Rights and being right

Some time ago, I stumbled across a story of a high school student, Chad Farnan, who is suing his high school history teacher, James Corbett, for making excessive anti-Christian comments in the classroom. Corbett was accused of saying such things as:

“Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies – that’s interfering with God’s work”

“When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

“How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach.”

And more. You can read the initial article here.

A year and a half later, the court ruled that Mr. Corbett did indeed violate his student’s first amendment rights on one singular comment involving creationism. You can read about the court’s ruling here.

Neither the case in itself, nor the ruling particularly merits much of my attention; it merely seems another day in the life of litigious America. However, upon delivery of the ruling, Fox news picked up the story and did an interview with the Chad Farnan and his attorney.Here is the interview. (In case embedding the video doesn’t work, the link is here.)

I’m rewinding on a couple of Farnan’s quotes from this video:

“All kids have the right, no teacher has the right to discriminate against religion…”

“Kids don’t know their rights like I know now.”

It seems that Chad Farnan is couching his actions in terms of rights given by the government, at the same time does not object to being called a “devout Christian”.

I keep asking myself whether or not a devout Christian should invoke rights given by the government to be used against someone else. In other words, I keep asking myself if exercising one’s “rights” makes you right in a Christian sense.

What should Christian’s stand be on “rights” given by the government? How should Christians respond when someone violates those rights? Was Chad right in this situation?

What do you think?

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Finding the Moral High Ground

Even though it is old news, the events surrounding Miss California and the Miss USA competition deserve a good rewind.

For those of you unfamiliar with what happened, here is a video clip of Miss California, Carrie Prejean, during the question and answer portion of the competition.

The story unfolds from here. Miss California did not go on to win the Miss USA competition, but in the resulting media circus, the fight to win the moral high ground had just begun. But did anyone achieve a moral victory here?

First – Why was Perez Hilton asking such a question? Would a certain answer to the question somehow make a better Miss USA, whose job it is to…uh, be pretty (seriously, what is her job)? Somehow, it seems like Mr. Hilton was trying to be sly. Either he would get an answer to his question that was in support of gay marriage, in which case he could claim some sort of “popular opinion” for the movement, or he would get an answer against gay marriage, in which case he could point to “right wing nuts” all over this country. The less important option is that he would get a nonsensical answer which would be entertaining to the viewers. In any case, Perez’ ongoing claim to the moral high ground on what he considers a civil rights issue is on shaky ground, to say the least. The Miss USA pageant is simply not the place for meaningful interaction with controversial issues.

Next, Miss California. My critique is that she entered a beauty competition for sport in which she did choreographed dance, walked around in a bikini, did some other things, then tries to play it off like her morality, rather than her looks, makes a difference. My goal here isn’t to judge Miss California, since she was asked a question she was required to answer, but rather to judge the circumstances in which she placed herself. If the moral high ground was her goal, doesn’t this seems like pearls before swine? If morality was her goal, what was the purpose of her participation in the competition, which some have labeled as “soft porn”? Not to mention the ongoing controversy surrounding Miss Prejean concerning inappropriate photos and breast implants. No matter the quality of her answer, her very circumstances place the moral high ground far on the horizon.

Lastly, the media gets into it. Miss California becomes the darling of Fox News and James Dobson on one hand, who claims she has been unfairly targeted for her beliefs and her speech censored, and the whipping girl of those like MSNBC and Keith Olbermann, who use her questionable moral choices to show how religion has confused this girl. Both battle for the moral high ground, as if any part of this debate contain loftiness or morality. Both sides seem to be struggling against a phantom.

As I rewind on this story, I continually try to imagine what the moral high ground would look like.

Is there any moral high ground in this story?

Is it a great time to be alive?

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A few years ago, I came across a brochure for GE medical equipment that caught my attention.

This particular brochure, as you can see, welcomed newcomers to earth. GE’s television campaign at the time encouraged us to think that “It’s a great time to be alive.”

Really? Is it a great time to be alive when the proliferation of nuclear weapons by dictatorships bent on destruction of all who oppose them are becoming a reality before our very eyes? Is it a great time to be alive when the scourge of AIDS ravages the poor and needy among us? Is it a great time to be alive when our actions as consumers threaten our water supply, our power supply, and the other species that call this planet home? Is it a great time to be alive when religious extremism devalues and mistreats women, children, and dissidents in around a quarter of the world’s population? Is it really a great time to be alive?

And what about welcoming our children to earth with such optimism? More like welcome to everything that’s been screwed up for generations before you got here. Welcome to original sin. Welcome to a fleshly existence in which the only real hope is in what happens after you die. Welcome to where the lion eats the lamb.

So, what’s the deal? Is it a great time to be alive? Should we welcome our time on earth? Should we enjoy our stay? Or, is this place truly worthy of the distain we often heap upon it?

Which is it?

Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 4)

In Chapter 7 of John, Jesus goes to the Feast of Tabernacles, and once again, Brown’s attention to exegetical detail illuminates the scene.

According to Brown, the Feast of Tabernacles at the time of Jesus was the greatest of the celebrations that Jews held. It was considered a pilgrimage feast, and all able-bodies males were expected to make the trip. (At first, Jesus refuses to go, but later sneaks in and amazes the crowd with his teaching – see pt 3 of this series for the “hidden” messiah John portrays.)

The focus of the celebration was twofold. First, it was a celebration of the Jews as the chosen people of God – of the people alone who had the tabernacle in which God dwelt. Within the celebration itself was much pomp and tradition that was reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt. Second, it was a agricultural feast in which the men of Israel entreated God (who dwelt in the Temple) to bless their land and their crops with bountiful rain so that they might have a good harvest. As the tradition goes, it was thought that when the Messiah came God would cause the very stones of the temple to gush forth water, which would supply the land to overflowing with water for their crops. Then, the excess water would cascade out of Jerusalem in great rivers that would reach the gentile nations. The gentiles, curious as to whence this issue of water came, would follow the rivers back to the Temple, and worship the one true God there.

Keeping in mind the idea behind the Feast of Tabernacles, many things within Chapter 7 make more sense. For instance, when the Jews wonder why the authorities are not arresting or killing Jesus in vs 25-27, they wonder if the authorities have perhaps concluded that Jesus is the messiah. Such speculation is absurd, unless John is “priming the pump” for the reader to remember the Messiah imagery within the feast. Then, when the Jesus states in vs 33-34 that he will go to where no one can find him, the Jews wonder if he will go to the Greeks (i.e., gentiles) and teach them. Again, an image taken from the mythology behind the Feast of Tabernacles.

Then, in vs 37-38, on the greatest day of the Feast, Jesus declares that any who believe in him will have rivers of living water flow within them. Once again, powerful imagery from the Feast being usurped by Jesus to describe himself. And when you remember that in Chapter 2 Jesus called himself the temple – the very  thing from which waters of life are supposed to flow – the imagery becomes overpowering. Jesus is not only the temple, but the messiah, and the God who tabernacled with men who causes rivers of life to flow. And since the Feast of Tabernacles is a pilgrimage feast, all the Jews will journey home to far away lands, tell of their experience with Jesus, and thereby bring others to worship God, too.

Fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles has come, hidden in the person of Jesus.

So, here’s the question I struggle with – was the author of the book of John really crafty enough to weave all this together? Or are we perhaps seeing what we want to see – imagery that isn’t really there? What do you think?

Misinterpretation or Obfuscation?

About a month ago, Pope Benedict XVI flew to an AIDS stricken region of Africa. During the flight, New Scientist is reporting that he told reporters that AIDS is a “drama that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which in the contrary increase the problem.”

The article then offers scientific arguments as to why the Pope is wrong before making the following statement:

Is the pope from another planet? Is he stupid? Uneducated? No, obviously not. Does he know something we don’t? No. But that might not be so obvious to everyone…

So on what basis is Benedict speaking? Doctrinal consistency. The Catholic Church believes that people must have sex only with their spouses, with no contraceptives, to leave open the chance of procreation. Besides, contraceptives encourage sex outside wedlock by minimising its consequences. So they have to insist that more condoms leads to more illicit sex and more AIDS.

Such medieval thinking is completely detached from the real world….

The sad reality of this report is that the Pope said much more than the soundbite that New Scientist is quoting. Here is the English translation of what Pope Benedict XVI said in context:

It is my belief believe that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions. … The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we worsen the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with the suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to stand by those who suffer.

Given what seems to be a quite reasonable stance on the part of Pope Benedict – that a respect for human life is at the root of the problem – I wonder why news organizations all over the internet (e.g., MSNBC, The Washington Post, the AP, the BBC, and more) seem intent on mis-reporting this story. Given that most of the AIDS cases in Africa come from rape or other sexual abuse, in which a condom is not a reasonable solution, it seems basic to say that no solution other than a change of human heart will have the affect that is needed – which to my reading is what the Pope said.

So what happened? Is it misinterpretation, or intentional obfuscation of what the Pope said? Why would seemingly credible news organizations want to vilify the Pope’s seemingly obvious response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa?

You can read the New Scientist article here, or click on the other news organizations above for their version of events.

A transcipt of what the Pope said can be found in Italian here.

Zero Tolerance? How far is too far?

In April, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear the case of Savana Redding,  a girl who was strip-searched at school over suspicion of having brought some prescription strength ibuprophen to school.

The school was enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and violence, and when an assistant principle was told that she and a friend had the pills on them, he ordered school employees to search both students without notifying parents or police. The search turned up no pills.

Lawyers for the school district said in a brief that it was “on the front lines of a decades-long struggle against drug abuse among students.” Abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications is on the rise among 12- and 13-year-olds, the brief said, citing data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Given that, the school district said, the search was “not excessively intrusive in light of Redding’s age and sex and the nature of her suspected infraction.”

In my opinion, this is the problem with zero tolerance policies. Not only does the article indicate that the Redding had no disciplinary record, it also indicates there was an interpersonal feud going on with an old friend, who accused her of having prescription drugs. Considering that the article is correct, the school officials (or anyone else) are able to hide behind a zero tolerance policy for their actions. In my opinion, this is laziness in the highest order. The trial system in the United States is based on the fact that the rule of law is subject to interpretation by peers, which is why we have trials and juries. In fact, the constitution even guarantees against unreasonable searches. Zero tolerance policies like those mentioned in the article circumvent such rights under the guise of “protection”. Shouldn’t this minor (she was 13 at the time) have the right to either have her parents notified, or due process of actually being approached by law enforcement officials before this search?

What do you think? How is too far in our quest to protect and educate the next generation?

You can read the article here.

The Shack: A Myriad of Impressions (pt 3)

Today’s guest post by Tracy P.

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There has been a lot of controversy in churches surrounding William Young’s novel, The Shack. Some leaders are using it as a springboard for discussion and sermon topics related to God’s healing and redemptive love. Others are viewing it as heretical, and insisting that their parishioners should refrain from reading it.

The book is clearly fiction, and not an attempt by Young to lay out a systematic theology. Yet it is so vivid in its depiction of God, and so powerful in the way it illustrates His pursuit of relationship with the individual human that it is clearly compelling, as evidenced by its surprisingly widespread popularity.

  • Why do you think it is that so many seem to be wrestling with the compelling nature of the book on one hand, and its seeming unorthodoxy on the other?
  • Did you find yourself wanting to “fix” any element of the book so you could like it with a clear conscience? How would you rewrite it, and why?
  • Would you recommend this book to a Christian friend, or to a friend who was searching for his/her faith? Why or why not?