Does God only care about abortion and homosexuality?

Posted on 10/11/11 17 Comments

I originally posted this article 1 1/2 years ago at Christian Post.

You might be asking this question if you listened to many evangelicals who still seem to trundle out these two issues as the single matters of ethical concern. Of course, on a good day some will venture out a bit further and expand the moral sphere to include other matters of sexual ethics. But even so, great swathes of the moral life (e.g. climate change, war, corporatocracy, AIDS et cetera) remain in the dark.

I was confronted with an instance of this tunnel vision the other day when I was listening to a podcast by William Lane Craig, a brilliant fellow with two PhDs, about thirty books, and the unofficial title of being the world’s leading Christian apologist. The context was Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” podcast when his sidekick “Kevin” asked him about which ethical issues he will discuss in his adult Sunday school class:

Kevin: “Bill, do you try to keep up with politics? I mean, uh, if somebody in your class asks you to comment on healthcare, the state of healthcare and what we ought to do, do you keep up with things like that so that you can comment on it in class?”

Bill: “No, not for that reason. I do try to keep up on them simply because I’m interested vitally in these issues and I want to be a good citizen. But I try to stay away from politics in what I comment on Kevin because as a Christian spokesperson I don’t want to make Christianity associated with any particular segment of the political spectrum. What I will comment on would be issues that have a definite ethical or religious dimension to them.

“For example, would the current health care proposals going through congress legalize federal funding for abortion? You know there was an amendment that was proposed by nineteen democratic congressmen that would explicitly forbid any of these funds to be used for abortion purposes and that was defeated by other committee members. Well that’s very disturbing I think for the Christian who doesn’t want to see his tax money utilized to fund abortions. So that’s an issue I think of legitimate comment that is neither right nor left but is an ethical concern that we all ought to have.

“Or similarly the American Psychological Association issued a couple of months back a statement concerning the prospects for success of counselling homosexual persons who want to change their orientation. And again that had very interesting ethical and religious implications that we as Christians need to address. I try not to be political but I do try to address these issues when they have religious or ethical implications.”

I was more than a bit dismayed by these comments. Craig only seems interested in the ethical dimensions of healthcare when the issue touches on the life of a fetus. But what about healthcare itself? Isn’t that a moral issue? What about a baby born addicted to crack? Or a single mom who cannot afford health insurance? Or a family who just had Cigna deny their request for their child’s organ transplant? What about the very idea of a system of healthcare that is driven not be care of the patient but delivering profits to shareholders? What about the soaring profits of corporations like Wellpoint even as they raise premiums on people already living at the margins? On what planet aren’t these moral issues?

Yes, fetuses are important. But last I checked, when Jesus described his faithful sheep as those who fed the poor, gave drink to the thirsty, housed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and cared for the sick, he wasn’t only thinking about fetuses.

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  • Jag Levak

    “last I checked, when Jesus described his faithful sheep as those who fed the poor, gave drink to the thirsty, housed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and cared for the sick, he wasn’t only thinking about fetuses.”

    Was he talking about fetuses at all? Did Jesus purportedly give any sort of clear and specific direction concerning abortions, or homosexuality either, for that matter?

    I do recall him supposedly being rather more specific in saying what should be done with those who hunger or thirst, the homeless and the sick, but it appears a significant portion of American Christians have interpreted his meaning there as “let them die”. Much as he has been interpreted as being, pro-capitalism, pro-usury, pro-wealth, pro-militarism, pro-assassination, pro-torture, and a big fan of state executions. Seems odd to me, but I guess one interpretation is as legitimate as the next.

  • Snardiff

    when Jesus described his faithful sheep as those who fed the poor, gave drink to the thirsty, housed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and cared for the sick, he wasn’t only thinking about fetuses.

    Why do you think Jesus thought this was a compulsory issue? That’s the thing that always amazes me about socialists like you.

    And are you really equating a personal tragedy that happens to someone (such as a healthcare issue) with something like WILLFUL MURDER like abortion???

    No, you cannot lump the two together. There is a difference between a personal tragedy that befalls someone, where you cannot DEMAND that other people be accountable for it (although it is the duty of Christians); and the willful murder of another human being (abortion).

    This is also separate from the homosexual issue, which is straightforward: ALL people are tempted to do that which is evil. The existence of that temptation does not justify the act, otherwise you would have to say that all spoiled children should be allowed to act out on their impulses, or that all XYY men or alcoholics should be allowed to act out on their worst impulses. But I would hope you would agree (if you are not a hypocrite) that even if someone like Bernie Madoff had to live his entire life “unfulfilled” with only a moderate income, it would be better for him to do so than to live a “fulfilled” life (assuming he could get away with it) by executing his Ponzi scheme successfully.

    Do you dare address this distinction? Or will you hide behind your vague, seemingly inconsistent, moral principles?

  • toryninja

    I’ve noticed in my talking to Americans that there is a fundamental difference between how Canadians and Americans look at healthcare. For many Canadians healthcare is a right while for many Americans it is a privilege.

    So, when you try to argue for some sort of public healthcare many Americans hear you saying “you want my tax dollars to be spent on a privilege? On a luxury? Really? What makes you think everyone deserves luxuries like healthcare?”

    So, I think what needs to be done first is make a convincing case that healthcare is a right. Only once you have made a good case for that will you get anywhere in promoting public healthcare.

    • randal

      “For many Canadians healthcare is a right while for many Americans it is a privilege.”

      I think both are wrong, primarily because they focus on the individual. The focus should be instead on the society, and the kind of virtues a society should embody. In other words, do we want a society that takes care of its own as it can regardless of profit concern (“the least of these” in biblical terms) or do we want a society that tells people they’re on their own?

      • toryninja

        “The focus should be instead on the society, and the kind of virtues a society should embody.”

        In that case, I think there would still be a hurdle you would need to overcome. That is because there is a fundamental difference between how many Canadians and many Americans look at government & state involvement. For many Canadians, giving the government the power to decide “what kind of society we should have” seems reasonable, especially because Canadians elect the government. However, many Americans do not believe it is the place of government, especially the federal government, to decide “what kind of society we should have,” even if the government is elected.

        One would need first to make a compelling case that it is the role of government to decide “what kind of society we should have” and that the government would have the power to enforce this through taxation and rule of law. Once you have done that, then the idea of public healthcare might make more sense.

        On a side note, I do like your distinction that we should have a societal mindset instead of an individualist one.

        • Jerry Rivard

          Should there be any limits to what the government can decide about the kind of society we want to have? For instance, should government be able to decide that we ought to have a society based on a particular religious belief, and that all must conform to that? Should government be able to decide that one race ought to be slaves? These examples are extreme (today), but what about less extreme examples, say homosexuality or recreational drug use? Where, if anywhere, would you draw the line on government’s rightful power to punish non-conformance to whatever standard they set?

        • randal

          “However, many Americans do not believe it is the place of government, especially the federal government, to decide “what kind of society we should have”…

          I demur. It really depends on how detailed a person gets in defining that. For instance, most Americans want a society where there is low unemployment, low crime rate, and a high standard of living. There is a wide agreement on a lot. But I agree that south of the 49 parallel there is a suspicion about the very notion of government which is not nearly as widespread north of the border, though in both cases true democracy is so hard to come by that it is easy to sink into cynicism. And the problem starts with a voting population that would rather be entertained than informed.

    • Jerry Rivard

      toryninja

      What do you mean by a “right”? Can you give some examples of other rights besides health care, and an explanation of what makes them rights and distinguishes them from things that are not rights? How are rights distinguished from needs, if at all? Are food and housing rights, for example?

      What do you mean by a “privilege”? What do you mean by a “luxury”? Are they the same thing? (You seem to use them interchangeably.)

      • toryninja

        @Jerry

        “What do you mean by a “right”?”

        That’s a good question. I will use Wikipedia’s definitions as I don’t think I could say them any better:

        Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.

        Natural rights, also called inalienable rights, are considered to be self-evident and universal. They are not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government.

        Legal rights, such as constitutional rights, common law rights, and statutory rights, are bestowed under a particular political and legal system; they are relative to specific cultures and governments.

        —–
        “What do you mean by a “privilege”…Luxury?”

        I was basically using them interchangeably. But let’s fine tune the definitions more.

        Luxuries (per Wikipedia again) are products and services that are not considered essential and associated with affluence.

        A privilege (per Wikipedia again) is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth.

        —–
        Now when it comes to health care, many Canadians would probably place health care as some sort of natural right. All humans have the right to good health and thus society should do everything in its power to promote and sustain the good health of its citizens.

        Many Americans on the other hand (this is of course all anecdotal based on my conversations with Americans) look at health care more as a privilege or a luxury. While most Americans would believe everyone has a right to *get* healthcare, many wouldn’t say it is a right for everyone to *have* healthcare. Thus, society should only make it possible for people to receive healthcare, not actually provide it for them.

        These are fundamentally different starting points. Until you convince someone that health care is a right, you are never going to convince people to support public health care or vice versa.

  • Steve

    If you are not sure it is human, do you just go ahead and kill it?

    Say you are hunting, and you see something moving in the distance…you are not sure if it is human.

    Do you go ahead and shoot?

    In the case of killing the unborn, better be damned sure you are right.

    If you aren’t, you will have blood on your hands.

    • pete

      Steve:

      I like your pro-life and pro-target aquisition idiom
      (check your sights and “second safety”)

      Preach on my hunter brother!

    • randal

      These days the abortion debate is not typically centered on the question of whether the fetus is human. There is no reasonable debate about that. Of course it (he/she) is. The debate starts when we ask questions of personhood, conflicting rights, personal autonomy, et cetera. Regardless, I am staunchly pro-life (though recognizing the moral permissibility of abortion in medical cases like ectopic pregnancy).

  • JohnD

    Proving that a Ph.D is no cure for naivete. Or equanimity. Did you notice Craig said, “For example”? Yet you glom onto this for another Leftist screed off your checklist of youthful contrarian enthusiasms. Gadzooks, man, put away childish things.

    • randal

      John, try not to marginalize others by throwing out meaingless terms like “leftist”.

      The “For example” is actually the whole point. Craig’s response is indicative of a common if not ubiquitous evangelical trait to focus on an extraordinarily narrow set of ethical issues, namely abortion and gay marriage (and maybe pornography too). It isn’t random that Craig mentions those two issues, because those are the two issues evangelicals always mention. And that is indicative of a narrow tunnel vision about morality.

      However, I am flattered to be referred to as youthful. And the “Gadzooks, man” was a nice touch.

  • Oz Rob

    Dear Randall,

    Some of your readers scare me. I thank God I was born in Australia.

    That’s all.

    • randal

      What about those who never comment but are smoldering silently with each new post, plotting their revenge. Brrr.

  • http://ideasaboutgodandtheworld.wordpress.com Alejandro

    I have a post about the same thing in my blog. It’s called “Why is modern Christianity so obsessed with Abortion and Homosexuality?”.