Monday, May 22, 2006


I have come to suspect that the so-called "Cultural Conservatives", in their war upon reproductive autonomy, will not rest content with the overturn of Roe and the subsequent radical restriction of abortion rights. They'll go after birth control next. Of course the Catholic Church remained a staunch enemy of birth control even when Protestants dropped their objections to it. But the tide on birth control has begun to turn. Conservative Protestants have begun to speak out against it.

Here are the words of a conservative Protestant of some influence:

"This epidemic of chosen childlessness will not be corrected by secular rethinking. In an effort to separate the pleasure of sex from the power of procreation, modern Americans think that sex totally free from constraint or conception is their right.

Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.

The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children. This reminds us of our responsibility to raise boys to be husbands and fathers and girls to be wives and mothers. God's glory is seen in this, for the family is a critical arena where the glory of God is either displayed or denied. It is just as simple as that."

So says Albery Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His argument of course savors of Catholicism in a certain respect, but is anti-Catholic in another. It says that copulation should not be uncoupled from procreation. Thus Mohler seems to call upon us to eschew the use of birth control. But he calls upon us to do not only that. We must marry, he says. A life outside of marriage, even if celibate, is outside God's plan. This is an attack upon the priesthood, and indeed upon all within the Church who feel a call to remain celibate.

Let us be clear. For Mohler, we must marry and we must procreate. Indeed it seems that if we follow Mohler's advice families will be large. We cannot use birth control, for when we do we attempt to "separate the pleasure of sex from the power of procreation". (Mohler does not explicitly say that we cannot use birth control. But what he says entails it, and he should take responsibility not only for what he says but also for what is entailed thereby.) But I suspect that Mohler would claim that a wife should not withhold sex from her husband nor a husband sex from his wife. For is not marriage in part for sex? It is, in God's plan (or so I expect Mohler would say), the only proper place for sex, and sex between husband and wife is a natural and inevitable outgrowth of that love. Thus if both parents are fertile, the wife will bear many children.

The battle lines are drawn. I know on which side I stand.

Mohler's mistakes are many in number and kind.

1. I quick read of 1 Corinthians 7 seems to give council contrary to what Mohler says. Paul there praises those who choose to remain unmarried and instead devote their time to God. It is as if Mohler would have us forget what Paul there says.

2. There are many ways to bring good into the world, and procreation is but one of them. Who can say for sure that the way for me to bring the most good into the world is for me to marry and have children? Might I not do better to choose another path? (Paul seems quite clearly to answer Yes in 1 Corinthians 7.)

3. It is good to bring children into the world so that there might be more who can know and love God. Procreation is thus not an end in itself. It serves the end of increase in knowledge and love of God. But since it is not an end in itself, it's quite possible that some should be called to serve the end which it promotes in another way. For example, perhaps it would be better for an artist of world-historical ability to devote herself to her work to the exclusion of all else. It might be that only thus can she produce a body of work able to uplift the spirit in illumine the intellect. Let me put the point in this way. The mind is not for the body and the body's creation of new members of its species. Rather the body is for the mind, and we procreate so that there will be more minds. So what we serve is not the body and the body's function but the mind and its function, and clearly there might be better ways to serve the mind and its function than to procreate. We are not merely animal. We are rational too. Let us not debase ourselves so that we behave as do non-rational animals. Rather let us serve our rationality. Let us make certain that it flourishes in whatever way seems best to us. To do this, some will make more like themselves. Others will devote themselves solely to meditation, to research, to art, to governance and so on. In the end, they serve the same end as do those who procreate but they do so in another way.

4. A woman who must copulate often with her husband and who can never use birth control is a woman who will bear many children. She will undergo many total years of pregnancy and many years with very young children in the house. Such a woman will have no time to pursue other interests. She will be bound to home and to children for decades. Whatever talent she might have had for work outside the home will be squandered. This cannot be good.

5. A time will come when not all couples can have many children. Perhaps the planet can easily support 10 billion, or 50. I do not know. But at a certain point, its ability to support us will fail. Before that time, we must begin to curtail population growth. We must begin to use birth control. Indeed I would suppose that it's better to use birth control now so that we never come near the point at which the Earth's ability to support us fails.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Why I Am Not an Evangelical, Part I

American culture has proved fertile soil for a form of conservative Christianity that calls itself 'Evangelicalism'. As my readers (you brave few) know well, I am no Christian (though I find myself strongly attracted to Christianity). Perhaps I will become Christian some day. I find peace and enlightenment at Catholic mass. Among the priests I know are men of great wisdom and spiritual depth. Perhaps a day will come when they will convince me of what they preach. But I cannot imagine that I will ever become an Evangelical. Its errors are multifarious and manifest. I do hope that its influence wanes in the decades to come, for it is both culturally and religiously corrosive.

In this post and ones to follow, I explain why I take such a critical view of Evangelicalism. This is the first of seven posts. In each, I explain why I reject some central doctrine or stance of contemporary Evangelical Christianity.

Let's first have a list of them. After I'll turn to the first deadly sin.

1. The Doctrine of Substitutionary Attonement
2. The Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy
3. The Doctrine of Sola Fide (Salvation by Faith Alone)
4. The Viciousness of the Evangelical God
5. Evangelical Disdain for Science
6. Evangelical Alliance with the Republican Party
7. Sexism of Evangelicals (Extraordinarily, both men and women evangelicals!)

Before I begin, let me say that not all Evangelicals are guilty of each of these sins. Do not suppose that "Evangelicalism" has a precise definition captured by some or all of the sins on my list. Rather each sin is characteristic of Evangelicalism. Exceptions can be found, but they are just that - exceptions (quite rare exceptions, I am sure).

Let us turn, then, to the first of the deadly sins.

First Fault: The Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement

First let's have a statement of the doctrine (hereafter SA). After I'll attack it.

The doctrine concerns the death of Christ. It is an answer to the question, What was the point of His death? The answer that SA gives is multipart. (i) We are all sinners. (ii) We ourselves cannot remove the taint of that sin. We ourselves cannot atone for it. (iii) Christ, since perfect, could pay the price of our sins. He, since perfect, could atone for them by His death. Indeed in His death He did precisely this. (iv) Thus in His death Christ justifies us before God. In His death, he makes possible the forgiveness of our sins and a life eternal in God's bosom.

Thus we come to understand why 'Substitutionary Attonement' is the proper name of this doctrine. Christ, in His death, substitutes for us and bears the penalty of our sins; and in this way is atonement made for our sins.

(Of course most Evangelicals will add that our sins are forgiven only if we put our trust in Christ and ask His forgiveness. But strictly that is not part of SA, so let's say no more about it here. But I will take up the issue when I turn to the topic of The Viciousness of the Evangelical God.)

The Attack

1. No atonement is necessary for forgiveness. I can forgive you the wrongs you've done to me even if you do nothing to atone for those wrongs, even if you do not ask forgiveness. This makes Christ's death unnecessary for the forgiveness that God gives. If the only point that Christ's death can have is that it made possible forgiveness of sins, His death was pointless.

2. But my opponent might dig in her heels. She might say some such thing as this:

God's justice cannot be trumped by His mercy. Rather His justice requires that a price be paid for human sin.

My reply is two-part. (i) To suppose that a price must be paid for sin is to make God a hostage to His justice. Is to make Him unable to forgive if the price of sin is not paid. But any such limitation is inimical to God's nature. God can do as He pleases (so long as what He does involves no absolute impossibility - not even God can square the circle). But to forgive when the price of sin has not been paid is surely possible. Thus God can do it. (ii) God is a merciful god. But if of necessity the price of sin must be paid to God before He can forgive, He never extends His grace to us. To extend grace is to forgive, is to treat as righteous, when the price has not been payed. Thus the supposition that God is a god of mercy contradicts SA.

3. As said, no atonement is necessary for forgiveness. But that of course does not imply that atonement is not sufficient for forgiveness. So let us then suppose that it is sufficient.

But now let us ask whether another can atone for my sins. The answer is clear. My sins are mine alone. Only I can atone for them. You can of course help to alleviate the harm that I did when I sinned. But you do not thereby atone for my sin.

Let's make the point in another way. Defenders of SA often say that Christ bore the burden of our sins and by his death pays the penalty for them. But now we must ask a question like the one asked before. Can another pay the penalty of my sins? The answer is clear. Let us say that I've killed a man in a jealous rage. I am tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Now, what would we say if someone were to offer to do my time? Might the price of my sin by thereby paid? Of course not. If I were let go free, that would be one injustice. If another innocent man were imprisoned in my place, that would be a second injustice. My sin, my crime demands that I and I alone suffer the penalty of its commission. If we suppose that Christ, when nailed to the cross, did so to pay the price of our sins, we suppose a double injustice. The first is that we, the guilty ones, did not suffer as we ought. The second is that an innocent suffered for a crime He did not commit.

But SA, we know, supposes that substitutionary atonement is possible; it supposes that another can suffer and thereby atone for sins that I've committed. Thus we must conclude that the Doctrine of Substitutionary Attonement is at bottom conceptually incoherent. It betrays a deep error about the nature of sin and its atonement. Whatever account we give of the point of Christ's death, it cannot be that of SA.