moral judgment acquired (see Murdoch, Iris; Moral education)? The view that humans possess a special moral sense or capacity for intuition, often identified with conscience, is still found among contemporary intuitionists (see Common-sense ethics; Conscience; Cudworth, R.; Hutcheson, F.; Intuitionism in ethics; Moral sense theories; Moore, G.E.; Ross, W.D.; Shaftesbury). Scepticism about the claims of morality, however, remains a common view (see Moral scepticism; Nietzsche, F.).


In recent centuries, a dichotomy has opened up between those who believe that morality is based solely on reason, and those who suggest that some nonrational component such as desire or emotion is also involved (see Hume, D.; Morality and emotions; Rationalism). Denial of pure rationalism need not lead to the giving up of morality. Much work in the twentieth century was devoted to the question whether moral judgments were best understood as beliefs (and so candidates for truth and falsity), or as disguised expressions of emotions or commands (see Analytic ethics; Emotivism; Hare, R.M.; Logic of ethical discourse; Prescriptivism; Stevenson, C.L.). Can there be moral experts, or is each person entirely responsible for developing their own morality (see Existentialist ethics; Moral expertise)? These questions have been seen as closely tied to issues concerning moral motivation itself (see Moral motivation). Moral judgments seem to motivate people, so it is tempting to think that they crucially involve a desire.

Moral principles can be understood to rest on moral values, and debate continues about how to characterize these values and about how many evaluative assumptions are required to ground ethical claims (see Axiology; Constructivism in ethics; Moral pluralism; Values). Against the emotivists and others, moral realists have asserted the existence of values, some identifying moral properties with those properties postulated in a fully scientific worldview (see Fact/value distinction; Moral realism; Naturalism in ethics; Value, ontological status of).


2. Ethical concepts and ethical theories


Some philosophical ethics is broad and general, seeking to find general principles or explanations of morality. Much, however, focuses on analysis of notions central to ethics itself. One such notion which has been the focus of much discussion in recent years is that of autonomy (see Autonomy, ethical). The interest in self-governance sits alongside other issues concerning the self, its moral nature and its ethical relation to others (see Akrasia; Determinism and indeterminism; Evolution and ethics; Free will; Self-deception, ethics of; Self-respect; Will, the); and the relations of these selves in a social context (see Recognition; Solidarity; Vulnerability and finitude). Other topics discussed include the nature of moral ideals, and the notions of desert and moral responsibility (see Ideals; Desert and merit; Moral luck).


The question of what makes for a human life that is good for the person living it has been at the heart of ethics since the Greek philosophers enquired into eudaimonia (‘happiness’) (see Aristotle; Eudaimonia; Happiness; Life, meaning of; Plato; Socrates). Once again, a philosopher’s theory of the good will almost always be closely bound up with their views on other central matters (see Good, theories of the). For example, some of those who put weight on sense experience in our understanding of the world have been tempted by the view that the good consists entirely in a particular kind of experience, pleasure (see Empiricism; Pleasure). Others have claimed that there is more to life than mere pleasure, and that the good life consists in fulfilling our complex human nature (see Perfectionism; Self-realization). Nor have philosophers forgotten ‘the bad’ (see Evil; Suffering; Suffering, Buddhist views of origination of).


Moral philosophy, or ethics, has long been at least partly concerned with the advocacy of particular ways of living or acting. Some traditions have now declined (see Asceticism; MacIntyre, A.); but there is still a large range of views on how we should live. One central modern tradition is that of consequentialism (see Consequentialism). On this view, as it is usually understood, we are required by morality to bring about the greatest good overall (see Infinity and ethics; Teleological ethics). The nature of any particular consequentialist view, therefore, depends on its view of the good. The most influential theory has been that the only good is the welfare or happiness of individual human and other animals, which, when combined with consequentialism, is utilitarianism (see Bentham, J.; Mill, J.S.; Utilitarianism).


It is commonly said that consequentialist views are based on the good, rather than on the right (see Right and good; Rights). Theories based on the right may be described as deontological (see Deontological ethics). The towering figure in the deontological tradition has been the eighteenth-century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (see Kant, I.; Kantian ethics). Such theories will claim, for example, that we should keep a promise even if more good overall would come from breaking it, or that there are restrictions on what we can intentionally do in pursuit of the good (see Double effect, principle of; Inviolability; Promising).


In the second half of the twentieth century there was a reaction against some of the perceived excesses of consequentialist and deontological ethics, and a return to the ancient notion of the virtues (see Aretē; Theological virtues; Virtue ethics; Virtues and vices). Work in this area has consisted partly in attacks on modern ethics, but also in further elaborations and analyses of the virtues and related concepts (see Charity; Forgiveness and mercy; Help and beneficence; Honour; Hope; Innocence; Integrity; Love; Prudence; Self-control; Trust; Truthfulness).


3. Applied ethics


Philosophical ethics has always been to some degree applied to real-life. Aristotle, for example, believed that there was no point in studying ethics unless it would have some beneficial effect on the way one lived one’s life. But, since the 1960s, there has been a renewed interest in detailed discussion of particular issues of contemporary practical concern (see Applied ethics).


One area in which ethics has always played an important role is medicine, in particular in issues involving life and death (see Bioethics; Bioethics, Jewish; Life and death; Medical ethics; Suicide, ethics of). Recently, partly as a result of advances in science and technology, new areas of enquiry have been explored (see Genetics and ethics; Reproduction and ethics). In addition, certain parts of medical practice which previously lacked their own distinctive ethics have begun to develop them (see Nursing ethics).


This development is part of a wider movement involving research into the ethical requirements on those with particular occupations. Some of this research is again related to scientific advance and its implications for public policy (see Information technology and ethics; Responsibilities of scientists and intellectuals; Risk; Technology and ethics). But, again, attention has also been given to occupations not in the past subjected to much philosophical ethical analysis (see Business ethics; Journalism, ethics of; Legal ethics; Professional ethics; Sport and ethics).


The planet, and those who live and will live on it, have in recent times become the focus of much political concern, and this has had its effect on philosophy (see Agricultural ethics; Animals and ethics; Development ethics; Ecological philosophy; Environmental ethics; Future generations, obligations to; Population and ethics; Sustainability). But just as the scope of ethical enquiry has broadened, so there has been renewed interest in the specific details of human relationships, whether personal or between society, state and individual (see Economics and ethics; Market, ethics of the; Family, ethics and the; Friendship; Paternalism; Political philosophy; Pornography; Sexuality, philosophy of).


How to cite this article:

CRISP, ROGER (1998). Ethics. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved November 18, 2003, from




Swearing Oaths (Free Methodist Manual)


630.3.4.3 Swearing Oaths


Vain and rash swearing is forbidden by our Lord (Matthew 5:34; James 5:12). We hold that the Christian religion does not prohibit the taking of an oath when it is required by a public official. In every case, the Christian must speak in justice and truth (Jeremiah 4:1-2; Ephesians 4:25).




Playing God (EFC, 021200)


God alone ultimately guides us through difficult ethical situations


Our university undergraduate seminar was called Situational Ethics. Over the year, we gathered weekly in a stuffy upper room where we had raging arguments. Using philosophical, political and economic opinions to support our answers, we tried to solve hypothetical ethical dilemmas such as: There are ten people in a lifeboat—different ages and different occupations. One needs to be thrown overboard for all of them to be saved. Whom would you choose and why?


We were told that there was no “right” answer, and yet, I don’t think we believed this. It was the sixties. Religion was low on the students’ agenda—at least the kind that meant we could turn to God for direction. Instead, we believed that current knowledge and research had the answers to life’s important decisions. With these tools, we thought we could shape our destinies.


It was a time when the media were perceived as the “good guys” who crusaded for “just” causes. Research statistics of any kind meant facts and truth. New thinking was better than old thinking; and life would unfold in a good way—if you just “thought it through.”


I kept thinking of this seminar as we prepared our cover story on reproductive and genetic technologies. Over the last decade we have been inundated with scientific advances that have offered great hope for medical healings and reduced health risks; however, the costs have been controversial. Past ethical dilemmas no longer seem hypothetical. Your dilemma could shortly be mine—and now it’s happening quickly.


Today we have a healthy scepticism of the media; we know that research can be used to defend opposite opinions; even young children know that thinking is not enough to solve the world’s problems—they’re learning cooperation skills. Overall there is a pervading sense of inadequacy in using only our minds—or those of others—to make these life decisions. People are quick to give their opinions on the call-in shows, but many find themselves rudderless when it becomes a personal dilemma.


As Christians our commitment to such biblical principles as the sanctity of life can be a spiritual anchor. But for many of us the personal and practical interpretation of these biblical truths can be confusing. Is life valuable and precious if it’s for only a few hours or if it’s limited in intellectual, emotional or physical scope?


Often it isn’t the debate that really shapes our decisions. It’s our personal experience, or that of those closest to us, that enables us to act and live with the consequences. For this reason, Faith Today chose not to interview the experts.


In our cover story you will find personal testimonies of Christians who have lived through tough ethical struggles. They have felt pain, confusion, regret, hope, and even the joy of suffering. Being forced into playing god by their circumstances, in the end, they had only God to turn to—and that is what made the difference.


Gail Reid is managing editor of Faith Today and director of communications for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




Summum Bonum (Bloesch, p.26ff)


Latin for the “highest good” or “supreme good”

What then are the goals (the highest good) that the world upholds?



The goals of Christian ethics is the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.


For the Christian, pain is not the greatest evil, and pleasure is not the greatest good.  Obedience to God’s commandment is the highest good, and disobedience is the greatest evil. (p.39)


Thielicke (p.20): Ethics in the biblical sense “does not teach us what we are obliged to do; strictly speaking, it teaches us what we permitted to do.  It surveys the sphere of freedom.” (positive, not “thou shalt not”)


Fletcher (48), Barth (50), Lehmann (51), Brunner (51), Bonhoeffer (52), Ellul (52), Fitch (53), Ramsey (53), Niebuhr (53), Henry (53), Smede (54)


casuistry (the attempt to apply absolute norms to concrete cases) (p.55)


(p.57) “We are not to absolutize these mediating principles in the sense that they can be extended to all times and places.  They are conditional, not unconditional, imperatives.  They are not eternal truths but concrete divine commands that carry the force of absolute authority.  They are not absolute prohibitions that hold true for all times and places.  Otherwise, they become “principles” in the idealistic sense, abstract truths standing outside of human history and culture.  We are not to tie down the freedom of God to an eternal principle; on the other hand, we must allow for God in his freedom to make use of principles or injunctions in every particular situation.  These mediating principles or prophetic imperatives have a real but relative authority.  They express the authoritative word of God for some, but not all, situations.


Christian ethics is about freedom and obedience. Bonhoeffer says, “Obedience without freedom is slavery; freedom without obedience is arbitrary self-will. Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience.”  How do we use the freedom of choice that God gives us?  Do we obey the will of God or do we select our own way.


The ultimate objective of ethics is holiness which implies following God and separates from the world (Lev 11:45). This is exactly the central theme taught by John Wesley (Methodist Church).




Joseph Fletcher and the Dangerous Situation Ethics (John Mark Ministries)


By Rod Benson


In 1966 American episcopal moral theologian Joseph Fletcher published a popular book titled, Situation Ethics: The New Morality. In the book he advocated a ‘new’ approach to Christian ethics and moral decision-making which occupied a middle way between the two extremes of legalism and antinomianism.


For Fletcher, this approach, labelled ‘situationism,’ was theologically valid and pragmatically essential to life (at least in the West) in the twentieth century; for Bishop John A.T. Robinson, author of the equally popular Honest to God, it was the only ethic for ‘man come of age.’ Fletcher’s book, although not theoretically sophisticated and despite being peppered with explanatory anecdotes and illustrations, presents a clear and well structured account of situationism from a liberal Christian perspective.


Although he subtitled the work “the new morality,” Fletcher was not advocating an entirely new ethic or morality; Situation Ethics was simply one concise and well publicised statement of a trend in Christian ethics that had been growing for decades.


In 1928 Durant Drake had published The New Morality against authoritarian and supernaturalist ethics in the name of pragmatic naturalism; in 1932 Emil Brunner published his Divine Imperative and Reinhold Niebuhr published his Moral Man and Immoral Society; in 1959 Fletcher himself published a seminal paper on situation ethics in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin; in 1963 H. Richard Niebuhr published The Responsible Self; in the same year Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Context and John Robinson’s Honest to God were published.


Each of these made significant contributions to the development of an anti-supernaturalist Christian ethic or an ethic based on existential situations rather than prescriptive principles. Fletcher called his position situation ethics or situationism. Others have called this orientation toward the situational neocasuistry, existential ethics, consequentialism, ethical relativism and moral nihilism. The Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office described it in 1952 as ‘the new morality.’


The Christian church has approached social and personal ethics from various perspectives through its history. Richard Longenecker provides a useful list of four ways in which special revelation has been used by Christian theologians and ethicists in determining ethical positions and in making decisions on practical moral issues. Reference to these four positions will place Fletcher’s Situation Ethics in a theological and casuistic context and enable us to consider his propositions in a more enlightened sense than is possible through his writing alone.


The first of Longenecker’s positions is legalistic: it takes scripture (specifically, for him, the New Testament) “as a book of laws or a summation of codes for human conduct. It argues that God has given prescriptive laws in the form of commandments and ordinances . . . (which) do not come to us as tactical suggestions.” Two problems associated with this position are that such an approach cannot create moral beings, and that, since society and culture are in permanent transition, laws require accompanying interpretations to explicate and apply them in new situations.


The second position seeks to disclose universal principles underlying scriptural accounts of prescriptive ethical laws. Adolf Harnack exemplified this approach at the turn of the century with his religious humanism advocating the higher righteousness and the commandment of love. As Longenecker says, such an approach “provides a means for appreciating how biblical norms can be applied to changing situations.”


The preeminence of love strikes a chord with the foundation of Christian situationism, but one must still deal with norms (unlike Fletcher’s one law of love), the search for universal principles may turn biblical theology into philosophy, and Christian ethics may become a subcategory of natural law “with the moral imperative of life rooted in man himself (sic) and human reason viewed as the main guide for moral judgements.”


The third position outlined by Longenecker stresses “God’s free and sovereign encounter through his Spirit with a person as he or she reads scripture, and the ethical direction given for the particular moment in such an encounter.” Flowing from a neo-orthodox understanding of revelation, this position is epitomised by Emil Brunner:


The Christian moralist and the extreme individualist are at one in their rejection of legalistic conduct . . . they are convinced that conduct which is regulated by abstract principles can never be good . . . There is no Good save obedient behaviour, save the obedient will. But this obedience is rendered not to a law or a principle which can be known beforehand, but only to the free, sovereign will of God. The Good consists in always doing what God wills at any particular moment.


As we shall see, this position accords rather well with Fletcher’s entire ethical scheme, and in particular with his final proposition that love’s decosions are made situationally (at the ‘particular moment’) and not prescriptively. Yet Fletcher’s ethical theory privileges the individual agent in determining what the good is, whereas Brunner favours an existential moment in which God somehow reveals his will to the agent.


The final position outlined by Longenecker is that of Fletcher and his compatriots: that “Christians can determine what should be done in any particular case simply by getting the facts of the situation clearly in view, and then asking themselves, ‘What is the loving thing to do in this case?’ Such an approach, of course, does not rule out the prescriptive, for it accepts love as the one great principle for life.” Biblical exhortations are not ignored in this ethic, but they are treated as tactical suggestions rather than prescriptive norms.


In a ‘nut-shell,’ this last position is situationism, or consequentialism. Writing critically of it shortly after Fletcher’s first publication on the subject, Wolfgang Schrage noted that “[m]any believe that the totality and fulness of New Testament moral demands may be reduced to the commandment to love, or may be concentrated therein so that all single commandments of a concrete nature are superfluous.” Secular ethicists and moral philosophers - who incidentally portray a total ignorance of Fletcher’s work as well as that of most Christian ethicists - have taken much larger leaps from the old supernaturalism to naturalism (and, in some cases, into nihilism).


For example, William Provine holds that “no inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.” Similarly, prominent American moral philosopher Joseph Margolis, “there are no moral principles . . . just as there are no laws of nature or rules of thought . . . whatever we offer in the way of principles or laws or rules are artifactual posits formed within a changing praxis . . . ‘Principles’ . . . are the instruments of effective ideology.”


Fletcher was unwilling to embrace pragmatism and relativism wholeheartedly and without reservation; he rejected both legalism and antinomianism, embracing ethical relativism with one condition: that one universal, prescriptive law remained - the law of love.


Fletcher’s Situation Ethics possesses a simple structure: its polemic is based on four working principles and six propositions. The principles were pragmatism (after C.S. Pierce, William James and John Dewey’s philosophical pragmatism), relativism (following Brunner and Niebuhr), positivism (theological positivism, as opposed to theological naturaliam, in which propositions are posited voluntaristically rather than rationalistically), and personalism (a concern for people rather than things, the subject rather than the object).


Fletcher’s relativism was fundamental to his assurance that there was one moral absolute, since he held that genuine relativity necessarily rested on an absolute norm of some kind. The six propositions forming the framework of his ethical theory were as follows:


1. only one ‘thing’ is intrinsically good; namely, love: nothing else at all;

2. the ruling norm of Christian decisions is love: nothing else;

3. love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else;

4. love wills the neighbour’s good whether we like him (sic) or not;

5. only the end justifies the means, nothing else; and

6. love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.


Fletcher’s first proposition, then, concerns the unitary and intrinsic good of love, and the parallel question of whether value is inherent or contingent. He holds that, for Christian situation ethics, “nothing is worth anything in and of itself. It gains or acquires its value only because it happens to help persons (thus being good) or to hurt persons (thus being bad) . . . Apart from the helping or hurting of people, ethical judgements or evaluations are meaningless.” On the surface this proposition seems reasonable. However, in postulating this proposition, Fletcher reveals the humanist and positivist framework on which he hangs his moral theology, for he eliminates the word and will of God from his considerations.


For Fletcher, “Good and evil are extrinsic. Right and wrong depend on the situation.” There literally is no intrinsic good apart from love. Here we revive the classical debate over the nature or source of the good: given the existence of a supreme being, does God love the good because it is good, or is it good because God loves it? Once God is removed from the ethical equation, anything is permissible, and the result is ethical nihilism.


Fletcher, of course, does not deny the existence of God, but in proposing that the abstract concept of love (albeit agape love) is the only intrinsic good, he negates the value of other prescribed commands in the New Testament and opens the door to relativism and subjectivism in Christian ethics. Regarding the choice of love as the sole moral criterion, Longenecker suggests that it is “an easily adjustable norm,” capable of easy transfer from a theological context to a humanist or naturalistic context.


Further, Christian situationists have been accused of refusing to allow any predefinitions of the nature and content of love, and blithely assume that “individuals, given only encouragement, will usually act lovingly when they understand the various facets, ramifications and implications of the particular situation.” Thus the situationist can say with Fletcher that an act contravening a moral principle other than love, if done with the motive of love, is not merely excusably evil but positively good. As John Robinson puts it,


[l]ove alone, because, as it were, it has a built-in moral compass, enabling it to ‘home’ intuitively upon the deepest need of the other, can allow itself to be directed completely by the situation. It alone can afford to be utterly open to the situation, or rather to the person in the situation, uniquely and for his (sic) own sake, without losing its direction or unconditionality.


For Fletcher, even human life is relative; as well as ‘white lies’, he justifies ‘white’ theft, fornication, killings, breakings of promises. Fletcher summarises his ethical position thus: “we ought to love people and use things ... the essence of immorality is to love things and to use people.”


One of his opponents, Montgomery, questions the ‘newness’ and the morality of Fletcher’s ethics, draws critical attention to Fletcher’s use of terms (such as ‘love’) and slogans. Montgomery argues that the only ethic that could stand above human limitations and prejudices and establish “absolute human rights” is the one that derived from the realm of the transcendent and not from individual finite situations. He further lists four areas in which a revelatory ethic is superior to situationalism:


1. where love is defined in terms of God’s nature and is justified in terms of his being;

2. where absolute moral principles are explicitly stated which inform love and guide its exercise;

3. where a final judgement of evil is assured ; and

4. where an effect remedy is provided for the root problem in the human ethical dilemma - man’s sinfulness.


Fletcher’s sixth proposition is the heart of his ethical theory: he states that, for the Christian situationist, “love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively.” He eschews a “prefabricated, pretailored morality,” urging those who subscribe to his ethic to “sin bravely” - to quote Luther somewhat out of context. In other words, as long as a moral agent respects the one law of love, she or he is free to determine their own morality in response to existential situations.


But as Max Hocutt suggests, “[t]he fundamental question of ethics is, who makes the rules? God or men? The theistic answer is that God makes them. The humanist answer is that man (sic) makes them. This distinction between theism and humanism is the fundamental division in moral theory.” In my opinion, Fletcher appears more closely aligned with secular humanism than with orthodox Christian theology.


In addition, Fletcher seems to entertain a preoccupation with methodology at the expense of principle. Fletcher is apparently unconcerned at the loose way in which the term ‘love’ may be interpreted, and there is a fascination with the manner in which decisions are approached and ethical judgements rendered which leaves little room for moral reflection and reference to principle and precedent. Fletcher explains that in situational moral decision-making the objective is always love, the purpose is for the honour of God, and the subject is other people (one’s neighbour).


But other questions, such as ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Which’, and ‘How,’ can only be answered as each situation presents itself. Situation ethics is thus fundamentally neocausuistic; its operation and outcome depends wholly on individual cases, not on precedent or on principles. To quote Fletcher again:


The metaphysical moralist of the classic tradition, with his intrinsic values and moral universals and code apparatus, says in effect, “Do what is right and let the chips fall where they may.” The situational decision maker says right back at his metaphysical rival: “Ha! Whether what you are doing is right or not depends precisely upon where the chips fall.”


In this respect Fletcher is so engrossed with casuistry and consequences of moral actions that he fails to acknowledge that motives, as well as consequences, have value.


As far as other fields of theology are concerned, situation ethics is of little import except for its distaste of the prescriptive and propositional. However, Gštz points out that Fletcher’s ethical position impacts on the Christian doctrine of atonement. If any action may be good or bad, depending on the situation, then sin must be situationally defined. Gštz argues that Fletcher cannot reasonably speak of people as sinners, since for him good and evil are attributes and not properties. By implication, people merely sin; they are not sinful or sinners (one gets the impression that this conclusion would not distress Fletcher).


Further, the atonement effected by Christ ultimately has no meaning for Fletcher. This seems to be a significant blind spot of Christian situationalism as presented by Fletcher, and flows directly from the logic of his sixth proposition.


In his quest for an evangelical hermeneutic to discern universal moral absolutes, Terrance Tiessen identifies five principles for their identification. For Tiessen, universal moral absolutes are identifiable by their basis in the moral nature of God, by their basis in the creation order (or human nature), by transcendental factors in the situation of their promulgation and by the lack of situational limitation in their formulation, by their consistency throughout the progressive revelation of God’s will, and by their consistency with the progress of God’s redemptive program.


Certainly, love is an obvious first choice as such a moral absolute, but it cannot be the sole intrinsic good; nor can we say from scripture that all moral decisions based on love must be made situationally without reference to biblical prescription. In the final analysis, these two propositions are both inadequate and lacking in truth as foundations for a Christian ethic. Fletcher has allowed his theology to become clouded by pragmatic and relativistic philosophy; perhaps this is why, although sometimes quoted today, his ethical system has not generally been accepted by the Christian church.


Fletcher’s theory was not new; it represented a view of ethics common to theological liberalism and acceptable to secular humanism. Fletcher’s genius was to gather together the various threads of the theory and state them in a popular way.


As far as evangelical theology and ethics are concerned, Fletcher’s situationism is an inadequate recasting of biblical commands and ordinances which appear prescriptive and not bound by time or culture. The notion that there is only one intrinsic good, namely love, is simply not attested by the biblical evidence. It is neither true nor adequate.


His suggestion that ethical decisions - all ethical decisions - should be made situationally rather than prescriptively is similarly inadequate. While many decisions may be made situationally, especially as social and technological changes compel human society to recast its casuistry, some decisions should be made by reference to biblical prescription.


In addition, Fletcher fails to define carefully what he means (and does not mean) by ‘love,’ and he fails to accept that motives as well as consequences must be considered when one attributes value to an ethical decision or a consequence of an action.




Brunner, Emil, The Divine Imperative (trans. O. Wyon; London: Lutterworth, 1937).


Fletcher, Joseph, Situation Ethics (London: SCM Press, 1966).


Fletcher, Joseph & John Warwick Montgomery, Situation Ethics - True or False (Minneapolis: Dimension Books, 1972).


Fletcher, Joseph, Moral Responsibility: Situation Ethics at Work (London: SCM Press, 1967).


Gštz, Ignacio L., ‘Is Fletcher’s situationism Christian?’ Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (3), August 1970, 273-278.


Hocutt, Max, ‘Toward an Ethic of Mutual Accomodation.’ In Morris B. Storer (ed.), Humanist Ethics (Buffalo: Promethus Books, 1980).


Long, Edward LeRoy, ‘The history and literature of “The New Morality”.’ In Harvey Cox (ed.), The Situation Ethics Debate (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967) 101-116.


Longenecker, Richard N., ‘New Testament social ethics for today.’ In Brian S. Rosner (ed.), Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 337-344.


Margolis, Joseph, Life Without Principles: Reconciling Theory and Practice (Cambridge, Massechusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).


Plato, ‘Euthyphro.’ In Benjamin Jowett (ed.), “The dialogues of Plato.’ In Philip Goetz (ed.),Great Books of the Western World (60 vols; Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1990) vol. 6.


Provine, William, ‘Scientists, face it! Science and religion are incompatible.’ The Scientist, 5 September 1988.


Robinson, John A.T., Honest to God (London: SCM Press, 1963).


Schrage, Wolfgang, ‘The formal ethical interpretation of Pauline paraenesis.’ In Brian S. Rosner (ed.), Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 301-335.


Tiessen, Terrance, ‘Toward a hermeneutic for discerning universal moral absolutes.’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (2), June 1993, 189-207.


Rod Benson

Sydney, Australia


“Truth will always be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves” - G.K. Chesterton




Can We Be Good Without God? (Christian News, 041108)


The greatest moral question hanging over America’s increasingly secular culture is this: Can we be good without God? That vital question--though almost always unasked--is the backdrop for most of the issues aflame in the media, the schools, and the courts.


Secularization, the process by which a society severs its ties to a religious worldview, is now pressed to the limits by ideological secularists bent on removing all vestiges of the Judeo-Christian heritage from the nation’s culture. They will not stop until every aspect of Christian morality is supplanted by the new morality of the postmodern philosophers--a morality with no absolutes, and without God.


How bad is it? Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, an influential liberal partisan in the Culture Wars, rejects the idea that belief in God is necessary for moral goodness. In Letters to a Young Lawyer, Dershowitz argues that obedience to the God of the Bible can often be immoral. We should not be good because we fear divine punishment, Dershowitz argues, but because we aspire to good character. “In deciding what course of action is moral,” he instructs, “you should act as if there were no God. You should also act as if there were no threat of earthly punishment or reward. You should be a person of good character because it is right to be such a person.”


Of course, this begs the question of character itself. How do we know what character is without an objective reference? If human beings are left to our own devices and limited to our own wisdom, we will invent whatever model of ‘good character’ seems right at the time. Without God there are no moral absolutes. Without moral absolutes, there is no authentic knowledge of right and wrong.


According to the new American secular orthodoxy, no reference to God or faith--no matter how vague or distant--is allowable in public conversation, much less in governmental policy making. The end result is a total collapse of moral conversation. All that is left is a burlesque of moral nonsense with endless debates going nowhere in particular, except away from Christianity.


For example, we are now told that concern for sexual abstinence is just another imposition of a Christian morality. Planned Parenthood and the proponents of teenage sexual activity oppose abstinence-based sex education as “inherently religious.” That is, the only arguments against teenage sexual promiscuity are based on religious convictions--which are forbidden grounds for public consideration.


In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union has successfully fought abstinence-based programs in several states, arguing that such programs violate their radical notion of church/state separation, and put the public schools in the position of teaching ‘religion.’


This nonsense would be laughable if its results were not so devastating among America’s young people. One parent opposed the program, stating: “I am extremely upset that this school board wants to teach my Jewish kids Christian values.” Pardon me, but who dropped Judaism from the Judeo-Christian heritage? Christianity and Judaism differ on any number of central issues of faith, but we share the Ten Commandments. As rabbi Jacob Neusner once lamented: “A country without a sense of shame or of sin does not have a sense of what is right or wrong, just what is useful or what you can get away with or not get away with.”


Are moral values now off limits just because they may be affirmed or shared by Christians? As columnist Mona Charen asked, “Have we reached the point in America where virtue is considered contaminated because it has been known to keep company with religion?”


If abstinence-based sex education is “inherently religious,” then so is the criminal code which outlaws murder. After all, “Thou shall not kill” was first inscribed on tablets of stone by God, not contrived by a secularist lawmaker in Washington. What about prohibitions against robbery, rape, or lying? Out with them all, for they are part of God’s moral law as well.


The sheer nonsense of this makes it difficult to take the argument seriously, but courts at the local, state, and federal levels are heeding these secularist arguments. Our ability to conduct any meaningful moral discourse is fast evaporating.


Just how far we have come is made clear by a glance at the most formative legal commentary which lies behind this nation’s legal tradition, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. English common law is, after all, the basis of our own legal doctrines. Just before the American Revolution, Blackstone wrote: “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is an entirely dependent being.”


The legal tradition which gave birth to this nation, formed the background of its Constitution, and sustained our laws and their interpretation for a century and a half, is now itself ruled out of bounds. Any moral tradition which even whispers the memory of the Almighty is now ruled null and void.


But can Americans be good without God? Can we even entertain the fiction that citizens can create a totally secular morality? Nonsense. There is no secular morality of any substance. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky acknowledged, “If God is dead, everything is permissible.”


So, we live among the ruins of a moral value structure destroyed by the wrecking ball of a radical secularist agenda, but already weakened by compromise from within--even from within the Church.


The Church of England and its sister church in America, the Episcopal Church (USA), are competing in a disbelief derby to see which church can produce more heretical bishops. Richard Holloway, the Anglican bishop of Edinburgh, now argues that morality must be freed from Christian teaching for the modern age. As he argues, “We either admit that God is, to some extent at least, a human construct that is subject to criticism and evolution, or we weld religion to unsustainable prejudices that guarantee its rejection for the best, not the worst of reasons, so that to abandon it becomes a virtuous act of revolt against an oppressive force that imprisons rather than liberates humanity.” According to this bishop, the only way to be moral is to reject the Bible and the very notion of moral absolutes. In effect, the only way to be a good person is to function as an atheist.


With Friedrich Nietzsche, Holloway wants modern humanity to be freed from “slave obedience” to the morality of the Bible. In Godless Morality, the bishop insists that we must just learn to live with moral ambiguity. As for Scripture, it must be abandoned as authoritative moral guidance, for “it no longer conforms to our experience of truth and value.”


The same rejection of biblical morality is all too common on these shores as well. Liberal theologians and church leaders display the same embarrassment over the moral teachings of the Bible. Among evangelicals, outright rejection of biblical authority is more rare (at least for now), but too many pulpits remain empty of biblical content and moral confrontation with the issues of the day.


In the confused public square of America’s cultural currents, the situation is far worse. Now that God is off limits, we face the morality of the cultural elites and media celebrities.


Evidence of the inevitable confusion that results is seen in the nation’s nonsensical moral fireworks over Michael Jackson’s arrest for child molestation. Americans seem certain that Jackson’s publicly acknowledged behavior--much less his alleged crime--is wrong, even immoral. But why? Will his trial for sexual molestation bring moral clarity to the situation? Probably not. Lawyers like Alan Dershowitz earn their lavish incomes by making certain that moral arguments are kept out of the picture. As Dershowitz instructs young lawyers, “So you want to do good. Don’t we all. But when you became a lawyer, you have to define good differently than you did before.” Obviously.


Several years ago, a group of boys at Lakewood High School in southern California were arrested as members of a “sexual posse” who kept score at the sport of sexual intercourse with different girls. Several of the boys’ fathers said that nothing was wrong with their behavior. Eric Richardson, one of the Lakewood boys, said, “They pass out condoms, teach sex education and pregnancy--but they don’t teach us any rules.”


Welcome to post-Christian America. All the rules are off--it’s everyone for himself. Write your own rules, find your own way, just be sure to leave God out of it. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, warning that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God has been made plain to them” [Romans 1:18]. God is not mocked. Welcome to Rome--America in the postmodern age.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




Secularism and Its Discontents: The debate over religion and politics is in desperate need of sanity (National Review, 041227)




The reelection of George W. Bush has provoked extensive debate, if not quite soul-searching, among liberals. For the most part, liberals have not fastened on the way foreign policy played out in the campaign, but on the way moral and religious issues did — even after the idea that the moral issues had a much larger impact in this election than in previous ones was largely debunked, and even though some of the debunkers were liberals attempting to deny any mandate for moral and religious conservatives. Some liberals have suggested that Democrats need to start speaking the language of faith, or at least of morals. More of them have denounced the backwardness of the religious conservatives who supported President Bush.


“The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule,” wrote Maureen Dowd on the day after the election. “W. ran a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq — drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or ‘values voters,’ as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.”


The same day, her colleague Tom Friedman wrote: “[W]hat troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do — they favor a whole different kind of America. . . . . Mr. Bush’s base is pushing so hard to legislate social issues and extend the boundaries of religion that it felt as if we were rewriting the Constitution, not electing a president.”


But Garry Wills outdid both of these worthies:


The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. . . . [W]e now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.


And those were just the liberals who wrote in the New York Times. The same sentiments were expressed elsewhere. In Salon, Sidney Blumenthal called the post-election Senate majority “more theocratic than Republican.” Robert Kuttner, one of the editors of The American Prospect, complained that Democrats had not “warned mainstream voters of the danger of a theocratic president whose base rejects modernity.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was slightly less strident, saying that the Republicans “dangerously blurred the line between church and state.”


These comments cannot simply be dismissed as an eruption of rage by the losers of an election against the winners. They express, if sometimes in hyperbolic form, liberalism’s habits and reflexes, which are themselves based on respectable ideas.


Here is [liberal] Robert Reich, writing months before the election:


The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.


Few liberals are as hostile to conventional religious belief as Reich (or at least the Reich of that passage). Some liberals are religious themselves, and can presumably see that a belief in the political primacy of the individual is compatible with allegiance to God. But most liberals, including religious ones, do find Christian conservatism dangerous in a way that makes it similar in principle, if not in virulence, to the Taliban. Recall Anthony Lewis’s December 2001 exit interview in the New York Times, in which he likened John Ashcroft to Osama bin Laden. Around the same time, three prominent Democratic strategists wrote a memo arguing that the war on “fundamentalism” would promote “tolerance” at the expense of Christian-conservative “fanaticism.”


The idea that Christian conservatives and Islamofascists can be reasonably or fairly compared in this fashion is such a commonplace that people who propound it often do not seem to think that they are saying anything provocative. Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit wrote a (deservedly) well-reviewed book this year called Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. They are full of insight about the hostility to cosmopolitan modernity so often found among the West’s most intransigent critics. But here is how they end their book, in a passage that is reproduced on the back cover:


The story we have told in this book is not a Manichaeistic one of a civilization at war with another. On the contrary, it is a tale of cross-contamination, the spread of bad ideas. This could happen to us now, if we fall for the temptation to fight fire with fire, Islamism with our own forms of intolerance. Religious authority, especially in the United States, is already having a dangerous influence on political governance. We cannot afford to close our societies as a defense against those who have closed theirs. For then we would all become Occidentalists, and there would be nothing left to defend.




Conceptual clarity has not been a feature of the discussion of whether religion is having (or threatens to have) a dangerous influence on American government. People mean different things when they talk about “theocrats,” “the separation of church and state,” and “secularism.” The word “secular” can describe both irreligion and neutrality about religion. Yet commentators often throw around these words and phrases as though they had single, uncontested meanings — or, worse, exploit the instability of the phrase for polemical purposes.


Did the Founders often observe that churches and governments are engaged in different enterprises? Well, then, they established a principle of “secularism” — which is then held to require a revision in the Pledge of Allegiance, or funding for human cloning. Religious conservatives have done their part to add to the confusion. They have said, some of them, that they “don’t believe in the separation of church and state,” that it’s a “myth,” that it “isn’t in the Constitution.” Christians who say these things generally mean to endorse one or more of the following propositions: (a) The Constitution does not make Thomas Jefferson’s understanding of the proper relationship between churches and governments mandatory; (b) government may promote religion in some non-sectarian and non-coercive way; (c) there is nothing wrong with voters’ letting their religious beliefs influence their political views. They do not, generally, mean that the government should set itself up as a kind of church, or vice versa. They accept the ACLU definition of separation, and therefore reject separation. But liberals, and much of the public, understand the conservatives to be denying the importance of religious liberty. Vague terminology keeps people talking past one another.


It may be instructive to think about the wish list of Christian-conservative organizations involved in politics. They would generally prohibit abortion, and perhaps research that destroys human embryos. They would have the government refuse to accord legal standing to homosexual relationships. They would restrict pornography in various ways. They would have more prayer in the schools, and less evolution. They think that religious groups should be able to participate in federal programs without compromising their beliefs. They would replace sex education with abstinence education. They want the government to promote marital stability.


Perhaps you think that the ambitions of the religious Right go considerably beyond this list — although it would be amazing if it got all or even most of the items on it within the next 30 years. So let’s assume that these groups also want things that most of them recognize as completely unattainable. An end to no-fault divorce. Bans on sodomy and contraception. The enforcement of laws against adultery. A revival of the old civil action for “alienation of affection.”


It is not my purpose here to argue that this agenda, or even the relatively restrained version of it, is one we should wish to see enacted (or even allowed by the Supreme Court). My point, rather, is to note that introducing nearly every one of these policies — and all of the most conservative ones — would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.


America at the time of its Founding was, by contemporary standards, including contemporary conservative standards, shockingly illiberal. States had established churches, supported with tax dollars. Most states had religious tests for office, the requirements varying by the state. Some states punished blasphemy; others imposed fines for irregular church attendance.


Yet the country was not a theocracy like the Taliban’s Afghanistan. And while it may not be quite right to say that the country was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, it was not founded on their rejection either. If the country had suffered an attack in 1827 like the one we suffered on September 11, there would have been, pace Buruma and Margalit, quite a lot to defend, including quite a lot of freedom. As there was in 1941. America’s history as a free country does not begin in the 1960s. (Incidentally, the Islamists’ spiritual forbears, such as Sayyid Qutb, hated us before then.)


One could certainly argue that what we now regard as the Founders’ partial respect for religious freedom, and especially their decision not to establish a national church, had latent within it a tendency toward the modern liberal conception of religious freedom. On this view, we have come to an ever fuller understanding of what the freedom for which we signed up long ago really means. Perhaps the Supreme Court has a better understanding of the implications of the principles of the First Amendment than the one available to the Founders themselves, and is correct to enforce that better understanding.


But even if all of these propositions were conceded to the modern liberal, a lot of the sting of the charge that religious conservatives are “theocratic” would vanish. The president’s supporters could not be said simply to have betrayed the Founders. At worst, they could be said only to have backslid on the work the Founders started. If there is a range of options between theocracy and the modern liberal version of church-state separation, then the accusation that anti-abortionists are theocrats is just political exaggeration. It should be taken no more seriously than the accusation that advocates of national health insurance are Communists.


The existence of that range, along with the possibility of gradual movement along it, suggests that the aims of our War on Terror should not include the immediate establishment of modern liberal secularism in the Middle East. (Nobody is seriously suggesting that as a war aim, but it is the logical endpoint of a lot of the rhetoric, especially from liberal hawks.) Buruma and Margalit, in Occidentalism, distinguish between “political Islamists” who want to wipe out dissent and “Islamic puritans,” “who wish only to enforce collective morality.” It is a reasonable distinction that allows us to define the enemy in a way that does not include 95 percent of Muslims. Buruma has written very sensibly about the importance of not allying with doctrinaire secularists in postwar Iraq. If Buruma and Margalit had made corresponding distinctions when considering American Christian conservatives, they could have avoided their overwrought conclusion.




Not everyone who believes that there is something dangerous, as well as mistaken, about religious conservatism rests his case on the conceptual confusions I have addressed. Peter Beinart, the editor of The New Republic, argues that what is wrong with religious conservatives is that they base their views and arguments about public policy on theological premises. They appeal to reasons that are not “accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all.” This makes democracy impossible, at least in conditions of religious pluralism. So far, Beinart is making the familiar Rawlsian argument for “public reason.” But he adds a twist. Religious conservatives, he complains, have made their politics into an identity. They treat people who disagree with them about same-sex marriage as though they were hostile to the conservatives’ faith — or, worse, hostile to the faithful.


It is possible to meet Beinart partway. To the extent that religious conservatives are jumping from policy disagreements to accusations of bigotry against some persons — and this does happen — they ought to stop. And while there is no constitutional requirement that people make political arguments in terms that can be understood by fellow citizens with different religious views, it is a reasonable request. Since an appeal to a religious belief, authority, or text will be unpersuasive to people who do not accept it, such an appeal will often be counterproductive (rather than “dangerous”).


But even that concession must be qualified. The contention that blacks, like whites, were made in the image of God and thus deserve fair treatment was probably “accessible” to more people when it counted than were purely secular arguments. The vast majority of Americans do not find such religious rhetoric alienating, and in a democracy that ought to count for something.


We should not pretend, moreover, that a politics of grievance over symbolic offense is limited to religious conservatives. How many times has it been said that the president’s religious references make agnostics and atheists feel as though they are not Americans in good standing? The risk that a cr’che on public property will communicate a governmental endorsement of the view that they are un-American, and thus do them symbolic harm, plays an important role in the Supreme Court’s church-state jurisprudence.


The way liberals typically deploy the distinction between faith and reason in public-policy argument could also stand some interrogation. There are good reasons to think that it involves real unfairness to religious conservatives, or at least to their views, even if bigotry does not come into play. Beinart writes, “Sometimes, conservative evangelicals grasp [the need for non-theological arguments] and find nonreligious justification for their views.” He cites, for example, the argument that “embryonic stem cells hold little scientific promise.” What about the argument that taking stem cells from human embryos involves their unjust killing? Does that argument deserve a response from supporters of the research, or is it illegitimately theological? If Beinart is implying the latter, he has a lot of company among his fellow liberals. They have tended to assume that opponents of the research are moved either by the view that human embryos have souls or by the condemnation of the research by religious authorities — neither of which is a valid reason for public policy.


I have followed (and participated in) the debate over stem-cell research since it became a national issue four years ago. In my experience, opponents of the research rarely bring up the possibility that embryos have souls. Slightly more often, religious supporters of the research will suggest that they do not have souls. The context in which the question of ensoulment most frequently comes up, however, is precisely the one in which it has come up here: the false suggestion by supporters that a view of ensoulment is what motivates opponents.


The Catholic church, to which I belong, is the leading institutional opponent of the intentional destruction of human embryos. It does not base its teaching on the belief that human embryos have souls. It has no definitive teaching on that point. Nor does it believe that Scripture yields a definitive view of the ethics of embryo research. Rather, it believes that it is rationally demonstrable that human embryos are human beings, ensouled or not. The “religious” component of the church’s teaching is the view that God wants us to do justice. Our knowledge of that desire does not help us ascertain what justice is in this case. To the extent that the Catholic church’s case against embryo destruction rests on “theology,” it is on a point that almost nobody, including atheists, wants to controvert: the requirement to do justice. And the argument the church makes is, essentially, the argument all opponents of embryo-destruction make. Those opponents do not generally believe, and do not argue, that God has told us in some direct way what the government’s policy toward stem-cell research should be. They understand themselves to be making reasoned arguments.


It may be said that apparently reasoned arguments against embryo destruction are really rationalizations for religious views. The opponents are overwhelmingly evangelicals and Catholics. It is certainly possible that our reasoning goes wrong because we are influenced by extra-rational, unacknowledged factors. But the reasoning of people from different religious traditions or none can go wrong, too. Atheists may have their own forms of rationalization, as do we all. Self-consciously secular thinkers can generate their own orthodoxies. Liberals tend to assume, without reflection, that the rational view of an issue is the one that most non-religious people take. The idea that a religious tradition could strengthen people’s reason — could help them reach rationally sound conclusions they might not otherwise reach — rarely occurs to them.


During the campaign, Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard quipped that John Kerry apparently believed that the fact that his church agreed with him about the wrongness of abortion was a reason not to act on that view. The mental tic Bottum neatly identified is a special case of liberalism’s general tendency to identify reason with irreligion.


Liberalism’s hymns to reason always end up truncating reason. They are pleas for open debate designed to rule things out of debate. John Rawls himself notoriously ruled that arguments against abortion could not meet the test of his “public reason” (a position from which he later backed away). To someone unsympathetic to liberals, it must begin to look like a kind of trick. Let us imagine a conservative who says that abortion should be illegal because it kills human beings. His liberal friend responds that this sort of theological talk is inadmissible in a democracy because it violates the rules of open debate. We can see that this liberal has misrepresented his friend’s views and shut down the discussion — all in the name of reasoned argument. Yet that conversation happens all the time in our politics, and somehow we don’t see it.


If I’m right about liberalism’s instinctive reflexes, then contemporary liberalism has forfeited the creed’s ancient claim to promote civil peace. The modern liberal version of separation of church and state is supposed to keep us from refighting the European wars of religion. That’s what the liberal justices on the Supreme Court tell us in their opinions in church-state cases. But if liberal secularism amounts to the unwitting imposition of the views of an irreligious minority on a religious majority, then it hardly seems likely to foster social harmony. Nor has it.




Liberalism’s confusions about church and state matter more now that we are in a war with actual theocrats, murderous ones. It is one thing to fight a war for religious freedom, pluralism, and modernity. It is another to fight a war for those things as liberals understand them. If the government were ever perceived to be thus defining the war, support for it would drop substantially, at home and abroad. Many Americans are uncomfortable with modern liberalism’s morality, and not because they have a streak of Osama within them.


Those liberals who liken America’s Christian conservatives to the Islamists have missed the beam in their own eyes. It is they, the liberals, who agree with the Islamofascists in important respects. Liberals believe that democracy entails abortion-on-demand, pornography, and easy divorce. So do the Islamists. Osama bin Laden, no less than Anthony Lewis, thinks that certainty yields tyranny — that we must choose between belief in an objective moral order, on one hand, and freedom, on the other. It is just that these agreements give him additional reasons to hate democracy and love tyranny.


Some people take this thought too far. There are conservatives who have claimed that the issuing of marriage licenses to homosexual couples in Massachusetts and San Francisco gave the Islamists a propaganda victory. Even Walter Russell Mead, though not to my knowledge a Christian conservative, suggests in his latest book that Americans should respond to the Islamist charges of decadence by “tak[ing] steps to make these charges less plausible in the future.”


The mirror image of a bad idea is rarely a good one. Garry Wills’s way of thinking about religion and politics needs to be discarded, not inverted. If we believe that justice demands same-sex marriage, then we should go ahead with it. If we think that changing the marriage laws in that way would be harmful for American society without advancing justice, then we shouldn’t. In neither case should we allow bin Laden any influence on our decision. Between the War on Terror and the “culture wars,” at least, let us have a wall of separation.




We all have moral bank accounts (, 050322)


Dennis Prager


If you’ve ever heard of a Ponzi scheme -- and almost every American has -- you will surely assume that Charles Ponzi, the man after whom the scam was named, was a bad man. He, like everyone else who ever started the scheme, cheated people out of their money. But a fascinating new biography of Charles Ponzi by Mitchell Zuckoff, “Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend,” reveals that a few years before inventing his scheme, Ponzi had given a fair amount of his skin so it could be grafted onto a woman who he learned was dying of severe burns. He suffered pain from this act of incredible generosity, which saved a person’s life. Yet, were it not for this biography, who would ever associate Ponzi with anything except scamming people out of their money?


I note this because it brings home a point that is often lost on most people -- religious or secular, conservative or liberal -- that human beings all have what I call moral bank accounts. Just like a real bank account into which we make monetary deposits and from which we make monetary withdrawals, we make moral deposits into and moral withdrawals from our moral bank accounts based on the actions we engage in during our lifetime.


Now, of course, some people make so many withdrawals -- Hitler, for example -- that no imaginable good act they can do will seriously change the balance from extremely negative to positive. But most people need to be assessed based on this bank account analogy. I first came up with this idea when Clarence Thomas was accused by Anita Hill and the Democratic Party of sexual harassment. Needless to say, no one knew for sure which party was telling the truth. But I made the argument on my radio show that given all the good Thomas had done, given the absence of indications of him ever acting indecently toward women employees, his moral bank account was, to the best our knowledge, quite in the black. Whether or not he said the words “pubic hair” in a conversation with Anita Hill 10 years earlier was of absolutely no concern to me in assessing his moral character -- i.e., the balance in his moral bank account.


Similarly, I wrote in this column and argued on radio that the dismissals of William Bennett made by people, conservatives and liberals alike, over revelations that he had gambled large sums of money were unfair even if one is opposed to gambling. Why? Because the gambling paled in comparison to how much good Mr. Bennett had done with his talks and books on moral character.


It was conservatives -- usually religious conservatives (whose social attitudes I so often identify with) -- who were particularly disturbed. If they had applied this notion of moral bank accounts to Bill Bennett, they would not have been.


Without a moral bank account, who among us, at some point in our lives, is not doomed to being perceived as having a moral balance in the red?


And at the same time, some people who have done true evil are given a free ride. I will never forget the attorney for a man who had kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered a young girl describing his client as “a good man who’d had a bad weekend.” No good that murderer ever did could outweigh the evil of that weekend. What I am asking for is moral perspective. If your spouse has been a good and loyal man/woman and a good and loving father/mother for 10, 20 or 30 years and had an unfaithful night on a business trip, do all those years of deposits into his/her moral bank account count for nothing?


Without the moral perspective a moral bank account gives us, good people are usually the greatest victims of our loss of moral perspective and bad people are the greatest beneficiaries. We exaggerate the good done by the generally bad, and the bad done by the generally good.


God, of course, is the ultimate judge of us all. But in the meantime, moral judgments must be made by us humans here on earth. And to do so we need perspective. Charles Ponzi heroically saved a woman’s life at a great personal price. His scheme was awful; but he was not. Likewise, Oskar Schindler saved many Jews during the Holocaust while regularly being unfaithful to his wife. Yet, we, correctly, I believe, regard Schindler as a moral hero.


I am for moral clarity and calling good “good” and evil “evil.” But we lose the war against evil and the war for good when we lose moral perspective. We all have moral bank accounts, and it’s good to make deposits because, God knows, we all make withdrawals.




A Call for Courage on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Christian Post, 050222)


The fault lines of controversy in contemporary Christianity range across a vast terrain of issues, but none seems quite so volatile as the question of gender. As Christians have been thinking and rethinking these issues in recent years, a clear pattern of divergence has appeared. At stake in this debate is something more important than the question of gender, for this controversy reaches the deepest questions of Christian identity and biblical authority.


For too long, those who hold to traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, deeply rooted in both Scripture and tradition, have allowed themselves to be pushed into a defensive posture. Given the prevailing spirit of the age and the enormous cultural pressure toward conformity, traditionalists are now accused of being woefully out of step and hopelessly out of date. Now is a good time to reconsider the issues basic to this debate and to reassert the arguments for biblical manhood and womanhood.


The most basic question in this controversy comes down to this: Has God created human beings as male and female with a revealed intention for how we are to relate to each other? The secular world is now deeply committed to confusion on these matters. Denying the Creator, the secular worldview understands gender to be nothing more than the accidental byproduct of blind evolutionary process. Therefore, gender is reducible to nothing more than biology and, as the feminists famously argued, biology is not destiny.


This radical rebellion against a divinely-designed pattern of gender has now reached the outer limits of imagination. If gender is nothing more than a biological accident, and if human beings are therefore not morally bound to take gender as meaningful, then the radical gender theorists and homosexual rights advocates are correct after all. For, if gender is merely incidental to our basic humanity, then we must be free to make whatever adjustments, alterations, or transformations in gender relationships any generation might desire or demand.


The postmodern worldview embraces the notion of gender as a social construct. That is, postmodernists argue that our notions of what it means to be male and female are entirely due to what society has constructed as its theories of masculinity and femininity. Of course, the social construction of all truth is central to the postmodern mind, but when the issue is gender, the arguments become more volatile. The feminist argument is reducible to the claim that patriarchal forces in society have defined men and women so that all the differences ascribed to women represent efforts by men to protect their position of privilege.


Of course, the pervasiveness of this theory explains why radical feminism must necessarily be joined to the homosexual agenda. For, if gender is socially constructed, and therefore differences between men and women are nothing more than social convention, then heterosexuality becomes nothing more than a culturally-privileged form of sexuality.


The utopia envisioned by ideological feminists would be a world free from any concern for gender--a world where masculinity and femininity are erased as antiquated notions, and an age in which the categories of male and female are malleable and negotiable. In the postmodern view, all structures are plastic and all principles are liquid. The influence of previous ages has molded us to believe that men and women are distinct in significant ways, but our newly liberated age will promise to free us from such misconceptions and point us toward a new world of transformed gender consciousness.


As Elizabeth Elliot once reflected: “Throughout the millennia of human history, up until the past two decades or so, people took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment. They accepted the way things were. But our easy assumptions have been assailed and confused, we have lost our bearings in a fog of rhetoric about something called equality, so that I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to belabor to educated people what was once perfectly obvious to the simplest peasant.”


In response to this, secular traditionalists argue that the historical experience of the human race affirms important distinctions between men and women and differing roles for the two sexes in both the family and in the larger society. The secular traditionalists have history on their side and their claim to authority is rooted in the accumulated wisdom of the ages. For evidence, these traditionalists would point to the consistent pattern of heterosexual marriage across cultures, and the undeniable historical reality that men have predominated in positions of leadership and that the roles of women have been largely defined around home, children, and family. Thus, these traditionalists warn that feminism poses a threat to social order and that the transformed gender consciousness that the feminists demand would lead to social anarchy.


Clearly, the traditionalists come to the debate with a strong argument. They do have history on their side and we must acknowledge that the historical experience of the human race is not insignificant. Some of the most honest feminist thinkers acknowledge that their very aim is to reverse this historical pattern and much of their scholarship is directed at identifying and excising this patriarchal pattern in the future. The problem with the secular traditionalist is that their argument is, in the end, essentially secular. Their argument is reducible to the claim that the inherited wisdom of human experience points to an oughtness and a moral imperative that should inform the present and the future. In the end, this argument, though powerful and seemingly meaningful, fails to persuade. Modern individuals have been trained from the cradle to believe that every generation makes itself anew and that the past is really past.


The modern ethic of liberation, now so deeply and thoroughly embedded in the modern mind, suggests that the traditions of the past may indeed be a prison from which the present generation should demand release. This is where biblical traditionalists must enter the debate with vigor. We do share much common ground of argument with the secular traditionalists. Biblical traditionalists affirm that the historical experience of mankind should be informative of the present. We also affirm that the enduring pattern of differing roles between men and women, combined with the centrality of the natural family, does present a compelling argument that should be understood as both descriptive and prescriptive. Nevertheless, the biblical traditionalist’s most fundamental argument goes far beyond history.


In this age of rampant confusion, we must recapture the biblical concept of manhood and womanhood. Our authority must be nothing less than the revealed Word of God. In this light, the pattern of history affirms what the Bible unquestionably reveals--that God has made human beings in His image as male and female, and that the Creator has revealed His glory in both the sameness and the differences by which He establishes human beings as male and female.


Confronted by the biblical evidence, we must make a vitally important interpretive decision. We must choose between two unavoidable options: either the Bible is affirmed as the inerrant and infallible Word of God, and thus presents a comprehensive vision of true humanity in both unity and diversity, or we must claim that the Bible is, to one extent or another, compromised and warped by a patriarchal and male-dominated bias that must be overcome in the name of humanity.


For biblical traditionalists the choice is clear. We understand the Bible to present a beautiful portrait of complementarity between the sexes, with both men and women charged to reflect God’s glory in a distinct way. Thus, there are very real distinctions that mark the difference between masculinity and femininity, male and female. Standing on biblical authority, we must critique both the present and the past when the biblical pattern has been compromised or denied. Likewise, we must point ourselves, our churches, and our children to the future, affirming that God’s glory is at stake in our response of obedience or disobedience to His design.


For too long, those who hold to the biblical pattern of gender distinctions have allowed themselves to be silenced, marginalized, and embarrassed when confronted by new gender theorists. Now is the time to recapture the momentum, force the questions, and show this generation God’s design in the biblical concept of manhood and womanhood. God’s glory is shown to the world in the complementarity of men and women. This crucial challenge is a summons to Christian boldness in the present hour.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




The Cause of Life--Where We Now Stand (Christian Post, 050127)


From our vantage point in the year 2005, we can now see that the twentieth century was a time of tremendous contrasts. Great advances were made in the fight for freedom. The century ended with millions liberated from enslavement to communism, fascism, and other ideologies of terror that marked the last one hundred years. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that the twentieth century was among the most barbaric epochs in human history. Millions were slaughtered in two world wars, in the ovens of death camps, in the killing fields of genocide, and on the altar of convenience.


Technological advances were matched to moral degeneration and reversal. For many, the twentieth century ended and the twenty-first century began with neither a bang or with a whimper--but with a silent scream.



Over the past three decades, Americans have aborted nearly 40-million unborn children. We have allowed an entire industry of murderous clinics to rise in our midst, and many politicians stand ready to defend, if not to celebrate, these abortuaries and their operators.


In an unprecedented reversal, even our language has been debased. Unborn infants have become “unintended products of conception,” or “unwanted biomass,” or even “uterine contents.” The murder of unborn siblings is called “selective reduction.” Abortuaries are called “reproductive health centers.” Our euphemisms betray our moral cowardice.


It is not as if Americans are unaware of the abortion industry. Millions of citizens have been brought face-to-face with the reality of partial birth abortion--the most horrible, barbaric, and grotesque technique of legalized infanticide--and yet it took years to outlaw the practice. Then, within a matter of months, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 was invalidated by the federal courts. And so, the losses mount.


The Nazi regime based its race policies on the claim that some human beings are unworthy of life. The Nazi concept of Lebens unwerten Lebens led to the death camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Treblinka. Jews, gypsies, and others identified as “inferior races” perished in the ovens of the concentration camps. The disabled, the sick, the mentally ill--all these were murdered at the order of the regime, and they were murdered by the millions.


Looking back from the vantage point of half a century, one of the most perplexing and troubling questions is this: How could the cultured, educated, and supposedly Christian citizens of Germany have allowed, participated in, and cooperated with this regime of murder? This is perhaps the hardest question.


At the end of the war, when the camps were liberated and the ovens were opened, Allied officers forced German citizens from cities and villages near the camps to walk through the gates, walk through the corpses, see the ovens, and know of their own guilt.

I firmly believe that a day is coming when American citizens will be forced to walk into the abortion clinics, hear the suction machines, see the dismembered children, face the little corpses, look into their own hearts, and know their own guilt.


I am convinced that America now faces one of the great decision points in her history. We have reached the point that the atrocities pile one upon the other. Americans tolerate and support a vast killing machine murdering the unborn--and we push it out of sight and out of mind.



We have endured years of political setbacks and judicial reversals, but there also have been noteworthy successes. Each amounts to a small step forward after many steps backward. The passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act is a cause for hope, as is the slow transformation of the nation’s conscience. Subtle shifts in the national mind indicate the promise of more fundamental changes to come. We must nurture this hope.


We must not be deterred by those who warn us against “single issue politics,” for this is the singular issue of our times--the most significant and urgent issue before our nation.


Some claim that it is always darkest before the dawn. We must hope that this is more than a cliche. We must hope that it is true.


On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision that gave legal justification to slavery and declared that black persons have no rights or legal protections. In the words of the decision, the black man has “no rights which any white man is bound to respect.” The court further ruled that the Congress has no power to prohibit slavery in the respective states.


The decision was devastating, and March 6, 1857 was one of the darkest days of American history. The abolitionist movement appeared to be defeated, and their spirits were almost broken.


Nevertheless, within ten years of the decision, slavery had been abolished and Dred Scott was a bad memory. This reminds us that a nation’s memory can be changed.


Roe v. Wade is the Dred Scott of the twentieth century. There is reason for hope. We must pray that the time will come when Roe v. Wade is remembered only as a horrible reminder of what we as a nation once did, and once accepted.


Another ray of hope comes in the increasing recognition that the fetus is a person--a human being--deserving of rights. I recently read the testimony of a young feminist who stated that she could not have an abortion, nor would her friends do so. Why? Because they had seen the sonograms and the images of the fetus in the womb. As her friends put it: “The fetus beat us.”


The sonograms and ultrasounds reveal the lies of those who claim that the fetus is not a person, not a human being.


This is the time for a new abolitionism--the time to abolish the horrible practice of abortion. We must contend for the right to life, for the born and the unborn.


What should we do? We should educate, agitate, organize, and keep this issue before the nation’s conscience. We must keep the issue before the culture, and we must not settle for silence.


We must support and elect leaders and elected officials who are advocates for life, and remove all those who defend abortion.


We must work for progress on all fronts--supporting parental notification laws, outlawing partial birth abortions, and working for the legal recognition of the rights of the unborn. We must press ahead step by step.


Once the conscience of the nation is kindled, the consuming fire of judgment will follow. The public will demand an end to abortion and will celebrate again the gift of life.


We must not lose heart!


In Deuteronomy chapter 30 the Lord addressed His own people with a word of promise and of judgment:


But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you might observe it. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life and live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days . . . .

[Deuteronomy 30: 14-20a]


The choice was put before the children of Israel, and it is put before America as a nation. We are told to embrace life, to choose life, to protect life, and to preserve life. The most important choice we face is the irreducible and unavoidable choice between life and death.


There is another important dimension to this text that demands our attention. A nation that rejects God will embrace death. We believe that life is sacred because God created human beings in His own image. A nation that rejects God will inevitably, if progressively, devalue life and embrace death--however it is disguised. A nation that rejects Christ is eventually a nation without a conscience.


The challenge presented to the children of Israel is presented now to the children of a new American century. By God’s grace, let us lead America to choose life.


[Editor’s note: This article is based on an address Dr. Mohler delivered to commemorate the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.]




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




Robust faith III (, 050326)


Doug Giles


The unfeigned faith of Christians has always had four common characteristics that bettered the Church and constructively altered culture.


The traits were the following:


1. They incorporated what they believed into their daily grind.

2. They bumped up the quality of their spiritual experience.

3. They had a passion for effective action.

4. They labored for personal, ecclesiastical and national reform.

* These points were originally taken from J.I. Packer and then mangled by me.


With points one and two under our belt, I’ll turn what’s left of my brain’s attention to point three, namely: a passion for effective action.


Wherever and whenever Christians forcefully delivered a holy spiritual punch to the demonic gut and brought life, light and liberty to people and places, it was because they had dreams without being dreamy.  They had a practical faith which worked in the mud, a faith that was not nebulous, vapid, ridiculous or insipid.  They were people who were supernaturally natural, who did not forego working in this world to be caught up in the world to come.  Y’know the type: the eye-fluttering, angel-seeing, super-spiritual religious caricature who is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good; the sort who dreams about how he would rather be in heaven while he tints his windows against the headaches here on the earth. Yes, the Christians who have altered the planet for the glory of God had both a positive Bible-based vision of what could and should be and a resolute will to get their butts in gear to do that which should be done.


When Christianity has been a contender within its culture, the Church has had low tolerance for the lazy, passive, airy and indecisive disciple who thinks it’s not his job to change the world.  Savory Christian cultural architects actually believed God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, and thus clipped along at an energetic pace, establishing Christ’s view of justice, mercy and righteousness.


Today, too much of the Church can be characterized as pessimistic and passive, always willing to believe the worst as long as it takes as little energy as possible.  The beliefs that societal wrongs cannot be corrected because the world is supposed to slide into an anti-Christ-run keg party, or that the job doesn’t belong to the laity but to the clergy, have left tens of thousands of believers about as active in the world as Howard Hughes was during flu season.


I think the Church’s current pessimism toward Biblical change has led to a sluggishness that makes a sloth look like a worker bee.  And the kicker is that sloth/ passivity/laziness now flies today, mostly uncondemned, under the banner of a venial sin, not seen as it has historically been seen, which is as the complicit vice and partner of evil.


Yeah … because Christian inactivity doesn’t make the evening news like an affair, avarice or anger would, sloth/passivity is seen as less egregious and is even pitched by the secular media as the right thing for Christians to do since we should be, supposedly, separated from the affairs of the state.


Well, even though grass-munching bovine lethargy might go down in our current scat-laden Laodicean culture, it does not, has not and will not fly with our concerned Creator.  God sees inactivity as criminal and a deadly sin when we do not lift our voice or our hand to help in the time of need, especially in the face of injustice, when the situation demands that the Church get up off its Lays-enlarged glutes and do something.


In contrast to the indolent and gloomy quasi-religious crowd, the salvific saints of souls and society have always been set apart by the hope and heat they carry within which manifests in good works without.  They know that time is on their side and that their efforts are not going to go unnoticed and ineffectively down the crapper.


Thus, they are, as J.I. Packer said, “crusading activists without a jot of self-reliance; workers of God who depend utterly on God to work in and through them and who always give God the praise for anything they do that in retrospect seems to them to have been right; gifted men who prayed earnestly that God would enable them to use their powers, not for self display, but for his praise … [They were people] who made strong prayers privately before tackling any matter of importance.”


These transformers were not known for singing kum-ba-yah for too long.  They did not wrap themselves in warm gurgling bubbles of a feel-good hot-tub religion when the situation screamed for activity.  They understood that when insanity seems sane and unfaithfulness appears okey dokey, to settle for business-as-usual Christianity would be a slap in God’s face and act of hatred toward their fellow man.  Yes, they were men and women who had a passion for effective action.


Would that describe you?




Robust Faith or Flabby Religion? Part IV (, 050402)


Doug Giles


Throughout history, the Christians who have rocked Satan’s world by evangelism and establishing the good society have been people who:


1. Incorporated what they believed into their daily grind,

2. Bumped up the quality of their spiritual experience,

3. Had a passion for effective action, and

4. Labored for personal, ecclesiastical and national renewal.


I covered points one, two and three in my last three columns, and here’s my stab at point four: Laboring for personal, ecclesiastical and national renewal.


As I stated, believers who successfully carried out the creation and evangelistic mandates understood the need for constant rejuvenation.  Yes, these believers comprehended the innate spiritual rot which unsurprisingly and easily crept in on them, their church and their nation.


Appreciative of this nefarious bent, these Christians intentionally and constantly prodded themselves Godward.  Yeah, the effective believers who shaped culture stirred up their lukewarm hearts, stifled their lower cortex monkey brain and labored earnestly against the grain for an enriched understanding of God’s truth, stoked spiritual affections, and more resolution regarding their calling in life.


These useful believers were ever mindful of the fact that no matter what a person has accomplished, what a church has done in the past or what our nation has formerly stood for, as long as there are humans involved, there must be the incessant rousing of God’s gifts and graces, or all our progress will derail like an AmTrak and become a fraction of what it could be.


Unfortunately, within large portions of evangelicalism and Catholicism today, a serious examination of one’s faith is as about as popular as Michael Schiavo would be at a Focus on the Family luncheon.  This is sad because everywhere constructive personal criticism of one’s relationship with Christ occurred, the individual, the church and inevitably the nation got blessed.


If the church would take a regular hard look at itself now, bolster the things which are great and kick to the curb the crud that impedes us, we would be more fit to powerfully impact the nation in which we reside.  A Christian’s desire to biblically better the planet demands that we constantly revamp our graces because of the tremendous task which is set before us.  Renewal in the scripture is always preceded by reality, and reality can sometimes be brutal.  This is why we avoid it.


For the individual believers who want to revive their walk/spirit, here’s a brief and incomplete reality check to help determine where we are in our walks with God.


1. Do you have a never ending search for pleasure?  People who are always chasing pleasures, who must have their lives filled with innumerable toys and must always be playing, are probably straying from what is grand and noble.  Sure we’ve got to rest and have fun, no arguments here.  What I’m talking about is the pleasure monger who is addicted to fun and allergic to godly duty.  A Christian in this condition is in no condition to challenge a low ranking demon.


2. Are you deficient in devotions?  One sure sign that you are slowly corroding is that your Bible is dustier than Lubbock, Texas in April.  When the heart loves God, real communion with Him and His word is a must, and you don’t need your aunt with a mustache guilt-tripping you into reading the scripture.


3. Do you look like a robot at Church?  Here’s what I mean: Y’know the type, the person sings, speaks or does anything in God’s name with all the excitement of Sean Hannity carpooling with Jesse Jackson after Jesse has just eaten two bean burritos.  Yes, a robotic, scraped-frontal-lobe, Tin-man-like way of saying and doing spiritual exercises is clearly a result of rote rather than the outflow of one’s heart, and it’s a sign that you need revitalization and a Red Bull.


4. Do you blow off church for slight reasons?  Listen, I know some churches are about as inspiring as Richard Lewis reading Lamentations in Latin after drinking six bottles of NyQuil.  But you and I know that there are a great number of Christ-centered churches that are doing a faithful, energetic job for Christ.  Now, if just one of these gatherings takes place in a home or in a building in your city and you know about it and you miss it for some lame reason on a regular basis, then you, my friend, are probably not doing as hot as you think you are.


5. Do you avoid spiritual conversations, or is what you do have to say about God inane? Look, when it is easier and more engaging to talk about any and everything other than God and His cause, you might have a problem.  Or if your contribution to a conversation comes to screeching halt when the things of God are mentioned, or your depth of contribution makes Paris Hilton sound like C.S. Lewis, you might need to pull your Christian life to the curb for an oil check.


My ClashPoint is this:  The cold hard reality is that our carnal man wants to take hold of God as much as Ted Nugent wants to soul kiss Janet Reno.  As believers, we naturally will go from bad to worse.  And as the church goes, there goes the culture.  Therefore, it’s incumbent for the believer to be busting his hump to make certain his love toward God, man and that which is holy, just and good never, ever, becomes tepid and tame.




Protecting the lives of others is fundamental to civilization (, 050509)


Donald R. May M.D.


Protecting family members and others who cannot defend themselves is fundamental to a civilized society.  Terri Schiavo’s family, and many others, tried to protect her because that is what wild animals and civilized humans do for their own kind.


When a migrating goose is ill or injured, other geese stay with the downed goose until it can fly again or dies.  They do not drown the disabled goose so they can conveniently resume their flight.


The concept that physicians should not kill unborn babies or hasten the deaths of patients came from Hippocrates, a 400 BC Greek pagan.  As Western Civilization rose from barbarism and feudalism, family members and servants could no longer be killed at will by those with power.  Until recently, defending life was a cornerstone of Western Civilization.


Our Judeo-Christian heritage is one of life and not of death.  Life is proclaimed in the first five books of the Old Testament written after the exodus from Egypt and ancient Egypt’s obsession with death.  The current efforts of the secular left are not only directed against life and other fundamental Judeo-Christian values but are actually an attempt to marginalize and destroy the basic values of Western Civilization.


The rapid decline of our societal values is dismaying.  However, contrary to what is presented to us by most of the news media, Americans retain their traditional values.  According to a Zogby Poll taken shortly after the death of Terri, 79% of those questioned would have opposed taking food and water away from Terri Schiavo had they known the facts in her case.


The glue of families and civilizations is the understanding that the members will care for and protect those who cannot help themselves, including children, the elderly, and the disabled.  Family stability cannot survive when a husband can kill his wife with court sanction even when she is not terminally ill, governments can order the execution of disabled persons who have committed no crime, death can be hastened by withdrawing water and food (it takes longer but the result is the same as a barbiturate overdose or lethal injection), and the unborn survive at the convenience of their mother.  If the family fails, so will our Nation and civilization.


The political left has claimed to champion the rights of the disabled and opposes capital punishment for criminals.  However, these same liberals pushed for the expeditious death of Terri Schiavo and few liberals rose up to oppose her execution.  This should have a very chilling effect on the disabled and all of us.


As a surgeon, I have observed the rising clamor that the last six months of someone’s life takes the greatest amount of health care dollars.  The obvious solution they are seeking is to eliminate people before they consume this final amount of health care.  It is essentially impossible to determine the time of the last six months of anyone’s life.  Not to be deterred, some on the political left have a ready answer, simply deny all medical care to those over the age of 75 or 80.


By killing the unproductive, money will be saved by governments, insurance, and heirs.  Is this why so many of the political left and news media oppose making Social Security financially viable and able to provide increased retirement income?  Is execution to be society’s final solution for the solvency of the welfare state?


It is becoming increasingly expedient to eliminate an unwanted pregnancy, a malformed child, an infant of an undesired sex, a disabled person, the elderly, and others who are nonproductive, inconvenient, and do not vote.  When we no longer have the will to take care of others in peril and need, we will no longer be able to depend on others to care for us when we are similarly afflicted.


History has shown us how easy it is to accelerate the elimination of the inconvenient as the Nazis did starting in 1935.  Not only did they eradicate ethnic and religious groups they also killed large numbers of disabled persons.  Veteran’s homes, insane asylums, and hospitals were rapidly emptied with German citizens being the first victims of the gas chambers and crematoriums.  My friend Fritz’s father was in a German veterans’ hospital in 1939.  Fritz visited his father on Friday finding him in apparently sound health.  On Monday a letter was received that his father died on Sunday of pneumonia.


The Dutch physicians refused to euthanize for the Nazis during WWII.  Ironically, they now lead the push for euthanasia.  Many Dutch are now so fearful of being prematurely terminated, as physicians apparently frequently disregard government euthanasia regulations, they wear medical bracelets stating they do not want euthanasia.


Killing Terri added power to liberal tyranny.  The socialist elite, including judges, will increasingly determine who will be born, live, and die.  If they succeed, we will enter a very frightening and dreary new world.


The attacks on families and civilized values, including life, are deeply troubling.  It is time for us and for our elected leaders to stand with courage to protect the defenseless and to move the United States back to its Constitutional foundations.


“History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline.  There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”  General Douglas McArthur


Dr. May resides in Lubbock, Texas and is a retina surgeon; he lectures on economics, and he has been on the faculties of the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, the University of California, Tulane University, and Texas Tech Health Sciences University. He has lectured and taught surgery throughout the United States and in Canada, China, India, Japan, Great Britain, and Western Europe.




>>Politics Without God—Europe’s Secular Crisis (Christian Post, 050602)


The continent of Europe is now experiencing a civilizational crisis. Once the cradle of Western civilization, Europe is transforming itself into a hyper-modern culture of nearly undiluted secularism. Once constituted by a sense of Christian identity, Europe is now attempting a vast experiment in secularism, and this experiment shows no signs of ending anytime soon.


George Weigel has been watching these developments closely. Weigel is a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center [EPPC] in Washington, D.C., and is one of the nation’s most influential public intellectuals. Well known for his massive biography of Pope John Paul II, Weigel is a Roman Catholic theologian who knows secularism when he sees it--and understands what inevitably follows when a civilization rejects the very Christian worldview on which it was established.


In The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, Weigel presents a magisterial analysis of Europe’s current plight. The title of the book directs attention to the central architectural metaphor of his thesis--the contrast between La Grande Arche de la Defense and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The Grand Arch was built under the direction of the late French president Francois Mitterand and was designed by modernist architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen. The Grand Arch stands far west of the Arc de Triomphe, and is massive by any comparison, standing almost 40 stories tall and wider than a football field. Constructed of glass and white Carrara marble, the Grand Arch is a parable of postmodernism, for its grand scale points to no particular meaning.


Weigel’s interest in the arch was seasoned by an architectural guidebook that claimed that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit within the space of the Great Arch--including the cathedral’s towers and spire.


Considering the two architectural marvels--the cube and the cathedral--Weigel saw a metaphor for the contrast between secular and Christian Europe. “All of which raised some questions in my mind, as I walked along the terrace admiring one of the world’s great cityscapes,” Weigel remembers. “Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights? Which culture would more firmly secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy ‘unsaneness’ of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?”


Another contrast also framed Weigel’s attention--the divergence of America and Europe in the new century. “In the first years of the twenty-first century, and in a moment in history when the democratic ideal had energized much of the world, Americans suddenly seemed to be approaching a parting of the ways with many of our European friends in understanding the democratic project--its sources, its possibilities, and the threats to it.”


The European project is in trouble, Weigel asserts. The evidence is now unassailable. For some years, Europe has experienced a fall in births that now portends a net decrease in population. At the same time, the countries of Western Europe have become increasingly populated by Islamic immigrants, who are not only moving into Western Europe in large numbers, but are reproducing at rates far above the native population. Observers from many disciplines now project an Islamic future for Europe. Last week’s referendum in France, in which French citizens overwhelmingly rejected the proposed constitution for the European Union, only serves to complicate the picture. That very document had been the focus of controversy in recent months as the drafting committee had chosen to make no reference at all to the Christian sources of European civilization.


Weigel’s diagnosis of the European problem is clear and profound. He argues that Europe’s ambition to build a democratic project on a completely secular foundation is doomed to fail. In his view, Europe is now suffering a “crisis of civilizational morale” that can be directly attributed to its self-imposed decision to sever its future from its past.


In a fascinating analysis, Weigel draws upon legal scholar J. H. H. Weiler, who accuses leading European intellectuals of being “Christophobic,” and absolutely determined to eliminate or prevent any influence from Christianity.


For the most part, Europe’s intellectual class has adopted this secular project, apparently without reservation. Weigel argues his case clearly: “European high culture is largely Christophobic, and Europeans themselves describe their cultures and societies as post-Christian.”


Of course, falling birth rates and a loss of cultural morale do not emerge from an historical vacuum. Weigel traces many of the historical factors that convinced a large number of European intellectuals to see Christianity as the cause rather than the solution to civilizational crisis. Devastated by two world wars and humiliated by the Holocaust, Europe is reaping a whirlwind of cultural destruction, the seeds of which were sown early in the twentieth century.


A civilization’s historical memory is crucial in the development of its self-consciousness and its approach to the future. Weigel draws upon Henri de Lubac’s theology of history to suggest that the rise of European civilization was, at least in part, made possible by the adoption of a Christian understanding of history. Whereas the ancients understood human beings to be the toys and playthings of capricious pagan deities, the God of the Bible revealed Himself as the Lord of history, who is accomplishing his beneficent purposes in the unfolding of time. Thus, “History was an arena of responsibility and purpose because history was the medium through which the one true God made himself known to his people and empowered them to lead lives of dignity, through the intelligence and free will with which he had endowed them in creation.”


The process of secularization has affected all advanced societies, but the ideology of secularism has taken hold of the European mind. In Weigel’s words: “European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular. That conviction has had crucial, indeed lethal, consequences for European public life and European culture. Indeed, that conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe’s contemporary crisis of civilizational morale. That crisis of civilizational morale, in turn, helps explain why European man is deliberately forgetting his history.”


Europe is in big trouble precisely because it now insists that democratic values can be established without the distinctive teachings of Christianity. As Weigel understands, Christianity establishes a transcendent understanding of human dignity, a clear affirmation of human responsibility, and the elaboration of a moral order that makes civilization possible. In committing itself to the path of radical secularism, Europe is setting the stage for its own destruction.


When postmodern European intellectuals insist that European culture must be marked by “neutrality toward worldviews,” they set themselves against both history and experience. In essence, this claim is tantamount to the arrogant supposition that human beings can establish their own dignity and demand that other human beings--completely without an account of transcendent values--will then rationally recognize and respect that dignity. How, after the hard lessons of the twentieth century, can European intellectuals hold such beliefs?


In denying their past, these secular European intellectuals undercut their own future. “To deny that Christianity had anything to do with the evolution of free, law-governed, and prosperous European societies is, as I’ve argued above, more than a question of falsifying the past: it is also a matter of creating a future in which moral truth has no role in governance, in the determination of public policy, in understandings of justice, and in the definition of that freedom which democracy is intended to embody,” Weigel asserts.


Americans have a stake in this, to be sure. As Weigel warns, the European problem could “metastasize” to the United States. In any event, the close ties between Europe and the United States should be sufficient to demand the attention of thoughtful Americans.


In the end, Weigel suggests several alternative futures for European civilization and its postmodern experiment. Among these, he holds hope that Europe may reaffirm its Christian heritage and recover a lost patrimony. Evangelicals would surely insist that this is far more likely to happen at the level of common citizens, rather than as an organized redirection of the cultural elites.


George Weigel is an insightful historian whose analysis of the European crisis is largely transferable to our American context. After all, a class of American intellectuals desires and intends to move American culture precisely in the European direction--towards a sanitized and secularized culture that will attempt democracy without God. If these trends are not reversed, America could be just like Europe, but with a delayed fuse.




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




Reaping What We Sow—The Harvest of Moral Relativism (Christian Post, 050729)


A culture, like an individual, reaps what it sows. The seed of honor produces a harvest of honorable acts. The seed of anger eventually yields violence. The law of the harvest is part of the divine design for human society, and it allows no exceptions. A society which sows reverence for life will reap a culture of kindness and a legacy of respect. A people shorn of this seed will eventually produce a harvest of unspeakable horror, anguish, and inhumanity.


America is now living on the tattered remnants of a post-Christian culture. The tapestry of permanent truths is not completely gone; here and there a fragment appears. But the moral fabric of this culture has been torn asunder by the clipping shears of moral revisionism. The threads now stand loose and bare, and American society has few defenses against the barbarians.


The story of the 20th century is framed by the overarching theme of moral relativism. Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot, and a host of other moral relativists worked this theme thoroughly into the story of that century, but they have been joined by millions of modern Americans--relativists to the core--who are laws and gods unto themselves. Now, in the 21st century, we face unprecedented dangers posed by world terrorism and a threatening breakdown of the world order. At the center of these developments is the loss of any shared moral vision.


The clear dictates of Scripture are now commonly rejected as out of date and without authority. A society which denies God is not long held back by the prescription of His Word. Such a society soon learns that morality cannot be determined by democratic debate and majority vote, so it rebels against any moral code at all and retreats into the confusion of 250 million individuals--each with his or her own “values.”


G.K. Chesterton, whose moral compass was as solid as any in the last century, knew that Soviet totalitarianism was doomed to failure. But he feared the rise of a more enduring and peculiarly American form of moral relativism. “The madness of tomorrow,” he predicted, “is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.” His prophetic words should humble the American heart, for he saw the future clearly. That future is now our present.


The devastating loss of moral absolutes is nowhere better seen than in America’s rejection of the sanctity of human life. No barometer could provide a clearer reading of our moral condition. In the past 31 years, over 40 million unborn babies have been sacrificed on the altar of human convenience. Much talk about abortion has been centered on the so-called “hard cases” which supposedly stand behind liberalized abortion laws, but the truth remains that the vast majority of abortions are performed for nothing more pressing than convenience.


The Alan Guttmacher Institute (a research agency of Planned Parenthood) has reported that 75 percent of persons seeking abortion stated that having the child would “interfere with their lives.” Other research indicates that over 95 percent of all abortions are performed just because the parents do not want to be inconvenienced by the child.


America now reaps what decades of moral decay have sown. Children are now seen as burdens to be avoided. The blessing of the womb becomes a “product of conception” to be terminated at will by the parents’ “freedom of choice.” The new moral vocabulary itself reveals the depravity of our national soul.


Abortion must be faced for what it is--the rejection of human life as defined by the Creator in favor of a definition the human writes for himself. One cannot deny the sanctity of life, nor hide behind such theological or moral relativism, without denying the authority of God Himself, who created all things living and unliving, and who breathed life into dust, creating men and women in His own image.


Children--born and unborn--have become pawns in our national debate. Many children who escape the abortionist are treated as non-persons by their families and by society at large. Millions of American children live lonely lives of emotional and spiritual--if not physical--abandonment.


Public policy actually puts traditional families with children at a disadvantage in the marketplace and the tax system. The nuclear family is no longer acknowledged as the foundation of civilized society, but is castigated as patriarchal and oppressive. That which was ordained by God is now rejected and despised by His rebellious creatures. The sanctity of life is not settled by merely protecting the womb; it must be extended to all of life.


The same society which transformed abortion from a crime to a right now considers the ending of life its rightful domain. Physicians now debate their role in ending life. Length of days is to be defined by technology and convenience, not by the decree of the Creator. In the name of compassion, the new moral authorities would use their own definition of the “quality of life” to determine who should live and who should die. Again, the new dictionary betrays the reality: Voluntary euthanasia soon gives way to involuntary euthanasia and what is now piously described as the “responsibility to die.”


A host of other issues demand Christian moral attention. Medical research now targets the human embryo as an engine for the development of medical treatments through the manipulation of stem cells. Human cloning has moved from science fiction to active research and experimentation. A new form of eugenics targets those who fail to measure up to a devised standard of physical, intellectual, and genetic superiority.


A world which has in the last century alone witnessed the horrors of Auschwitz, the Soviet gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, Nazi “medicine,” and two world wars has no reason to trust its own “values.” Chesterton once remarked that the mark of the barbarian is “the sacrifice of the permanent to the temporary.” In the midst of a new barbarism, it is the church’s task to speak permanent truths to a rebellious world. The church, too, will reap what it sows.


[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on June 23, 2004.]




R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.




Bonhoeffer Now (Christian Post, 060206)


“Bonhoeffer Was Wrong,” screams a headline in the National Catholic Reporter, atop an article by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (January 27). For balance, then, should we also read “Schroth Is Right”? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by Hitler and company one month before Germany surrendered, is the subject of a PBS documentary tonight. Watch it and think about “wrong” and “right.” (For the record, the film, directed by Martin Doblmeier, is getting good advance reviews and much notice — for example, almost a full page in the weekend USA Today.) Schroth is a humanities professor and informed writer of note on Catholic subjects.


Schroth asks, why notice Bonhoeffer now, apart from his 100th birthday anniversary this week? Why? Schroth: “Every day we read the news from Washington and Iraq — both denials of and justifications for torture from the same administration,” et cetera, “all without a peep from our so-called religious guides. We ask ourselves, who will speak for Christians? Bonhoeffer?” Schroth quotes Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who sides with Bonhoeffer, both of them believing that “the character of a society and state is to be judged by the willingness to have the Gospel preached truthfully and freely.” Also, in the Jesuit America, David L. Martinson used Bonhoeffer’s theory of truth to “criticize journalists who fail to report ‘what is really going on’ in Iraq” (January 2-9). Again, et cetera.


Schroth sees parallels between then and now: in the film “we can’t help noticing that the Gestapo taps citizens’ phone lines, tortures its prisoners, and slaps suspects into jail without lawyers or trials for years.” Doblmeier produced this film before those practices reached front pages here, and so may have intended his work to deal with timeless issues. But Schroth’s judgment is that Bonhoeffer is a pastor for our time “in courage, yes,” but “in moral judgment, no.” Why? Because the Sermon on the Mount leaves no wiggle room for political assassination, and Bonhoeffer, a pacifist, was killed for having been a part of the almost-successful plot to kill Hitler in 1944. Jesus and Immanuel Kant both forbid such plotting and killing. A bit casuistically, I thought — but what do I know? — Schroth says that such radical action may be all right “in civil disobedience,” when “one protests an unjust law and takes public responsibility”; but “beware” of going “above, outside or around the law.”


Was Bonhoeffer wrong? Is Schroth right? Had the plot been successful, had Hitler been killed and Nazi leadership thrown into chaos, there might well have been moves toward a German surrender. Many millions of Jews and others would have lived. But if one takes the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ teaching and follows it literally — which few do; I don’t, or I’d be a pacifist, too — one can’t kill, as Bonhoeffer’s group hoped to kill Hitler. And Bonhoeffer had four centuries of Lutheran theological gene-pooling behind him, with its accent on Paul in Romans 13, where “whoever resists [the ‘higher powers’] shall receive damnation,” so he had to be a traitor and take a theological risk. (Does anyone notice that, at the decisive moment, Luther resisted authority — his ‘Caesar’ — with a “here I stand?”)


I am glad Bonhoeffer left the witness he did. But at a recent forum on the film, while I called the theologian a martyr, I had to call him a “guilty martyr” — and thanked God for him, at his 100th birthday. “Is Marty Wrong?” Perhaps.




Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at




Evangelicals and the Brave New World: Why Natural Law Can No Longer Be Ignored (Christian Post, 060907)


Infertile couples desperate to conceive children are turning increasingly to fertility specialists for help. Yet, widespread use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has led to a completely unforeseen consequence: the creation of the world’s largest population of frozen human embryos. That reality has ignited a vigorous moral debate among scientists, politicians, theologians, and parents about what should be done with the surplus store of nascent human life.


The challenge for pro-life evangelicals is to develop systematic moral reasoning that can be applied to a range of issues including embryo adoption, human embryonic stem cell research, ART, “therapeutic cloning,” genetic engineering, and birth control. Evangelicals tend to be pragmatic, wedding political activism with biblical appeals, but this has resulted in moral reflection operating on a mostly private and intuitive plane. The tragic pitfall with this style of ethical decision-making is that adverse spiritual and moral consequences often go undetected. When faced with new advances in reproductive technology, this inability to approach new developments within a consistent moral framework can prove to be a dangerous weakness.


Currently, in the United States alone, nearly 500,000 human embryos are being cryopreserved at some 430 fertility clinics. A staggering 88 percent of these embryos, which are only a few days old and much smaller than the dot on this i, were created by doctors for use in some form of assisted reproduction.


The most common ART technique is in vitro fertilization with embryo transfer (IVF-ET), in which a woman is induced to produce multiple eggs where four to six of the most viable are retrieved and then fertilized in the laboratory, with the resulting embryos transferred to the woman’s uterus. At the best clinics, the success rate for each in vitro attempt is between 25 and 50 percent.


Each in vitro attempt can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $18,000 (or more) for doctor’s fees, plus thousands more for drugs to stimulate ovulation. To decrease the probability of complications associated with higher order multiple pregnancies only two to three embryos are usually transferred to the uterus in each in vitro attempt.


ART doctors typically respond by producing more embryos than are feasible to implant in utero at a single time. This overproduction of embryos requires the surplus to be stored for later possible use.


With the routine overproduction of embryos in IVF-ET questions arise that science alone cannot answer. Technology, it seems, has outpaced our understanding of the fundamental legal, political, theological, and moral issues in the creation and management of human embryos.


Christians and defenders of human dignity who acknowledge embryos to be preborn persons have a dual responsibility to protect the innocent and also to do no harm. The stakes are high because, as Ron Stoddart founder of Nightlight Christian Adoptions stresses, “An embryo is not a potential human life—it is human life with potential.”


Four U.S. embryo adoption programs facilitate embryo adoption: Nightlight Christian Adoptions, Center for Human Reproduction, Bethany Christian Services, and the National Embryo Donation Center. The goal of each is to transfer frozen donor embryos to infertile recipients who intend to use them to procreate.


At first glance, embryo adoption appears to be a life-affirming response to the vast number of frozen embryos being stored at fertility clinics. And it certainly is compared to the 100 percent mortality rate for human embryos used in stem cell research. Yet, it is not without problems. In embryo adoption, as in IVF-ET, it often takes repeated attempts before a successful pregnancy is achieved with frozen donor embryos.


At this point, what is the relevant moral difference between IVF-ET and embryo adoption? Have the embryos lost in unsuccessful thawing and transfer attempts been treated properly as individually unique and personal beings created in God’s image? Can any form of technology that instrumentalizes life, regardless of the ultimate use to which it is put, be morally satisfying? These questions point to a moral Catch-22 for Christians who support IVF-ET and embryo adoption. Embryo adoption is, at best, a response to the embryo surplus created by IVF-ET, which itself raises fundamental moral questions that Protestant ethicists have not yet probed in sufficient depth.


Among Protestants in general, there is an absence of critical moral discernment on bioethical issues outside the scope of abortion debate. This stems, in part, from Protestant skepticism toward natural law (God’s will as expressed in creation, imprinted on the conscience, and known through reason) and from an underdeveloped role for the legal, as opposed to the teaching, aspect of ethics. Informing people what principles ought to guide their conduct and what actions are morally illicit is the teaching aspect of ethics, whereas developing theological and philosophical criteria to adjudicate the morality and severity of illicit human acts is the legal aspect.


The now-neglected legal aspect of Protestant ethics was once a vital part of Anglican and Puritan moral theology. Older Protestant luminaries developed texts on “cases of conscience,” which attempted to discern whether a specific behavior was right or wrong and to evaluate the moral gravity of wrong behavior. They were assisted in this project by their appropriation of Christian Aristotelian philosophy and the natural-law tradition.


Routine overproduction of embryos and high mortality rates suggest that IVF-ET degrades and instrumentalizes the very life it seeks to create. The fundamental purpose of every embryo is to realize its own life: to fulfill its divine purpose of achieving life as a rational, social, creative, spiritual, and morally free and responsible person. In assisted reproduction and cryopreservation—unlike in normal conception and gestation—the natural progression of an embryo’s life from potential to actual can be temporarily interrupted, stalled for a time, or worse, permanently thwarted from achieving its purpose.


So aside from the issue of what to do with surplus embryos, the more fundamental question remains: How will pro-life Christian supporters of IVF-ET and embryo adoption resolve the moral Catch-22 brought to light by the vast stores of nascent human life? Protestants need to think seriously about this moral paradox and to retrieve older, more sophisticated traditions in ethics—such as natural law—to provide assistance.


This commentary is adapted from a longer essay that first appeared in the July/August edition of BreakPoint Worldview magazine.




Stephen J. Grabill is executive editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality, published by the Acton Institute.




Culture Warrior (, 061006)


By Rebecca Hagelin


Bill O’Reilly has a message every American must understand: Our country is under attack — from within.


O’Reilly’s new book, “Culture Warrior,” boldly describes two disparate worldviews that are competing for the very soul of our nation. On one side are the “traditionalists,” those who know that America is a noble enterprise, a beacon of hope and light for the world, and who understand that our belief in God and our commitment to good has made us the greatest nation on Earth. On the other side are the secular-progressives (S-Ps), who see America as imperialistic and intrinsically evil — and who want nothing more than to sanitize our classrooms and our public squares from the alleged poison of faith.


In an exclusive phone interview, Bill told me that the culture war in which we’re all immersed is “not a political war, but is, at its heart, a social war.” He’s right. And I believe that the battle is also a spiritual one. It transcends politics. It’s bigger than Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal, and the stakes are significantly higher than the next election.


Please don’t mistake O’Reilly’s book as just another best-seller from a political pundit (although it is the number-one seller on many lists, and the author is a media powerhouse). “Culture Warrior” is one of those rare books with the ability to inspire the reader to embark on a life-changing mission. O’Reilly affirms the instincts and values of decent Americans, reminding us of the greatness of our country and how it is worth fighting for both at home and abroad.


We live in a defining era — a brief period in which America’s future is at risk. Will we remain the land of the free and the home of the brave? Or will we allow the secular humanists to hog-tie our rights, and use the schools to drown our kids in their dogma, while we simultaneously succumb to the siren song of malevolence (the anthem of today’s media culture) and become just another hopeless, Godless country in the mold of Western European nations like France?


In my own book, “Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That’s Gone Stark Raving Mad,” I provide evidence of the cultural battle and the harm it’s doing (particularly to our children). I go on to explain how we parents can protect our own homes. But in O’Reilly’s book, he tells Americans how we can protect our country. Of course, the first step is: Know your enemy. Bill names names, and he’s ready to take the heat for exposing the enemies of freedom and decency.


Some of the names, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, will be familiar to you. But even if you’re aware of the ACLU’s agenda — which boils down to expelling spirituality from the public square — you’ll find eye-opening details in “Culture Warrior” about this loathsome group that fights, among other things, any mention of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, then defends the “rights” of groups such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association.


O’Reilly exposes how the ACLU’s founder, Roger Baldwin, flatly admitted that “communism is the goal” and added: “I am for socialism, disarmament, and ultimately for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion.” Of course, the ACLU began concealing their agenda right away, but as O’Reilly proves, nothing has really changed:


“Eighty-nine years later, the ACLU is still using Baldwin’s strategy, wrapping itself in the flag and defending the rights of the ‘folks.’ Unless, of course, the folks are Christians, Boy Scouts, parents who want to know if their underage daughters are having abortions, or concerned Americans who want sexual predators who hurt children held accountable.”


O’Reilly also pulls the curtain back on who funds the S-P movement, such as far-left multi-millionaire George Soros, who has showered hundreds of millions of dollars on American left-wing causes. Soros’ animosity toward traditional America seems endless, and he puts his money where his mouth is, making him “the prime financier of a number of operations on the Internet that consistently smear conservative and traditional Americans.”


A major example of the S-P’s anti-tradition agenda in action is the war over Christmas in the public square. (And if, like some well-meaning folks, you think this isn’t an important battle in the culture war, O’Reilly has some facts that will make you think twice.) What’s the big deal about whether it’s a school “winter concert” or a “Christmas” concert? Why should we care what the holiday is called? O’Reilly brilliantly explains:


“For the S-P agenda to succeed, religion in America must be deemphasized, just as it already has been in Western Europe and Canada, where secular-progressives have made huge gains. … [T]he American S-P generals have learned that goal number one is to secularize the American public school system in order to drive children away from religion and into the S-P camp. And what is the most wondrous display of religion worldwide? Why, Christmas, of course. Little kids seeing a manger display just might develop a curiosity about this baby Jesus person. … There is no danger of that happening with winter solstice or with a holiday tree.”


Other dangers lurk for ordinary Americans when the S-P agenda worms its way into everyday life. As O’Reilly shows, we have judges who buy into a legislative crock known as “restorative justice.” To them, no one — even the most criminally depraved — is really responsible for his actions. In one chilling case, ignored by the media until O’Reilly had the courage to expose it, Vermont Judge Edward Cashman had to sentence a man guilty of raping a girl repeatedly from the time she was six years old until she was 10. His sentence: a mere 60 days in jail. Why? Because Cashman buys the S-P line — the man didn’t need “punishment,” he needed “treatment.” And many in the media elite actually defended Cashman and pummeled O’Reilly.


But that’s why America loves Bill. As he proves nightly on his number-one cable TV news show, he’s a tough but fair watchdog — the kind of ever-vigilant eye on power that our founding fathers envisioned — willing to take the hits to expose the lies. And we should be, too. As he told me, “You have to fight for your country. We can’t let the secular-progressives destroy us.” “Culture Warrior” will provide you with a rude but necessary awakening, arm you with facts, and inspire you to become a warrior, too.