The six kinds of agnosticism

David Swindle, a self-described “agnostic theist” describes six different kinds of agnosticism.  Click here for explanations of each one:

1. Agnostic-Atheist-Materialist-Scientist: “God probably doesn’t exist but I won’t say so absolutely because that would reveal that deep down I’m just as dogmatic as the Jesus Freaks I live to mock and that I’m just using science as a rhetorical device to dupe people into respecting my materialist theology.”

2. Agnostic-Atheist-Postmodern-Contrarian Jerk: “I don’t know if God exists and I’m not interested in finding a real answer. Instead what I care about is telling others how stupid they are for sharing their religious beliefs. Both atheists and Christians need to shut up in their dumb fight so they can listen to me and realize that I’m so much more humble and advanced than both of them.”

3. Agnostic-Indifferent: “I don’t know if God exists and it’s not really something I think about much.”

4. The Christian Agnostic: “Something amazing happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.”

5. The Mystic Agnostic: “Maybe there’s something spiritual going on — there probably is — I’m just not sure what it is yet.”

6. The Mystic Agnostic Inter-Faith Ethical Monotheist Seeker: “There’s something spiritual going on and if we want to label it ‘God’ then that works. My agnosticism is not in whether God exists, but which God(s) are best and what it means to worship them.”

So are the latter varieties more open to Christianity, or is their smattering of religion an inoculation against the real thing?

Taking up the beer fast for Lent

The beer fast does not mean giving up beer.  It means giving up everything except beer.  While this may sound Lutheran, it was actually the practice of the monks of Neudeck, who developed Doppelbock for this very purpose.  Last year the beer connoisseur J. Wilson took on this Lenten discipline.  From his account of the 46 days:

According to legend, the 17th century monks of Neudeck ob der Au outside Munich, Germany, developed the rich-and-malty beer to sustain them during Lenten fasts, the traditional 46-day lead-up to Easter.

Unfiltered, the bold elixir was nicknamed “liquid bread” and is packed with carbohydrates, calories and vitamins.

With poor documentation available on the specifics of their fasts, I decided that the only way to know if the story was true would be to test the beer myself. I joined forces with Eric Sorensen, the head brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in West Des Moines, Iowa, to brew a commercial release of one of my recipes, Illuminator Doppelbock.

I would survive on that beer, supplemented only by water, for 46 days of historical research.

With the blessing of my boss at The Adams County Free Press in Southwest Iowa, I consumed four beers a day during the workweek and five beers on the weekends, when I had fewer obligations. . . .

At the beginning of my fast, I felt hunger for the first two days. My body then switched gears, replaced hunger with focus, and I found myself operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

While hunger subsided quickly, my sense of smell provided persistent temptation for more than a week. But the willpower to carry out my objective brought peace to the “Oh man that cheeseburger smells good” thoughts. Soon, I could see, smell or discuss anything food-related without trouble.

Often, I cooked dinner for my boys, a task that became as simple and trouble-free as tying my shoes.

My fast also underscored for me that there is a difference between wants and needs. I wanted a cheeseburger, but I didn’t need one. I also didn’t need a bag of chips or a midday doughnut. I needed nourishment, and my doppelbock, while lacking the protein that might have provided enough backbone for an even longer fast had I sought one, was enough to keep me strong and alert, despite my caloric deficit.

Though I lost 25.5 pounds, I gained so much more. The benefits of self-discipline can’t be overstated in today’s world of instant gratification. The fast provided a long-overdue tune-up and detox, and I’ve never felt so rejuvenated, physically or mentally.

The experience proved that the origin story of monks fasting on doppelbock was not only possible, but probable. It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.

via My Faith: What I learned from my 46-day beer-only fast – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Our new book on family vocations is out!

I have a new book that I wrote with my daughter, Deaconness Mary Moerbe, with the support of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, that has just been released from Crossway Books. It’s entitled Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.

Today when we hear “vocation” we mainly think of “job,” but for Luther and the early Reformers “vocation” referred above all to the estate of the family.  (Work as a calling was itself seen as part of the larger estate of the household; that is, the family and what you do to support your family.)  So Mary and I applied the doctrine of vocation to the specific offices of the family:  Husband and wife; father and mother; child.  We also have some things to say about brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and ancestors.

And I have to say that vocation provides a way of thinking about all of our family relationships that makes them more precious than ever.   And it’s all so practical, giving us down-to-earth guidance that can help us through our everyday lives, including the problems that come up in marriage, parenting, and being a child.   Our book turned into a comprehensive study of the what the Bible says about all of these offices.  We show how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are literally present and at work in marriage (which images Christ and the Church), parenthood (the Fatherhood of God), and childhood (the Son of God).  We deal with bearing the Cross in these vocations, frankly discussing the problems that people wrestle with in these different callings and what difference the Cross of Jesus can make with these problems.   I even think our book illuminates things like sex and other topics that have been hard for Christians to talk about.

We do all of this without just laying down laws and rules, like most Christian books on the family.  We don’t get bogged down in “who has to obey whom,” though I think we completely resolve the issues in those debates, which take on a completely different light when seen in terms of vocation.  Throughout our focus is on the Gospel.   It’s the Gospel that looms in God’s design behind marriage and parenting and even being a child.

I am not bragging about our book, since we did not invent the teachings that it puts forward, but I am just saying that I myself was greatly benefited by putting this book together.  Mary, with her Deaconness training, brought to bear a depth of Scriptural application that I never thought of before.  I have been studying vocation for a long time, since my book God at Work to which this is something of a sequel, but I really think we have broken new ground in apprehending God’s callings and how we can live out our faith in ordinary life.

When we made our proposal to Crossway, the editors said that they had thought they had seen every approach to family issues that was possible, and yet they had never seen anything like this.  Which is sad, since the doctrine of vocation is the theology of the Christian life and the Biblical teaching on the family.  If Christians can bring back from long disuse the doctrine of vocation, we can stop the breakdown of the family–at least in our own divorce rates, dysfunctional relationships, and counterproductive parenting–and become culturally influential again, like we used to be.

The Amazon site has a “Look Inside” feature, which will let you get a taste of it.  And, yes, it’s also available on Kindle.  So please forgive me for urging you to buy our book.  And let other people know about it, including those having problems in their marriages, with their children, and with their parents.   It would also be helpful to couples contemplating marriage or having just entered that estate.  And for new parents.  And for those who currently belong to a family, which includes everyone.

I would be embarrassed to be so crassly commercial if I didn’t think that you would be blessed by reading  it, as Mary and I were blessed in writing it.

And now calls for “After-Birth Abortions”

If there is no difference between a fetus in the womb and a new born baby, it should follow that neither should be killed.  But, granting the scientific evidence demonstrating the continuity of life, some “ethicists” and pro-abortion fanatics are coming to a different conclusions:  Since we can abort fetuses, we should also be able to “abort” new-born infants.  So says an article in one of the most influential journals in medical ethics:

Two ethicists working with Australian universities argue in the latest online edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics that if abortion of a fetus is allowable, so to should be the termination of a newborn.

(Update: ‘Journal of Medical Ethics’ stands by publication of ‘after-birth abortions’ article.  [Follow the links to read the editors' defense of these ideas.])

Alberto Giubilini with Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne write that in “circumstances occur[ing] after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

The two are quick to note that they prefer the term “after-birth abortion“ as opposed to ”infanticide.” Why? Because it “[emphasizes] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.” The authors also do not agree with the term euthanasia for this practice as the best interest of the person who would be killed is not necessarily the primary reason his or her life is being terminated. In other words, it may be in the parents’ best interest to terminate the life, not the newborns.

The circumstances, the authors state, where after-birth abortion should be considered acceptable include instances where the newborn would be putting the well-being of the family at risk, even if it had the potential for an “acceptable” life. The authors cite Downs Syndrome as an example, stating that while the quality of life of individuals with Downs is often reported as happy, “such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

This means a newborn whose family (or society) that could be socially, economically or psychologically burdened or damaged by the newborn should have the ability to seek out an after-birth abortion. They state that after-birth abortions are not preferable over early-term abortions of fetuses but should circumstances change with the family or the fetus in the womb, then they advocate that this option should be made available.

The authors go on to state that the moral status of a newborn is equivalent to a fetus in that it cannot be considered a person in the “morally relevant sense.” On this point, the authors write:

Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.

[...]

Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.

Giubilini and Minerva believe that being able to understand the value of a different situation, which often depends on mental development, determines personhood. For example, being able to tell the difference between an undesirable situation and a desirable one. They note that fetuses and newborns are “potential persons.” The authors do acknowledge that a mother, who they cite as an example of a true person, can attribute “subjective” moral rights to the fetus or newborn, but they state this is only a projected moral status.

The authors counter the argument that these “potential persons” have the right to reach that potential by stating it is “over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.”

via Ethicists Argue for Acceptance of After-Birth Abortions | TheBlaze.com.

The journal article is available here.

Monsters walk among us.

The weaknesses of the arguments are flabbergasting.  They don’t think infants can tell the difference between an undesirable situation and a desirable one?  They don’t think infants know when they are being deprived of something?  Have these ethicists ever tried taking a bottle away from a baby?  And this is their definition of personhood?

This should also weaken the public’s confidence in the hospital  “ethics panels” that we are supposed to trust when Obamacare kicks in.  Presumably the expert ethicists on those panels will be readers of the Journal of Medical Ethics .

Will this be the next pro-life  battle, trying to stop the murder of infants?

HT:  Joanna

Denying Communion to a lesbian

This story marshalled so much outrage that it made the front page of the Washington Post:

Deep in grief, Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother’s funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

“You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me,” she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. “I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

Late Tuesday, Johnson received a letter of apology from the Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, who said the lack of “kindness” she and her family received “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.” . . .

Johnson called the letter “comforting” and said she greatly appreciates the apology. But, she added, “I will not be satisfied” until Guarnizo is removed.

via D.C. archdiocese: Denying Communion to lesbian at funeral was against ‘policy’ – The Washington Post.

So church discipline is now the business of the news media, the public, and people who do not belong to the church.   I wonder if the person who was denied communion could sue for having her rights violated.

Having said that, the incident seems to bring up some differences between the Roman Catholic use of the Sacrament and that of, for instance, Lutherans.  (I’d like to hear from Reformed, Baptist, Orthodox, and other traditions about how they would handle this.)

For Catholics, one should be free from sin–confessed, absolved, penance performed–before receiving the Sacrament.  Lutherans, in contrast, see the Sacrament as being specifically for sinners.  To receive the Sacrament unworthily is to receive it without faith (Small Catechism vi).

And yet, I’m not sure how this is handled pastorally.  Perhaps someone living in open and unrepentant sin is likely not in a state of faith.  On the other hand, perhaps she has repented.  If she confessed her sin in the rite of confession and she was absolved, hasn’t she, in fact, been objectively forgiven?  Lutheran pastors, how would you have dealt with this woman?  Again, I’d like to hear from pastors of other traditions also.  (For those of you who think communion is only symbolic, would this not be an issue at all since it doesn’t really matter?)

For this discussion, please do me a favor:  Please leave out complaints about Lutheran churches that practice closed communion!  (“You’d commune that lesbian, but not me because I’m a Methodist!”)  We have had that discussion.  Your complaint is registered.  Let’s stick to the issues raised in this story.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Bonus day

Today is the added day for Leap Year, February 29. Once every four years we get an extra day in the year. Consider it a bonus. Treat it like a gift!


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