The Honor System

I’m intrigued by the honor system. As a former school teacher, I dealt with this issue on a daily basis. I didn’t find it hard to apply this on an individual level. Just because some kid would display dishonesty on an assignment, doesn’t mean the rest of the class suffered. But this photo is on a different plane.










If the cold cash disappears, who do you blame? Doesn’t everyone suffer, especially the owners who would then, I assume, have to have someone present. Wouldn’t this hinder the cultivating, tending, keeping? Wouldn’t this then lessen other’s enjoyment? Thankfully, there are still places in the world where this system still works and thrives, even. I wonder if this sign would work in downtown Dallas? What about rural Kansas? A suburb of Atlanta?


To Parent or Not to Parent? That is the Question.

I read another article about parenting recently as I was thinking about my own thoughts and what I would add to the NYT’s “Room for Debate” series. And since it is tangentially related, I wanted to deal with it first before continuing. The article again comes from the New York Times. It is from their “Opinionator” series. The particular article is by Christine Overall entitled “Think Before You Breed.” Mrs. Overall is a professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

I have several problems with her article that I will try to outline below. The premise of her article is that people should carefully consider whether or not to procreate. On the surface,  that seems to make some sense. Some people, it would seem, are not in the right position in life to bring a child into the world. Poverty, health issues, environment, or season in life could all play a role in affecting the future child. The mere uncertainty requires the decision to be made with careful thought, Overall would claim.

The first point to consider is that this argument is something that in human history is only recently possible. The ability of humans to consistently control the consequences of sex is a recent phenomenon. Since Overall seems to have no problem with birth control or abortion, she assumes that these are legitimate means to control the natural consequences of sex.

She fails to see this historical point when she states, “The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.” The reason it is not is that it is the natural, historical consequence of the marriage relationship. But we live in a culture where sex outside of marriage is normal, accepted, and encouraged. Therefore, the natural consequences of sex occur in situations that our culture deems inappropriate. Therefore, it is argued, we have a moral obligation to consider whether we should limit the consequences.

Unfortunately, the damage to the institution of marriage is so pervasive, that many, and I assume Overall would be included, can’t see that this is even worth dealing with. The answer then is to treat the symptoms, in the form of birth control and/or abortion, instead of seeking the cure. The terminal patient is made to be comfortable in his last days. I would argue that the patient—the sanctity of marriage—is not terminal, but that is a different post.

She continues: “The question whether to have children is of course prudential in part; it’s concerned about what is or is not in one’s own interests.” Actually, this is a rather post-modern way of thinking. The all-about-me syndrome has stuck its nasty head into way too many arguments, this one included. I’ll lay my cards on the table: selfishness will never bring satisfaction. Sacrifice for another with the right motives does.

We still may see some validity in her point, though and personally wrestle with the issue. Is it wrong to consider whether or not to bring another child into the world? Again, we have the technology these days to ask that question of ourselves. The problem comes when we begin asking that question for someone else. Who gets to decide the rules and situations that would lead to a “yes, you should” or “no, you shouldn’t”?

But here is where she seems to appear noble: “My aim, I hasten to add, is not to argue for policing people’s procreative motives.” But one paragraph later she adds, “The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless.” Those phrases “burden of proof” and “burden of justification” sure seem like policing of motives to me.

And don’t believe that she is not policing motives—whether she thinks the state should or not. She certainly polices motives with both Octomom and the Duggars. With Suleman, most people might agree with Overall that Suleman had no business using technology to try to get pregnant again, but this is a far different issue than just having lots of kids. An aside: is there any difference in using technology to get pregnant than using technology to keep from getting pregnant or ending a pregnancy? Maybe that too is a later post.

When it comes to the Duggars, she seems irked that they chose to have so many kids even though they “…don’t struggle to support their brood…” and “the kids seem relatively content.” Huh? So what’s the problem? She mentions that she is not sure what God thinks about it. No, she’s not, so again, what’s her point? Her point is that she doesn’t think someone should have 19 kids. What about twelve or ten or eight or three. She and her husband chose to stop at two. Why two?  I want to know if she would be perfectly fine with someone having 19 abortions in their life because they chose the “selfless” route of not having kids? She is certainly policing their motives.

Then, she again seeks to take the high road; though, the high road seems full of scorn: “We should not regret the existence of the children in these very public families, now that they are here. My point is just that their parents’ models of procreative decision making deserve skepticism. The parents appear to overlook what is ethically central: the possibility of forming a supportive, life-enhancing and close relationship with each of their offspring.”

Who would regret the existence of children? Why do the Duggars decisions deserve skepticism? On what basis? That Overall doesn’t think they can build relationships with their kids? Just because she can’t imagine doing so, does not mean others can’t, and with children spread out in ages so far, it’s not like the Duggars are dealing with the same issues 19-fold at once. She announces that her and her husband chose to have two and that they adore them. But couldn’t they have adored one better? Certainly with two, they had to split their time, didn’t they?

In placing procreation at the pinnacle of a person’s ethical debates—a conclusion that I find hard to fathom—she commits another flaw. She states, “In choosing to become a parent, one seeks to create a relationship, and, uniquely, one also seeks to create the person with whom one has the relationship.”

I would agree that we are responsible to create a relationship with our children. But once a child is born, our job is not to seek to “create the person.” Our job is to guide, direct, help, encourage, admonish, support, love, nurture, and protect, among others. Along the way, those things are part of the process of forming the child’s personality, but they are not the end all. I want to raise my children in such a way that they can make intelligent decisions in life about who they want to become, how they add to the beauty of this world, what role they will play in others’ lives for good. They will create their own person, not me.

Finally, I take issue with some of her language, both at the beginning and at the end. The title of her piece “Think Before You Breed” is insulting and betrays her real motives. What that communicates is that she views people who shouldn’t have kids as no different than animals. When used of human beings breed is a pejorative term. She starts off on the wrong foot and this attitude comes out again when discussing the Duggars children as a brood, another term that is used of the animal world.

She is wrong in her conclusions that “The individual who chooses childlessness takes the ethically less risky path.” Why? Failure to procreate and bring into the world a person who could add to the beauty and knowledge and good of our world is certainly risky. Is that the standard for decision making now: ethically less risky? Can we chart that? Get a spreadsheet going for all my decisions so that I never take a more risky path when a less risky path is available? The truth is that the person who chooses childlessness takes the safe path for themselves, not the ethically less risky one.


Father’s Day and the New York Times Part V

The fifth contributor to the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series on fathers in the parenting conversation is Jed Rubenfeld: a law professor at Yale, an author, and the husband of Amy Chua, who authored Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. His is by far the shortest column.

I need for someone to tell me that this really is meant to be humorous. That was my first impression, but when I came to the end, I got the impression that he was serious. But surely I am misreading it. For if he is serious, he is not helpful and paints a picture for fathers which is harmful for both them and their children.

He begins by saying that dads should stop complaining about women doing most of the work because that is the “last best bastion of patriarchy that we have left.” That was where I was first sure this was a humor column.

Next he gives three simple steps for dads to follow, and when they accomplish these three, they can “hang up the spikes.” Each of these needs to be accomplished when the kids are young (I am assuming pre-school age and younger). 1) Be all powerful so your kids feel safe. 2) Be all good so they know right from wrong. 3) Give them a sense of the deep magic (are we in Narnia?) and joy of the world before they start learning.

That’s it. Feel better dads? I didn’t. Do I want my kids to feel safe and know right from wrong and have an awe and joy in life? Sure. Is this the way to go about it? Definitely not. And to top it all off, he says when your kids get older, they will see through this facade. But that’s ok, because the truth makes them stronger. Right, this has to be a humor column, doesn’t it?

He finishes by saying that “…if, to be a good father, you have to start as a god but end as a man, I’d still call that a bargain—the best I ever had.”

So what about when they’re seven or ten or sixteen? As long as I start well, does it not matter how I finish? And we wonder why some people don’t think men should be engaged in the parenting conversation. This from someone who admits that his wife does all the work.

Surely, surely, he intended this for humor. Maybe he should read some Dave Barry.

A Bowl Full of Fun

My youngest was reading to me this morning from one of her favorite series (and mine too). Cynthia Rylant, who authors many books, has a series called Mr. Putter and Tabby. The illustrations are marvelous and the stories make my six year old crack up (and me too). This morning we read Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup (Mr. Putter is old, so it doesn’t take much for him to have excitement!). The neighbor’s dog, Zeke, keeps getting in the way, and the morning consists of Mr. Putter taking things away from him and putting them in the bathtub. All Zeke really wants is to go for a walk; he’s really a good dog.

We all have Zeke’s in our lives—good things that get in the way of better things. For each of us those things can be different: exercise, certain relationships, blogging, entertainment, hobbies—ok, ok, blogging too. We have to ask ourselves if the good in each of those is replacing a better: time with God, time with family, time at work, time in building relationships. Better yet, it would be helpful if we allowed someone else, someone who knows us well, to have that kind of input into our lives. I am quite masterful at convincing myself of a position.

Does the life I live, though, convince anyone else? Does my life present the evidence necessary to convince someone that I abide in Christ and He in me. Or do I allow good things to slowly erase His influence in my affairs while I collapse at the end of each day, like Mr. Putter, exhausted from chasing that good thing, while someone else stirs the soup?

The Shack: Style and Semantics

I have finished listening to The Shack. The recording included an author’s explanation of how the book came about as well as a “friendly” interview (I have also just finished listening to an “unfriendly” interview.) Young answered my concerns about the quality of writing: basically self-published.

As stated in an earlier post, I struggle to comment on the book because I can’t remember the points I wanted to discuss, and I can’t go back and check what I thought I heard (actually, I don’t want to spend time rewinding and hunting, but I could). All that to say, I know some of Young’s theology is suspect, but I also know that he does some other things well. I have thought about commenting on other’s reviews, but you can read those yourself if you are interested.

I do want to comment on one argument in the “unfriendly” interview mentioned above. While Young did fail to answer some of the interviewer’s questions, they also wrangled over semantics. One might say, “We’ll just define your terms and move on.” The problem occurs when someone uses a term differently than how everyone else does. If the majority of Christians use a term one way, and someone else uses the same term differently, confusion can occur. 

When Bultman says he believes in the resurrection, someone might say, “So what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that Bultman does not believe in the same resurrection as most Christians. He believes in a spiritual resurrection. Bultman’s resurrection leaves Jesus in the grave. I can’t reconcile that with 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. 

So we must use care in using our terms, and if we use a term differently than it is normally used, we must define it to avoid confusion at best and accusations of heresy at worst. Young has left himself open to that charge.

The purpose of people

I was reading John Shore today, and he was talking about God using people (imagine that) to share God’s message. I was reminded of the first time I read the story of Peter and Cornelius. I thought, “The angel was already there. Why didn’t he just fill him in instead of sending him to Peter, giving Peter this vision to help him understand, and then having the whole group travel back to Cornelius’s house?”

Well, it’s because God uses people to spread the gospel. Crazy huh? Wouldn’t it be easier to hire one of those sky writers and paint it across the heavens. Heck, why not just rearrange the stars. Surely even Richard Dawkins would be convinced by that! (oh wait, he doesn’t like our God, so even if he was convinced God was real, he wouldn’t worship him.)

John goes further though. It’s not just Christians who broadcast God. According to John, everyone does. At first, I was taken aback by that sentiment, but then I thought about all I write about here. I find God and His hand prints in so many things that I read. We are, after all, created in His image. So while the image may be damaged, blurred, crusted over with grime and sweat and goo, we still bear the image and still broadcast Him, often without knowing.

I am not advocating universalism in regard to salvation, just in image. His ubiquitous finger prints leave no doubt of His hand in creation. Yes, even Richard Dawkins and the rest of the new atheists bear that image, and so, as John adequately expressed, they too cry out to be loved.

Sexism in Literature

A week or so ago I read this piece about sexism in Prince Caspian. While I wasn’t fond of the author’s editing out things she was reading to her children, she does go on to say in the comments section that she does deconstruct what she reads with her children. Whether you agree or disagree with her beliefs, the fact that she sits down with her children and discusses what she reads with them is a plus. But I digress. 

Shortly after reading that blog, I read a piece from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. Her point is not the same as Deborah’s, but she is talking about sexist language in literature. She says,

I am a female, of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word, man, includes both.…

That is scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being a part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words. I have a hunch that those who would do so have forgotten their rightful heritage. 

I know that I am fortunate in having grown up in a household where no sexist roles were imposed on me. I lived in an atmosphere which assumed equality with all its differences. When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it, or that I was in some way being excluded.

I don’t know what Deborah would think of this statement by L’Engle, and I won’t assume, but I do know it would not sit well in lots of places. And yet I wonder if girls were raised in the type of home as L’Engle, would the generic he be such an issue? I don’t know. The real issue of sexism in my mind deals with the way we treat one another.

Is a woman inferior to a man? That is a loaded question, and the follow up question should be: In what way? No black and white answer to that question exists. For every “in general,” an exception to the rule can surely be found. In general, though, men’s physical and emotional make up is different than a woman’s. This leads, unfortunately to stereotypes. Stereotypes are based upon some truth, however hidden. 

So men are generally stronger than women physically. Women, in general, are more empathetic. I am sure picking those examples will get me in trouble. But the pendulum has swung too far. Instead of seeking balance and righting clear wrongs, some have dug in their heels to avoid any and all hints at differences. This is plain silly, for differences exist that cannot be denied. The problem, then, rears its ugly head when someone takes a difference and makes it an issue of better or worse, right and wrong, can or can’t.

We are not the same, and we should rejoice in the fact that together we can complement one another as we fulfill the functions that we were created to fulfill instead of fighting against those and trying to do what we were not created to do.