The faith of infants

A key Lutheran teaching is that infants can have faith.  This is why Lutherans see no contradiction between infant baptism and justification by faith.  Lutherans see faith not just in terms of intellectual knowledge or conscious volition, but as trust, dependence, and relationship with a Person.  Infants can trust, depend on, and have a relationship with their parents and also with their Heavenly Father.  The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter.  (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and become an unbeliever in need of conversion.)

Anyway, a new book explores, from the vantage point of scientific research, the way infants and extremely young children seemed to be wired for religious belief.

Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones reviews Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by psychologist Justin L. Barrett:

He summarizes creative, sophisticated research establishing that in infancy, babies understand distinctions between mere objects and agents (human and non-human, visible and invisible) which initiate actions that are not predictable and yet are goal-directed or purposeful. Only agents act to bring order out of disorder.

Children over three begin to discern and attribute purpose to much of what happens around them, which they in turn are inclined to attribute to human and superhuman agents. When children are old enough to actually discuss their intuitive concepts of god(s), they seem normatively disposed to believe in a (or many) divine agent(s) possessing “superknowledge, superperception, creative power, and immortality,” as well as to believe in a purposeful design to creation, in some sort of basic universal morality, and in the persistence of human identity after death.

Roughly the first 40 percent of Born Believers summarizes this research, while the remaining portion fleshes out its implications. Barrett’s view of religious development is that “children are naturally drawn to some basic religious ideas and related practices (natural religion), and then the meat of a religious and theological tradition as taught by parents grows on this skeleton.” He discusses trends in the research that might foster effective religious education.

via Born Believers, Part 1 | Books and Culture.

The Empathy Gap

Why does Obama still lead Romney in the polls, despite the dismal state of the economy?  Charles Krauthammer says it’s because of the “empathy gap.”  People think Obama seems to have more empathy–more feeling for people, a greater ability to identify with others, especially when they are hurting–than Romney does.  That, in fact, was a major theme of the Democratic Convention, the high point of which was the speech by Bill Clinton, the maestro of empathy.

Obama and the Empathy Gap – Charles Krauthammer – National Review Online.

So is that any way to choose a president?  But isn’t empathy a good quality to have in a ruler?

Thoughts on homosexuality not being genetic

A couple of weeks ago I posted this:  Evidence homosexuality is not genetic | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  It was a link to a discussion of how identical twins (who share the exact same genes) are not particularly likely to both be gay (something that happens in only 10% of the cases).  That would indicate that homosexuality is not genetic, or, if there is some kind of genetic component, it isn’t causative or determinative.  That post attracted more than ten times the usual traffic on this blog!  But there is more to say on the matter:

(1)  Homosexuality cannot be genetically transmitted.  Or if it is, that would strike a mortal blow against Darwinism.  You don’t have to believe that natural selection gives rise to different species to believe that natural selection is a real phenomenon.  That simply means that genes that aid survival and (more importantly) reproduction will be passed on to the next generations.  Same-sex attraction does NOT promote reproduction.  Rather, it prevents reproduction.  So that trait, if it is genetic and inheritable, would tend to die out.  And yet it hasn’t.  So it’s hard to imagine how it could be genetically determined and handed down.

(2)  Just because homosexuality isn’t genetic, that does not mean it is just a “choice.”  It might have causes that are psychological, physiological, medical, cultural, environmental, or some combination of these or other factors.  It’s too bad that the politically-correct conviction “not that there’s anything wrong with it” is inhibiting research into the causes of homosexuality.

(3)  The Lady Gaga diagnosis–”I was born this way”–has indeed helped homosexuality become broadly accepted today. This, however, may not be true.

(4)  There would seem to be no moral issue if a person can’t help his or her sexual orientation. And yet having a desire is not the same as acting on that desire (which is certainly evident in heterosexual attractions), so moral agency remains.  To be sure, our inner desires to do what is forbidden–our “concupiscence”–are sinful and testimony to our fallen condition.  Nevertheless, the will is operative.

(5) And yet, Christianity teaches that the will is in bondage to sin.  As a result, we cannot simply choose to stop sinning.  This applies to all sins and not just to homosexuality.  Sin inheres in our “flesh.”  Sin is part of our fallen condition.  In that sense, sin–including but not limited to homosexual desires– is inherited (even though, contrary to Darwin, it has no survival value).

(5)  All have sinned, including homosexuals, whose sin goes far beyond sexual transgressions, just as heterosexuals sin in more ways than in their sexuality.  And what all sinners need is grace, forgiveness, redemption, all of which is freely available from Christ, who covers their sins with His blood.   Self-righteousness, though–the conviction that “I am good as I am” and “I don’t need forgiveness”–is what keeps sinners away from Christ and all His free gifts.

Can you think of any other corollaries?

And I’m curious about this, from you Lutheran theologians.  It seems that Lutheranism has a view of sin and of human anthropology that is very realistic, though different from that of other theologies with a higher view of the will and a lower view of sin.  Does Lutheran theology throw any distinct light on this issue?

 

Court rules in favor of expelled Christian counseling student

An appeals court ruled in favor of that graduate student who was expelled from her program in counseling because she could not approve of homosexuality due to her Christian beliefs.

A counseling student who declined to advise a gay client might have been expelled from her university because of her faith, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday (Jan. 27).

Citing her evangelical Christian religion, Julea Ward disagreed with professors at Eastern Michigan University who told her she was required to support the sexual orientation of her clients. When the graduate student was assigned a client who sought counseling on a same-sex relationship, she asked to have the client referred to another counselor.

Ward was then expelled from the school.A lower court sided with the university, but Ward appealed, saying the school had violated her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.On Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Ward could have a valid claim, and sent the case back to a district court for another hearing.

“A reasonablreasonable jury could conclude that Ward’s professors ejected her from the counseling program because of hostility toward her speech and faith, not due to a policy against referrals,” the appeals court ruled.

via Court says student’s faith may have led to expulsion – The Washington Post.

What this means is that the student can now sue the university, her prior suit having been thrown out of court.

The court’s ruling makes for some interesting reading.  The school argued that Ward’s request for the gay patient to be referred to someone else violated the profession’s code of ethics.  But the court noted that the code actually calls for counselors to refer patients to others when personal considerations arise.  When Ward asked for the referral, she was specifically avoiding imposing her beliefs on the patient.  The school’s own stated reasons for expelling the student are thus exploded.

Emotional Freedom Technique?

Should Christians employ acupuncture, yoga, and other “alternative medicine” treatments whose theoretical foundations come out of Eastern or New Age religions?  All of those energy meridians, chakras, and the like are far removed from a Christian worldview, much less the worldview of modern science. And yet they seem to “work” for many people, as if there might be an innocently secular physiological explanation.  (Notice how being “secular” in the sense of non-religious can be a good thing from a Christian perspective, much better than “pagan” or “teaching a false religion.”)

I bring this up because a reader wrote me about a kind of psychological acupuncture technique that is going around called the “Emotional Freedom Technique.”  Here is what she said:

Do you think that the Emotional Freedom Technique, psychological acupressure based on energy meridians, is dangerous for Christians? It appears to be successful with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] patients. It involves simple tapping with fingertips to input kinetic energy into specific meridians while you think of a specific problem and make a positive statement. It seems harmless enough, yet is close to the Word Faith, name it and claim it, positive confession movement.

She says a number of Christian therapists are using it.

She referred me to this website:  EFT | Dr. Mercola’s Emotional Freedom Technique.

What you do is tap your body at various points–yes, you do it yourself, which will make you look very silly if you do it in public.  And while you are hitting yourself, you say the following:  “Even though I have this [name your problem],  I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Now this strikes me as ludicrous.  And with the telling yourself how much you accept yourself, it can’t be completely physical.  I consider it on the order of that great new wonder drug called “placebo.”

But what’s the attraction for Christians?  They don’t believe in energy meridians, do they?  If so, on what basis?  Taoism?

The rise of American emotionalism

In the context of discussing an embarrassing video in which a hysterical fan blames the playoff loss of the Green Bay Packers on the fact that she wore sparkly nail polish, Ed Driscoll quotes a passage from David Frum’s  How We Got Here: The ‘70s: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life — For Better Or Worse:

What an amazing turn of events. Only a generation before, the United States had been the homeland of efficiency and practicality, a country so uncongenial to dreamers, artists, and poets that they fled for Europe as soon as they could scrape together the boat-fare. And yet, if we cast our mind back only a little further, the turn of events might not seem so amazing after all. The “Oprah-ization” of public life is usually talked of as it were a brand-new thing. It is in reality the return of something antique. A hundred years ago, middle-class life in Britain and America was bathed in the gush of emotions. Reread the poetry of Swinburne or the orations of Daniel Webster, glance at the paintings of Frederick Leighton or old photographs of the obsequies of General Grant if you doubt it. The wry, laconic anti-emotionalism of a Jimmy Stewart or a Prince Philip is a last relic of the early-twentieth-century reaction against the overwrought romanticism of the Victorians. Bob Dole brought to his political speeches the same sensibility that Ernest Hemingway brought to his novels. Hemingway’s generation had learned in the fire and slaughter of the First World War to mistrust the man who put his hand on his heart while wiping a tear from his eye. Frederick Lewis Allen recalled the terse manners of his contemporaries: “During the whole three years and eight months that the United States fought [the Second World War], there was no antiwar faction, no organized pacifist element, no objection to huge appropriations, no noticeable opposition to the draft. Yet there was also a minimum of crusading spirit…. They”—the men and women of the 1940s—“didn’t want to be victims of ‘hysteria.’ They felt uncomfortable about flag-waving. They preferred to be matter-of-fact about the job ahead…. These people were unstintedly loyal, and went to battle—or saw their brothers and sons go—without reservation; yet they remained emotionally on guard…. disillusioned and deadpan. …”

We think now of the dislike of emotional fuss and show as generically old-fashioned. It is probably truer to say that the laconic style we associate with the GI generation came into fashion in the 1920s and went out in the 1970s, to be replaced by a style reminiscent of the moist, voluptuous sentimentality of a hundred years ago, with the teary television interview replacing black crepe. This was the style of the two party conventions in 1996. It is the style of the most-talked-about mass movement of the 1990s, the evangelical Promise Keepers, who brought stadiums full of middle-aged husbands and fathers together to weep and hug. It is the style of contemporary American evangelicalism. And it is the style of the most successful politicians of the age—the Bill Clintons and the Tony Blairs—as they explain how this or that policy will “save the life of a child.” The gurus of the 1970s taught, and we today still seem to believe, that to delve honestly into one’s feelings requires one to shut down the analytical lobes of the mind. “People often talk about wanting to be spontaneous, to live out of their feelings,” reported the authors of How to Be Your Own Best Friend. “They have locked themselves into intellectual boxes, where they hardly know what they feel any more. They become desperate to experience plain, simple emotion. They think if they could throw away their minds, they would be free.”

via PJ Lifestyle » How Sparkly Nail Polish Doomed the Green Bay Packers.


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