Planned Parenthood: The Enemy of both Life and Choice

I’ve been waiting to comment on the recent drama surrounding Planned Parenthood until more information became available, but with the release of the fifth video this week, there’s not a lot more that can be said. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the group behind these videos, says it has released less than half of the videos the organization has in its possession, and in fact some of them may never see the light of day given that a LA County Superior Court Judge and a Federal Judge who bundled $230,000 for President Obama’s last campaign have both issued temporary restraining orders against releasing videos involving certain Planned Parenthood business partners, based on the time-honored legal standard of: “you can’t do that because it might make the people I support look bad.”

These orders have not, though, prevented the group from releasing footage of Planned Parenthood staff themselves. Perhaps there’s worse footage waiting in the wings, but it seems as though any additional footage can only confirm what we already know from these first five releases.

And what, precisely, is that? In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note here that I haven’t gotten through the several hours of unedited footage yet. I tend to be Boehner-esque in my lack of control over my lacrimal glands, so watching things like this make me start bawling, not to mention turning my stomach and just being flat out horrifying. I also have young kids at home, including a 9 month old baby, so my already-weak stomach is considerably more so when violence against small children is involved. What I have seen is incredibly difficult to watch, and would be even without a baby of my own at home. Watching it while thinking of her sleeping upstairs is next to impossible. So I haven’t watched everything. But what I have watched thus far is bad enough.

Here’s how bad . . .
Continue reading Planned Parenthood: The Enemy of both Life and Choice

The Day I Met My Daughter

I had a brand new experience this past Friday. I met my daughter for the first time. It was exhilarating . . . unbelievable . . . mind-blowing. It was a thousand different adjectives for which the English language doesn’t have words.

When Heidi was pregnant with Tristan, we decided to be “surprised.” We never had an ultrasound and didn’t know whether he was a boy or girl until he was in our arms and we could check all his parts for ourselves. We never regretted that decision, but this time we decided for a variety of reasons that we wanted to know in advance, and seeing that little girl on the screen this morning, I’m so very glad we did.

Continue reading The Day I Met My Daughter

Where we are. Where we’ve been.

I woke up this morning deeply discouraged about the future of our country. Conservatives like to say that we are a “center-right nation,” but in a country where the challenger can win independents handily and still lose the election that is clearly no longer the case. Many, myself included, thought the polls showing Obama ahead based on 2008 demographics couldn’t possibly be right . . . that 2008 was a historical anomaly centered on the man himself, and that after the pendulum swung the other way in 2010, everything would revert to the norm in 2012. We were wrong. I was wrong. 2008 was a realignment, and the face of the country changed. That being the case, it’s worth looking back at the country we left behind us four years ago.

Four years ago, I wrote a post on this blog intended to calm the fears of readers on the right who were worried about the fate of the nation in the face of what everybody knew would be an overwhelming victory for Barack Obama. It’s never as bad as it seems, I wrote, and the election of a staunch far-left liberal masquerading as a post-partisan moderate is not the end of the world.

I will not be writing any such comforting words this time. This time the electorate’s rose-colored glasses were off. The far-left liberal ran as exactly what he is. He ran a small, vicious and mean campaign based on character assassination, and was reelected anyway. It really is as bad as it seems. It may be worse.

Continue reading Where we are. Where we’ve been.

Stepping Back from the Ledge: On the Obamacare Opinion

Let me preface this by saying that I am no legal scholar, merely a long-time hobbyist and sometimes court-watcher. That said, I wanted to share some unorthodox thoughts on today’s PPACA decision and the man who authored it. I’ve deliberately avoided reading much in the way of commentary on today’s opinion from either side, choosing instead to read the opinion itself and formulate my own thoughts on it. And here they are, for any who care to read them. Take them for what they’re worth . . . which is roughly equivalent to the amount you paid to read them here.

Continue reading Stepping Back from the Ledge: On the Obamacare Opinion

Books, Films, Wars, and Adventures in Missing the Point

So there’s been a lot going on in the world of late – both in my own personal world and in the larger world around me. Oddly, a lot of them seem connected in my mind (which occasionally also means that they are connected in real life).

In a lot of places this weekend, the first of three movies based on the wildly popular objectivist novel “Atlas Shrugged” was released, to either wide acclaim or harsh criticism that is only partially dependent on one’s political viewpoint.

In Africa, the U.S. and other countries continued to engage in what people who think the word “war” is too icky are calling a “kinetic military action” in support of rebels who seek to unseat meglomaniacal dictator Moammer Qadhaffi . . . or Moamar Kadafi . . . or Muammar Gaddafi . . . one of those guys.

Meanwhile, the evangelical world was rocked to its core recently when Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill – a well-known megachurch – released a book called “Love Wins,” which is either a testament to the love of God or a heretical embrace of universalism depending on who you ask. Actually, the evangelical world began rocking well before the book was ever released, since theological luminaries like John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler took Rob Bell to task for his heresy based solely on a promo video he put out before it was even published.

Finally, in my own personal life, I’ve been reading a series of fantasy novels I’ve recently discovered: Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series.

Believe it or not, all these things seem related – at least to me – by more than the fact that they all seem to be happening at the same time.

As far as Atlas Shrugged, I’m hoping to see the movie in the very near future since it’s based on one of my favorite books, and from what I’ve heard the movie does a pretty good job living up to the book at least in this first installment.

In reading reviews, I came across this assessment – not so much a review as a political essay from a commentator who is something less than a fan of Ayn Rand. He, in turn, points to what he calls the “definitive repudiation of Rand,” written by Whitaker Chambers in 1957.

The commentator laments Ayn Rand’s influence on the Tea Party movement, and says that “No one who, as a mature adult, espouses [the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged] without reservation should be taken seriously” (Personally, I have a hard time taking seriously someone who espouses anything without reservation). Chambers, on the other hand, seems to use Rand’s rabid atheism to reject her entire philosophy out of hand . . . without reservation, so to speak.

As far as Libya, we’re mucking around seemingly without a clue as to what we’re doing there. Our objective is to help the Libyan rebels, or unseat Qadaffi, or defeat his hired merceneries, or bomb the crap out of some desert, or secure the nation’s oil supplies, or . . . whatever. Sometimes it seems like our entire purpose there is to just do something already! Ultimately, the absolute best-case scenario is probably a democratic government that is not hostile to the U.S. or its interests. How close we’ll end up to that best case is anybody’s guess.

I have yet to read the book Love Wins, so I won’t speak on what I don’t know . . . but I will say something about the controversy that’s brewing around the book. More on that a bit later.

As far as the “Sword of Truth” series, I’ve recently discovered that this series I’m enjoying has actually been made into a TV show as well, called “Legend of the Seeker.” The TV show is fairly boiler-plate fantasy/sci-fi stuff: Hero on the run from evil villain flits from place to place lending aid to random helpless strangers in passing. The characters and the stories they find themselves in are fairly accurate to the books, with some necessary alterations making it fit better on the small screen. But it really loses something in the broader scheme of things.

What it loses, is the same thing that connects all these random strings.

Unlike the TV show, the “Sword of Truth” books tell a sweeping, epic story of a brilliant, courageous young leader whose most earnest and sincere desire is to bring about a world of peace, justice and equality . . . and that’s just the story’s villain. That last sentence is not a typo.

His vision of “peace” is a world under the rule of one empire with him at its head. His idea of justice entails severe repercussions against any who stand in his way or dare to voice a countervailing opinion. His view of equality is that those who are successful are only so through avarice and greed . . . and that such success is therefore evil. Because everything one has is undeserved, in this worldview, misery is virtuous and charity is an obligation. The hero combats this view relentlessly, noting in one of the books that “Charity, if you have the means, is a personal choice, but charity which is expected or compelled is simply a polite word for slavery.”

In the TV show, the hero runs around helping those too weak to confront a difficult destiny. In the books, the hero shows people that they are strong enough to forge their own destinies. In that way, the TV show manages to miss the point rather comprehensively, almost turning the entire point of the books on its head at times.

Here’s the connection between all these random things: I think we’re suffering from a fundamental misunderstanding of freedom. In the TV show . . . in Libya . . . in the reviews about Atlas Shrugged . . . in the way we think about Hell . . .

The problem is that we think freedom is an end in and of itself. It’s not. Goodkind gets that fact in his novels. For Goodkind . . . for Rand . . . for me . . . freedom is a valued ideal, but one that only has value because of a greater ideal: self-determination.

Aren’t those the same thing, though? I don’t think so. I think freedom is merely a pathway that makes self-determination easier. Freedom is a circumstance controlled externally, whether by a government or another entity or individual. We can be free or not free, based solely on factors we cannot control.

When it comes right down to it, freedom is simply a variable in the number of choices available to me. Self-determination, on the other hand, is the act of making those choices, rather than having them made for me. Only I can decide whether to be self-determined or not. Nobody can take that away from me. Either I decide my own fate or I let somebody else do it. Even someone who has no freedom has this choice . . . even if it is the martyr’s choice between surrendering what one believes or dying for it. This quality that none can take away is that which makes me, me. It is my core. My character.

It is my soul.

And what about Rob Bell? How does all of this relate to a book about Hell?

Here’s how: One of the themes of self-determination that runs through both Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series is the theme of personal responsibility.

Some would say that Hell is, itself, the incarnation of personal responsibility . . . that it’s not a conscious decision of a vengeful God to cast people there, but that they choose to go there on their own accord as a natural consequence of their choices. C.S. Lewis, for one, seems to take such a view of Hell in his writings. I can’t speak for Rob Bell’s view because I haven’t read the book, but that’s not the point I want to make anyway. I want to make a similar point about his critics. Namely this:

What are they so spun up about?? If Bell is wrong, he’s wrong. So what? Who cares?? Presumably, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler and all the rest believe themselves to be “in the club” . . . so the only logical reason they could have for being so wound up about Bell is that they’re afraid to conceive of what a universe without hell would mean for them.

And what would it mean?? Simply that their beliefs, their actions, their every thought and word and deed would have to come from the core of who they are . . . and not from a fear of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone.

Self-determination, in other words.

After all, if I’m doing what I’m doing . . . If I believe as I do . . . simply because someone else is threatening me with a gun (or a lake of fire), then that’s just another external factor like freedom, or the lack thereof. I’m not really determining anything in and of my self.

Here’s how Matt, from the blog “Church of No People” puts it:

I might know why Universalism pisses off so many evangelicals. For most of us, if we were standing in line at the heavenly security checkpoint and God let in a drunken wife beater right before us, we’d whine because that’s not fair. We tried all our lives to walk the walk. We said the sinner’s prayer, we went to church, we fed the hungry, we followed God’s will. Why should a bunch of heathans and wife abusers, and Democrats and homosexuals get to go when they didn’t do one blasted thing they were supposed to? Does all the obedience and believing we did count for nothing?

If you are struck by the unfairness of everyone getting into heaven, it just shows that somewhere in your mind, you are still banking on the things you did in life to get into heaven, not God’s grace. Who am I to tell Jesus what the limits of his grace are? But that’s exactly what we do. Universalism always gets one reaction from reformed types and evangelical types: “There’s no way in hell those people are getting into heaven, and you’re going to hell just for suggesting otherwise!”

I have never heard a reformed or evangelical say to a Universalist, “I hope you’re right.”

There is something absolutely, painfully wrong with that.

The thought Matt puts words to here is the reason why, personally, I don’t think the whole Rob Bell controversy matters two hoots – simply because my relationship with God doesn’t depend on whether hell exists or not. I just can’t bring myself to care. I choose a relationship with God, regardless.

Others are free to do so – or not – as they choose, and to deal with whatever consequences arise from their choices. I’ll be more than happy to talk to them about my choice and share my reasons for it, but at the end of the day, what they choose is up to them.

This misunderstanding about self-determination also extends to how we think about situations like that in the Middle East. We set up new democracies who vote in new governments, and we call it a win as long as they’re not shooting at us.

What we never do is get to the heart of the matter. Take Iraq, for example, or Afghanistan. It is wonderful that these nations have the ability now to elect their own leaders and write their own

laws. But has anybody told them that each of them is free to draw his or her own destiny? For that matter, how self-determining can a person be when their culture tells them that it is more important that they are a Sunni, or a Shiite, or a Kurd, than it is that they are an individual??

If we’re going to support rebels against tyranny, that’s what we should be telling them. Not “you now have the ability to elect your own leaders from your own sect or ethnic group” but instead, “you have always had the ability to write your own future!”

And finally, this misunderstanding extends to many of those who read (or see) Atlas Shrugged. In the Whitaker Chambers “takedown” of Ayn Rand that I linked earlier, Chambers essentially asserts that Rand’s libertarian philosophy shares a logical conclusion with the Marxism she loathed. Where Marxism’s end result was a totalitarian regime that attempted to control every bit of life through force, Chambers asserts that Rand’s end result is a technocratic regime that controls every bit of life through a shared view of what is “rational” and ostracism of anybody who does not share that view. I can see how Chambers might reach that conclusion, but in order to get there, he has to ignore one thing. He has to ignore self-determination.

Yes, Rand believes in freedom. Yes, she believes in the superiority of the “men (and women) of mind.” Yes, she believes that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Yes, she believes that people who fail to choose these things is in the wrong. But what she never does is deny them the right to make that choice.

Think whatever you wish about each of these beliefs of hers. Just realize that they are not the point. Each of these flows from a deeper belief. The belief that each of us is, by definition, a self-determined being. I think it’s possible to hold to that deepest belief, and not reach all of the same conclusions Rand did. So I think Chambers misses the point.

That point is simply this: We may be a fractured culture composed of different traditions from hundreds of different histories, but the thing . . . the ONE thing . . . we all share is the ability to make our own rational decisions. That is what sets us apart from animals. It is even, if we look at the way they are portrayed in Scripture, the thing that sets us apart from angels. For those of us who are Christians, it is something that is so innate in us . . . so important to the core of who and what we are . . . that God was willing to allow us to exercise it in Eden, even with the full knowledge that we’d choose wrong, and that our choice would cost the life of His Son.

When we miss the point . . . when we get hung up on lesser goals, even such laudable goals as freedom or democracy or charity . . . we betray who we are. Let us pursue these lesser goals, but let us always do so out of our own self-determination . . . not because we ought, but because we choose to.

It’s not that freedom doesn’t matter. It’s just that self-determination matters so much more!

To Know You . . .

So for those of you who don’t know (assuming this blog is still lying dormant in somebody’s Google Reader after I haven’t posted anything for a year) . . . my wife and I are expecting a baby in a few short months. In fact, a big part of why I haven’t written anything here in so long is that I’ve been mostly processing lately, rather than generating any new thoughts coherent enough to actually share. I can’t really explain how excited I am about becoming a father . . . those who know me know how much I love kids, and anybody who has read a single post here knows how much I value relationships.

It’s truly amazing . . . I don’t know yet whether I have a son or a daughter (we’re going to wait until the birth to find out), but I already feel like there’s a very real relationship there. When I can put my head down by my wife’s belly and talk to my baby . . . when I can ask “are you awake in there?” and receive a kick in response . . .

. . . I can count the times in my life that I’ve been that . . . amazed . . . on one hand, and still have fingers left over. I am so looking forward to meeting my son or daughter . . .

I wrote this for them . . .


To Know You

I haven’t ever met you, but already know I love you
Can’t wait until the coming day when soon I’ll finally see you
To touch you and to greet you and to hold you and to meet you
Just to know you

Perhaps you are a son I’ll run and play and throw a ball with
Perhaps instead a boy whom I will read or paint or sit with
I’ll share whatever makes you come alive, the loves you cling to
Just to know you

Perhaps you are a girl who’ll love dolls and braids and dresses
Or one who roams outdoors with wind and rain upon her tresses
Wherever life brings joy and passion to you, there I’ll join you
Just to know you

I hope you’ll be a healthy child, vigorous and lively
But if affliction strikes you and you take to feeling poorly
Please know it’s not a picture-perfect life I long to cling to
But to know you

And as you grow and thrive, as you explore and you discover
The ground you want your precious life to grow into and cover
My wish is not to shape your mind and body or control you
Just to know you

And though there will be times that you’ll do things I want you not to
Know this: there’s never anything that possibly you could do
To make me love you less than in this moment here I now do
Know I love you

And though there will be times when in your life you will see vict’ry
Know too: there’s nothing you can do to earn my love or coax me
To ever love you MORE than what, right now, I feel for you
How I love you

I’ll celebrate your joys in life and grieve with you your sorrow
Recall your yesterdays; and share your hopes for each tomorrow
But I don’t want to use them to direct you or define you
Just to know you

And as a father I will make mistakes and won’t be perfect
And when I fail, I’ll need your help to make sure that I know it
I don’t want to be “always right” and hurt you or dismiss you
Just to know you

And at the sunset of my life, as scenes before my eyes flash
The things you’ve done or made or been, are not what I will rehash
Instead it’s who you ARE that I’ll take with me, may it be true:
That I knew you


In a Facebook conversation about my “Three-Letter Worldview” series of posts, a friend and relative of mine, Carla, challenged me to write out “how I would put the worldview into practice in a country . . . how does my worldview translate to governing?”

She applied it to my self-described libertarianism and asked, “What is the practical application for governing in a democracy such as ours? . . . How would a Libertarian or libertarian [Ed: big or little “L” . . . for the record, I consider myself the latter, not the former] set up a system of government for 300 million+ diverse human beings to live under?”

I promised to respond, and then things got a bit crazy . . . My job got very busy, and then the area got hit by two major snowstorms in the course of a single week. On top of that, I’ve been helping my wife with the advertising and graphic design for a benefit concert she and a friend are planning for Save the Children to aid earthquake victims in Haiti.

So I’ve had very little time to write. But now that things are slowing down, I wanted to respond to Carla’s question.

First, my worldview is primarily that – a view of the world . . . an interpretation of what I see around me and how I see it working (or not working, as the case may be). It is not intended as a political system or a treatise on government.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that my worldview has no implications for what I consider “ideal” government. What it does mean is that, in choosing what form of government I will assent to live under, I am willing to settle for less than ideal, if in the meantime I can work – and encourage others to work – in directions consistent with that ideal.

But all that is not answering the question – it’s merely talking around it.

That said, Carla has posed a question that is really three:

1) How does my worldview translate to governing?
2) What is the practical application of my worldview toward government in a democracy such as ours?
3) How would I (or any libertarian) set up a system of government for 300 million people?

First: How does my worldview translate to governing? To tell the truth, my worldview as I have laid it out here doesn’t really speak much to how governing works, except to follow the advice of my favorite founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The government that governs least governs best, because the people discipline themselves.”

Note that this commonly repeated quote is usually truncated. Generally only the first half is recalled, but my worldview is dependent on both halves – a government that is restrained, and a governed citizenry that are restrained themselves . . . by themselves.

That’s basically the only broad implication my worldview as I have laid it out here has on governing, but the question that you are surely asking at this point is, “how is that practical??”

This threads very neatly into Carla’s second question “What is the practical application of my worldview toward government in a democracy such as ours?

To begin with, as I stated fairly explicitly in my worldview series, the views I hold are fairly government-agnostic. I believe that the views I hold are just as true in a democracy as they are in a dictatorship. The only difference is that, under some governments, the penalty for living a live consistent with those views may be more or less severe.

That being the case, one of the most hospitable forms of government to this worldview is that of a representative republic. Contrary to Carla’s assertion, we do not live in a democracy. This makes a tremendous difference because a republic is by far friendlier to the views I have espoused. In a democracy, a whimsical populace can inflict whatever it wishes, as long as it persuades a majority of its members to agree. In a republic, that populace is far more restrained by several factors – the supremacy of codified law, the separation of power into multiple decision-making bodies, and restrictions on how far even a legitimate majority is allowed to go in imposing its will over the minority.

But that’s only a side discussion. The main discussion on this question is one of practicality. How is it practical to expect that people control themselves, rather than relying on the government to control them?

The problem is that this question presumes some sort of government that is not, itself, made up of people – subject to the same whims, faults, limitations and errors as any others. The only really just government would be a government ruled by one truly perfect human being . . . and no such thing exists, or ever can.

This being the case, any government at all is a concession . . . a surrender of control over our own choices. But it is a necessary concession if we are to live in relationship with one another. Anarchy – the absence of any government – simply pits everyone against each other in a harsh, primal struggle for survival.

What, then, should we look for in our government on a practical level? I believe that perhaps the most harmful force in our current national character has been the drive toward relativism . . . the belief that everything is subjective, and that nothing is universal.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that at least 99% of all the standards anybody holds – including, probably, some of my own – are misguided and wrong. But 99% is not the same as 100%. In order for a society to function . . . indeed, in order for there to be any concept at all of justice, good, or right . . . something must be universally true. Otherwise, these words are just so many letters combined in an aesthetically pleasing order.

So yes . . . I believe most of what each and every one of us believes to be true is, in fact, probably wrong, either by virtue of being incomplete or being off target. On a practical level, this means that we should not endeavor to impose our beliefs, behavioral systems or tastes on each other. The laws of this country should strive to respect the choices each of us make for ourselves. The only laws I would like to see . . . the only ones I believe to be truly “just” . . . are those which prevent us from imposing our will on each other . . . those which prevent us from *eliminating* one another’s choices.

Therefor, my answer is that, in our democracy, we should strive to eliminate as many laws, bureaucracies, and systems of control as possible. And where it is not possible, we should maximize the ability of those under the laws to make choices within them. If there must be politicians, then let us strive to elect politicians who believe this, rather than those who are simply out for more control. And where there are none who truly believe it, let us elect those who at least find it in their best interest to pretend that they do.

Carla’s final question is a bit different. Her first question had one foot still firmly in the theoretical world, and one in the practical. Her second question moved fully to the practical realm, but dealt with how to apply my worldview politically to our existing nation-state.

Her third question starts from scratch, and asks how a libertarian would set up a system of government for 300 million people such as those living in this country.

I cannot answer for all libertarians, but I will answer for myself, and my answer will be similar to the one I gave for the last question . . . that is . . . it’s the wrong question. How would I set up a government for 300 million people? I wouldn’t.

This may seem like a cop-out, but really it is not. A government is not something I believe can be legitimately “set up” for people. In order to be legitimate, they must set it up themselves – whether by electing representatives, choosing the strongest warrior to be their king, selecting the best hunter to be their tribal chief, or simply allowing citizens to participate in a direct democracy.

To be honest, I think it would be easier to establish an ideal government from scratch than it would be to try to turn our country, with its history, its many diverse cultures, its baggage and its existing power structures into that ideal government. While I don’t subscribe to the view that “we can’t get there from here,” I do think it’d be one hell of a trip to do so.

The problem with this whole discussion is the fact that it focuses too much on government. This is, I think, one of the key problems with small “L” liberalism . . . that is, the left wing political viewpoint in America today. Like Carla did in asking these questions, liberalism focuses on government for everything. See a problem? What can the government do to fix it? Have a good idea? Let’s pass a law and have the government put it into practice! See someone in need? Let’s have the government help them out.

Frankly, I just don’t see the government that way. A government is just a particular structure put in place by people who seek to protect themselves. But in doing so, they sacrifice complete control over their own choices, and once they have given the government a little of that control, it will always seek more.

That’s where the liberal comes in . . . the typical liberal trusts the government, trusts it enough to willingly hand over his or her own control to solve that problem, to make something of that good idea, or to help that person in need. The typical liberal truly believes that the government is the entity best suited to make those decisions.

I think that’s giving the government . . . and the people who operate it . . . way too much credit.

What’s the alternative then? How do we build up a truly effective system of self-government?

The key is not government, but culture. Whether we’re talking about an existing system or one built from the ground up, the key is to start with the broadly-shared cultural belief that what we’re building is a good thing.

“But,” you say, “doesn’t that fall afoul of your earlier assertion that we shouldn’t force our beliefs on one another?”

Not at all. I don’t advocate forcing this belief on anybody . . . I simply believe that my ideal culture cannot exist in its absence. Besides, the belief I’m talking about is already broadly shared among much of western civilization. Those who believe in God call it the “golden rule,” but it is known by various secular aphorisms as well, “live and let live,” “let sleeping dogs lie,” “don’t tread on me.” These are all manifestations of the same thing. I prefer the Biblical expression because it is somehow fuller . . . deeper than the others. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is just another way of stating the foundational libertarian principle. It says, “I would like to be allowed the freedom to make my own choices, and because that is what I would like, I will give you that freedom as well.”

So the very first thing I would do to move this country – or ANY country – toward my ideal is work to instill within its people the importance of this vital principle. Right now, we have no central guiding principle . . . quite honestly, we have very little by way of cohesive culture at all, any more. Some of us operate on the hippocratic, “first, do no harm.” Others operate on the principle of “take what you can get.” Still others operate on various manufactured ethical codes that claim to have their basis in some form of religion or moral code, but few if any of these are truly internally consistent. Most are contradictory, and virtually all – when they find themselves with a hand on the strings of government – simply pull those strings in their direction, figuring that when an opposing viewpoint recaptures the reins it will do the same. All of these codes are, in some ways at odds . . . either with themselves, with each other, or both.

I’m afraid, Carla, that I probably haven’t really answered your questions. I suspect what you were looking for is an outline of how to restructure our government along libertarian lines, according to the worldview I outlined on this blog. The problem is, that is not - and was never - the point. The point is to outline how I, myself, try to live. Personally, I believe that if more people lived this way, we would all be happier, healthier, and more alive than we are now, but that’s not my choice – it’s theirs.

I can wish they would choose as I have, but truly I don’t have a lot of hope for that. So in the meantime I will simply keep developing my thinking, and keep sharing it with others. I may not be able to impact 300 million people, but perhaps I can impact one or two.

My Three-letter Worldview: Conclusion

There are a lot of words here. Some of them may seem controversial, irrelevant, even nonsensical. But this is what I believe . . . for now. I do not claim to be right – in fact, I assume that much of what I have written here is wrong. I do not claim to know the truth – or even that the truth is entirely knowable.  But because I do not know which of my beliefs are wrong, I will hold to them as long as they make sense. And because I cannot say which part of the truth I have managed to grasp, I will keep searching.

I’d like to say a few words about the sources that have informed my worldview. The two most influential, you may have noticed, are the Bible and Ayn Rand. Back in Part 1, I asked, and answered, the question: “How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?”

I suppose that Rand herself would likely be horrified to find elements of her philosophy plugged into an overtly Biblical worldview. But I do not, as she did, believe that the two philosophies are so utterly incompatible. I believe Rand’s harsh reaction to Christianity largely stemmed from ways it has itself been twisted to belittle . . . to objectify. I’ve been exposed to plenty of Christians who believe humanity to be the scum of the earth, utterly worthless in our own right, incapable of anything that is objectively good, and valuable only inasmuch as we are redeemed by God. I used to believe that myself

Like Rand, though, now I reject that view – though my reasons for doing so are different. I believe that we are created in the image of God – intrinsically valuable (and valued by Him). And while I believe that He is the source of ultimate truth, I believe that His image in us is capable of finding bits and pieces of that truth, of tasting and recognizing “good,” even apart from His intervention . . . otherwise what do you do with masterful works of art that appeal to something deep within our souls . . . and are created by those who reject Him? How do you explain cultures never exposed to the concept of “Jesus Christ,” who nevertheless have pictures of Him buried in their own cultural and historical traditions?

I suspect that if I were able to sit down and have a conversation with Rand, the biggest point on which we would differ is this: she respected humanity so highly as to believe there is nothing greater. I respect humanity so highly as to believe there must be.

It is because of this respect . . . both for the Creator and for the pinnacle of His creation . . . that I can say of myself the same thing as the One whose image I bear. With Him, I can proclaim my “self” as an individual, conscious being who exists to make independent choices and to live in relationships with other “selves” . . . with you, in fact, if you want from your relationships the same thing I do from mine . . . if you long, like the Velveteen Rabbit in the children’s fairy tale, to slowly, painfully shed your button eyes and faux fur covering and become real.

I want that. I strive for it every day, and usually I fail. But I never stop trying. I hunger for real relationships with other people sharing their real selves. And when I find such a person – as I have found in my wife, for example – it just makes me hunger all the more.

Most importantly, I live in relationship with the “Self” of the One who formed me, lost me, sought me, found me, and loves me. What He took as the identification of His “Self,” I now take as the definition of mine, and when I use those three letters, I mean not only that I am an extant, distinct, and conscious being, but that I am living out the life I was created for, endeavoring every day to live that life to its fullest.

I Am.

Are you??

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 7

This is the seventh segment of “My Three-Letter Worldview.” Read Parts 1-6 Here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Tomorrow I’ll wrap this all up as best I can.

In parts 1-6, I talked a lot about what I believe about myself and my interactions with others.

This piece is intended to discuss what I believe about God.

To begin with – obviously, I believe that God exists.

What do I mean by that?

First, I believe that the previously discussed irreducible facts of my existence and identity imply the additional existence of a “source,” of some sort.

However, I do not believe that this fact necessitates the existence of a “God” . . . be it the God of the Bible or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ask an atheist where it all comes from and he or she will turn it around on you and ask you where your God came from. Ask a physicist what happened before the “big bang,” and you will hear that it doesn’t matter, because it is not measurable and therefore outside the realm of science. It implies only a preexisting . . . something . . .

The simple fact is that there is no “proof” of the God I believe in. But my belief in Him does not require proof.

The book of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is as good a definition as any. Faith then, is what gives rise to hope . . . it is what drives me to believe things I cannot prove by empirical, tangible means.

It is what draws me to God.

Many people throughout history have attempted to “prove” God . . . to convince skeptics of His existence or His merit by logic alone. But these “proofs” are always unsatisfying. Pascal’s wager, for example, posits that it is better to believe in God than not, because the consequences of a mistaken disbelief are incalculably bad, while the consequences of a mistaken belief are nil.

This and all such logical arguments fail to take one thing into account. Mere belief in the existence of God is not what He asks of us.

“But wait a second,” you protest, “Acts 16:31 records Paul the Apostle saying exactly what is required for salvation: ‘believe . . . and you shall be saved.'”

Yes, it does, but the ellipses in the above sentence leave out its most important part – indeed, the most important piece of all of human history. They exclude the one unique factor that sets Christianity apart from all other world religions: Jesus Christ.

He is not unique as a mix of the human and the divine. Many religions have had their “god-men.” He is not unique as a sacrificial victim, which is also characteristic of many religions throughout history. He is not even unique in His victory over death.

He is not unique in how, when, or where he lived. His uniqueness is in why He lived.

non-Christian sects – and even some self-described Christian ones – equate Christ’s life to the lives of Moses, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama, Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard. They call him a great teacher and prophet.

And that is indeed what he was. But it is not what He is. Or more accurately, it is a piece of His existence, but only a piece.

We Christians have many petty debates about various divergences in what we believe, but I think the most petty – and most unnecessary – is the debate over predestination versus free will. I myself used to take gleeful part in these debates. But in doing so, I was off on what Emergent Theologian Brian McLaren calls and “adventure in missing the point.”

This is where my beliefs and the beliefs of the hard and fast physicist to whom I alluded earlier intertwine. I believe our human observations and conceptualizations are limited to the bounds of what science has come to call the “space-time continuum.” While I believe we are not mere physical beings, I believe our limited minds – bound within space and time themselves – can only conceive of things – even spiritual things – in physical terms. We cannot truly imagine “spirit” . . . we can only imagine a physical *picture* of what we think “spirit” looks like.

God, I believe, is not bound by such restraints. He exists outside of time and space. I don’t pretend to know how, or why, or that it’s even possible to understand, but I do not believe in a God who is constrained by physical limitations of any sort, the way I am – the way we all are.

So for this God, so many of the supposedly “big” questions of Christianity become meaningless. the question over predestination vs. free will, the question of how many literal “days” it took to create the universe, the question of when exactly Christ took on divine . . . even the question of the nature of the trinity.

Is God divided into three parts or one? From outside of space, the concept of “parts” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Neither

Did Christ become divine before or after His death? From outside of time, the concept of “when” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: He just IS.

Did God create the earth in seven literal days? From outside of time, the concept of “days” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Who cares?

Did God predetermine who would join in relationship with him, or do we have the free choice to make that decision ourselves? From outside of time, the concept of “pre” becomes meaningless, and the answer is both!

Here’s why this last question, the one that misses the point so badly, is such a heartbreaking one . . . it is so close to the heart of the matter, yet misses it entirely.

The “heart of the matter” is this. God invites us to join in relationship with Him! And instead of marvelling at His invitation, we bicker over when it was issued.

Think about that. God – by whatever name you give him or concept you use to picture him – reaches from beyond the universe . . . beyond all bounds of what we can see or hear or “prove,” or even imagine . . . and invites us into relationship. As I defined relationship in Part 2 of this series, that means he literally invites my “self” to touch His “Self.” How cool is that??

There’s just one problem with it. I can’t do it.

I believe that in Eden, when humanity made the choice to reject their relationship with God, we placed the impenetrable barrier of space-time between us and Him. Ever since then, we have been living within those restrictions, and God has been reaching in to us, grieving for the relationship we broke and working toward its restoration, while we by our own poor choices have been adding onto that barrier . . . making it even thicker . . . distancing ourselves even further with each lie we live, each substitute we settle for, each relationship we fake.

One can see the imprint of His efforts throughout Scripture to restore the lost relationship. One can picture him taking long walks with Enoch, engaging in careful, detailed discussions with Noah, sitting down to a meal with Abraham, sparring physically with Jacob, and verbally with Moses, weeping with David, sighing in frustration with Jeremiah, comforting Esther as she fears for her life. With each overture he coaxes us closer, prompts us to eye the barrier we have created to see if there might somehow be a way around it . . . a way back to relationship with Him.

Ultimately, all of it is preparing humanity for that point at which He would physically enter space-time as one of us. He doesn’t sever the barrier we created – not yet. But He sets in motion the process by which it will be severed. Our choices have left us tainted – sick – incapable of breaching the barrier on our own to regain relationship with Him. So instead He comes Himself as a man – and not any man, but one who is not afflicted as we are by the choices we have made. He takes our sickness on Himself, working out the cure for our poor choices – our sin – in his own body, and ultimately curing it . . . creating a conduit through the barrier, through which we can reach for something more. He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is the Way – the conduit through which we reach for restored relationship. He is the Truth – the only means we have of breaching the otherwise-impenetrable barrier we created by choice. He is the Life – the cure to what ails us . . . the antidote to a lifetime, to several lifetimes, of poor choices: of settling for less than we deserve, less than we need . . . less than we truly want. He invites us once again into a real relationship – the fulfillment of all of His . . . and all of our own . . . “shadow” relationships.

And once again, just as He did in the beginning, because He still values us too much to force us into anything . . . because we are still the same creatures he designed to make conscious choices . . . He gives us a choice in this as well. Some choose to reestablish the relationship severed by our ancestors so long ago – to accept the antidote he offers. Tragically, most choose once again to reject it.

I’ve gone on a long time, for a worldview that unpacks itself from a mere three letters. In my next and final segment, I will wrap all of this up as best I can.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 6

This is the sixth installment of “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first five parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

In these posts, I’ve talked a great deal about “rights.”

I’ve talked far less about “wrongs.” This will be the subject of this installment.

Thus far I’ve argued that, as individuals, we have the absolute, inborn right to do as we choose so long as we do not, in exercising that right, infringe on the rights of another.

You might think that, by so arguing, I’m advocating a world in which each person gets to set their own standards, live by their own rules and ultimately live free of any constraints at all. To this I have two responses.

First, I haven’t really said that at all. I’ve already argued that we have the right to live free of external restraints, provided we are willing to suffer the consequences of doing so. I have the absolute freedom to drive down the highway at 100 miles an hour, so long as I’m willing to accept the speeding ticket and reckless driving charge that would likely result from my doing so. I have the absolute freedom not to pay my taxes . . . so long as I’m willing to spend a great deal of time alone in a dark room with bars on the door.

Second, and more importantly, I don’t want to.

Let me explain what I mean.

I mentioned earlier that I believe we are created to (a) live in real relationships and (b) make choices about how we interact with our world. But I believe that most of the time, we settle for fairly superficial shadows of the two purposes for which I think we were created. Too often, rather than living in real relationships . . . relationships where we actually put our selves out there to interact with the selves of others, we put on a facade, and blithely wander around interacting with other facades. We ask “how are you doing?” or “how’s it going?” or “how’s life?” all the while hoping against hope that what we don’t get is a real answer. We don’t want to hear, “life sucks right now. I’m upside down in my mortgage, I’ve been sick, and my wife and I aren’t getting along so well at the moment.” We want to hear “I’m fine.” Then we want to go on about our lives. That’s not a relationship. That’s the exact opposite . . . it’s the avoidance of relationship.

You see this even in many marriages. David Schnarch, psychologist, therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, says that when he sits down in a restaurant he can always look around the room and tell which couples are married, and which ones aren’t. How’s that? Because the married ones are the ones not talking with one another. Schnarch explains that many married couples have spent so much time with each other that they have realized which are the “taboo” topics . . . which subjects, when brought up, so irk the other partner that it’s just not worth it to bring them up. After many years of marriage for a couple like this, there are more sensitive topics than there are safe ones. Again, this is not relationship. It is the lack of relationship.

And what about choices? Every day it seems like we are coming up with new ways to not make choices. Even the newest “hot” search engine on the Internet, Microsoft’s “Bing” markets itself as a “decision engine.” Everywhere we look is another expert with another point of view assuring us that all we have to do is take this advice, read that book, make three easy payments of $19.99 . . . and we will be told what the “right” choice is.

If you’ve read much on this blog, you know I don’t trust “experts” much. This is why. Your typical expert doesn’t want to be told that he or she might be wrong . . . might not have all the information . . . or might just flat out not know what they’re talking about. They don’t want you to question . . .they just want you to do as you’re told. And to pay them for the privilege of doing it.

I’d rather make my own choices, thank you very much.

Relationships and choices. These are two things that set us apart as humans. Animals have functional relationships . . . their “marriages” are for the sake of procreation . . . their “friendships” for the sake of survival. They don’t have the ability to lock minds with another individual and realize that this . . . this is someone with whom I can relate. Here is someone who understands.

That ability is uniquely human.

So is the ability to make choices. In the animal kingdom, choice is driven by survivalism . . . compelled by instinct. In reality, it is hardly choice at all. We humans are different . . . ever since Eden we have been unique in our ability to make choices . . .

. . . unique in our ability to screw things up.

Yes, to err is human. It is the essence of what makes us human. We can strive to make wise choices, but it is our ability to make unwise choices that makes us so special. How counterintuitive is that??

What, though, does this have to do with the concepts of “right” and “wrong”? What does it have to do with the fact that I choose not to live free of any restraints or “morals”?

Simply that the choice of which standards I follow is guided by my desire to live . . . to live fully from what it is that makes me human. To live deeply in relationships and to make every effort to make each and every choice consciously, aware of the ramifications and accepting of the consequences.

Therefore, I choose, among other things:

  • To abstain from drugs – both illegal and (as much as I can) legal
  • To abstain from eating certain foods
  • To forego most vaccinations and stay away from antibiotics as much as possible
  • To abstain from sexual promiscuity – indeed, from all sexual activity outside my marriage
  • To seek a relationship with God apart from an institutional, organized church or denomination

These are just a few examples of my personal standards of external behavior. I do not demand that you follow them – or even necessarily think that you should. They are what is necessary for me to live a life of genuine, committed relationships and genuine, informed choices.

In the first example, I choose to abstain from drugs because I believe that for me they would function as a shield to block out the realities of life . . . to avoid the difficulties and struggles – the choices – of a life lived fully conscious . . . and fully lived.

In the second example, I have read enough to believe that my body is adversely affected by certain foods to the extent that its functionality is impaired. I believe many people simply go on and endure this impaired functionality because they believe it’s worth it in order to eat certain things, or simply because they don’t think about it at all. That is their choice, and I used to do the same. Now I make a different choice.

In the third example, While I don’t necessarily buy into all the hype around vaccines, I think there is enough “reasonable doubt” in many cases to justify a cost/benefit analysis that comes down in favor of going without. I believe that in most cases the risks of side effects outweigh the risks of the diseases in question. As far as the antibiotics, I believe many of the health issues we face today as a culture addicted to pills for everything can be traced back to chemical imbalances in the body created by excessive exposure to antibiotics. I choose not to expose myself any more than I absolutely have to.

In the fourth example, I choose a genuine, deep relationship with my wife. There is nobody who understands me more or loves me more. To seek sexual satisfaction anywhere else would be to not only damage that relationship, but to settle for something far less satisfying.

In the final example, I choose, again, a genuine, deep relationship with my God. For most of my life, I lived with a shadow relationship with a theoretical God. I learned all the verses, mouthed all the lines and modeled all the behaviors . . . but I didn’t really know God. Now I find that every time I sit through a church service I am drawn back into that old life . . . that shadow existence based on external pressures and rules, rather than on the reality of who I am, and who He is.

And ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to: internal vs. external motivations. That’s what I meant at the start of this post when I said that I the reason I don’t live a life free of any restraints is because I don’t want to . . . I believe external motivations are those used by people who wish to control us. I believe what God looks for . . . and what real “good” looks like . . . is internally motivated.

This might sound sacreligious . . . but I genuinely do not believe that the reason sin is wrong is “because the Bible says so.” I believe that the Bible says so because it’s wrong, and I believe it’s wrong because it’s living a lie. It’s settling for less life than I am intended to live.”

And that, I believe, is the ultimate wrong. Maybe even the only real wrong.

I know, I know, there I go sounding sacreligious again. Am I saying that sin isn’t a problem? That there’s far less wrong with the world than we generally think?

Not at all. I’m saying that I believe each of the world’s ills can be traced to the problem of less-lived lives. I think what we know as “sin” is really a matter of “settling” . . . settling for something less than we really want – something less than we really need in order to satisfy human nature’s inherent lust for life.

That’s why internal motivation is so important. External motivation can prompt us to model behaviors, but Matthew 5 is pretty clear that what God really cares about are our internal motivations. Have you killed anyone lately? No? How about calling them names? . . . yeah, well . . . that’s just as bad.

What about loving people . . . have you been kind and generous to your friends? Yes? well good! . . . what about your enemies??

What’s my point? Simply this. I believe that “sin,” to God, has far less to do with what I do, than why I do it! I believe, for example, that He doesn’t want me murdering people, stealing their stuff or screwing around with them, because each of these behaviors is an objectification of sorts. To murder someone is to say they are less of a person than I am . . . less deserving of their basic right to exist. Stealing their stuff says essentially the same thing about their other rights – the right to their time, labor and the fruits thereof. Sexual promiscuity objectifies not only the person with whom I’m engaging in illicit activity, but also the person to whom I have promised myself. It says to the one: “I don’t want a real relationship with you. You are simply an object to be used to slake my sexual desires.” It says to the other, “I claim that I want a relationship with you, but in reality all I want is a prop for family portraits and dinners out with friends. I don’t really want you.”

As I said earlier . . . sin isn’t wrong because Scripture says so . . . Scripture says so because it’s wrong.

We engage in this sort of objectification – both of others and of ourselves – on a daily basis. We do this whenever we do physical or emotional harm to another person . . . or when we settle for less than we truly desire and stop trying to attain it. We live a life that settles for shadow relationships . . . shadow choices . . . falsehoods modeled after something real that we have ceased to hope for . . . to long for . . . to even dream is possible.

I am unwilling to settle for that. I am unsatisfied with a shadow existence. I crave something more . . . something deeper.

And I believe God does, too.

My next segment will delve deeper into this assertion, and will answer what I consider to be the most important question of any worldview: What do I believe about God?