In my day job, I work as a nanny for three adorable children. The brother-sister twins are almost a year and a half, and their older brother, Sam, is four. I’ve learned some things that I more or less expected to learn after taking this job: how to change a diaper, how to prepare bottles, how to spot from across the room a baby chewing something he’s not supposed to chew. However, I’ve also learned some things that I didn’t expect as much. Continue reading Children, God, and Human Nature: How Being a Nanny is Teaching Me About the Universe
Man was never created to be an independent creature, free to do as he pleased. In the garden, God created man to be in constant communion with him. Adam’s sole purpose was found in relationship with God. God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Relationship is a core component of human nature. Humans were made to be in constant relationship both with God and with each other. Eve broke that relationship when she took the forbidden fruit, choosing her own way instead of God’s way, disrupting the natural state of man. Man was no longer in constant subjection to God. Listening to self instead of God soon became an option for living. Obviously, this was not without consequence. Discord and strife, instead of peace and harmony, immediately became the norm for life. Hello to the world as we know it.
Marriage is an institution ordained by God designed to replicate the harmony in the garden. Husband and wife entering into perfect harmony with each other; two becoming one (Genesis 2:25). However, just as it was in the garden, the husband and wife experience unity in their submission to God. This requires mutual submission and self-sacrificial love. Acting for yourself in opposition to your spouse results in strife. For many, this kind of marriage seems very constraining. It is. You are not allowed to follow all your passions on a whim. Marriage is a life time commitment to submitting to and loving another human being. But in this commitment comes great joy that is not possible in relationship outside of marriage.
Desire is an important part of any relationship. But as with any passion, desire can come and go. Following desire can lead you down many stray paths. Desire alone is not enough for a thriving relationship. Commitment and security are needed. In Song of Solomon, the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me (7:10).” Without this firm sense of belonging, insecurity and doubt will destroy even the most passionate relationship. Marriage provides a framework for desire where security and exclusivity allow it to blossom.
What about people in abusive marriages? What about adultery? There is no doubt that these will drastically affect and possibly shatter any union. Strife and discord are inevitable in any relationship, no matter how committed the two spouses are to God and each other. But my point here is not to write about the affects of sin on marriage. My point is simply to present the best bet for a lasting love.
Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is the story of a tragic love affair. Anna and Vronsky are destroyed by a love that cannot satisfy. Anna soon becomes consumed with doubt and insecurity regarding Vronky’s commitment. Without marriage, there is no assurance of commitment or belonging, thereby making insecurity overtake passion. Vronksy strives to retain his “manly independence” and keep a life apart from Anna. He holds onto part of himself that he refuses to give to Anna. This too prevents them from becoming one flesh. Chaffing is the natural result. Destruction instead of a blossoming love becomes the outcome of their affair. Desire outside the bounds of marriage yields nothing but strife.
Anna and Vronsky are perhaps an extreme example of something so commonplace in our culture, love outside of marriage. Anna and Vronsky’s destruction was in part caused by their rejection by society. Today, “living together” is a common place behavior. While it may not be openly destructive, as with any other self-centered behavior, it can result in nothing but inward strife and discord. It may feel good at times, but does it satisfy? True satisfaction only comes through living a life in relationship with and submission to God, and, if that life involves the love of your life, a God centered marriage.
Why is God important? This too goes back to the garden. God created us to be in constant relationship with him. Thriving is only possible through this relationship. Veering away from God might lead to earthly pleasures but will never lead to ultimate fulfillment. Jesus came so that we might be fulfilled in a post-fall world.
Are you engaging in a self-centered behavior right now? Whether it is an extra-marital affair, or something like excessive drinking or viewing pornography, I have to ask you, “Does it satisfy?” Not just on the surface, but deep down inside. Jesus tells his followers, ”The thief comes to kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).” Choose life.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26).
These are the words of Jesus, spoken to a crowd of his followers. This is a severe and perhaps surprising assertion. One would not expect Jesus, who demonstrates perfect compassion and love, to ask his disciples to show hatred towards their families. This demand does not seem to fit in with the behavior that is expected in the Kingdom of God. To complicate matters, Paul says in 1 Timothy that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Timothy 5.8). Paul’s statement is also harsh, but what he says seems to contradict the words of Jesus. Yet, with a deeper investigation, these seemingly opposite claims can be reconciled.
When Jesus says his disciples must hate their family members, he is not giving instructions on how to treat one’s family, but rather communicating the cost of being a disciple. He concludes his talk saying, “therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.33). He means that the cost of being a disciple of Christ is a heavy one. It requires the complete renunciation of oneself. We are to serve God and God alone. This does not mean that we ought to hate our families, but it does mean that we have to renounce our duty to them. The severity of Jesus’ statement is genuine. He is reminding us that one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God half-heartedly.
Paul statement on the family is actual instruction for the church. The family is an institution created by God. It was designed so that members could care for each other. In fact, proper care of one’s family is necessary for the thriving of the church as a whole. Regarding church leaders, Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1Timothy 3:4-5) To be effective in the church, you must first prove to be faithful in the small things. We are called to care for our families before we can extend our reach to the church and to the world.
Jesus and Paul are speaking of two different aspects of the Christian life. Jesus is talking about the weight of the decision to follow him. Paul is giving guidance of how we ought to live once we have given our all to Jesus. Combining the messages of Jesus and Paul, we can conclude that when we renounce our family, we receive an even greater responsibility for them. To become a follower of Christ, we must surrender all. Yet, we take on a new lifestyle when we choose to follow Jesus. We are expected to behave differently. We now put God above all, and in doing so, recognize everything that all we have belongs to him in the first place. Jesus reminds us that our families are not actually ours. Family is a gift which was graciously bestowed upon man by God. Thus, we must care for them, adhering to the structure and order that God has designed. Of course, this cannot be done without love, compassion, and attention to our loved ones. When we are faithful in this task, we can also serve effectively in God’s church. It remains our responsibility to love our families as Christ loves us.
Who does a funeral benefit? This last week, I took some time off from work and school to be with my family as we buried my grandfather. It was a difficult but rich time, remembering and learning more about a man who was one of my heroes. Prior to this week, I had always thought that the funeral was solely for the benefit of the loved ones left behind—a way for us to remember the deceased in the best light possible, and to garner comfort for our loss by gathering together and mourning communally. Even though the memorial service was centered around the life of the deceased, I imagined that its purpose was to give comfort to the living, not necessarily to benefit the dead themselves. How could the deceased receive any benefit? They cannot be present at their own funeral.
Obviously, all this is true—the deceased is not present to enjoy the service, and the family left behind does receive comfort and closure from the funeral. But this week, I realized that my previous conceptions of funerals are not entirely true. Benefiting the dead or the living is not an either/or option.
There is a sense of duty which accompanies the family planning a funeral. It feels extremely important that everything go well: that the eulogy praises and appreciates the person’s life, that the coffin or urn is beautiful, that we sing songs the deceased loved or relate memories that honor them. In many ways, this part is like planning a surprise birthday party without the knowledge of the recipient—we want everything to be perfect, not for ourselves, but for the guest of honor. This is why it means so much to the family when friends attend the funeral, even if they were not close to the deceased. Their presence supports the family, but it also honors the dead when they make it a priority to come.
And the deceased is the guest of honor at a funeral, even though they are not physically there to witness it. In a way, the funeral and burial are the last acts of service we can provide for the loved one who has passed away, and because of this, we act as though we are benefiting the person through the service.
This is right. We really can benefit the dead by honoring their memory. When I speak well of someone, I am respecting them, even if they are not within hearing. I constantly tell people how wonderful and smart my boyfriend is—and often, he doesn’t hear a word of it. But just because he is not present to appreciate my words of affirmation does not mean that those words are insubstantial. I do not simply say them to feel good about myself, but to respect and cherish him, in or out of his hearing.
My grandfather was a wonderful man—he lived a life that truly glorified God through his family leadership and vocation as an artist. I benefitted greatly from attending his funeral, both by remembering the man I knew, and learning about other aspects of his character through the eyes of others. We put on a beautiful service in his honor—a service he deserved. This week, when I heard my grandmother say things like, “This is for him,” and, “I want the best for him,” I realized that her words are perfectly appropriate. We benefitted my grandpa by honoring his incredible life. Yes, his service was a blessing for those of us who will miss him, but it was also a blessing for him, and I feel privileged to have been part of it.
Autumn in the Sovereign Zone
Anyone who has ever heard a conversation about abortion has heard pro-choice statements like:
- “My body, my choice.”
- “You can’t tell another person what she can’t do with her own body.”
- “The fetus is part of her body.”
- “The fetus is inside her body.”
When a pro-life advocate hears statements like these, a common impulse is to respond by saying, “But it’s not her body; it’s another body!” or “If the fetus is part of her body, does she have two heads and twenty toes?” or, perhaps, “But the unborn is a human being, here’s some evidence for that…”
Not so fast. The pro-choice statements above are ambiguous. If the pro-choice advocate is confused about whether the unborn is a separate organism from the mother, then graciously giving him an impromptu biology lesson might be helpful. In many cases, though, the pro-choice advocate is intending to communicate that the woman can do what she wants even if the fetus is a human being. Many pro-choice advocates don’t know how to articulate this argument in a way that helps pro-life advocates understand. The pro-life advocate hears, “The fetus is not human,” but the pro-choice advocate means, “It doesn’t matter if the fetus is human.”
Pro-life people generally think there is one question to answer in order to determine the morality of abortion: “What is the unborn?” Generally speaking, there is merit to this idea. For instance, when a pro-choice advocate says abortion should be legal because some women are too poor to have a child, he is begging the question. He is assuming the unborn is not a valuable human because (presumably) he wouldn’t say women should have the right to kill their toddlers if they are too poor. If the unborn is human, like the toddler, then we can’t kill the unborn in the name of poverty any more than we would kill a toddler. In contrast, attempting to give a reason that the unborn is not a valuable human being would make a better argument.
One might be tempted to think that all pro-choice justifications can be accurately summarized as either 1) assuming the unborn isn’t human or 2) arguing that the unborn isn’t human. But as Trent Horn has pointed out, there is a third type of pro-choice justification, one that 3) admits the unborn is human and says that the woman can kill it anyway because of her bodily rights.
Learning to Recognize Bodily Rights Arguments
When I first heard this distinction, it seemed foreign to me. Why would anyone admit that the unborn is a valuable human being and say it’s okay to kill it? Then I started thinking about all of the conversations I’d had in which pro-choice people made references to the woman’s body and how it didn’t seem to matter to them when I demonstrated that the unborn is a separate human organism. Could I have simply been misunderstanding them all along?
So I went on the lookout. If someone made one of the above pro-choice statements, I would clarify if he was arguing that the unborn isn’t human or if he was making a bodily rights argument. For instance, when someone said the unborn is part of the mother’s body, I asked:
“I want to understand you, but it sounds like you might be saying one of two different things. Do you mean that the unborn is literally a part of her body, like a functional part or something; or do you mean that because it is inside her body and connected to her body that she has the right to kill it because she can do what she wants with her body?”
Almost every time I have asked this question, the pro-choice advocate has said that he meant the latter. I ask a similar question when people say that the unborn is inside the woman, such as:
“I want to understand you, but it sounds like you might be saying one of two different things. Do you mean that the unborn is not a valuable human being because it is inside the woman; or do you mean that even if it is a valuable human being, that a woman has the right to kill it because it’s inside her and she can do what she wants with her body?”
Almost every time, he responds by saying he meant the latter. Since I began asking for clarification on this, I have found that bodily rights arguments are much more common than I had previously thought.
The pro-life mind is generally oriented towards the unborn: the unborn is a human being, and it should be illegal to kill human beings, so abortion should be illegal. But pro-choice people are generally oriented differently. Even if they don’t believe that the unborn is a human being, sometimes they don’t think that issue matters. The important thing is that women can do what they want with their bodies, no matter what. If this is the perspective of one of your pro-choice friends, then biological or philosophical arguments that the unborn is a human being are not likely to change his mind about abortion. Some pro-choice people truly don’t care what the unborn is; the unborn is in the woman’s way, and that’s all that matters.
Pro-life advocates need to get in the habit of asking these kinds of clarification questions. If we do not clarify, but merely assume we know what the pro-choice advocate means, then it’s likely our conversation will get stuck and neither person will know why.
Some might think, “What’s the use in trying to persuade people who think it’s okay to kill humans? They’re so unreasonable. A lost cause.” I strongly disagree! While I’ve found some hardcore moral relativists almost impossible to persuade, the pro-choice advocate focused on bodily rights is different. He is right about something very important: we do have significant rights to our bodies. Yet it is not difficult to make a persuasive case that our bodily rights don’t extend as far as most pro-choice advocates think.
Distinguishing Between Bodily Rights Arguments
Trent Horn has distinguished between two types of bodily rights arguments: the Right to Refuse Argument and the Sovereign Zone Argument. The Right to Refuse Argument states that even if the unborn is a human being, a woman has the right to refuse to allow the unborn the use of her body. I will not address that argument here; if you are interested, I recommend “De Facto Guardian and Abortion: A Response to the Strongest Violinist,” Steve Wagner’s summary of the discussion of Justice For All’s philosophy team.
The Sovereign Zone Argument states that even if the unborn is a human being, a woman should still be able to have an abortion because she has the right to do anything she wants with anything inside the sovereign zone of her body. Notice that this is a much more extreme claim than that of the Right to Refuse Argument. The Right to Refuse Argument says a woman has the right not to be forced to do something, while the Sovereign Zone Argument says she has the right to do anything, as long as it’s to something within her sovereign zone.
If you say something like, “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins, and abortion kills a baby,” you won’t be addressing this pro-choice person’s concern. Remember, she has acknowledged that the unborn is a human being. She doesn’t believe a woman’s right to bodily autonomy gives her the right to kill a toddler, or swing her fist into her neighbor’s nose. The unborn is different because it is in her territory, in her sovereign zone. While I haven’t ever heard a pro-choice person use the term “Sovereign Zone” to explain this view, I have talked with many who hold the position I’ve described. And, it’s an integral part of their pro-choice perspective.
Dismantling the Sovereign Zone Argument
The most obvious problem with the Sovereign Zone Argument is that it entails something that is indefensible: a woman should legally be allowed to do anything to her unborn child, even if it is a human being. Once I’ve clarified that I am dealing with the Sovereign Zone Argument, I respond with some version of a story I call The Five Years of Autumn to help the person see the problem and hopefully abandon the view. If the pro-choice person wants to continue to defend abortion with the Sovereign Zone Argument, he will have to “bite the bullet” in five progressively difficult scenarios.
I want to be clear that this story is not intended to mock anyone, and I don’t ever approve of pro-life people mocking pro-choice people. I also don’t ever approve of pro-life people attacking straw men instead of actual pro-choice arguments; on the contrary, I think we should go to great pains to make sure we understand pro-choice people’s views and respond to the most plausible versions of them. I’m not intending to imply that pro-choice people are like Autumn or that they should approve of her actions. I think a pro-choice person who agrees with the Sovereign Zone Argument should consider the implications of that view as illustrated by Autumn. If someone justifies abortion with the Sovereign Zone, I do not think he can consistently claim that Autumn should not at least have the legal right to do what she does.
The Five Years of Autumn
Autumn has just completed her doctorate at the age of thirty. She is pro-choice and has fully embraced the Sovereign Zone Argument. She believes the unborn is a valuable human being, but that abortion is justified because women have the right to do anything they want with anything inside their bodies.
In the First Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn becomes pregnant. Her boyfriend is supportive, and she’s excited because she’s always wanted a baby. Well, that is, she’s always wanted a baby boy. Her doctor orders an early amniocentesis test at twelve weeks because of factors discovered during genetic counseling with Autumn and her boyfriend. Though the child appears to be normal, Autumn’s heart sinks when the doctor tells her that it’s a girl. She wrestles for a few days, and finally decides to have an abortion. She doesn’t want to have a girl, and her body is her sovereign zone after all, so she shouldn’t have to justify to anyone what reason she has for getting an abortion.
Autumn gets pregnant again soon after and this time at twelve weeks she is relieved to find out that she’s having a boy. She and her boyfriend eagerly anticipate the birth, until around eight months into the pregnancy when they break up. Suddenly Autumn goes from being excited at the prospect of raising a baby boy with her boyfriend to the terrifying reality of raising a child all by herself. She thinks eight months is awfully late to have an abortion, but she considers the sovereign zone of her body. If it’s her sovereign zone and she has the right to do anything she wants with anything in her body at twelve weeks, why not at thirty-five weeks? Her state happens to allow abortion up until birth, and she convinces the doctor that her mental strain is sufficient to qualify her for abortion in this late stage. After she goes through with the abortion, she tells herself that it was the right thing for her.
In her Second Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn starts dating a physician. She becomes pregnant, and she is somewhat happy about it, but her excitement is quickly overshadowed by a terrible case of morning sickness. One day her ever-attentive new boyfriend brings home some white pills he has illegally acquired for her. He tells her he has brought her thalidomide, which will help her to feel better, but could cause their baby to be born with very severe birth defects. He may be born without arms or without legs. She thanks him for his compassion for her, but declines the pills. After suffering through three straight days of morning sickness though, she decides she can’t take the discomfort anymore and starts taking thalidomide. She fears for what may happen to her baby, but she decides that those possible effects shouldn’t stop her from doing what she feels is necessary. After all, she tells herself, “My body, my choice.” When she sees her deformed baby for the first time, she realizes just how severe the consequences of her actions are. But, she thinks, at least she gave him a chance to live, and if he decides later that he would have preferred death to being handicapped, he could make the choice to end his own life when he is old enough.
As she goes into the Third Year after completing her doctorate, she discovers that she doesn’t mind so much having to take care of a deformed child. Her community doesn’t know she took thalidomide, so they all think she’s a hero for being so strong for him. When she becomes pregnant again, this time with a little girl, she fortunately doesn’t experience such a bad case of morning sickness, but she still has some of those little white pills left. She considers the bond her kids would have if they went through the same challenges together, and the way her community would support her and admire her.
She thinks about her deformed infant son and how hard his life will be, and feels selfish for even thinking of deforming another child. But then again, she considers what her abortion doctor told her about abortion procedures. If she had the right to have a doctor pull her baby apart while killing it through a dilation and evacuation abortion, why shouldn’t she have the right to take a drug to deform it? Having an arm pulled off seemed a lot worse to her than just not growing one properly, so if her sovereignty over her body gave her the right to do the one, why not the other?
She considers the possibility that some might argue that it is worse to maim someone than to kill him. But if people really thought that, why didn’t they go around killing maimed people to help them out of their misery? She knew happy handicapped people. And even if it is worse to be maimed than to be killed, who are they to judge her for doing what she wants to with what’s in her body, especially if they’re pro-choice? She concludes that she doesn’t have to justify to anyone her personal decisions about what she does with her body. After all, it is a private medical decision between her and her doctor. She takes the remaining thalidomide and when her baby girl is born, she is pleased to see that she turned out deformed. She has second thoughts about her decision from time to time, and sometimes even feels like she’s a pretty mean person. But she tells herself that even if it were immoral, surely no one could tell her it should be illegal.
In her Fourth Year after completing her doctorate, she decides to take an art class at a local university. She was always artistically talented and had even considered pursuing an art degree when she was in high school. She seems to have the skill to succeed, but she struggles to come up with ways to make herself really stand out as an artist. One day a pro-life group comes to her campus with graphic pictures depicting the results of abortion. The pictures don’t really bother her, but it does occur to her that they are very controversial and attention-grabbing, and this gives her an idea.
She gets herself pregnant three times and has three early abortions, having already agreed with her doctor that she could keep the bloody remains of the embryos and placentas so she can use them for her art. She succeeds at getting a lot of attention when she unveils her project, though more of it is negative than she expected. When one critic asked her how she could do such a thing, she fired back at her, “Who are you to tell me what I can do with my body? What business is it of yours how many abortions I have, when I have them, or why I have them? It’s my body, so it’s my choice.”
At the beginning of the Fifth Year after completing her doctorate, Autumn breaks up with her physician boyfriend and falls madly in love with a very pro-life man. She doesn’t tell him about her abortions, her role in deforming her children, or, heaven forbid, her recent art project. Before they start sleeping together, they agree that if she becomes pregnant, she won’t have an abortion. She becomes pregnant after a few months, and shortly thereafter, her new pro-life boyfriend cheats on her. Fueled by her desire for revenge, she forms a plan.
She goes back to her abortion doctor and tells him of her situation and he agrees to help Autumn carry out her plan. He devises the cruelest possible ways he can hurt a late-term fetus without killing it. They wait until thirty-eight weeks, then Autumn goes to her doctor’s clinic, where he tortures her child for as long as possible until finally the child dies.
She reflects afterward on how much suffering she caused her child, but reminds herself that her right to do what she wants with her body is absolute. While many would surely disapprove of her decision, no one, not even the child’s father, has a right to stop her from doing anything to her baby as long as it is inside her sovereign zone.
Cognitive Dissonance with the Sovereign Zone
There is only one question this story is intended to ask the pro-choice person: should Autumn’s actions be legal? My argument is very simple: if abortion should be legal on the basis that women can do whatever they want with anything inside their bodies, then Autumn’s actions should also be legal. One could consistently believe abortion should be legal and believe that Autumn’s actions should not be legal, but only if he doesn’t rely on the Sovereign Zone Argument to justify abortion.
As a conversational tool, sometimes it is easier to simply point to the five implications of the Sovereign Zone Argument, rather than walk through a detailed story.
Five Implications of the Sovereign Zone Argument:
1: There can be no restrictions on abortion at any stage or for any reason.
2: A pregnant woman can take thalidomide to treat her morning sickness even though it will deform her fetus.
3: A pregnant woman can take thalidomide to intentionally deform her fetus.
4: A woman can have multiple abortions for the sole purpose of using the results for an art project.
5: A pregnant woman can do anything to her unborn child, including having it tortured to death.
In my experience, most people aren’t willing to accept the third “year” or implication of the Sovereign Zone Argument. Most people do not think a woman should have the right to intentionally deform her child, even if they think she should have the right to intentionally kill it. They know intentionally deforming a child is wrong, so when confronted with the third year, they either try to make a distinction to save the Sovereign Zone Argument, or they abandon it entirely and move on to a new argument. Every now and then, they change their minds about abortion altogether. Only on very rare occasions have I met someone who has agreed that fetal torture should be legal.
When I’m in a conversation in which I can tell the pro-choice person advocating the sovereign zone is struggling with her view, especially after discussing thalidomide, I often ask her if she knows how abortion procedures are done. Often she has no idea. After describing an abortion procedure, such as suction abortion or dilation and evacuation abortion, I gently ask one of the following questions:
- Why should a woman have the right to dismember a child if she shouldn’t have the right to deform him?
- Why is it okay for her to have a doctor rip her child’s limbs off with a suction machine or with forceps, but it is not okay for her to take a drug that causes her child to not grow limbs?
- Why does she not have the right to cause her child to have a harder life, but she does have the right to deprive him of life completely?
The cognitive dissonance this line of argument creates is extremely powerful. I suspect that pro-choice views are often driven by a sort of wishful thinking. Many pro-choice people want abortion to be okay, so they rationalize it in their minds. They think: “It’s not really human anyway,” or, “it’s basically a part of her body,” or even, “maybe it’s wrong, but it should still be legal.” But while they have spent years rationalizing that killing fetuses is justified, they have not gone through a similar process of telling themselves that it is okay to deform a fetus. Their moral compasses still function properly once we step away from abortion for a minute and talk about doing something else to an unborn child, something that is obviously immoral. When we bring up the case of thalidomide, we force their rationalization of abortion to come into conflict with their view that it is obviously wrong to deform a child with thalidomide.
 Many thanks to Trent Horn, Steve Wagner, Rich Poupard, Scott Klusendorf and Josh Brahm for their excellent work, and for helping me to understand the Sovereign Zone Argument. I heartily recommend their web sites and their work. Additional thanks to Steve Wagner for serving as my editor. Image courtesy of Justice For All.
 See Trent Horn, “My Body, My Choice,” in Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue – The Interactive Guide, ed. Steve Wagner (Wichita: Justice For All, 2013), p. 95. Trent is a former Justice For All intern. See Trent’s blog, www.trenthorn.com, for more information about Trent’s current work with Catholic Answers.
 See Trent Horn, “My Body, My Choice,” in Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue – The Interactive Guide, ed. Steve Wagner (Wichita: Justice For All, 2013), pages 95-106. Trent’s observation that there are two distinct forms of bodily rights arguments was, in my opinion, a groundbreaking development for the pro-life movement.
 I believe Rich Poupard of the Life Training Institute was the first to utilize thalidomide in an argument against the bodily-rights-based arguments for abortion. See his post “Do No Harm (Except For That Killing Thing)” here. Trent Horn applied it specifically to the Sovereign Zone Argument.
 To learn about abortion procedures, see http://www.abort73.com/abortion/abortion_techniques/ or “What Are the Facts? Frequently Asked at Justice For All Events” (www.jfaweb.org/Facts).
 Unfortunately, this is based on a true story. Aliza Shvarts, an art student at Yale, allegedly had multiple early abortions intentionally so she could use the remains for her art project. When I talk about her in conversations with pro-choice people, I’m careful to specify that it isn’t clear whether she actually did this or not, but that she claims she did it. I heard of this story as a response to bodily rights arguments from Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute on pages 199-200 of The Case for Life. Trent Horn applied it specifically to the Sovereign Zone Argument.
 For the record, I am not claiming that self-deception only exists on the pro-choice side. I am making a specific comment about how self-deception affects pro-choice people, and how that impacts their response to thalidomide.
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I Do, I Don’t is an all too common story: a young Christian couple decides that they are going to get married. We see the proposal happen during (perhaps at the end of) a worship service that both parties are helping lead. Gil is one excited guy: he’s thrilled to be marrying the love of his life, especially after his admitted past struggles with sexual activity. Sidney is equally excited, as far as we can tell: she’s got some hesitations (she’s young, he’s a few years older, people are hesitant, etc.), but she keeps saying that God is good, and that she wants to be an excellent wife for Gil.
The lead-up to the marriage is wholesome, and pushes the boundaries of what boundaries you shouldn’t push. The couple decide not to kiss until they are married (and the kiss on the wedding day is incredibly awkward; we aren’t spared the sight in the film). They talk about the pressure of people watching them (since they are both involved in church ministry), but both seem to truly want God to be glorified in their relationship. Sidney even says at one point that divorce isn’t an option, no matter what happens.
The screen fades to black shortly after the wedding. Six months later, we see Gil in a class, and all of his students are asking to see Sidney. He says she’s at work, and suggests that they pray that she can come to school with him again.
Then the film reveals that Sidney left Gil three months into their marriage. Gil is heartbroken, but still considers himself married. He was asked to leave his church (for reasons we aren’t told; presumably related to the reasons that Sidney left him, though that is hardly confirmed), and found himself in a new church, serving as best he can. The remainder of the film focuses on Gil’s actions towards his out-of-contact wife and his new pastor’s thoughts on the situation. There is an interview with Sidney at the end, where she says that they shouldn’t have gone through with the wedding.
If that feels like a lot to take in, then I’ve communicated the film’s emotive power correctly: throughout the entire film, viewers ought to feel tense. This is marriage we’re talking about; people’s lives hang in the balance.
Half-way through, I started to respect Gil quite a bit. His pastor recommended that he pray about ways to be a faithful husband even when his wife was absent. Gil took this very seriously, and started sending his wife Scripture verses regularly. While this might seem odd to some, it struck me that Gil was actively attempting to fulfill God’s calling in regards to his own marriage. That, in itself, is awesome. And difficult. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be.
He and his pastor echo the same truth: God hates divorce. You see it all over the Bible, you hear it from the words of God and from Jesus himself. So Gil decides to tough it out. He said he’s love her forever, and so he shall. The weird part comes when the film is over: we find out that Sidney is still living the single life, but that Gil has “found the girl of his dreams” and gotten married.
The film leaves the viewers with a lot of questions: why did Sidney leave Gil? Why did Gil’s church ask him to leave (and Sidney stayed at that church)? What changed with Gil’s heart that made him comfortable to remarry, after all his beliefs about marriage and divorce? Is Sidney open to remarriage, or has she decided to remain “faithful” to her once-spouse?
While those are specific, the questions for Christian viewers are far more important: what should a person in Gil’s situation do? Are we called to “remain married” to someone who leaves us, Biblically speaking? What can break a marriage, death aside? Some argue that adultery is cause for divorce, but many don’t even believe that, these days. God seems to put grace and forgiveness at the forefront of all marriages–see Gomer and Hosea, for instance. Not to mention the parallels with Israel’s history: if marriage is a representation of Christ and the Church, ought we always to seek after our spouse, even when they won’t have anything to do with us?
None of that is easy. Perhaps I’m being too quick to judge; from the sidelines, it seems relatively simple to say that he should swear off all other relationships and seek his wife in faithfulness. If I were sitting in that position, of course, I’d likely have a much harder time of it. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong, necessarily, just that situations like these are complex. If someone gets remarried after their spouse leaves them, perhaps they are committing adultery. But God is bigger than that, and He is capable of forgiving; we should be able to do so as well.
I’ve known people who’ve been divorced, I’ve known people who’ve gotten remarried after a divorce, and I’ve known people who’ve stayed married until death parted them. It’s the middle category that I find hardest to support, however. Divorce is ugly, and everyone agrees on that point (I hope). But if your spouse leaves you, I find it difficult to support a decision to remarry, Biblically speaking. The narrative of marriage throughout Scripture (God’s faithfulness in the face of Israel’s idolatry; the leaving of one family to join another; Gomer and Hosea; and the ‘two become one flesh’ language) emphasizes pursuit and love, not resignation and absence.
All in all, the film is a difficult one to watch. If you’ve had friends go through a divorce, it might be helpful to see someone else’s perspective on the whole thing. You can purchase and view the film here.
Access to the film was provided by United Films.
Perhaps the most consistent conversation in the lives of young people (myself included) is that of singleness. While we see this in all young people, it is especially true in Christian circles. Call it a marriage culture, a quirk of the Christian movement, or even a deep respect for marriage in the Christian community, the point remains the same: “single” groups at churches often look like dating pools, both to their organizers and their participants. There isn’t much between the college Sunday school class and the “young marrieds” or the “new parents” classes.
I’m not immune to this phenomenon, of course. I’ve spent countless hours talking about my relationship status (note: single) with family, friends, trusted confidants, younger people, older people, married people, and other singles. These conversations can sometimes be frustrating (either in the “let me set you up with so-and-so since she’s a Christian and so are you” way, or in the “I’ll spend my life praying that you find someone who can make you whole” way), even if they do mean well. There are helpful conversations, of course, but they are few and far between, for the most part.
I’m not here to tell you how to talk to singles. Some have told us what not to do (my favorite is the “pants” suggestion; seriously, read that link [EDIT: This link has since been broken. The author wrote an amusing anecdote about being told to put a pair of man’s jeans at the end of her bed, and to pray that God would send a man to fill those pants.]). And while a lot of work still needs to be done (if you search for “How to encourage Christian singles,” one of the top hits is “Single For Now”), I’ll see if I can give examples of the sorts of things that are more often helpful.
1. Being single doesn’t mean I’m less than a whole person.
Sometimes, we act like people are the separated half-souls from Plato’s Symposium, rather than full people created in the image of God. There’s a wholeness to people, and there’s something to be said for being whole. In fact, the Scriptures describe marriage as “two becoming one flesh”: God values unity of the self, either to ourselves or with another.
2. Not all Christians are compatible with each other.
In fact, just avoid setting people up, generally. There might be exceptions (e.g., you’re really good friends, you know the sort of person your friend might be interested in, and you have good reason to think the other person might actually be a good match), but generally blind dates are kind of terrible and awkward. It is one thing to invite lots of people to an event, in hopes that two will hit it off. But please don’t invite me out to dinner with you, your spouse, and your single Christian friend. Wink, wink.
3. Singleness does not need a solution.
When we talk about “singleness,” we often frame the entire conversation in terms of “waiting”: I’m single, because I’m waiting for Jesus to send me the perfect woman, or to send me to the perfect woman. The often-utilized alternative is similar: you’re working on making yourself a better person, so that you can be a better spouse one day. We’re told to pray for our future spouses–some even write letters–and we’re rarely taught that we simply might not get married. Our divorce rates rise, and sometimes I wonder if that’s in part due to our emphasis on marriage. Not to say marriage is not worth emphasizing, just that singleness has a fairly decent precedent (Jesus and Paul, to name just two).
4. Just because I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely.
The converse of this is also true: just because you are married, it doesn’t mean you’ve escaped loneliness. Jason Helopoulos already gave this point a solid treatment, so I’ll leave this point to him.
5. If I volunteer, just let me serve.
The apostle Paul says that “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.” There’s a lot more to this passage, and it’s a little bit of a strange one to work through, but one clear truth: single people have more time. So when we (single people) ask to serve, seek to be a part of your ministry, or desire to help out with whatever it is you’ve got going on, don’t stop us on account of our singleness. Sometimes we treat marriage as a stabilizing stamp; if someone is unmarried, that doesn’t mean they are too unreliable to settle down, necessarily. Maybe they’re called to service, or maybe they just haven’t met that person God has in mind for them, or perhaps there is some more practical reason. But the point is that we might be uniquely capable of pouring quite a bit of ourselves into a project; give us the space to do so.
6. Lastly, we need your friendship more than we care to admit.
I value my single friends–sometimes to commiserate our mutual single state, other times just because they have lots of free time–but without my married friends, life would be a lot more difficult. Seeing that my friends are still recognizably themselves after they get married is a reminder that single people are people too. Beyond that reminder, however, is just that I have a need for fellowship, same as you. Having fellowship with married people helps keep me from thinking of all fellowship as either focused on dating or focused on talking about dating. That helps me treat everyone as a whole person; I’ve got to follow my own advice here.
So singles: rejoice. You’ve got time and life and love. Befriend married people, hang out with them, babysit their kids, watch a movie, and call it an early night if you’ve got to. Spend time with other single people, but don’t just do it as a dating pool: people are valuable for who they are, not just who they could be to you.
And to married folks out there: rejoice. You’ve got love and fellowship and you get to reflect God’s love for the Church. Try to work us into your schedules, but never forsake your spouses. Don’t set us up, treat us like whole people.
After all, we’re all made in the image of God.
Same-sex marriage has been a major topic of discussion across the web, especially in evangelical circles. I thought it might be helpful to give our readers a round-up of some of the best and most interesting stuff around the web.
A flurry of posts immediately followed The Atlantic‘s story “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” so that’s as good a starting point as any. In it are a number of arguments, many of them speculative, considering what sorts of things a gay couple may be able to teach a heterosexual couple. There are lots of statistics from various surveys and studies, but many of the claims for future knowledge come down to separating the sexes in order to learn what is ‘uniquely male’ and ‘uniquely female’ in relationship settings.
In direct response, First Things offered up the similarly titled “What We Can Learn from Same-Sex Couples.” Here, Glenn Stanton works through the research behind the provocative story from The Atlantic, in order to tease out the implications. The findings are less optimistic than the Gay Guide would have us believe, to say the least.
The Atlantic may just have been capitalizing on the topic, but they followed up The Gay Guide with a piece written by a gay member of the Catholic Church. She speaks to the difference between believing in God abstractly and believing in God concretely; the former is likely not tied to any particular church, while the latter has some visible historicity and beauty to it. Even as an evangelical, I certainly understand and appreciate the point of view.
While I don’t agree with the position of the person being interviewed, John Corvino still makes some really important points regarding debate, broadly speaking. Especially worth noting is his rejection of the idea that all positions are equally valid–a common yet absurd notion–which is an important reminder in fields other than gay marriage (often, same-sex marriage debates agree on but one thing: both sides can’t be right, and one position is clearly superior to the other).
If you’re not familiar with the topic at all, however, the above may have been overwhelming. Joe Carter offered up some definitions regarding LGBTQ issues, which are helpful for those who haven’t researched any of it. He also works through the positions of those who have embraced gay-marriage while still holding to some form of Christianity.
Not every question is new, however. On the topic of giving up the fight against gay marriage, at least publicly, Timothy Dalrymple simply asks: when is the cost too high? In answer to the question, Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy points out that not every socially conservative movement has looked bleak; in fact, he argues that we should learn the right lessons from the pro-life debate, which is gaining traction. While there are clear differences between the movements, there’s something to this approach. Brad Littlejohn also addressed the question of a tactical withdrawal, but argues for a shift in those tactics, rather than running away entirely.
That’s a lot of reading. And some of it is pretty heavy. While I stand with the traditional Christian view on homosexuality, I also recognize that a lot of the ways that Christians have interacted with the gay community have been harmful, and I’d like to find a way to change that without sacrificing what I believe is Biblical truth. We should be known for our love, after all.
I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that read: “Join a Hilarious Adventure of a Lifetime! Work, Buy, Consume, Die.” It’s funny because it’s true…so it’s also not really that funny. Reflecting on it a bit further, I find it to be a provocative comment on what seems to be the norm in modern culture, especially in the United States.
We go to school. If we’re lucky, we get a job related to our degree and/or interests. Then we work for roughly forty years until we’re able to retire, which (if I understand retirement commercials correctly) is the time of life we all look forward to, the time we really get to do the things we love, spend time with our families, and enjoy some peace and quiet for our remaining fifteen or twenty-ish years (and that’s if we’re statistically fortunate; the current average life expectancy in the U.S is only seventy-eight).
This meme got me thinking about how we choose to live our lives and from where we derive meaning. What are the things to which we devote the most time and energy? For most people, at least based on what I’ve observed, it’s our job. We spend more hours at work than we do at home with our families, or relaxing, or enjoying hobbies, or in church.
I don’t want to look back when (God willing) I’m pushing eighty and see a life full of work- or money-related stress, too little time off, and too much energy put toward material things that ultimately fade away. I don’t want to live the life of the meme.
I want to do well in my work, sure; I want to be proud of what I accomplish, and I hope to accomplish something worthwhile. But ultimately, what I do for a living, what I buy with my money, and whatever successes or accolades I achieve (degrees, promotions, awards)—in the end, these things don’t define me. I’m not saying that our actions don’t shape or reflect our character; of course they do. But the “American Dream,” or maybe I should call it the “Retirement Dream,” is ultimately unfulfilling: work long and hard, save your money, settle down…and then what?
I recently read an article in The Atlantic called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” The article tells of Jewish psychologist and neurologist Viktor Frankl who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in 1942 and lived to write about it in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. One of the major points of his book is that the difference he observed between those in the camps who lived and those who died was a sense of meaning. The article includes one quotation in particular from Frankl’s book that resonates with me:
Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.
As a Christian, my cause, my purpose, my meaning lies with Christ. But it’s not just for me; I believe that meaning for all of humanity is found in Christ. It is our inheritance, freely given to us, in which we are created to participate. Everything else is secondary. And that, far more than any “American Dream” or narrative of hard work and success, gives me profound comfort.
I have a condition. Whenever I see one particular bumper-sticker, my skin starts to crawl. My lips and fingers itch and ache to burst with rational objection. I may need a doctor’s note to excuse me from ever again reading those six words. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll bare my biases – I’m on the feminist side of things. I don’t consider motherhood and marriage to be necessary goals in my life and my walk with God. I tend toward what Biola-folk call egalitarianism; I qualify terms like “obey” when used to describe relationships between humans. All the same, I think suggesting that motherhood and marriage and marital obedience are for second-tier women – in short, the statement “Well-behaved women rarely make history” – isn’t a healthy view.
Let’s take this in two parts:
In proper accordance with the genre bumper sticker, the slogan doesn’t define the terms. I tentatively submit – based on the implication of the whole phrase – that “well-behaved women” could be operationalized as “women who act as society recommends”.
I’m aware of a hazard here; since I’m about to challenge this statement, it’s problematic that I’m developing the definition for it. This could easily become a straw-man argument, where I’m playing both sides – “You’re saying this, and it’s wrong!” However, considering the slogan’s overall implication, I can think of few likely interpretations that would be unrelated to “women who act as society recommends”. I could be wrong. Take it or leave it.
“Rarely Make History”
From a feminist standpoint, one could argue that history as taught in schools is a man-made patchwork of selected true events (and don’t read that as “human-made”). In this definition, making your way into the history books is an arbitrary fact having less to do with whether you did something significant than with whether you fit into the story that men in power want to tell. By contracting the “go-make-history” infection, the bumper sticker slogan – despite its attempt to cast off patriarchal control – is really striving to fit into a masculine system. So why don’t we come up with a more grounded definition of significance?
Even if you don’t buy the idea that history books are arbitrary patriarchal constructions, it’s still hard to defend the slogan’s assumption that getting in the history books is intrinsically good. Atrocities make history. The slogan operates on the understanding that there is some intrinsic value to “making history”. I doubt that value. I wonder if women (with our comparative absence from history books) might be able to provide medicine to this potentially unhealthy way of viewing significance if we weren’t busying ourselves playing the boy’s games by their rules. The fact is, well-behaved men also rarely get into history books. As a rule, people rarely “make history”. Maybe women who don’t bother with the silliness of getting into the books could have some wisdom to offer on what makes the majority of human lives significant.
If one challenges the idea of history as “stuff-in-a-book” – if history is, instead, the actual story of humanity told through the continuing growth and flourishing of the race – well-behaved women have made a lot of history. The real history of the world has mothers and wives and “well-behaved women” as intricately involved as rebellious women, well-behaved men, and rebellious men. These people raised people, loved people, helped, created, aided, wrote, lived, loved, healed. Did women who obeyed their husbands have less of a role in the grand dance of human history than did women who went their own way? Was Alexandra Romanov less important than Joan of Arc? Did either of them really, truly live more than the other? I’m not saying all women must behave as society recommends; I’m just saying that those who do shouldn’t be treated as less significant. Perhaps society’s recommendations coincided with their own desires.
Lastly, just to put the nail in the coffin, a good number of the best-known woman in history books were rather “well-behaved.” Mary the mother of Christ, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Victoria, Mother Theresa.
So, do well-behaved women rarely make it into the history books? No.
Is it a failure if they don’t? No.
Do they lack significant contributions to human flourishing? No.
Is this slogan tacitly buying into the worldview it’s fighting? Yep.
Is there any aspect of this bumper sticker that stands up to healthy critique?