Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

As we celebrate the incarnation, may you all have great joy.

I recommend the December 24 post by Cranmer of a sermon by his curate at:

Blessings! Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace Hidden in the Words of the Law

Lately, as part of my daily Bible reading, I’ve been reading through the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible, also known as the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books contain not only a historical account of the world from creation to the time the Israelites reached the promised land following their exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, but also describe the guidelines that God gave the Israelites to run their future polity, to guide them in moral living, and to teach them how God wanted them to worship Him at that time. It includes rules about nearly everything from public health to festivals. Most people think of the Mosaic Law found in the Pentateuch as legalistic, and in some ways it is. The Mosaic Law is impossible for people to actually keep if rightly interpreted, so it lets people know that they are sinful people in need of God’s grace and forgiveness in order to be saved. The law also shows us what God wants and why, how to live well, and provides a foreshadowing of what God would eventually do through the redemptive work of the Messiah, Jesus. This foreshadowing aspect is particularly interesting. In a very real way, God’s grace—His unmerited favor—is hidden in God’s dictates of the law. The law cannot save anyone. But God put hints about how we could be saved by grace in the text of the law.

One interesting little example is found in Leviticus 16 on the Day of Atonement. Here God instructs Moses about exactly what the priests will have to do in order to celebrate a day in which they atone for the Israelites through sacrifices made to God. The sacrifices have to follow a specific format and involve all sorts of ritualistic acts, clothes, etc. Describing the various sacrifices, it says in verse 29, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: on the tenth day of the seventeenth month you must deny yourselves and not do any work whether native born or an alien living among you—because on this day atonement will be made for you to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord you will be clean from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.” The high priest who is presenting the blood of atonement does the work on the Day of Atonement. The people being atoned for are not allowed to work. In other words, the people aren’t really to do anything to make the atonement happen. They don’t earn their atonement by working. Instead it is based on the sacrifice made for them by the high priest. This is definitely a foreshadowing of the work of Christ to come. Christ is our great High Priest who offered His own blood as the atonement for our sins—a lasting atonement forever. It superseded the need to sacrifice bulls and sheep and to release scapegoats into the wilderness. But interestingly enough, our salvation is by grace through faith. It is based on the unmerited favor that God gives to us. It is a gift of grace, not of works lest any man should boast. In terms of our atonement we do no work. So when God instructed the Israelites not to do any work on the Day of Atonement, perhaps He was trying to help them realize that they did not have any part in earning their forgiveness through works. Instead, it was something given to them—an act of grace.

Now this is not to say that we shouldn’t work for God and do His will in a response of gratitude for the salvation that He brings to us. But we should never think that we earn our salvation by works. Instead, our right state before God is made possible by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and we do no work in order to earn it or obtain it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

May God Bless and Guide the President Elect

Congratulations to President Elect Obama. The best thing about his election is that it shows that whatever difficult people may still exist in the world, if, in America, you are smart, hard working, friendly, well spoken, polite, optimistic and creative, you can become or do almost anything humanly possible – including becoming President – no matter who your parents were or were not, no matter where your ancestors were from, and no matter what your background has been.
In addition, all the leftists who predicted the Republicans could or would steal the election, or that Americans were too racist to elect Obama, were proved wrong.

No country is perfect. But by the grace and mercy of God America is a great and very blessed country. I hope Obama's election reminds people of that.

We will now see what the Democrats can do to fulfill their many conflicting promises of utopia. I am confident that if closely observed, the Democrats will demonstrate they are even more involved in what remains of legal opportunities for graft and government partnership with “big business” than the Republicans, despite folk legends and examples to the contrary.

I hope and pray we do not see laws and Presidential orders dehumanizing very young and very old human beings signed by the very man who claims to be the embodied remedy for past dehumanizations of minorities. I hope and pray we can avoid a more costly war than the one we now face. I hope and pray our religious liberties will not be trashed by those appointed by a man who used more religious language and iconography in his campaign than anyone in memory. I hope and pray the government does not seize our retirement accounts "for our own good" or limit access to beneficial medical treatment. And I hope and pray the government does not worsen the economic crisis in the name of saving us from its deprivations. Actually I have little hope. But not no hope. Nothing is impossible for God - but many things are impossible for man, whether we say "yes we can." So long as we remember we are not God, respect the rules and order he established, and seek God's help, there is real hope. If we think we can build heaven on earth by human means there is no hope for those plans to succeed.

Best of wishes to President elect Obama. May he have four wonderful years in the White House that are much much better for America than I expect.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Today is election day. The next four years of Supreme Court of the United States appointments hang in the balance. How the war with Islamofacism is handled will change in one way or another. Taxes, both on income and social security, may change in one way or another. Legislation, by a House and Senate dominated by the Democrat party, on issues like homosexual marriage, abortion, retirement funds, the fairness act, military spending, and a lot more will either be signed or vetoed. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses. The results of their victories will not be identical. And there are many other offices and initiatives on the ballot all over the country.

Your vote will make a difference. If you have not voted yet, and are eligible to do so, please go out and vote now.

May God grant us a better government and a better future than we deserve. Best wishes.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day

Today in 1517 Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church. Luther's insistence on the primacy of scripture, on justification by faith through grace (not works), on the priesthood of all believers, on the preaching of the Word, and on fidelity to truth is still critical today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recent Radio Show on Marriage

At the link, the audio of my recent appearance on the radio show to talk about In Re Marriage Cases:

(Somehow it does not seem right to call being on radio an "appearance." But then what is it? It cannot be an audience.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Case Review: California Supreme Court Case In Re Marriage Cases

In 1999, the California Legislature enacted domestic partnership legislation. In 2000 and nearly every year thereafter, the benefits associated with domestic partnership were expanded by the State Legislature. By 2006, the state had given domestic partners nearly all of the benefits of marriage, including married filing status on state income taxes. There were still some differences relating to the parameters of defining domestic partnership, i.e. that it can’t be secret, that the parties must live together, etc.

In the year 2000, a backlash to the growth of gay rights in California occurred with Prop. 22, a proposition that made it a state law that marriage in California should be between one man and one woman. The law, however, did not affect domestic partnerships. In 2004, the Supreme Court of California rejected an attempt by local officials to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. That decision was based largely on the local authorities’ lack of constitutional authority to force such a change on the state. The court, however, did not foreclose the possibility of future litigation. In the case In Re Marriage Cases, the question of the constitutionality of limiting marriage to opposite sex couples came before the California Supreme Court. On May 15 of this year, the California Supreme Court found that it was unconstitutional under the California State Constitution to limit marriage to opposite sex couples. The court concluded that denying same sex couples the label of “marriage” treated them as second-class citizens and violated equal protection under the California State Constitution

The court started off its reasoning by discussing several technical arguments such as the argument that the case was moot, that it was barred by Prop. 22, or that current marriage law already allowed domestic same sex marriage. After rejecting these, the court also went through a long summary of the development of laws related to marriage in California.

The court noted a general right to marry based on case law interpreting the California Constitution and the Federal Constitution. The court quoted Ortiz v L.A. Police Relief Association (2002) 98 Cal. App. 4th 1288 at 1303:

“We have recognized that the concept of personal liberties and fundamental human rights entitled to protection against overbroad intrusion or regulation by government extends to such basic civil liberties and rights not explicitly listed in the Constitution as the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.”

The court also referred to the right to marry as discussed in the federal courts in Meyer v Nebraska and Griswold v Connecticut. In this way, it associated a right to marry with fundamental rights and with privacy. But while the court cited federal cases based in natural law and natural right, it sought to avoid the traditionalist moral claims associated with that line of reasoning by focusing on the evolving nature of legal norms. The court noted, “Constitutional concepts are not static…we have never been confined to historic notions of equality.” It noted that in California, the right to marry “is not based on anachronistic notions of morality”…but is “rooted in the necessity of providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities in an organized society.” The court, however, did make “moral” judgments of its own, and took a swipe at people who believe that homosexual acts are immoral by implying that the past was essentially wrong when it “once denigrated the general character and morals of gay individuals, and at one time even characterized homosexuality as a mental illness rather than as simply one of the numerous variables of our common and diverse humanity.” The court noted that by contrast, “this state’s current policies and conduct regarding homosexuality recognizes that gay individuals are entitled to the same legal rights and the same respect and dignity afforded all individuals and are protected from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

The court characterized the question before it as not a question of whether or not there is a right for homosexuals to marry each other, but rather whether or not the right to marry could justly be denied to anyone based on sexual orientation. The court was aware of the argument that marriage law in California passes the equal protection test by allowing all persons to marry persons of the opposite sex regardless of sexual orientation. But they dismissed this as essentially requiring people with a homosexual orientation to change their orientation or live unsatisfied lives:

“In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry—and their central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society—the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard to their sexual orientation.”

The court finds that marriage is actually a cluster of rights that includes “the opportunity of an individual to establish—with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life—an officially recognized family.” The court tries to bolster its expansion of the notion of who’s entitled to marry by referring to other civil rights cases such as those involving miscegenation and the case involving reproductive freedom for a disabled woman. The court tries to say that rights should be interpreted broadly and has given a sweeping definition and scope, rather than limiting it through a narrow definition. The court attempts to distinguish the cases cited by the California Court of Appeal in which the Supreme Court had used a narrow definition of rights in order to avoid their expansion, such as its narrowing of the definition of autonomy in order to avoid a right for assisted suicide.

The court proceeds to an equal protection analysis in which it finds that sexual orientation is a suspect class. The court claims that sexual orientation is the equivalent of an immutable trait because “whether or not sexual orientation is based on biological factors, which may be a matter of some controversy, it is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs.” The court concludes with little or no discussion of data that it is prima facia the case that homosexual people make a contribution to society and that that categorization does not in any way eliminate that contribution or mitigate it. They also discuss the history of stigma associated with homosexuality. Given those three criteria, they find that sexual orientation is, in fact, a suspect class and that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard. The court finds no compelling interest for excluding people with a homosexual orientation from marriage to one another. The court claims that there is no harm to children either from gay parents or from the existence of homosexual unions, asserts that there is no harm done to opposite sex couples by expanding the scope of who may marry whom, says that the new definition of marriage will avoid the disparagement of people with a gay sexual orientation, and maintains that the law must not treat these people as second-class citizens. The court has an extensive discussion of the statutes that limit marriage to couples of the opposite sex, and concludes that these statutes are in effect unconstitutional. But the court recognizes that it should not destroy marriage itself, and so essentially allows that marriage will have to be understood to include same sex couples.

The practical impact of this case is, of course, that same sex couples can now officially marry in California. Now all of the rights pertaining to marriage will apply to them, including, for example, California Family Code sections 7540 and 297.5 that provide that a child born to one member of a couple is presumed to be the child of the other member of the couple as well. This, and the law related to annulment, will fit uncomfortably with same sex couples, but the California Supreme Court has not felt challenged by these anomalies.

The court has also already applied the Unruh Civil Rights Act to require that businesses not discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. This will undoubtedly also be expanded to include non-discrimination on the basis of same sex marriage. The court tried very hard to claim that its ruling would not interfere with religious freedom. The Court cited a provision of the California Constitution that says, “Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed. This liberty of conscience does not excuse acts that are licentious or inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.” The court said:

“Affording same sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same sex couples, and no religious officient will be required to solemnize a marriage in contradiction of his or her beliefs.”

Of course, this statement is dicta. It remains to be seen whether or not future courts will accord churches the religious freedom, or whether they will conclude that the exercise of that religious freedom in deciding against the morality of same sex unions is “inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.”

The same dilemma will face policy makers with respect to private schools. It remains to be seen if private schools will be allowed to maintain statements of faith or other documents that have either the intent or effect of discriminating against homosexual couples or individuals. The effect on public schools, however, is quite certain. Public schools will almost certainly be required to teach that same sex marriage is entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded the unions traditionally designated as marriages. In effect, it is now public policy in California that homosexual sex is just as normative and normal as any other kind. It will need to be discussed in a positive light in sex education classes. It will need to be depicted in a positive light in books K through college graduation. Students who are critical of same sex relations will need to be disciplined just as if they expressed racial animus or other irrational or bigoted ideas. It remains to be seen how the parents in the state will accept this. But it would appear that so far the court has made this shift in conjunction with the legislature without any real opposition except for Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.

Yet to come from the effects of this ruling are a variety of other demands, issues, and conundrums. It is likely that this issue will be used as a wedge to get rid of civil marriage as we know it and only have contractual relationships and a separate non-legal, non-state recognized religious marriage. That would be a precursor to encouraging an uncommitted “free love” society with no civil benefits for marriage and no special rights for parents of families or special family control over children. Such a situation would encourage lack of marital commitment on the part of nearly everyone except sincere religious believers or people who recognize their self interest in having some sort of a marital union. It would also facilitate the shift of parental responsibility from families to the state.

Calls to get rid of exemption for faith-based organizations and churches in hiring may only be the beginning of the difficulties that faith-based organizations face. Will the California Legislature ultimately claim that the Bible is hate speech because of its opposition to homosexual sex or same sex unions?

Demands for the right to clone human beings and utilize other genetic manipulations are likely to increase with the desire of same sex couples to have children with the genes of one or both “parents.” Polygamy and polyamory are also on the horizon. While the court in a footnote denied that polygamy was consistent with “mutual supportive and healthy family relationships,” that can easily be contested through pseudo-scientific studies like those supportive of same sex parenting, and can easily be subjected to the same gradual change through social pressure and avant garde legislation. There is no principled way under the court’s reasoning in In re Marriage cases to prevent polygamy or polyamory. Practitioners of polygamy and polyamory can likewise claim that their propensity to this is in some way immutable and linked to their fundamental personality. They can also claim that there is nothing wrong with their sort of unions and that they will benefit society. Certainly they can claim that they, too, have been subjected to social opposition and stigma. In other words, they can easily obtain the same strict scrutiny that the court used In re Marriage Cases and, given a few years of social pressure and Hollywood TV and movie-making to approve them, they can easily obtain the same imprimatur of a court eager to please a left-leaning contingent in society.

Of course the results from this court decision are going to be devastating. There will be widespread adjustment problems for the children of same sex marriages. Think what will happen when they are confronted with moral and biblical truth as they grow up. In the 1970s and 80s, there were literally hundreds of books written by people who identified the cause of their dysfunctional families as the stoicism of their fathers and grandfathers. Just wait until we have to deal with the hundreds of male children raised by two women who hate men and the female children raised by two men who hate women. In addition, it is likely that the levels of child abuse and subsequent acting out are likely to increase as we see more non-genetic parents who recognize no inherent moral limits on what they consider legitimate activity. While not all homosexuals are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles are homosexuals, there is a high correlation rate between pedophilia and male homosexuality. As a result, we are likely to see increases in child abuse for that reason alone. In addition, other moral ideas will erode because there is less fear of God and man in a society that is willing to sanction same sex unions. Instead, we have only desire and an arrogant demand for human autonomy. Most people fear God or man enough to be “civilly righteous.” In other words, they don’t openly kill people, or openly steal things, or do other obvious and open crimes. One aspect of civic righteousness was that people avoided public sexual immorality. Now the Supreme Court of California says the public must endorse certain kinds of sexual immorality. We now “not only do such things, but approve of those who do them.” Romans chapter one clearly speaks of the acceleration of moral decay based upon such gradual rejection of God and His order.

Of course one other problem that is likely to accelerate is that we will face unprecedented legal shell games with the most fundamental and sweeping aspects of our culture even at the hands of supposedly conservative justices like Justice Ronald George. This is due in no small part to the way lawyers and judges are trained in secular law schools. Unless the fundamental nature of legal education is altered so that lawyers and future judges and future legislators are once again taught and made to understand the implied limits of law, the nature of the rule of law, and the relationship between law and objective morality, we will see more and more of the same, even if there is a temporary reprieve through the passage of Proposition 8 or other constitutional legislation.

There are several lessons we can learn from all of this. Allowing social evil in the present leads to more social evil later. Slavery and racial discrimination in the United States were very wrong. They were heretical and should never have been allowed by Christian people in a society dominated by Christians. Allowing them for so long and dragging feet in correcting them created the judicial power and template for the In Re Marriage Cases decision. If we had not allowed slavery and discrimination, this never would have happened because the courts would have been limited to dealing with individual disputes instead of becoming broad social policymakers in these areas. In other words, the court accrued power dealing with a legitimate moral evil, but now has used that power in order to create a moral evil. Had the first moral evil not been tolerated politically, it never would have been necessary for the court to accrue that power.

This also goes to show that incrementalism does work if pursued consistently over time. You have to hand it to the homosexual lobby that they have survived tremendous moral and social pressure and worked through an incremental agenda that has achieved incredible results for them in a remarkably short period of time. This also shows that giving some groups a compromise of legal ground does not necessarily end an issue, but gives them a foothold for their next claim. The nature of legal change is also evident here. Changes in the law often seem sudden, but usually the reality is that small incremental changes in the law build up and create a tension that is suddenly resolved in a change that appears rapid—but was really foreshadowed and pre-arranged by all the small changes that went before. So no small change in the law is necessarily really small if it is part of a trend. In re Marriage Cases is also part of a trend in the public square to exclude or reject arguments based on morality or the Bible. Yet the abolitionists and Martin Luther King could cite the Bible and did so successfully. But in our culture and society, speaking straight from the Bible is no longer a socially viable strategy. Increasingly there is even hostile pressure from those who sense a religious belief behind a secular argument. To you, my fellow users of the internet, this should be more than apparent. The attack comments by radical secularists are quite common on religious blogs. This has led many bloggers to go to a moderated format.

What do I actually think about In re Marriage Cases? Well, I think you can tell from what I’ve already said about the implications. I think it is a perfectly dreadful opinion that uses legal sleight of hand and makes an argument that is quite inappropriate. What the court is really doing is changing the understanding of marriage. Marriage has always been understood as a union between a man and one or more women in all societies. There are no sustained and numerous instances of men marrying men or women marrying women. There aren’t even common instances of many men with one woman. Christianity and an enlightened understanding of the interest of women has illuminated what Jesus Himself said that originally God created Adam and Eve—one man and one woman—and the two of them joined together and became one flesh. What God has joined together, human beings really shouldn’t tear apart. Of course the problem with marriage as with all institutions is that human sinfulness creates additional problems that often mean that a marital union cannot survive. Yet it is still the case in nearly all civilizations that marriage is between one man and one woman, or at the very outside, one man and a handful of women. Same sex unions really are an exceptionally radical idea. But then ideas are not inherently bad because they are radical. They are bad if they are immoral. And indeed, same sex marriage is immoral. The Bible teaches in many places, including the first chapter of the book of Romans, that homosexual acts and desires are not in accord with God’s optimal design for the way human beings are meant to live. They are damaging to society as well as to the individuals who engage in them. This is not to say that they are the very worst of all sins. Certainly there are many sins and there are probably sins worse than same sex unions (certainly genocide, for example). But no sin is excused because other people commit other sins.

Here the court has transgressed a major boundary. It has sought to create a civil right to do something that is inherently wrong. As I have said on this blog before, real objective rights that come from God cannot be rights specifically to do something wrong. They may be rights that make it easier for you to get away with doing something wrong, but there cannot be a right to do wrong in itself. Humanly created rights should similarly not transgress this boundary and specifically enable evil. Yet that is exactly what the court has done here. It is requiring a civil imprimatur for evil.

The court essentially did this by saying that there is a right to marriage itself and that that right applies to all people regardless of who they are inclined to marry. Now the court could have stopped there if it was willing to say that the right to marry is the right to do what marriage has always meant, marrying someone of the opposite sex who is above the age of consent, and not a close of a blood relation. Instead, they have decided that marriage includes the ability to marry whoever you want, even if they are of the same sex. This is a fundamental radical change, and yet the court does very little to justify it apart from saying that attitudes against homosexuality are outmoded, outdated, and contradicted by the legislative trend of the state of California. The court also tries to say that marriage law is really in the realm of positive law. But the court uses many citations from Meyer v Nebraska and other cases that are speaking about natural law, natural rights, and the right reason of the common law as sources for fundamental rights. It is those kinds of arguments that made marriage a fundamental right to begin with, not any kind of positive law finding or indication. The court is cheating not merely by saying that they are merely expanding a recognized right to marriage, but in their claim that they have positive law power vis รก vis the right to marry.

Based on this, what can we do? We need to react in love and prudence, and NOT in hate and fear. Certainly the most important thing we can do is to pray. We need to pray for more people to come to Christ, and for revival among those who already believe. We need to pray for good sound doctrine to be taught, believed, learned, and lived. We need to pray for wisdom and for better leaders and judges than we deserve. We need to pray for repentance and for at least a temporary reformation of society. Practically, we can support Proposition 8. We can also make sure that our churches have appropriate expressions of policy on same sex marriage that make clear our religious beliefs and why we believe them so that they can be protected as religious beliefs. We also need to get more good people involved in the political process and train more good people as lawyers. We need to stand against societal evil and injustice regardless of what it is so that we can prevent this kind of situation in the future. We need to educate and train our children in the faith and in sound doctrine and reasoning, and we need to support good Christian education, especially legal education.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's Good Choice

I have not always been happy with Senator McCain’s choices, but I am very glad he picked a pro-life running mate in Governor Palin of Alaska. It is sad that Obama picked a solidly pro-abortion rights VP, and is committed to retaining abortion on demand himself.

While there are many other important issues, the recognition that human beings have rights at conception and onward is the great issue of our time. It is an issue that reveals the wisdom, understanding, and philosophy of a candidate or that shows the lack of those things. The way a candidate thinks on the life issue (if their position is thought out and not just assumed for political purposes alone) can reveal a lot about how they will deal with other issues. I am glad that McCain chose a pro-life running mate and glad he stood up for the idea that rights vest at conception during his interview with Rick Warren.

The other most important issues - judicial appointments, the war against islamofacism, wise spending priorities in a time of unmeetable public expectations, allowing people to keep more of their own money, vouchers for education, tax reform, and energy development - are all issues where McCain/Palin are way ahead of Obama. And Palin has a history of reform and anti-corruption that gives her real credibility as an agent of change. While not perfect, McCain and Palin have exhibited character in the adventures of their lives. Obama claims character in his rhetoric, but I have yet to see it in his practice.

I appreciated Obama’s admission, in his acceptance speech, of the importance of family - and of fathers in particular. But much of his speech seemed to claim he could do things that no President or government can guarantee to do. Obama also does not seem to appreciate the need for government to sometimes get out of the way and let charities, non-profits, individuals, and even business get things done. His speech impressed me as having goals that can only be attempted through additional government spending, power, and coercion on a massive scale. Am I being a pessimist? I can be convinced if I hear actual practical steeps to do things another way – but I did not hear that – I just heard a lot of general promises and bootstrapping from Obama and his people.

Perhaps there is still a chance in this election that God will give us far better leaders than we deserve.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rick Warren Asks Obama About When Human Rights Vest

From what I have watched so far Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church, did a great job interviewing Barrack Obama. The questions were excellent. Obama’s answers are stereotypically political. I am afraid the post –political man is having difficulty living up to his rhetoric.

The transcript I have seen on the internet included the following:

WARREN: “. . . at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?”
OBAMA: “Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
. . .
If you believe that life begins at conception, then — and you are consistent in that belief, then I can’t argue with you on that, because that is a core issue of faith for you.”

First, the question as asked was not purely a religious or scientific question. When rights vest in a human being is a legal question. Obama is supposed to be a high powered constitutional law attorney. He wants to be the head of the executive branch, including the Department of Justice. Even if he lacks certainty, in both roles he must have at least a working assumption with which to answer that question. And it is critical in evaluating his candidacy to know what his working assumption is and why.

The quote from further down in the transcript implies Obama does not believe “life” begins at conception. And, he thinks belief on that is answering a question of “faith.” This is a bit ironic. The question Warren asked was a legal question. Now, when faced with a question science has answered, Obama takes refuge in a “faith” that chooses to disbelieve the obvious. In conception a living sperm and a living egg join to form a living human being. It is true the being needs a special environment to survive – all human beings do at all stages of life. But it is scientifically clear the newly conceived being is of the human species at an early stage of development, and is clearly alive. Believing dead or inanimate objects become living human beings really would be unscientific and really would require a sort of blind “faith” like that behind the old belief in the spontaneous generation of vermin from food. Obama must not have really taken the time to think this through – or he is so committed to a political position that uncomfortable realities are to be ignored rather than dealt with in the area of abortion. There are people who recognize that abortion is taking a human life but still want women to have a license to kill their babies because of the pain, social problems, economic problems, and career problems that can come from an unwanted pregnancy. Or they believe the license to kill is necessitated by society's current inability to accept limits on abortion. While such suffering is real, and while the politics of abortion are an obstacle to reform, neither is a proper justification for the intentional taking of a human life with malice aforethought. But it would be easier for me to respect Obama’s view if he was one of the license advocates instead of one of the “know nothings.”

By the way, real faith does not believe the impossible; it believes what God has revealed to be true in general and special revelation. Real faith requires God’s help. So I sympathize with those who do not have it and pray that God will give them eyes to see and believe the truth. I pray for Obama, that God will give him the ability to see and believe the truth about abortion.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Apology

Sorry I have not been blogging much. Academic assessment work and a vacation have kept me very busy since early June. New posts will appear soon. Best wishes to you all for a great summer!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Hitchens/Prager/D'Souza Debate Part III

This is a part of an ongoing series based on a debate between Christopher Hitchens, Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza.

Question 3: Does the bitter suffering of mankind support the notion that Judaism is true, that is Christianity true, or that the new atheism is true? Christopher Hitchens clearly believes that no god worthy of being called a god would allow the suffering that we experience in the world. Prager maintains that part of the Hebraic answer to this question is that we cannot fully understand suffering in the world, but that God does. (Certainly you see this in the book of Job.) Dinesh D’Souza more or less agrees with Prager’s position.

What I would add to the problem of suffering is that Christianity deals with suffering not only by saying God has a deeper understanding of life and a deeper set of purposes than we have, and not only is suffering in some way necessitated by human free will and by the drama God is playing out in the universe, but that the Christian answer to the problem of suffering relates to Jesus’ incarnation itself.

God’s answer to suffering is not only His superior knowledge, power, position, and right, but that He Himself has suffered. In the incarnation, God became man. He came and lived among us. He put aside the power, prestige, perks and pleasure of His deity and experienced the pain, suffering, indignity, distress, weariness, anxiety, and even death that we experience. And for God, this would have been a far greater contrast to His prior experience than any change from pleasure to pain is for us. God would have been perfectly happy and had a perfect existence both within and beyond time. By becoming incarnate within time, His change from omniscience to human senescence would have been worse than a human being becoming deaf, blind, and dumb. His change from being able to do and accomplish anything within His own nature and will to the frailty and impotence of human life would have been a far greater change than any paralyzing or crippling disease that grips and terrorizes the poor human frame. God’s descent from absolute omniscience to the limited knowledge, perspective and ability of human beings was in proportion greater than any human descent into dementia or Alzheimer’s. From the infinite to the extremely finite He descended. And beyond that, He lived a life far poorer and more difficult than most western human beings are familiar with, and died a death more painful and ignoble than that suffered by most human beings. On top of all this, He went from being sinless and honorable to bearing the crushing weight of the sins of the entire world. The emotional pain would have been greater than the physical pain. We tend to take all of this for granted, and yet I believe it was so. C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, recently remarked in a radio interview that Christ’s resurrection may have actually been a more painful experience than His death because of the re-entry into a pain-filled world from the perfect paradise of heaven.

The Christian’s response to suffering is that God knows suffering; He has suffered as we suffer, suffered with us as we suffer, and suffered for us as we suffer. Stephen Lawhead has repeatedly pointed out in his adventure novels, especially the novel Byzantium, how different this makes Christianity from other religions. The idea of a deity that suffers with and for human beings is so different from the disinterested and triumphalist deities of paganism.

As Dinesh D’Souza alluded in the debate, we have to take into account the new heaven and the new earth that is yet to come. Christianity does not teach, as Christopher Hitchens believes, that the universe has been filled with millions of years of incredible suffering and will face millions of years yet to come of incredible suffering. Instead, the time from creation to God’s re-creation of a new heaven and a new earth will, from the perspective of eternity, seem like a brief period of time. In eternity, God will right every wrong, dry every tear, reward every truly good deed, and deal justly with every wrong. Thankfully, He has already dealt with our wrongs through Christ if we will but accept His mercy and grace.

Monday, June 02, 2008

California Proposition 98 or 99?

Tomorrow is the election in California. Some people are very confused about propositions 98 and 99. 98 is a response to the Kelo court decision which upheld the growing practice of governments seizing land from private parties and handing it over to other private parties for uses preferred by the government. 98 will make it more difficult for the government to seize land for good and legitimate purposes too, but it will still be possible. 98 also gradually ends rent control. Rent control seems nice for people who have a rent controlled apartment, but it creates housing shortages and encourages landlords to do as little as is required to improve and keep up their properties.

99 is a response to 98. If it passes by more votes it blocks 98. 99 protects rent control and allows broader latitude for the government to continue to take land than 98 allows.

If you want to read more here are some links:

Full Text 98: League of Women Voters guide. Their analysis & the full text of the proposition

Full Text 99: League of Women Voters guide. Their analysis & the full text of the proposition.

Difference between Props. 98, 99. Orange County Register

PLF on 99

Yes on 98, No on 99,_no_on_99?page=full

Friday, May 30, 2008

Radio Review of Prince Caspian Movie

At ( you can currently find a radio show on which Chris Neiswonger, Lindsay Brooks and I reviewed the movie Prince Caspian. Our radio show on the movie Expelled is also linked at the site this week.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Hitchens/Prager/D'Souza Debate Part II

This is part of an ongoing series based on a debate between Christopher Hitchens, Dennis Prager, and Dinesh D’Souza.

Question 2: What is the proper response to the ethical claims of the new atheists? In the Hitchens / Prager / D’Souza debate, Christopher Hitchens maintained (as many new atheists do) that religion is questionable because it does not conform to his superior morality. He furthermore indicated that human beings are quite capable of having a uniform, agreed to, moral and ethical system that is “good” and indeed better than that obtainable through religions. Hitchens claims to believe in altruism, mercy, and most of the normal virtues as well as the Golden Rule. Is this really tenable? Certainly people have been working on this project for over two-thousand years. People have wanted to have the benefits of objective morality without the cost of believing in the God behind reason and morality. Usually this is motivated by a desire to omit certain parts of morality—particularly those dealing with sexuality. Sometimes I think it is just due to a response of anger against God for specific or general suffering in the world. There have been a wide variety of feelings, approaches, and hypotheses used to try to fulfill this quest for a morality without a divine author. Atheists have attempted to come up with means of claiming that altruism supports the survival of the fittest. Kant tried to find a way to create an objective moral system that was based purely upon human will. In truly post-modern fashion, the community of new atheists have basically tried to claim through sheer force of hubris and rhetoric that every reasonable person agrees with them about morality. But there are problems with these claims.

To begin with, I would admit the existence of common objective moral principles in all of mankind, in all cultures, and throughout all time. I openly admit that those moral principles have not been kept by any human being, culture, or society. But all human beings, cultures, and societies are aware of the requirements of objective moral principles. Ironically, Christopher Hitchens seemed to indicate that he believed in the existence of such an objective moral standard. The problem for him is that the existence of that moral standard is one of the strongest evidences for the existence of God. And not just any god, but rather the specific God found in classic Christian theology. Atheists attempt to argue that natural conditions of the world result in the evolution of identical moral principles everywhere. This makes little or no sense. In the animal world, we see highly diverse and numerous ways of dealing with environmental needs which have evidently “evolved” or been designed to appear in different species in different places. All creatures have the need for obtaining the raw material necessary for life and for digesting it in some way for growth and for reproduction. Yet these simple needs are dealt with through a myriad of strategies. Even in creatures of the same species, various strategies may occur in populations in different areas. The same species of bird in different regions may use different mating calls. Apes in different areas may have different techniques for satisfying their need for nourishment. One group uses primitive tools to eat termites whereas another neglects that but has special techniques for obtaining fruit in higher trees. Likewise, there is no reason to suppose that if human beings genuinely developed through evolution in separate communities, each of these communities would come up with identical and objective moral principles. Yet this is what we find. While application of moral principles may vary in certain ways, the basic moral principles themselves remain the same. And it is difficult to associate those moral principles with mere survival of the race or the best genetic material. Extreme altruism usually results in the destruction of the unit bearing the genetic material that might in some way be associated with the altruism. Yet we all find that altruism is indeed good and desirable. It simply is less likely to result in survival than a certain degree of ruthlessness. The reason altruism has prospered and survived is because there is an altruistic God behind the universe, not because survival in a hostile environment is made more likely through altruistic behavior. Survival of the group perhaps, but not survival of the most altruistic individuals. Scientists are trying to come up with theories that explain how altruism could have developed through evolution, but I have not found any of them particularly satisfying. Instead, it appears to me that the universal existence of an objective admiration for altruism is, in fact, evidence of an altruistic God behind the universe itself. I wouldn’t claim that this is a completely conclusive “proof.” But I would claim that it is evidence. Indeed, in a side note, it is interesting that atheism really is not an adequate explanation for the twists and turns of history. Based on evolutionary ideas, we would expect the “fittest” groups to be those that survive and are dominant. Yet this is not the case. It has quite often been the case that underdogs have survived, flourished, and been victorious due to apparently unexpected and unanticipated twists and turns of history. Certainly you can try to find an explanation for all of them, but it’s really quite amazing how often it happens. In spite of repeated and bitter attempts to destroy them, the survival of the Jewish people and of Protestant Christians is really quite remarkable. By contrast, the great towering empires of atheism such as China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba have not flourished, prospered, or succeeded in their goals. The new Soviet man has not evolved from the socialist economic environment.

Next, another issue within this question, if altruistic transcultural objective morality is not achievable through evolution, is it achievable through philosophy? I would not even hazard to try to attempt a full argument on this subject on a blog. It’s simply too large and I’m probably not well trained enough in all of the aspects of philosophy to answer the most sophisticated philosophical arguments. But if Nietzsche and post-modern philosophers have achieved anything, it is an excellent refutation of the attempt by modernism and materialism to have an objective rational morality without God. I think they make it clear that the real choice is between classic
Christianity and nihilism. Of course within nihilism there are both the “hostile ubermensch branch” and the “community-based wishful thinking branch.” But neither of them meets the need for objective transcultural moral principles.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Questions Raised in the Hitchens/Prager/d'Souza Debate on God

On May 1, I had the pleasure of attending a debate in Orange County, California, sponsored by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Temple Bat Yahm, and Fieldstead & Co. The debate considered whether the truth was in the Christian God, the Jewish God, or in no god at all. As with most debates, there was perhaps more heat than light generated in some instances. But this was a very good debate by debate standards. While I don’t agree with Hitchens, I must admit he is a masterful debater both in terms of his fair and unfair tactics. Dennis Prager has great presence, popular appeal, and is an insightful thinker, and Dinesh D’Souza is both polite and bright. Hearing the discussion in the debate made me want to discuss a few of the issues raised.

Question 1: Is the New Testament more deferential to Christians than the Old Testament is to the Jews? Dennis Prager made the claim that the Old Testament is constantly complaining about how bad the Jews are, but that the New Testament makes Christians look fantastic.

I think that Dennis must have missed much of what is actually in the New Testament text. It is true that the Old Testament is hard on the Jewish people. They are always rebelling against God. But then this is because human beings tend to rebel against God. As it says in the New Testament, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” I Cor. 10:11. We see the Old Testament Jews in their sinfulness and rebellion because we are all sinful, rebellious and stiff-necked people who would just as soon reject God if He did not call us to Himself. The New Testament clearly recognizes that Christians are no better than their Jewish forbears at being the people of God.

Throughout the Gospels, the disciples are always making foolish mistakes, misunderstanding Jesus and failing to get the point of whatever He is telling them in fairly clear terms. In the books of Acts and Galatians, we see Peter move away from the revelation God has just given him about His relationship with the Gentile Christians because He is cowed by those who demand obedience to the Jewish law. Paul has to rebuke him and there is a big argument.

Paul himself is “no saint” in that he has an argument with one of his co-workers so severe, they split up and start working separately. Perhaps under God’s guidance, or perhaps just because he was difficult, Paul also rejects a variety of prophecies warning him of the dangers of returning to Jerusalem.

Nearly all the epistles of the New Testament are written to churches or individuals who are having trouble obeying God and have allowed one type of heresy or misconduct or another to creep into their lives. In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor. He has severe criticism for five of them, and none is described as holy, strong, hearty and pleasing to God in every respect.

So I don’t think it can really be said that the New Testament is any easier on the people of God than the Old Testament. It, too, depicts us as sinful human beings, entirely dependent upon God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy and sanctifying power. One of the major differences is that the emphasis in the New Testament makes it even clearer than the Old Testament that God is concerned not only about outward conduct, but about the deepest thoughts of mind and heart.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bobby Jindal for VP?

Michael Medved and Bill Kristol have suggested that John McCain should consider the 36-year-old former two term congressman and current governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal for the Vice Presidential candidate slot.

This is a great idea. Jindal has a conservative pro-life record and more real experience than either Democrat in the Presidential race.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Civility In Decline

Cranmer, on April 28, 2008 has an excerpt of an article by England's chief Rabbi at this link:

The article, which appeared in the Telegraph, shows that problems in the UK and the USA are not that different. One of the major problems is a loss of civility and a loss of respect for life. Trinity had a discussion of these same problems as they appear in politics at our Feb. 2008 God and Governing; a Conference on Ethics, Virtue, and Statesmanship.

My favorite excerpts from the article:

"The liberal revolution of the Sixties, which separated morality from law, is leading us, says Sacks, to "a new form of barbarism". The view that "it's legal, so I can do it" is destroying the fabric of social harmony. Manners are disappearing, along with courtesy and shame.

. . .

The family courts, he said, are witnessing "a never-ending carnival of human misery". So, too, are hospitals and clinics, as the number of abortions in Britain continues to rise. When young hoodlums are prepared to hack someone to death in broad daylight, I suppose we should not be surprised that their teenage girlfriends switch off unborn life without remorse. I spoke to a leading female academic who said "more education" was needed to ease the problem. She was, I'm afraid, making excuses for many who are comfortable with abortion as a form of contraception.

. . .

While Court of Appeal judges fret over the human rights of terrorist suspects, blocking their extradition in case they don't get a fair trial, British law is happy to approve the extermination of unwanted foetuses at 24 weeks.

. . .

When our legal system loses its moral compass, it is only to be expected that on the mean streets of Britain many impressionable children will do the same."

Naturally we need people to return to God. But we also need a change in behavior and education as a result. So long as legal education and practice separate morality and law as completely as they now do, and so long as Christians in general separate good conduct from their expectations about how to live, we will keep coming back to where are now. It is true that we are saved by grace, not works - but we need to live in gratitude to God - not in licence. It is true that human laws cannot require all good or condemn all sin, but government and education must stop legally encouraging gross evil and immorality.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Movie Review: Expelled

On Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of seeing the new documentary motion picture Expelled featuring Ben Stein and a host of scientists. Expelled deals not so much with the technicalities of the debate over intelligent design, but rather with the issue of academic freedom within the scientific community. Expelled traces the firing and persecution of scientists and journalists over mere mentions of intelligent design. It then goes deeper to examine why intelligent design excites such fervor among many scientists and why freedom of speech about intelligent design is an important issue.

The film is highly artistic and uses clips from old documentary and newsreel footage as well as a few older major motion pictures in order to present iconic images that make us think, draw our thoughts in certain directions, and makes emotional impressions upon the viewer. The images used by this motion picture will be considered controversial. But I must say that their use is high art. Most controversial will be the argument showing the connection between hard-line Darwinian evolution and the eugenics movement, Planned Parenthood and Nazi Germany. Also controversial is the image of the Berlin Wall illustrating the walling off of intelligent design from the world of accepted scientific education, research, and publishing. The disturbing images do make the film unsuitable for small children.

The film only briefly goes into some of the technicalities behind intelligent design. It only uses animation to illustrate the complexities of the living cell. But the arguments made by the film will be understandable at a popular level and are sophisticated enough not to be boring. Both sides have their say as Stein interviews scientists opposed to intelligent design and intelligent design advocates. Clearly the documentary has an agenda, but it is an agenda that is presented to us in a reasonable fashion and with attention given to opposing positions. The film is masterfully edited. The editing is clearly a work of cinematic art. But the points made by the documentary film are legitimate. I strongly encourage people to see Expelled and to consider its message.

Darwinian evolution explains development within species, but is an entirely inadequate explanation for the original origin of life and for the rapid development of multiple existing species. Darwinian evolution cannot explain the so-called Cambrian Explosion, and does not adequately explain the origin of living cells. Now that we know enough about the complexity of the individual cell we know how difficult it would be for a cell to “evolve” one process at a time. In all of our experience and experimentation life does not come from non-life. Dead materials and chemicals do not result in life. Intelligent design posits that the most logical explanation for the vast amount of information in living cells. It is perhaps the only coherent explanation for the origin of life in a dead universe.

Scientists often claim that intelligent design has no place in science because it is not a materialistic process verifiable by purely materialistic assumptions and experiments. But Darwinian evolution as the origin to life is likewise not verifiable by experiment. Science can determine what can be duplicated, but it cannot determine what actually happened. We can say that based on current appearances certain things are possible (yet experiments fail to show life from non-life is possible), but we cannot say what actually occurred with any great certainty. Random material processes have not succeeded in providing a coherent explanation for the origin of life or for the origin of original living cells. Closed-mindedness toward the questions and hypotheses offered by intelligent design shows a closed-mindedness to truth rather than a reasoned commitment to reason.

Scientific opposition to intelligent design is predicated upon the idea that science is a discipline with clear boundaries. Law in the past two centuries has also attempted to make a similar claim. Just as science now claims that it should be free of metaphysics, philosophy, religion, and history, law has also claimed that it should be free of ethics, religion, and philosophy. But such freedom from other disciplines tends to result in error, distortion, and wrong doing rather than in knowledge, freedom, and truth. The reason is simple. The real world holds no such boundaries. Truth is a seamless web in which everything that is true is inter-related with everything else. Attempts at rending this seamless web are often based on worldviews that actually deny the reality of religion, ethics or morality. But then that isn’t searching for truth, that’s making a presuppositional conclusion and seeking to ignore anything contrary to the conclusion. Truth is best sought holistically rather than in a way that excludes any evidence outside certain boundaries and limitations. This doesn’t mean that we should consider things that are absurd or nonsensical or irrational or wrong. It merely means that we should consider everything that is genuinely true and logical. We should look at all of the evidence.

I once heard philosopher Frank Beckwith compare science to a detective story. We’ve all seen those detective shows on television and in the movies where the bad detective assumes that every death is a suicide and refuses to consider any evidence that might lead to a consideration of murder—particularly if the doors and windows to the room where the death occurred were locked. When we are watching a movie or television program, we always know instinctively that this foolish detective is likely to be wrong and that there is some way in which a murder actually occurred. In some ways, scientists opposed to intelligent design are like the detective with a one-track mind for suicide—they want to insist that the windows and doors were not only locked, but that they must stay locked to prevent any free moral agents from outside coming in and tampering with the evidence available in the room. The problem is that reality is not so neatly contained.

Science can focus on being science. But it needs to be open to connecting with and recognizing all truth. Disciplinary strengths and limitations should never become a reason for ignoring reality.

You would be wise to see the movie expelled and to consider the message it presents.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gun Owners Not Angry After All

At the link is an opinion article at the Wall Street Journal on the attitudes of gun owners verses non-gun owners. Apparently Obama's perception of gun owners in not accurate.

Hat tip to Rantburg.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hearing Steve Forbes

Recently I was blessed to attend the installation of the new president of Westmont College, Dr. Gayle Beebe. At the installation and at the breakfast preceding the installation, we heard an address from Steve Forbes, the famous publisher and presidential candidate. Forbes’ addresses were excellent. His ability as a speaker and his insight into global affairs and economics has only continued to improve over time. Hearing the speech made me wish that John McCain would choose Steve Forbes for his vice presidential candidate. Forbes is one of the few figures who might please both pro-life evangelical conservatives and Wall Street at the same time. He is also innovative, brilliant, and willing to tell it like he sees it rather than seeking to be popular at all times.

Forbes said a variety of very worthwhile things. He restated what I am always saying on this blog about free market economics: that God designed the world in such a way that we get ahead best not through greed but rather through seeking to effectively meet the real needs of others. Forbes was also aware of the role that western skeptical philosophy, such as the writings of Nietzsche and Heidegger, has played in the rise of Islamo-Fascism. And Forbes had been prophetic in his earlier presidential race in opposing the use of food grains such as corn to fuel automobiles. As he pointed out in the speech, this is resulting in a spike in world food prices and threatens food shortages. Food should be for eating rather than for fueling vehicles. He also emphasized what he saw as a need for stable monetary values as opposed to the roller coaster free float that is currently occurring with the dollar. All in all, it was a very interesting set of addresses and very much appreciated.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Not Again! California Assembly to Consider Spanking Ban

I have just seen an e-mail from CRI here in California which states:

"Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill that will effectively ban spanking
in California. Identical to last year's highly publicized AB 755, this new AB 2943
will make it a crime to spank a child."

I discussed last year's bill at:

Don't people like Ms. Lieber ever get tiered of trying to take away fundamental rights? Do they ever question their desire to ignore human nature and change exchange the proper order for unworkable Utopian schemes? Don't they have any fear that they are not wiser than the best parents of the last five thousand years? I know the answer is no. I just wonder sometimes. We need to be tireless too in defending the rights of parents to properly and reasonably discipline children of appropriate age. But until higher education, and especially legal education are re-framed in this country so that our schools do not keep producing endless copies of people who think (or don't think?) like Ms. Lieber, it is going to be a very long struggle.

Update: Happy news! The bill has been defeated. Many thanks to our legislators and those who called them.

Discussion of Abortion and Politics

At the link is a great discussion on the same information about Obama and the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act I linked to earlier:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Strive for Reality

Today's Cranmer ( post included this wonderful Plato quote:

"' [T]he true lover of knowledge naturally strives for reality, and will not rest content with each set of particulars which opinion takes for reality, but soars with undimmed and unwearied passion till he grasps the nature of each thing as it is, with the mental faculty fitted to do so, that is, with the faculty which is akin to reality, and which approaches and unites with it, and begets intelligence and truth as children..' (The Republic, Book VI)."

Indeed. So we strive on, seeking, prayerfully, with God's help, to see things as they really are.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sanctity of Life Speech

Here is a Speech I gave at Rolling Hills Covenant Church's Sanctity of Human Life Event some time ago. At YouTube there is a play list of all five ten minute segments at:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rights and Duties

Every once and awhile, I come across Christians, and even lawyers who are Christians, who are comfortable with the idea of duties, but very uncomfortable with the idea of rights. There are also a number of interesting debates about exactly what a right is. I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to that question.

Some people believe that all rights have a reciprocal duty associated with them. A number of great legal scholars have maintained this, and a good friend of mine maintains this in conjunction with the theory that a right stems essentially from “belonging.” I suspect he may be right that belonging has something to do with rights, but I don’t think that’s really linked to the proper definition of a right. I’m skeptical about the idea that every right has a reciprocal duty. One reason is that when we think about the rights we’re familiar with, like the right to free speech, for example, the sort of duties we have to create are sort of backward, upside down kinds of duties. For example, in response to the right to free speech we could say the government has a duty not to interfere with someone else’s freedom of speech. But isn’t it kind of odd to say there is a duty not to do something? We don’t normally contend that people have an obligation to facilitate speech. Simply, the government should not stop proper free speech.

I think there is also some confusion involving rights that people maintain should be entitlements versus rights of the classic sort. For example, I would maintain that people do have a right to health care. But by that I mean that no one should interfere with someone else being able to procure or obtain health care. I also mean that in the ideal world, people would all be able to obtain good health care. I do not mean that the taxpayer has an obligation to pay for everyone else’s health care. Many people who think there’s a right to health care would maintain that the government (which really means all of us) has an obligation to pay for everyone’s health care. I do think that there is, instead, a sort of charitable moral obligation. Providers of health care have a moral obligation to help those who cannot afford health care, and, in fact, they generally do just that. Hospitals provide millions of people with free treatment every year when those people can’t afford to pay. But charity is something that has to be given from the heart willingly—it isn’t something that can be taken through the force of a legal coercive right. There is great difference between the fact that we ought to help the poor and saying that the poor can demand our help and make the government take money from us by force if we don’t help them. An entitlement of that sort in a sense makes giving meaningless.

Aristotle long ago argued that one of the reasons government should not eliminate private property was because eliminating private property deprives everyone of the opportunity to be virtuous. Virtue in large part deals with how we give our money and how we spend our money. If no one has any private property, there are no decisions about how to give or how to spend. Hence there is a whole area of virtue that remains undeveloped. By the same token, I don’t think it makes sense to recognize the existence of entitlement rights of the socialist sort because they too deprive people of the opportunity to be virtuous. We must maintain a distinction between moral duty and legal right in such cases. If we do decide, as a people, to provide money to the poor for food or health care, it should be seen as national charity given by all tax payers, and not something that can be demanded as an entitlement.

So if a right isn’t essentially always an entitlement and doesn’t involve a reciprocal duty in every case, what exactly is a right? My thought is that a right is a predisposition of justice. That is to say, based on God’s nature there is a certain order in which the universe is designed to function normatively. There are certain things that are good or evil, just or unjust, the way they’re supposed to be, or the way they’re not supposed to be. When things are in accord with this general order, we can say that they are just. There are then certain ways in which to describe a just order that indicate certain predispositions of the way things ought to be unless there are heavy countervailing factors. So for example, people ought to generally be free to practice whatever religious faith they believe in without anyone interfering with their freedom of conscience. They have a right to free exercise of religion. This right can occasionally be countervailed if, for example, an individual believes in practicing active human sacrifice. There is also a right to freedom of the press which can also be overridden temporarily during times of emergency and which is limited by the law of defamation. There is also a right in all cases of criminal and civil accusations to a full and fair hearing by an impartial tribunal, with proper rules of evidence, that allows for a good faith attempt at discovering the truth of what really happened, and that will base the ultimate disposition of the case on reality as it can best be determined. In countries like the United States, this right grows and blossoms in many particular customs associated with the way in which we provide this due process. But in certain situations, such as international combat with combatants who do not abide by or obey the principles of international law, a more minimal level of due process would be both practical and just. Hence rights are essentially shorthand descriptions of the general predisposition of justice—of the way things ought to be in a just order and just system. They do not necessarily create reciprocal duties but creation of duties or the existence of duties may be an appropriate way to maintain rights or to vindicate them.

So those are my basic ideas about rights. I’m curious about what you, the reader, think and if you are aware of anyone else who has said basically the same thing. Your comments are appreciated.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The California Home-Schooling Case In Re Rachel L.

On February 28, 2008, the Second Appellate District Division 3 of the Court of Appeal for California issued an opinion in the case called “In Re Rachel L.” This opinion denies that there is a fundamental right for parents without a teacher’s credential to homeschool their children outside the statutory exceptions to California’s compulsory education law. It does not ban all homeschooling. The sections of the law quoted by the court do not mention homeschooling, but have been interpreted to allow some homeschooling in certain circumstances, such as when parents with a teacher’s credential set up a private school in the home. The opinion is only an appellate opinion; it is not binding on all appellate districts in the state of California, but is only truly binding on courts in the Second Appellate District. The Second District includes Los Angeles and Ventura. Courts in other districts regard the arguments of fellow appellate courts in the same state as arguments that should be given attention and deference, but which need not be agreed with if the other courts disagree in good faith on what the law, as laid down by higher authorities or equal authorities, requires. The opinion is still significant because it is always damaging for an appellate court to deny the existence of a fundamental right that really exists, even if the court’s opinion has a narrow practical impact. The gradual and incremental accumulation of ideas in multiple opinions is how legal change often occurs. Each opinion going in the wrong direction makes it easier for another court to head in the wrong direction.

In Re Rachel L. is an extremely controversial case. Undoubtedly the judges involved mean well and are trying to apply the law as they see it to protect children and further the interests of the state and people of California. But judges are only human. And if they hear weak arguments for the truth and strong arguments for error, it is often easy to go the wrong way, particularly if the outcome seems best for the particular parties before the court as the court sees them. In Re Rachel L. may be a good example of the adage that bad facts make bad law. The court doesn’t come right out and say it, but it does insinuate in its opinion that it suspects the parents of the children involved in this case, or at least somebody in their home, of child abuse. It also suspects that the reason that children are being homeschooled is to prevent the discovery of that abuse. Now none of that may be even remotely true, but the court’s intuitions may color its approach to the case. The court also mentions that the father is said to have recently said that educating his children outside the home exposes them to “snitches.” (Not a helpful sentiment in litigating your case—although not the worst faux pas I’ve ever heard. The worst was a criminal sentencing hearing where the young defendant appeared in court with a tee shirt on that had a bloody skull cleft by a bloody hatchet on it.) If we’re going to take homeschooling to the Supreme Court, while it is difficult to control the sort of case that gets litigated, it would be much better if we had two unimpeachable but uncredentialed college professors giving their children a rigorous Great Books education who had been subjected to the ire of an unreasonable school board.

The whole tone of the opinion is that parents are somehow doing their children a disservice by homeschooling them. While there are undoubtedly those who do a poor job of homeschooling, nearly all parents love their children and want what they believe to be best for them. Most parents try to make sure that their children get a good education. Parents normally don’t choose to homeschool unless they obtain the resources and training necessary to make sure that they do a good job. I don’t think for a minute that being able to educate your children requires getting an education credential. While many education programs are no doubt excellent, and while knowing how to teach is beneficial, not all credentialed programs are helpful, not all credentialed persons know how to teach, and not all uncredentialed persons are unqualified to teach. I have known many people who are credentialed and actually attended a few classes with one person. My experience and the experience with my friend was that the California credentialing process is largely dedicated to political correctness and indoctrination and has little to do with actually learning how to teach students what they need to know. I also think that most parents love their children more than the average bureaucrat. While the set of people who want to homeschool their children may include a handful of the stereotypical anti-intellectuals, like those depicted as resisting public education in old 1960’s westerns, there are certainly plenty of teachers who mass produce educational problems within the public school system. To make a literary reference, there are “Dolores Umbridges” out there in the public school system in numbers at least comparable to bad homeschooling parents.

The appellate court notes that the trial court found a right to homeschool but still had some reservations about homeschooling. The trial court indicated that it was worried that homeschooling would interfere with the children’s ability to interact with people outside the family, deprive them of the help of people outside the family if something is “amiss” in the children’s lives, and prevent them from developing emotionally. While there might be rare cases in which these things are true, it certainly isn’t true for the vast majority of homeschooling parents. Law should be made based upon general truths about most people rather than on odd exceptional circumstances. After all, child abuse is already independently illegal. It isn’t necessary to outlaw homeschooling in order to try to prevent child abuse. My experience with homeschoolers is that they are more poised, better educated, better socialized, and far more capable in social interaction than the vast majority of people I meet who were educated in the public schools. I think that perhaps our system actually exposes students to peer pressure much earlier than it really should. Students are more capable of being socialized properly when they’ve been socialized in the family first. They’re much more likely to learn manners, good behavior, and a coherent worldview at home when properly homeschooled than they are in the incoherent post-modern collage of the public schools.

In the In Re Rachel L. opinion, the court briefly covers some of the cases that ought to be seen as supportive of a right to homeschooling and a few very old California cases that support compulsory public education. The court completely mis-states the holding in Pierce vs Society of Sisters 268 US 510, a Supreme Court of the United States case. The Pierce case allowed an injunction against a statute essentially banning private schools and requiring all children between the ages of 8-16 to attend public school. The U.S. Supreme Court believed that such a statue was unconstitutional in that it interfered with the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The court in Pierce said:

“We think it entirely plain that the act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public [school] teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have a right, coupled with a high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

The In Rachel L. court tries to distinguish Pierce by saying that since California law allows alternatives to public education, it isn’t really unconstitutional. I think that the point of Pierce, however, is that states don’t have any business trying to standardize education. Parents have a right to guide their children’s education in different ways, and I think Pierce is correct in this respect. God has entrusted children to their parents. It is the responsibility of parents to raise children. There is nothing wrong with them delegating some of their children’s education to institutions voluntarily, but it is primarily the parents’ responsibility and the parents’ right to control and direct their children’s education. Parents have not given up that right to the state merely by being citizens of a republic. It is not merely a right, but also an obligation. While parents may allow others to help educate their children, it is ultimately the parents who are responsible for the education of their children. That responsibility should neither be taken lightly nor removed from the parents—even by a well-intentioned state.

Another case mentioned in In Re Rachel L. but not adequately dealt with is Meyer vs Nebraska 262 US 390. In Meyer, the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated a statute that made it unlawful to teach children the German language. The court notes that Plato and others have understandably sought to use education to mold children into model citizens. The court notes that the state does have the power to “compel attendance at some school and to make reasonable regulations for all schools.” But the court saw no reasonable basis for refusing children to learn German. The court notes that the Fourteenth Amendment is not merely about freedom from bodily restraint, “but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, to establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and, generally, to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the ordinary pursuit of happiness by free men.” I would argue that homeschooling is part of the fundamental right to bring up children to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. When we deprive parents of the opportunity to educate their children at home, we effectively make it possible for the state to abridge freedom of speech, conscience, and assembly by indoctrinating children while they are the most malleable and the most vulnerable.

If the state is genuinely concerned that students learn while being homeschooled, they merely have to set general standards. In any standard based test on general reading, writing, mathematics, or science, I imagine that most homeschooled children will exceed most public school children. So there is clearly a less restrictive means of obtaining the end of quality education, within the fundamental rights of parents, without a ban on homeschooling. I think that this failure to use this less restrictive means should render the current California compulsory education law unconstitutional. Credentialing is not as well tailored to the end, and places an unreasonable burden on the parents’ right to educate their children.

In most of the balance of the In Re Rachel L. opinion, the court deals with a variety of old California cases upholding California’s compulsory education statute at different stages of its development. What the court neglects to do is to deal with the advisory arguments in the dozens of cases in other jurisdictions that uphold the right to homeschooling. The court also fails to deal with the fact that homeschooling is considered a fundamental right in most other states. The fact that California’s compulsory education statute was believed constitutional in the 1950s or even in the 1960s certainly does not mean that it goes without saying that there is no fundamental right to homeschooling recognized today. If the weight of opinion outside of California had been on their side, I have no doubt that the court would have looked at opinions and realities in other states.

In the end, it’s very sad that the court has chosen to take this route. It is going to be necessary for those who believe in homeschooling to work to get this opinion de-published, overruled, or questioned. We also need to prepare for other appeals in other cases. We should also consult our legislators and try to get them to change the California law to expressly allow homeschooling. If all of this fails, we may need to undertake an initiative to amend the California constitution to provide an express recognition of the right to homeschool. The Pacific Justice Institute and the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund are already involved in these and other efforts to patch this “leak in the dam” and secure the right to homeschool in California. The governor of California and other public officials have been very supportive of the right to homeschool. This is a fight that can be won if approached properly. But until legal education begins producing more lawyers who believe in the fundamental right to homeschool and know how to argue for it, this right will always be in jeopardy. This is why law schools like Trinity are so important.

UPDATE: The Court of Appeal has vacated the original opinion and decided to rehear the appeal. This is great news. Now friends of the court like PJI and HSLDF should have an opportunity to file briefs and make sure that the legal arguments are fully presented to the court. While little is known about the case, it appears that did not happen last time around.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Are There Jurisdictions of Ideas?

Have you ever tried to have a discussion with someone in which you’re trying to persuade them of the truth, or to perhaps get the truth out of them, and instead of dealing with truth as though it were a unitary and seamless whole, they seek to avoid dealing with sticky problems of things we don’t know or things that appear contradictory by invoking a jurisdictional barrier between different sorts of ideas? For example, in the debate over intelligent design it is popular today for scientists to say “Oh I’m sorry, intelligent design is theology or philosophy, it just isn’t science.” In other words, they seek to rule out a discussion about what really happened by saying that the question of what really happened belongs in some other discipline that they’re not willing to talk about. I’ve found the same weakness in Aristotle. Aristotle is happy to assume that things have a telos or purpose within their design or nature. But Aristotle is unwilling to discuss the issue of the designer that must have been present for the design or nature to have normative implications. I don’t know enough about Ayn Rand to know if this is true of all her followers, but I’ve had at least one very intelligent believer in Ayn Rand’s philosophy tell me that she takes the human mind’s capacity to understand and reason through concepts for granted while having no explanation as to exactly why this capacity exists. Apparently Ms. Rand would say that that is an issue for science to discover rather than an issue for philosophy to determine. But of course this is an essential part of developing a philosophical system. The epistemology must not only explain that we have knowledge, but provide some coherent internally consistent theory about how it is possible for us to have that knowledge. If we do, in fact, have a knowledge of universals and, if as seems to be the case, universals cannot be known purely through empirical experience, it would seem that there must be a God who in some way illumines our minds or created our minds so that we can know, understand, and communicate universals like love, beauty, truth, and unity. And isn’t it also the case that we all have a knowledge of the greatest universal of all—God Himself. We both know He exists and have very little trouble understanding what sort of being He is despite the fact that while there is evidence for Him in the empirical world, His precise nature is not exactly like anything within the material world. Christians are not innocent of this either. One of the ways in which some Dutch Reformed political scholars have sought to deal with the problems of apparent conflicts between law, morality, science, etc. is to give them each spheres or jurisdictions in which each discipline is to be allowed to reign and rule regardless of the contrary implications of the others.

I don’t really believe it’s proper to divide up ideas by jurisdiction. God Himself is the source of all real truth and knowledge. God is a unity. While we can discuss His various attributes in a loose sort of way, those attributes are a unified whole within Him. We know what love is because of God embodying love. We know what justice is because of God’s embodiment of justice. It isn’t really possible though to truly separate love and justice completely because they all find themselves in God and God is a unified whole, not a patchwork quilt or picture puzzle assembled from unique pieces. And so it is with all truth. While human beings cannot know everything, both because of our lack of ability and our lack of time, we divide ideas up into disciplines that we study independently like nibbling at various items on a smorgasbord, but truth itself is not easily divided. There is no dividing line between realities scientific, philosophical, theological, or ethical. Things are either real and true or not. The demarcations between areas of study do not indicate demarcations between areas of reality. I would suggest that when we invoke the jurisdictional barriers, we are often trying to escape from truth rather than to pursue and discover it. It is almost always a mistake to try to escape from truth. Fleeing or repressing the truth almost always has negative consequences. Indeed, since truth is tied up in and bound to God Himself, whenever we say yes to genuine truth, we are saying yes to God, and whenever we flee genuine truth, we are fleeing God Himself. Of course I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say that we always know particular things to be true or that we will in this life know everything that is true or only believe things that are true. But as a philosophical predisposition, we ought to pursue genuine truth rather than seeking to avoid it. And I think that when we invoke jurisdictional barriers as a means of avoiding contradictions within our thought, we are, in fact, often trying to escape the truth.

Monday, March 17, 2008

David Forte on the Commerce Clause

On March 7, I was happy to attend a meeting of the local Federalist Society chapter. We heard an excellent presentation by Professor David Forte on the Commerce Clause. Forte pointed out how in most of the jurisprudence since the late 1940s the Supreme Court has given the Congress a blank check for legislating about nearly anything via the justification of the Commerce Clause. This is problematic to people who see the Constitution as attempting to set up a government of limited powers. It also seems contrary to the founders’ intent. Why specify carefully in the Constitution that the Congress had the power to legislate about things like patents and post offices if the Commerce Clause was meant to legislate about everything?

Forte points out that two of the major approaches to a more limited version of the Commerce Clause involve either a quantitative approach or a qualitative approach to how the problem the legislation seeks to remedy affects interstate commerce. Forte proposes a fourth alternative to the blank check, the qualitative or the quantitative approach based on the opinions of Judge Benjamin Cardozo. Forte believes that Cardozo was really advocating a foreseeability based proximate cause approach to Commerce Clause litigation. The Congress would need to show that the mischief they were legislating against had a foreseeable proximate causal impact on commerce. This does seem like an interesting alternative.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: The Harry Potter Books

I have just finished reading all seven of J.K. Rowling’s books about Harry Potter. I have both praise and a caution.

There tends to be a great battle among Christians between those who reject the Harry Potter books completely because they involve witchcraft, and those who love the Harry Potter books because they incorporate Christian themes such as the struggle between good and evil and life after death. I think that both sides are partially right and partially wrong.

I would first give my cautionary warning: the Harry Potter books are not fit for small children who do not yet know that the occult is wrong or know the difference between real good and real evil. The Harry Potter books are very complicated. One of the major themes of the books is death. Another major theme is the problem of revenge, dislike, hatred, and anger. For children’s books involving children at school, the books are extremely violent. And it is true that the books do incorporate some ideas and practices from the world of secondary witchcraft and historic alchemy. Children who do not understand why magic is wrong are likely to pick up sticks to use as wands and to go around attempting to cast spells as part of their play after reading the Harry Potter books. I think there is a risk that reading Harry Potter could interest children in the occult or in possible experiments with alchemy (that could be physically dangerous). But the books do not actually create a view of witchcraft or alchemy that makes it practical in the real world. So for older and more mature children, I do not think that the books are particularly dangerous. Indeed, if one understands them, the books can be quite enjoyable.

After having read the books, I am willing to accept that J.K. Rowling may be a Christian of some sort. She does incorporate a variety of Christian themes and arch-types in her work. It is also true that she is a post-modern person and incorporates some of the themes, ideas, and approaches of the post-modern worldview either consciously or unconsciously. Nevertheless, I must say that the Harry Potter books are a magnificent work of literature and enjoyable to read.

Many others have already documented the amazing literary aspects of the Harry Potter series. One of the most well-known is John Granger, author of Looking for God in Harry Potter, Unlocking Harry Potter, and a blog at Granger describes many of the ways in which Rowling incorporates Christian themes, pays homage to classic Christian literature such as Dante, and incorporates a philosophy of character change called literary alchemy. I haven’t read Granger’s books and have only looked at his blog, but I definitely think that he is on to something.

The Harry Potter books are not just separated individual stories, but rather are each part of a larger story. Ideas that are mentioned in the first book and the subsequent books culminate together to explain and set up the situation in the final book. Every little tidbit of information that you’re given by the author is used at some point or other in the course of the stories. They form a whole that is locked together in quite an amazing way. In a sense, this sort of writing in which past events, current events and future events all come together to work things out just perfectly is a literary testimony to providence. In a random world, it would not be the case that people would always learn along the way exactly the fact that they will need to know in order to solve a problem near the end. And yet this is exactly what happens in these books and in many other Christian works of literature such as the writings of C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, not to mention writers like Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare. Writing that expresses a providentially guided reality is antithetical to the materialist scientific worldview whether its adherents recognize this or not. These books can be said to reflect a Christian worldview if for no other reason than because they clearly reflect a world that is guided by providence in which things work out as though they were planned even though they could not have been planned by mere mortals.

Another aspect of the books that could be thought of as consistent with the Christian worldview is Rowling’s admission of the reality of good and evil. Rowling describes a world in which all human beings are flawed. All struggle with sin and difficulty within themselves. But some of them are clearly worse than others, having sold themselves out to purer and more vicious forms of evil. But there are aspects of Rowling’s dealings with good and evil that are somewhat post-modern – that is to say they imply a world in which morality is relative to culture, family, or individual rather than implying a world in which morality is flowing from a universally accessible objective moral order. While Rowling incorporates many good themes and plot motifs that reject racism, bigotry, and stereotypes in a variety of ways, there are at least three examples of a more post modern approach to morality. First, Rowling almost seems to accept that being on the “dark arts” side of things is in some way natural and acceptable for some people. Second, the witches and wizards slice and dice various relatively intelligent sentient creatures in order to make their potions and medicinal compounds with no moral qualms. And, third, no real thought is given to the question of whether or not practices like divination might be wrong rather than merely ineffective.

There are ways in which Rowling attempts to make her magical world more compatible with the Christian world. For example, she admits in one of the later books that ghosts are not actually the souls of dead people but rather “projections” of them. She is not at all clear about what may or may not happen to people after death. At one point, Harry despairs about facing death. He does see visions of people who have gone on to death before him. But are these, like the ghosts, merely projections or are they actually the real souls of the real departed people?

The magic in Harry Potter differs from that in Narnia and Middle Earth in that it looks so much more like our popular images of occult magic – black pointed hats and all. But, the magic used in Harry Potter is, as other writers have pointed out, “incantational” rather than “invocational.” In other words, people are witches and wizards in Rowling’s world because they have magic in them that they are able to project into the outside world in accord with various laws not unlike the laws of physics. In the Christian worldview, occult power is generally seen as flowing from the invocation or use of the power of unclean demonic spirits. In the real world both invocational and incantational magic are problematic. While magic, in the occult sense, may seem like an application of laws like the laws of physics, it is, in a sense, an attempt to force God’s hand or to make the universe function in certain ways that it is not actually designed to function in – to obtain forbidden power by forbidden means. The way Rowling deals with magic in her books makes it seem quite different - like a natural talent, power, or ability within certain human beings. The mature can accept this conceit in literature. The weak of character may be lead astray by it unless assisted or guided by the more mature. After a thousand years of Christian freedom in the west, most people have come to deny the existence of spiritual power. Indeed, most appearances of the occult in the west are shams, frauds, and play acting. But, as C.S. Lewis has written, there is real personal evil in the world, and it is as much a mistake to ignore the reality of evil as it is to become obsessed with it. But one can read Harry Potter without being drawn into the occult.

Some people have suggested that in Rowling’s world the distinction between wizards and witches on the one hand and non-magical people known as “muggles” on the other, is one that involves two different species, and hence there is no real problem with genuine humans getting involved in magic. But this is not true. In Rowling’s world, children of normal muggle parents can be born with enough magic in them to be witches or wizards. By the same token, the children of witches or wizards can be born without magic in them and be what they call“squibs.” No explanation is offered as to why some people have this innate magical power versus others, but the innate magical power seems to render them far more durable than non-magical human beings. Characters of the Harry Potter stories survive many physical injuries that would clearly prove fatal to non-magical people in the real non-magical world. The apparent between children attempting to become witches or warlocks like those in the Harry Potter stories is not their muggle birth, but rather the problem that we have no magic wands made with the magical creature parts such as dragon heartstrings or unicorn hairs required for the direct application of magical power in Rowling’s magical world. But I don’t suppose this will stop new ageish human beings from looking for such magical devices even though they cannot exist.

But while I would disagree with many of the ways in which Rowling goes about her project, no one who has read the books can contest that she tries to deal with some important themes. Rowling emphasizes the power importance of both real love and romantic love. Truly God’s love is far more important, but one must understand and deal with the realities of romantic love as well in order to fully live life in the real world. Rowling also illustrates the problems of prejudices and loyalties, but from a very post-modern aspect. She shows how they can turn out well or turn out badly, but that the way they turn out is in many ways almost beyond the control of those who have them. Rowling also extensively mocks government. But then one must admit that government is so often worth mocking. I wonder if Rowling realizes that the Ministry of Magic in her books is more like the real labor government of England not because it abuses civil rights, but because it fails to recognize the true nature and power of radical Islamo-Fascism in much the same way that the Ministry of Magic refused to recognize the return of Voldemort (Rowling’s villain).

The Harry Potter books start out at a lower reading level and gradually increase to a higher reading level. The vocabulary goes from relatively simple to relatively complex. The concepts and situations to which the reader is exposed go from the dramatic but simple to the deeply complicated and troubling. In that sense, the books do appear to be designed to correspond to the growth and continued education of children over time. But as I say, I don’t think that Harry Potter is really good for young children who don’t understand why the occult is bad or who don’t understand the difference between good and evil and the importance of not taking revenge or of disliking people purely because they have irritating personalities. On the other hand, the books are extremely enjoyable and a wonderful reading experience for mature readers. They can stimulate thinking about character, loyalty, romance etc. The books are suspenseful, engaging, and fun.

Christian adults should read Harry Potter in order to be culturally literate. I believe that they will be seen as classical literature at some point in the future. Certainly a variety of elements including the fairy tale of the Deathly Hallows will be grist for the English professional journal writing mill for decades to come. For people who have any sort of reservation about adding to J.K. Rowling’s already vast wealth, the books can always be read by checking them out from the library or buying copies at used bookstores. But they probably should be read—just don’t go out and try to do any magic because of what you read.