Monday, January 4, 2010

THE CULTURE OF DEATH OR THE CULTURE OF LIFE


Upon rereading the Manhattan Declaration I find that it does not focus on the core problems of marriage in America.  While I agree with parts of the Declaration I remove my signature from it and make the following comment.
I believe the section about the culture of death is the center of the document and should be the core focus of the declaration.  It is connected in my mind with all the other sections.  I would go beyond the declaration and suggest that humanity is in love with the dance of death.  We would prefer to kill unborn infants than care for them.  We would prefer that the elderly and infirm die rather than care for them.  We prefer war to conversation because killing is so much easier than conversation.  We prefer to destroy God’s good earth, and therefore space for humans and all God other creations rather than be the good stewards of the earth God created us to be.  We would prefer that those who disagree with us would at the very least sit down and shut up or failing that, punish them or kill them. 
I repudiate any suggestion by any of those who signed this document that homosexual orientation or sexual behavior is to be considered criminal behavior deserving imprisonment, death or any other punishment.  I condemn the effort to make death the penalty for homosexual orientation and/or sexual behavior in Uganda.  Some who have signed this declaration have supported this sin in Uganda.  I do not and will not stand with them.
Unfortunately because of the continuing debate over homosexuality in the PCUSA, in the broader Church and in American culture we fail to look beyond the sins of homosexuals to the sins that are part of the culture of death.  It is my opinion that while we cannot (and will not) abandon the current debate about homosexuality we must place the majority of our focus elsewhere.  I make the following affirmations:
1.    The most important issue before the Church and the world is the question of life: who shall be allowed to live and who shall be allowed to die?  I affirm that abortion is sin but so is failing to provide for children after they are born.  For a few pennies a day from those of us who live in the opulent West we could make sure that all who suffer from hunger and malnutrition could be fed.  Yet we choose not to do so.  Before all other issues I affirm that all humans are to be valued, all humans deserve life, and all humans deserve food.  There can be no distinguishing between humans on the basis of race, religion, physical ability or disability or sexual orientation when it comes to being loved, accepted and most important, fed.
2.    I am convinced that the greatest sexual sin in America today is the sin of bringing children into the world who are abandoned by one or both parents.  It is so easy to turn and speak of homosexuality as THE problem.  It isn’t.  The core sexual problem in America is the failure to take responsibility for one’s sexual actions.  Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman almost always has the possibility of producing a child.  Those who take on the responsibility of sexual pleasure must also take on the responsibility for raising the children they bear.
3.    We live in a world in which many children are born who will not be raised in a loving two parent family.  It is so easy to say that heterosexual sexual activity brings with it responsibility when all too many either do not see that their sexual activity may result in a child or simply do not care about that possibility.  As children born and raised in one parent homes are much more likely to live in poverty, not be granted the possibility of a decent education and to ultimately enter the criminal justice system we must make a different life available to those children. 
I suggest therefore that, given the sinful nature of the world there is a hierarchy of possibilities for children from best to worst.  Worst, most certainly is to live without parents, wandering in the wilderness.  We in America prefer to think that this is an analogy.  In places in the world, particularly in parts of Africa today parents are killed and children are left to wander and raise themselves.  We must do better.  I condemn in particular the government of Sudan for fomenting this sin upon its children.  I call on the Organization of African Union, the United Nations and the government of the United States to act for the good of the children of Sudan.  Further the scourge of AIDS leaves millions of children without parents, to be raised by grandparents or by older siblings (some as young as 10 years old).  The richer countries and peoples in the world must provide for these children.
There are many levels of good just as there are many levels of bad.  The best for children is to be raised by their birth parents in a loving home with parents taking proper responsibility to raise the children.  Alas we live in a world where all many children are not afforded such love.  I suggest therefore the following hierarchy of good homes for children if they cannot be raised in a loving home by their birthparents:
1.    A home in which there are two heterosexual parents, one of which may or may not be a birth parent who receive help in raising children from neighborhood, society and Church.
2.    A home in which there are two homosexual parents, one of which may or may not be a birth parent who receive help in raising children from neighborhood, society and Church.
3.    A home with one loving, responsible parent who receive help in raising children from neighborhood, society and Church.
MARRIAGE
The Declaration speaks of the problems of marriage in America.  While it makes a gesture towards the core of the problem it fails to confront the bigger problems.  The major problems surrounding marriage in America are the failures of heterosexual couples who live together outside the covenant of marriage and the failure of divorce.  It is easy to point to homosexual unions as the problem.  If there were no homosexual unions in America and even if there were no homosexuals the problems of heterosexual marriage in America would remain.
In the 1960’s and 70’s Americans opened the Pandora’s Box of sexual freedom.  Responsibility for sexual action was separated from the sexual act itself.  While God gave humanity the gift of pleasure in sexual union God meant that pleasure to be enjoyed between two people in a lifelong committed relationship.  The core sexual problem in America today is that heterosexuals all too often do not make a commitment before enjoying the gift of sexual expression.  People get together for one night of sexual pleasure.  They make short term commitments.  They live together, not recognizing that by failing to make a lifelong commitment they place themselves in the position of risk to the possibility having a lifelong committed marriage.
One of the causes of this behavior is the American way of divorce.  While people make lifelong commitments when they get married, usually with good faith, they fail to see that love is not primarily a feeling but a way of living.  Our culture teaches us that love is a series of warm feelings about another that often results in sex.  When people believe that love is feelings they fail to do the hard word that a lifelong commitment demands.  Often in marriage God calls on humans to simply put up with behavior in the other that irritates.  God calls on humans to do the hard work that a lifelong loving relationship demands.  The American Church has failed to teach its members and its leaders how to live the committed life, be that in marriage or in other areas of life. 
The children see their parents separate and seek to make sure their marriages will not end in divorce by living together first, not realizing that by doing so they make it more likely that they themselves will get divorced.  A lifelong relationship demands a lifelong commitment.  There is no such thing as a trial marriage experimented upon by living together.
I freely admit that just as Pandora was unable to put all the evil back in the box so I know of no way to return to an ethic of sexual responsibility in lifelong commitment.  I have only what Pandora had: hope.
Freedom of Speech
The Declaration speaks of the limitations the authors fear will be placed on the freedom of speech in America today, particularly suggesting that changes in marriage laws that would allow two men or two women to get married to each other will limit freedom of speech for those who do not approve.  While this might ultimately happen, and currently does happen here and there I believe Americans have a bigger problem when it comes to freedom of speech: we don’t want to be offended.
Freedom of speech demands from each of us that when we walk out the door, turn on the TV or the radio we must recognize that we will hear and see things that offend us.  To live in a free society means that we all live with the possibility that we will be offended.  As soon as one person seeks to enact a law that would limit the speech of another that person takes the chance that his or her speech will also be limited.  Americans don’t consider their own history enough to understand that the possibility of offense has always been a problem when one has freedom of speech.  Early political cartoons about Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln would simply not be printed in today’s newspapers.  They would be considered too offensive. 
What Americans must understand is that freedom of speech comes with responsibility.  What one says affects others.  Robert Heinlein says that a society is on its way to destruction when politeness is abandoned.  If he is correct we are in much more trouble than the Declaration admits. 
The simplest way to act when asked to comment on the behavior of others that offends is to simply say, “I disagree.” 
More later.

8 comments:

Aric Clark said...

Fantastic. I know you didn't write this to get my approval, but this is why I keep reading you - you repeatedly reveal yourself to be a self-critical, self-reflective thinker with integrity. You're unafraid to publicly change your mind and state clearly what led you to your current opinion.

Of course, I like this piece more than some because I agree with more of it, but the basic point remains true.

The section on the Culture of Death is particularly awesome. It is demoralizing to me how often the things which seem to be the true horrors of this world - poverty, war, oppression, infanticide... get completely ignored by those "protecting" our traditions.

On the section on marriage, I didn't live through the 60's but I'm not sure it was the catastrophe you describe. I agree with your assessment of where we are - just not your analysis of why. Studies have shown that premarital sex was just as common in the 1950's as it is today, only more underground. I don't think we can look back to the early part of the 20th century or the 19th century or any other time as an example of sexual virtue. Frankly, I think human sex lives have always been messed up, much the same way we have always been warfaring. The 60's perhaps brought this to our public attention, but probably didn't create the problem.

Pastor Bob said...

Aric

You may be right. Certainly humans have a drive to breed. I grew up in the late 60s so I may be prejudiced. Certainly girls are pressured to have sex earlier these days (boys are telling girls there is something the matter with them if they won't have sex with them) and there is little societal shame if a girl gets pregnant while still in high school.

I think there is a fundamental problem that we have failed to deal with. Children are reaching puberty sooner than they did a couple centuries ago. At the same time children today need more education to prepare to work in our technological society.

The best solution may be to allow children to marry when they are ready and have their parents support them until they finish their education. The one problem I see with this is current studies on the brains of teenagers. The studies suggest that the brains of teenagers are not prepared to make adult decisions even though their bodies are ready to have sex. I wonder if some studies were done on teenagers in societies that have less education on average and children are considered adults earlier if we would find different results in their brains.

I know these answers are insufficient but I don't have any others. Suggestions?

John Shuck said...

Thanks for removing your name from that declaration, Bob. I appreciate that!

Pastor Bob said...

Didn't do it for you John. And did you read what I said?

John Shuck said...

I didn't mean to imply that you did it for me. I am still glad you did it. I didn't read your whole thing, no.

Pastor Bob said...

John

I know I'm verbose but you might try it. I think I wrote some good stuff.

Adel Thalos said...

Bob,

Did you know that the authors of the Manhattan Declaration had also written against the pending legislation in Uganda?

You might want to Google search the text.

Jodie said...

Bob,

Very good post. I resonate most with your thoughts on the culture of death.

I would suggest we add to that the culture of fear. I think the culture of death assumes a culture of fear. And our culture is becoming more and more afraid. Paradoxically we seem even entertained by our fears. But we justify our own acts of violence with the fear that lies beneath them.

And it is to this culture that angels appear to humanity with good news of salvation, usually with the opening salutation: "be not afraid"

The context of "salvation" is not typically about one's soul in the afterlife, but rather our fear of death.

The cure to the culture of death is the realization that in Christ Jesus we can have no fear. I believe the first gospel text was addressing specifically that issue. Jesus is the one who calms the storms. He sleeps in the boat while we abandon hope. But he commands the storms to be still, and they obey. He goes ahead of us and meets us on the other side of the storm.

So when Jesus resurrects from the dead, the first takeaway from that is not a theology of atonement, but a theology of fearlessness.

So when someone calls us to some kind of action in the church and uses fear as a motivation or justification, right away we can discern and know: Such banter is never from the Holy Spirit.