Doodle: Abortion and an Unborn Baby Rhino

PoachingI am unaware of a single word that describes the leveraging of misfortune and tragedy to bolster your position in an argument. Though there are plenty of fitting adjectives that describe this sort of thing: insensitive, shameless, selfish and entrepreneurial—the worst kind. Just a month ago we saw two gut-wrenching mass shootings in America. To add to that devastating misfortune, many treated the national heartbreak as a stage to float gun law reform. American politics is not really my domain, and it certainly is not my topic for this post. It merely serves as a vivid example of the thing I hope to avoid doing in this post. In fact, my intention is not much to draw an analogy as much as it is to highlight a stark inconsistency. Here goes.

Almost two years ago, in November 2017, photos emerged of a rhinoceros (or rhino) that had been poached. The poachers  were disturbed while attempting to saw off her horn. For those living outside of South Africa, this is a regrettably common occurrence. So what was different about this incident? Soon after pictures emerged of the dead rhino it was reported that she had been pregnant. Tragically, not much later, pictures could be found online not only of the dead mother but of her unborn calf, which also died. It is an awful story. Poaching is devastating. Those pictures moved me in a way that previous photos of poached animals had not. By now, I am sure you can see where this post is heading.

You can still find the article on social media and news sites, with it resurfacing every couple of months, always met with unrestrained rage and vitriol. Here is a sampling of comments I have read on photos of the unborn rhino as well as articles:

  • ‘This is just wrong. Heartbreaking story’
  • ‘May those killers burn in hell, because that is where they will go some day’
  • ‘I hope the perpetrators are found and hanged in public for all to see’
  • ‘I hope that before they kill these poachers they murder their families in front of them’

Now I am not a poacher-sympathiser. Scrolling through some of the back and forth in comments sections has made me far too afraid. Though I will unapologetically say that the life of a rhino is not worth the life of a human. I want to make one simple point about this tragic event and the voluminous keyboard backlash.

Let me first state my point in the form of a question: how can we place a higher value on the life of an unborn rhinoceros than we do on unborn humans? In all the comments I read and conversations I have had about the Pilanesberg poaching not one person raised questions over whether the unborn rhino was actually a rhino. Sure, without the cow’s body it – evidently – could not survive. It hadn’t taken its first breathes or steps, nor did it express independence or autonomy. But the shrill outrage online never asked if this was actually an unborn rhino. To put it positively: everyone agreed that what made this tragedy worse was that it involved the death of not just one but two rhinos: mother and calf. The unborn status of the latter did not feature in the story as an unfortunate subplot—it made the headline. Yet, in the present debates around abortion, some of the most commonly plied rhetoric by the pro-choice side is that the unborn foetus is not human. The tragic poaching event from 2017 reveals how grossly inconsistent and shamelessly convenient such a position is.

Does your heart break when you see the photos or hear the story of the pregnant cow and her calf, killed by poachers at Pilanesberg? Mine does. For these kinds of happenings reveal the darker and rapacious side of humanity, as well as the low value we place on creation. But if that story upsets you, abortion should outrage you. Because it reveals the selfish ease with which we murder unborn humans. If poaching is evil, abortion is incomparably evil. For human life is priceless.

Doodle: Thanos and Abortion

Last year I wrote a satirical piece at Rekindle, 5 Steps to Feeling Better About Killing Unborn Children. Though a few readers called my approach insensitive and unhelpful, I remain convinced that satire has its place in debate—even this one. In case you missed that article, and do not plan on reading it, I tried to unveil the callous, cruel and murderous truths about abortion, particularly behind the pro-choice rhetoric. In this short doodle I want to outline a phenomenon I have observed in the incendiary conversations around this issue, at the personal and legislative levels. What is that? As lobbies push to have the option for abortion set later in a pregnancy, it seems to me that people on all sides are growing increasingly uncomfortably that we are killing children. But before we get to that, let us consider Thanos.

Marvel AvengersThe question I want to put to you, off the back of Avengers: Infinity War, is this: can we really call Thanos a villain? I am not contrasting his surprisingly deep and conflicted character with the cardboard cut-out nemeses typical of Marvel films. My question is concerning his mission, to restore balance in the universe by wiping out half of all living things. In fact, a recent article at Forbes actually argued that Thanos’ ambitions may not be evil or even wrong. “Look at our planet,” we can imagine someone saying, “it cannot endure humanity’s abusive consumption, devastating expansion and careless disposal of waste.” If only half of the world’s population simply vanished, with the click of a finger, surely we would find ourselves in a far more sustainable position. What Thanos set out to accomplish is arguably something desperately needed—at least on earth, I can’t speak for other species. So is he really a villain?

Despite the above, no one is rooting for Thanos. Because his life’s goal is nothing less than killing half of all living things. For this we deem him the villain, and most likely went to watch Avengers: Endgame to see his efforts foiled. Coming back to the matter of abortion, I think we can draw an uncomfortable contrast between how we view abortion and Thanos. Though the former is a disturbing fate for innumerable unborn children most of us are more concerned with the fictional genocide. Only, pro-choice advocates do recognise the similarities, which is apparent in the adapted defence and arguments we are hearing more and more.

BabyIn my previous post I pointed out how pro-choice rhetoric majors in women, progress and prefers impersonal ways of speaking about the unborn (foetus, cells, etc.). But as the option for later and – in some abhorrently distressing places – full term abortion becomes a reality it simultaneously becomes harder to deny what is happening. We have all seen the pictures. Those are babies. In many cases they would survive outside the womb. Murder of unborn children is being sanctioned and most people with any sense know it. It is here that a shift takes place. For as long as the aborted life bears no marks of human life or form people were fairly comfortable to affirm a woman’s right to choose. But now many people are finding that harder to swallow, let alone stomach.

Re-enter Thanos. Stripped of the rhetoric he is simply a murderous tyrant. He wants to kill half of all living beings in the universe; we, on a smaller scale, want to kill babies without it unsettling our consciences. So we do what he does: justify it. How? Socioeconomic factors. So pro-choice advocates ask questions such as: what kind of access will the child have to education; will this perpetuate poverty and crime cycles; and what about the life that the mother will never have? These considerations are not unlike those employed by Thanos when he wiped out half the universe. Yet we despise him for that. We call him evil. We long and hope for justice. Sadly many people only possess that sober assessment when it comes to a fictional universe on the screen, and tragically lack it when it comes to earth.

Doodle: Did Jesus Decriminalise Sex Work?

Decriminalise sex workJust over a year ago, Central Methodist Mission (CMM), in partnership with a local organisation for sex workers, printed and hung a large yellow banner that read: ‘Jesus was the first person to decriminalise sex work (John 8:7)’. In case you are wondering, the verse goes, “As they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’”

As a student of theology I have encountered a fair share of embarrassingly specious proof texts yet this is arguably one of the best—and by “best” I trust you know I mean worst, not to mention one of the most laughable. Yes, I am aware that a church that officially offers outspoken support of prostitution is almost certainly unconcerned about what the Bible actually says. Yet I worry that their misreading of the biblical text and misappropriation of Jesus in support of something unequivocally unbiblical has resulted in some confusion. Briefly below I intend to offer some clarity to an issue where ideology and virtue signalling has eclipsed the truth about Jesus Christ. This will be done by thinking a little more about John 8:7.

Firstly, John 7:53-8:11 is a canonically disputed text. In other words, many of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts either do not include it or place it elsewhere, in both John and Luke. I know that issues surrounding manuscripts are prickly for those in the know and bemusing for those who are not. Basically, there are questions around the authority and place of this text. This should immediately cause us to raise questions over its use. But we might ignore these textual critical squabbles. If we treat the text as not only historical – which it might be – as well as inspired can we argue from it that Jesus decriminalised prostitution?

When we look at the text and read it as a whole we arrive at a second important point. In John 8:3 we are told that this woman was “caught in adultery” explaining why this text has traditionally been called the pericope adulterae. We might infer from the text that she was a prostitute but the argument is weak because the New Testament has another word for prostitute (see Matthew 21:31-32; 1 Corinthians 6:16). That word is not used here.

Thirdly, and the reason I used the word “laughable” earlier, in the last verse of this section Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (8:11). Yes, Jesus does not condemn the woman. However, even if she was a prostitute – which is unlikely – Jesus does not condone her lifestyle; he calls it sinful. One of my favourite authors often refers to “delicious irony,” and I am sure that citing John 8:7 to support the decriminalisation of sex work qualifies for that honour. By loading the text with very improbable details the end result is Jesus calling sex work or prostitution a sin that must be stopped. Remarkable.

This post is longer than I initially set out to make it. For that I apologise. Please allow me to make one final point, in conclusion. Writing in the 20th century, German theologian Karl Barth referred to God’s action as “disruptive grace.” It is an arresting phrase. Today grace seems to be treated by many as something God sprinkles over our lives, however we choose to live them. We think of it as a dismissive wave of the hand, granting permission while expressing love. But that could not be further from the biblical doctrine of grace or the effects of God’s love.

If we hold that John 7:53-8:11 belongs in Scripture then we should not miss the narrative’s climax. Jesus disbands the mob, bent on justice against a known sexual sinner. Whether she was a prostitute or simply promiscuous Jesus wants something better for her. But this is no mere escape from narrow-minded moralists; it is a story depicting the love of Christ that disrupts both the crowd and this woman’s life. As much as God’s love is not indifferent to how people are treated neither is he unconcerned with how you live. Jesus demonstrated an incomparable compassion and love, throughout the Gospels and ultimately at the cross. It is a sickening sleight of hand to reduce that love to unconditional affirmation . God loves us too much to let us go our own way, living in destructive sin. His grace is disruptive. His love is directive. “From now on sin no more.”

5 Steps to Feeling Better About Killing Unborn Children

The old guard, out-dated media, hate-filled Christians, and a few pesky psychologists – as well as psychiatrists – have for too long persuaded the general public that abortion is harmful. Fortunately in recent times this oppressive narrative has been overturned. If we ignore the fact an unborn human is killed during an abortion, they certainly have become “safe, pain-free, and convenient.” But another phenomenon has been harder to deal with: our consciences. It is almost as if we know that killing another human out of self-preservation is wrong, even evil. So I have assembled a few of the choicest ways to get around your annoying conscience, arranging them into five easy steps.

1. Use cold, scientific, and dissociative terms

Firstly, you have to stop using phrases such as unborn child and words that make you uncomfortable, like ‘human,’ ‘baby,’ and ‘life.’ What you need to do next is depersonalise and dehumanise whatever is growing inside the womb. The word foetus is a great tool when doing this. No one gets attached to a foetus, surely a foetus does not have feelings or significance. I would go as far as saying you should give up the word abortion, opting for termination. You know, like when you cancel your contract with MTN or Standard Bank. You could go even further and refer to it simply as an operation, opaque enough that you could be speaking about the removal of an appendix. The bottom line is you must choose your language carefully, which will help you to think less about taking the life of an unborn, helpless child.

2. Major in women and forget the foetus

women's reproductive rightsThis step will sound both extremely selfish and selectively narrow, but you need to make abortion a matter of women’s rights, freedoms, and challenging the patriarchy. This is a very effective step because it proves that anyone who values a foetus does not value women. In fact, anyone who tries to tell a woman that terminating her unwanted growth – similar to cancer really – is wrong is a chauvinist and bigot. Who gets to tell others what they can and cannot with their bodies? Oppressors. This rhetoric provides a remarkably impressive smokescreen, entirely obscuring the fact that another body is even in the frame. If you find that this step is not working, either to ease your conscience or defeat your opponents, just remember that it is always those with power who get to choose, with no regard for the weak. And those weak-minded fundamentalists and even weaker foetuses have no say.

3. Forget the evils of ‘service providers’ such as Planned Parenthood

This is a very important step if you are to successfully sear your conscience about certain abortion practices and clinics. We do need to first consider the undeniable facts: Planned Parenthood sells the organs of terminated foeti. Now, this may sound like something that Nazi doctors would carry out, experimenting on hapless Jews and other minorities in the 1940s. But it is not, because they are experimenting on foeti, not humans. Though it is odd that the organs and tissue harvested from whatever is growing inside those pregnant women can be matched with and even given to actual human babies. While working towards forgetting the obvious evils done in these clinics we can also learn from these practitioners: they are remarkably calloused to the point that it is strength, like a worker’s blistered hands. Just listen to how they speak about killing unborn babies (crushing spines and dismembering foeti), without a hint of remorse. Powerful. Nietzschean.

4. Speak about victory, progress, and triumphs

planned parenthoodMany doctors around the world and throughout history have laboured tirelessly to preserve the lives of children growing inside the womb. Simultaneously – and somewhat ironically – vast progress has also been made in the field of abortions. This might seem disingenuous. On one side doctors are caring for these foeti and on the other they are killing them, yet both are commended. But let’s overlook this peculiar paradox and speak exclusively about historical victories, such as Roe versus Wade and Casey versus Planned Parenthood. Thanks to these momentous triumphs women have reclaimed their reproductive rights and bodies. Simultaneously the shackles have been thrown off of medicine, meaning its advances can now be used to kill those it was designed to and initially sought to protect. Progress indeed.

5. Believe the lies

I am not here revisiting Planned Parenthood (above), or medical professionals who have successfully grown wealthy by butchering humans and trading their body parts. I want to finish where we started. Many people who have had abortions might try and tell you they regret it, will never forget it, and suffer intense emotional scarring as a result of it. What should you make of this? There is no doubt that the vast progress in the field of medicine means abortions are standard and safe procedures, resulting in little or no pain. Your body, future reproduction, and sex life will not be endangered. But will you be able to walk away both physically and emotionally whole? Yes, of course. What do those people who have had abortions and spend their entire lives regretting them really know? This is arguably the hardest step, because it involves the killing off of your conscience. If you are unable to do that, then abortion – for whatever reason – will always haunt you. So believe the lies: convince yourself that killing an unborn, defenceless, and  miraculous new life will not affect you, permanently.

Doodle: Hellenism, Ethics, and Old Testament Eschatology

Max Bemis, of the band Say Anything, sings: “God and death are none of my concerns / I’m no philosopher”. And these words have often struck an uneasy chord with me, provoking much reflection. Studying philosophy at college I noticed that from the pre-Socratics through to the Hellenistic philosophers, Greek philosophy gave little thought to god, except for when a godlike being was invoked to explain their philosophy, see Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. But this is not to say that the Greeks did not believe in the gods, however anthropomorphic the Olympians were. Coming back to Bemis’ words, a difficult question to get one’s mind around is the difference between religion and philosophy, or perhaps faith and reason.

Antonio Verrio - OlympusIt seems to me, that the Greeks separated philosophy from their religious beliefs, as my lecturer Nathan Lovell said, ‘They no longer wanted to attribute the workings of their world to capricious gods seemingly little more than infantile projections of men.’ Philosophy came about to explain the world around us, what it is, why it changes, and where it comes from. And this was done with little reference to the Greek gods. Philosophy could provide epistemology and ontology, though both then and today it struggled to provide complete or consistent ethics. Furthermore the question of death, which, though running the risk of reductionism, we might call eschatology, fell largely by the way side. Perhaps these then are two distinguishing features between philosophy and religion. Only, they are not distinguishing features because philosophy does not deal with them, but because it lacks the depth to do so.

Generally, in Greek thought all the deceased went to Hades, but we must not assume that this the same as Sheol of Jewish thought. Without going into major detail, it is a well attested to fact that the Jews understood death very differently to their Greek counterparts. At the transfiguration we are shown that Elijah and Moses lived with God (Mark 9); in the Old Testament some believers did not die and went to be with God (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11); this was also asssumed of believers who died (Psalm 23:6; 16:10-11; 17:15). We are not given much explanation of it but, at the raising of Lazarus, an embryionic theology of resurrection is evident amongst the first century Jews (John 11). In Hebrew thought the great hope of a future when God would be with his people is hard to get ignore (Psalm 27:4; 73:25-26). A personal God, contrast with impersonal philosophy, offers eschatology, an answer in death. Whereas philosophy battles to provide any real answers about our future.

Raphael - AthensHow philosophers got around this is seen in the Hellenistic philosophies of the Epicureans, Cynics and Stoics. If we look at the Epicureans, their solution to this problem was extravagant and unchaste hedonism. Such an approach was (and is) not only exclusive and classist, since few could afford such an extravagent lifesytle, it was ultimately nothing more than hopeless distraction. Cynicism, on the other hand, radically devalued human life, reducing us to little more than stray dogs scrounging for scraps. But it is hard to think that the avoidance and abandonment of happiness is an argument proving that it cannot be lost. Lastly, Stoicism approached life rationally, excepting all that happened in a fatalistic manner, attempting to merely make the most of what is. This philosophy, not unlike existentialism, gives a bleak coating to life and denies questions of justice, while also leaving moral decisions to the aristocracy. It is therefore no wonder that most of these philosophies, at least in terms of their operating titles, did not last. But if we look beneath surface of how people think today we will discover more Hellenistic philosophy than we think.

When Jesus bursts onto the scene we see a major contrast to Hellenism, which was the fruition and expansion of Old Testamant eschatology. He promises a resurrection to new life, guaranteed by his own. He does not offer a pipe dream salvation or distract our eyes from the horizon, but gives us his Holy Spirit in the present who is a downpayment of our future, enabling us to live in light of it. Ethics, then, make sense, for we belong to a new kingdom; and they are not merely set forth by Scripture but are also engraved on our hearts by the Spirit who enables us to live as kingdom people. Does philosophy need god to make sense? I do not think it does. But does philosophy make sense of the burning questions that surround death? I do not think it can.

The Qualities that make a Gospel Worker

Many readers will likely know that if I can get the funds I need I will be doing a MA Theology (technically in Biblical Studies) in the States. One of my scholarship applications (which was rejected, read into that what you will) posed the question, “What qualities make someone a good minister of the Gospel and why?” I really enjoyed thinking through the answer to this question. Here is something of what I wrote – what would you say?

Love

LoveWhen asked, “What qualities make someone a good minister of the Gospel?” I immediately think the answer must be whatever characterised Jesus. Jesus not only ministered the gospel, he is the gospel. Love is probably the simplest answer at which to arrive but is undoubtedly undermined by the flippancy with which we say it. For Jesus, it meant self-giving sacrifice in the extreme, I think of 1 John 4 and Romans 5. I don’t think we can begin to fathom the depths of what love means.

The answer seems associated with the greatest commandments, to love God and our neighbours. Certainly a good minister of the gospel must love God above everything he could ever dream of. It’s difficult to measure someone’s love for God though, but it can often be seen in his/her love for others. It does seem like a bit of a cheat to say “love” though, it’s too general, too abstract. What does love look like?

Love seen in Humility.

Philippians 2 was the first passage that occurred to me and humility the first attribute. I suspect that’s because whenever I believe I have humility, I find it is like quicksilver in my hands. Even so, pride and arrogance in the ministry never turn the focus to God but to the minister and that is always worthless. Jesus exemplified humility and “[our] attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Love seen in Service.

Closely related to humility is service. I pick service because it is something identifiable in a person. Again, Philippians 2 characterises Jesus as a servant and it is in service that we see Jesus’ self-sacrificial love at work. If we love people as ministers of the gospel, it will be a delight to serve them even when serving them is unpleasant because ultimately we are serving Christ.

Holiness

HolinessPerhaps holiness should precede love. In any case, it is loving holiness and holy love that characterised Jesus and that should characterise a minister of the gospel. Of course the gospel is for the sick but it’s not the gospel if it never heals them. An indication that the gospel is at work in anyone’s life is a growth in holiness. Holiness, therefore, must be present in the life of a gospel minister. This is what Paul means when he looks for a man “blameless” or “above reproach” in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.

Prayer

Prayer Prayer doesn’t really fall under holiness or love and yet it is tied to both because it is a matter of relationship just as holiness and love are. I could be wrong, but the only thing I recall the disciples asking Jesus to teach them is how to pray (Luke 11). Apparently disciples recognise the need to pray. It is also instructive to read Paul’s epistles and note how his prayers pervade his discourse. Prayer strikes me as a hallmark of a relationship with God.

Of course, Paul enumerates a number of other qualities. What qualities would you say make a someone a good minister of the gospel? What are the qualities you would look for?