Monday, September 29, 2008

Price or value?

A British churchman stated the opinion that pregnancy termination cheapens human life. I think he's completely right. If a child can be cut off from the living because the natural parents (or one of them) don't want that child to be born, the idea is that people are only allowed to live if someone else has a use for them. That idea can actually be a threat to everyone. If you believe that life is sacrosanct, then you would not assume the right to terminate the life of the unborn, or anyone else either. To accept the idea that it's okay to kill the unborn is to say that a life can only continue with the approval of others. From that point on it is value judgement who lives and who does not. Think about it. If you claim the right to end a life at all, then rather than seeing life as sacred in principle, you're imposing a valuation on it. Some can live, some cannot, depending on the approval of others. And that view of life can carry over into a loss of respect for human life generally.
Some years ago it made the national news when a crowd of street gang hoods bashed up a female jogger and nearly killed her. One of the gang, under arrest, said: "So what? She weren't nothing." He saw no value in that woman, so he had no remorse for attacking her. That is the bad attitude, whoever the woman was. In fact,she was a professional with skills and eductation, but she didn't matter to him. And the point is NOT that she mattered more for being a skilled professional, but that she is human and should not be treated that way. You could safely bet your life that gangster would care if someone he cared about was attacked. Whoever he values or cares about should be protected. And that is the problem. That is a classic example. He could risk killing someone he saw as "nothin'", while caring about his own. Life only mattered in some cases, not all. That attitude is reflected in saying that a child can be snuffed out because others do not accept their right to life.
I do know that pregnancy can cause shocking distress to the mother. The woman I love most in the world suffered through pregnancy, physically from sickness and emotionally from depression. And that is even in an intact marriage when the children were loved and wanted. It must be far worse when the pregnancy is not wanted. Right. So there are reasons why a woman could wish that it would end. I respect peoples' right to their feelings. But it is still true to say, sometimes a principle has to be suffered for. I could claim that I've done that myself. And the truth is not just what suits us anyway. So there we have it. If life is not inviolable, then there will be times when it will be taken by those who do not see the wrong in doing so. Killing the unborn because it suits others to do so is saying that life can be ended for the sake of others. If you go down that road, and it becomes the general attitude of a society, then the day could come when someone decides to kill you because they do not accept your absolute right to live. Talking of gang culture, one gang had as its condition of membership: 'Take a life, make a life.' To be in the gang the member had to kill someone and get a girl pregnant. The attitude is that you can put someone else out of the world and replace them with someone of your own 'making', in a sense. A world where too much of that happened would be a nightmare of murder and carnage. That extreme example is the same in principle as saying that some children may be born and others not.
There is the case of self-defence. But killing in self-defence is a desperate last resort, not a calculated decision to attack and slay someone else. Also in that situation the person who needs to be defended against is the cause of the problem for attacking in the first place. It is not the same as ending the life of someone helpless.
There is the case of euthenasia. I could understand why a person may wish to die if they are terminally ill and in pain and distress. If that is their decision I can't argue. The point there is, they are not imposing on anyone else. What they want to do applies to them only.
Who presumes the right to take away the life of anyone else? And if you claim that right, might someone claim it against you?
A human being has an identity right from conception. From that point on their gender is decided, as is their physical appearance and the inborn parts of their character. It is too self-serving to say they are not human because they have not been born. Life has started, and a lack of concern for its right to continue can carry over into a lack of respect for life of anyone at any time or place.
I respect the rights of others to their views. But that is how it seems, inescapeably, to me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Featured in a television interview was a woman named Bettina Goering. If you recognize the name, you're quite right. Bettina Goering the grand niece of Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's henchmen and a leader of the Nazi government that did so much evil during World War 2. She talked herself about being of 'the bloodline of murderers.' In some ways the tone of the documentary is optimistic, because she is engaging in conciliatory dealings with a Jewish woman, helping to undo the cruel things done by her great uncle among other. But the point that struck me was what she said about herself, being related to someone who did such evil. It was as if that reflected on her. I don't believe that is fair, when those things happened before she was even born.
It can be right to learn from the misdeeds of the past. But it can be horribly wrong to condemn whole families for them.
Where this leads for me is, blaming a person for where they come from, or any other circumstances of their conception. Years ago I heard a debate about 'termination' of pregnancies. One speaker suggested that they could understand a woman choosing it if she was pregnant as a result of rape. Now I know that I can't dictate conscience to a woman who has suffered a horror like that. I'm not going to claim that I can understand another person's situation when I've never been in it, and never can be. What I do have to say is this: you cannot blame a child for the circumstances of their conception, just as you can't blame them for their relatives.
Someone once said a thing that struck me as quite shocking at the time - but it is actually quite true.
They said that any one or all of us could be living today because of an act of rape. Any or all of us could be descended from some utter monster. In either case, we cannot be blamed, and condemned, for the ancestry we come from or any other circumstance of our conception.
Does that sound shocking? Is it an insult to our parents to suggest it? No, not necessarily. Consider this.
Any human being draws their existence and identity from EVERY ancestor we have. It works thus: Obviously if our parents had never met, or something was different in the past from what is was, we would not have been conceived. And the same applies to our grandparents, and so on back as far as the human race goes. If someone travelled in time and intervened in the life of our great-great-great grandparents, so that they did not have the child they did have, then the whole line of descent would change from there down. If you could change history back as far as Emperor Claudius of Rome, and disrupt the relationship between two people such that one of their children was not born after all, then the entire line of descent from that point down through the centuries would alter. Thousands of people who do exist would not. Others might exist in their place. And that could eliminate the existence of any one of us.
Now calculate the number of your ancestors. We have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents... and even allowing for marriage or child bearing between relatives like cousins, which can reduce the number, our ancestors number millions. To check that, simply keep multiplying two by two. Ten generations back we each have 1024 direct ancestors - and our identity comes inseparably from every one of them. Ten generations, at three or four each century, only goes back to the times of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, William Shakespeare, the early European settlements in what was then called 'the Americas'. Now keep going back to the times of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Julius Caesar. The number reaches millions.
What could there be among all those ancestors who yielded our existence? If one person in every million is conceived in an act of rape, the probability is that we have several such ancestors. And what sort of people could be included among them?
This is the risk you run if you research your family tree. It's a natural thing to do; but it can turn up some things that are less than flattering. Back in the 'Dark Ages', a vile barbarian raiding a village might have committed some abomination on a female villager, and from thence came the line of descent which led to How do I know where I came from? And if it came to light that a great humanitarian, or someone you love, was descended only three generations back, from an act of rape, incest, prostitution, are you going to condemn them for that?
Now look at something that might change the whole view of it. When the Israelites were taking the city of Jericho, they had help from a woman named Rahab. Rabab was a 'harlot', a prostitute. In a city alread squalid and corrupt, she was one of the least respected. And yet it is recorded that she became an ancestress of the Messiah, in that one of His human parents descended from her.
We can't know who all our ancestors are. We can't know what unloveable acts might have led to the bloodline that we're descended from. We CAN know that we each have a human identity that comes from God.
The saying goes that "God has no grandchildren". That means we each can call ourselves His children, with no generational separation - and we have our lives from Him. We need not feel blighted by what is in our human ancestry. If it turns out to be something we can't be proud of, that shows no-one need be proud and count themselves better born that others. Our worth lies in our being beloved of God, not what we do ourselves, not the forebears we might claim. And no-one need be condemned for which humans they are descended from. God can renew any and everyone, and make them what He knows they can be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The grim stealer-further.

I don't know if people would want to talk about this. Sometimes it helps - each to their own. When I got caught in the grip of depression, it lead to some quite bizarre forms of empathy.
I can imagine myself in situations quite unlike the real life I lead. For example: I used to dwell on what it would be like for a slave: someone abducted, sold into bondage, and forced to do whatever the person who 'owned' me chose, no matter how exhausting, demeaning or hateful. It could break the spirit. And the bitter reality is that human creatures have had to live that way. That thought used to impose on my mind and become a morbid obsession which I could not shake off. Other times the situation on my mind was that of a person whose marriage breaks up, and who loses their home, their contact with children, and who suffers a blow to the heart that can leave them psychologically winded and flattened. It is how some people find themselves derelict, living on the street. Another scenario was being left seriously disabled. If you've seen that film "Born On The Fourth Of July", in which the soldier is left paralysed, you might remember the line: "Who's going to love me?" in the sense of making a marriage with him. It could be derided as self pity if you were callous enough to deny the sheer pain expressed in that comment. The point being, what a shocking and heart-breaking thing to happen to someone. And I would go on and on beating myself up imagining things like this, and descend in a black pit of despair at the thought of it. I can think of just one positive: it was a way of sharing to some extent in the hurt and suffering of others, which is what a human should sometimes do if they are going to call themselves a caring member of the race.
The danger lies in the feeling so overwhelming you that you go down yourself. I do not believe I was ever dangerous to anyone except myself. It would not have been my reaction to go mad and kill my family or some pure horror like that. What did happen, which was scary, was that I became careless of danger. On a really bad morning, driving to work so bleak that I hardly knew what I was doing, I nearly caused a serious accident. I pulled out of an intersection in the path of a truck, which only narrowly missed a collision. The driver yelled wildly at me, I heard it because the two vehicles passed so close; and it was a reminder that I was putting stress on others. That truck driver did not deserve the trauma of being involved in a major, possibly fatal, accident. So I needed to get a grip and think of others. The condition is much improved now because I'm out of the job that was driving me over the edge; and because the doctor found an anti-depressant medication that works for me. But the entire experience was shocking. It was impossible not to feel bitter and bleak about everything. What I might have done without the help of God is desert my family, run off somewhere trying to escape the misery, thinking that somehow I would find a new and better life somewhere else. It would not have worked. There would have been too much hurt to the ones I abandoned. Knowing that would have spoilt any attempt to be happy somewhere else. Now that the foulest moments are past,
I'm seriously thankful I didn't lose it to that extent, or let myself give in to selfishness. And yet the thing can blind you to reason sometimes. The 'grim stealer' can lacerate your mind and distort your perceptions, horribly. Another odd reaction was that I used to want to eat things I normally never touch, like licorice. Then there were the night sweats, as if I had a high fever; and the nightmares, the worst of them literally sickening. The thing I need to be glad of is that I was got past it. Last night's T.V. viewing narrated the suicide of a teenage girl who could not get past it. That's another bitter theft: a bright young life stolen. I wish that I could do something like the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come in "A Christmas Carol". It would involve taking people on a journey, showing them what can happen if....and showing them that there will be better times ahead, if they wait it out. The wretched thing is, the victim can lose hope. It can be a huge rescue operation if instead they can be sustained until they get past it. Effective medication is a God-given life saver. It can also make the critical difference if the sufferer knows that other people understand and care. Happily for me I had a family and friends, and congregation members, who did understand. But some people, including some I worked with, could only make futile cliched comments about 'trying to get your mind on better things' or ( I got to hate this one!) 'implementing strategies to counteract it'. (Useless!)
Every age seems to have a particular scourge that afflicts it. The list would be too long to compile here, but some examples are the plagues that hit the world in the Fourteenth Century - bubonic plague, which killed a third of the people between India and Iceland. The rest of the world was then unknown to European chroniclers. We can't know what happened there. There were appalling wars which ravaged entire populations, as well. Historians and commentators have said much about them. One particular blight of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First Centuries is clinical depression - the grim stealer which can leach the will to live out of the human heart. I owe a debt of gratitude to friends and loved ones who helped me through it, and to Christian faith. Without that, I could have lost any sense of hope and the will to fight on through it. It is easy to see why that old fable has Satan gloating that depression is one of the deadliest weapons.
I should finish by saying: anyone who has been there for a depression sufferer, and aided them in getting through it, has done a fine thing that could have saved a life. May God commend you for caring.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where the power is.

Soldiering has been described as the world's oldest profession. That may not be true. Farming might predate it. But then it depends on what you describe as a profession. True it is though that conflict between humans has existed since the beginning of the human race. The first murder in Biblical history happened in the first generation to be born, when Cain killed Abel. As soon as human beings grew in numbers enough, the individual quarrel grew into a group quarrel. Soldiering itself, the bearing of arms, may serve the noble purpose of protecting those who need it. It is not in itself a bad thing. The issue lies in what is done by soldiers, and why. Watching the events of the world, one of the most enduring things in human history is warfare. In some cases, the background to a conflict can seem to be perfectly ridiculous. That is why Jonathon Swift wrote "Gulliver's Travels" about the peoples of Lilliput going to war over which end you should open an egg. It is just about that stupid sometimes! As we sit here now, there is centuries old bitterness between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Ireland; and every so often someone stirs the pot by celebrating the victory in the Battle Of The Boyne, which was fought in - wait for it - 1690! Over three hundred years, and the feelings are still kept alive. That's not even the worst I've heard. Conflict between the Albanians and Serbs in the province of Kosovar links to a battle which was fought in the 1400s (or was that the 1300s?)
There is a traditional emnity between the Greeks and Turks, dating from a time when Turkey held Greece as part of its empire. And this list could go on.
Stopping a fight is almost like finding the foot of a rainbow. No matter how near you seem to get it's always further off. So blood keeps getting shed, between people who've never personally quarrelled at all, because of what started between the distant ancestors. You can see the problem in microcosm when there is a quarrel or fight between two individual people. Each one feels that they have to get back at the other for something the other did; and each time they get their own back, the other person then has to get square for that; and so it can go on forever.
The only way to stop it is for both parties to agree to stop right there; and that means one side has to let the other get away with the last hit. All this is obvious. I'm not saying anything amazingly deep pointing that out.
The key to it is: someone has to agree not to retaliate, but to forgive. That can be terribly hard when you see cause to be bitter and angry about the hurt done, especially if it involves lives lost and vile cruelties carried out. I know that even from my own relatively safe life. But the inescapeable truth here is that you can only have peace either when both sides have been bled dry, or when they decide to forgive and end it that way.
To some people this is weak talk. They would say that it is cowardly to run away from a fight. And I know myself sometimes the only way to survive, and protect others, IS to fight - defensively. I've done some military service. There may well be a need to take up arms. But sometimes the braver thing may be to find a peaceful way, because the very thing we want to save may be lost otherwise. Now consider this:
if there had been more conciliation, and forgiveness, after the First World War, it is possible the Second World War might have been avoided. Look at the histories written on the subject. At the end of WW 1, those nations on the defeated side were treated very harshly. Some of what was done might have been well and good, but Germany in particular suffered by the Treaty Of Versailles which ended that war; and the seeds were sown in that for World War 2: Germany, among others, regaining national pride.
That is a macro example. Micro examples can be seen in disputes and feuds between individuals. Conflict goes on because one or both, or all sides, will not forgive. People may underestimate the depth of Christian teachings and precepts. They are not just nice things to make life happier and safer for wimps. Lives by the hundreds may depend on them. Forgiving those who offend you does not have to be a forfeiture of your rights. It can be a way to stop a wretched bloodbath that will blight the lives of dozens, or thousands, even those you most care about. The Nazi leaders who led Germany into W.W. 2 managed to bring destruction on the things they loved most: their nation and its people.
Forgiveness does not preclude legitimate justice. If the hunt for Nazi war criminals, or other war criminals such as those from the Yugoslavian war continue, fair thing. People should not feel they can get away with abominations. But the exercise of justice is not the same as revenge, which begets revenge in turn, and becomes vendetta.
The Bible's teachings are more profound than some people ever realize. They are not the easy way out for wimps. They are the way to save everything worth saving.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Critical Difference

Sometimes social commentators discuss human behaviour by comparing it with the behaviour of animals. I've heard it said that because some animal or bird species have multiple sexual partners, then it may be a natural and healthy thing among human beings. That happens with horses for example. It also happens among some higher primates like apes. Another variation says: animals often have different mating partners and produce offspring by them. Therefore this may be a healthy evolutionary trend if it happens among humans. One commentator even remarked that sometimes homosexual behaviour can be observed among non-human organisms. Therefore it is just a variation in the behaviour that occurs in nature, hence there is nothing wrong with it.
There is a flaw in this entire type of argument. Certain habits and actions observed among animals are at least undesirable, even illegal among human beings.
For one thing, disputes among animals are usually settled by combat. Even herbivorous
creatures of a supposedly non-aggressive type engage in combat. Deer, for example, the sweet looking creatures who inspired the character of Bambi, fight at times. Stags have their antlers for a reason. They serve as weapons when contesting with other stags. Bulls fight, so do rams. Even kangaroos, the model for some soft toys, engage in battle and sometimes do each other serious injury. The way one male gets the right to mate with a female is by fighting off rivals. Likewise with cattle and sheep, especially in the wild. And this is among the plant eaters that do not kill other creatures to eat. By the time we get to lions, pumas and other carnivors, the nature of their conflict can be really bloody. According to one nature documentary chronicling the behaviour of lions, sometimes a new male will take a pride of females from an older one, by killing him or driving him off; and kill the cubs of his among the females of the 'harem' he has acquired by force. Now imagine if humans lived this way. You might admire the strength and power of lions, but would you want a human male killing another man and thereby taking his wife (or wives) without their approval, and wiping out that man's children? If I'm being too obvious here, go back to the point. Is animal behaviour a suitable pattern by which to assess what is good among humans?
On the subject of mating and rearing of the young; among animals it is common for the female of the species to be solely responsible for that. By contrast, humans tend to agree that fathers should be involved, not leave it all to their childrens' mother. So what happens among animals is not an example for humans to follow there either.
As far as I've ever found out, animals do not care for their elderly and keep them comfortable. Neither do they nurture and support those born with disabilities. Offspring born without normal capabilities do not survive among bears, cheetahs or even higher primates like gorillas and baboons. The mother may merely abandon and reject them, or they may even be killed. That has been observed among lions - the killing of a lame female, who had just abandoned her cub, and the killing of the cub as well. This is not a happy subject to discuss. The point is, what happens among non-humans is by no means some indication of how we should live unless we abandon what we like to call our humanity.
One study of primates observed that sometimes among a clan of apes, there will be group sexual events in which the members not only multi-partner, but the young are involves as well. Among humans we call this paedophilia.
I could go on and on. The point is what animals do is not necessarily an example of healthy or safe behaviour if applied to homosapiens. I wonder if some of the 'clever' commentators who talk about it realize this? If they don't, they are not as smart as they claim. If they do, then they have a view of humans different from that taken by many others.
The evolutionary thesis is that the strongest survive and thus beget superior offspring like themselves. Among humans, this translates as applauding the actions of 'high achievers' even if they walk on the faces of others by getting ahead. Not in every case, admittedly. Some high achievers are admired for their work in medicine, finging ways to preserve and improve life for all. But the triumph of pure strength was the way advocated by Adolf Hitler. And consider this: in a society which rejected people with a handicap, what would have happened to Franklin Delano Roosevelt? If humans are a distinct class of creatures, not just sophistated higher primates, then what happens in 'nature in the wild' is a study in what NOT to do, not an example to follow.
Admittedly, we humans kill to eat. Even vegetarians consume other living things, because plants too are life forms. The difference is that usually humans buy their meat or fish in a shop, they don't always catch and cut it up themselves. But then we have rules about avoiding gratuitous cruelty in the process. Humans are expected to show consideration for the suffering of anything that lives, and try to minimize it. Does any other life form do this, as a rule?
An atheist would argue that we are products of evolution, and it is right that the strong dominate and inherit the world. Christians believe that we are created, by a compassionate Deity, and should show respect and care for all the created things around us. It seems obvious to me which of these two approaches offers most hope for a good world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stones and sticks

An newspaper article I found today goes into my collection of 'keepables'. It demolishes the old saying about "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." That saying is not true, at all. The little rhyme is taught to kids as a way to deal with it when others torment them with name-calling; and it's humbug. As the article says, ( and didn't we all know it!)the pain from emotional bullying lasts longer and can be re-lived more than that from physical bullying.
In Australia this last few weeks there have been suicides by high school students who were victims of bullying, much of it emotional rather than physical. Some schools are getting a serious wake-up call. They will have to act on the issue rather than taking the convenient way out, telling students to 'just ignore it', or teaching them that silly little rhyme. It should not be news anyway. The body may bruise, even be quite badly injured, but the physical body does not register emotional as sharply as the mind does. Children may suffer hundreds of bruises and grazes, even broken bones, having accidents like falling off bicyles, or swings, or simply falling over when running around. Playing sport can leave you with sprains and fractures. They heal. I don't recall someone being permantly traumatised over a broken arm or leg. But they can be rendered angry, miserable, withdrawn and self-rejecting because by ridicule or rejection by their peers. One victims' support group states that social pains causes more lasting hurt than physical injury. They mention the case of a 13-year-old girl who can't look at her mobile phone texts because for two years she was sent bullying, threatening ones.
No-one can judge all others by themselves, and that includes me; but from personal experience I know this: a broken collarbone, physically painful for several days, was not as bad a thing as feeling scorned or rejected by people who you thought were friends; or simply targetted for trashing by people at my high school who couldn't get a life any way except by dumping on others, including me. You get better at coping with it; but psychological pain can damage more than much physical pain or injury.
It seems that words can make a much bigger difference than blows. When someone says "Words can never hurt.." etc it might be worth asking them why do we have slander and libel laws?
Taking a slightly different tack:if it came to a choice between greater and lesser evil, which would be easier to cope with? Being slapped, even punched; or being back-stabbed or emotionally tormented, by someone who was clever at it? It might be an individual thing.
So the tongue can be a weapon, and we all need care how we use it. That being said, there is a need to safeguard freedom of speech. There is a balance needed there. It comes down to the motive: why do we say what we do? To say what we feel needs to be said, or out of anger? There is a big responsibility involved in using 'only words.'
Of course there is an upside to this, as well. Just as we can be hurt by words, we can conquer and overcome with words. If we have a truth to speak, and speak it plainly, the word can prove mightier than the fist, just as it's said: "The pen is mightier than the sword".
If you doubt it, look at this example. The most shocking brute force was used to destroy the body of Jesus Christ. Crucifiction is thought to be the most agonizing way known to kill a human. But even as Jesus body was (temporarily) destroyed, His words were not. Followers of Jesus have died in the body for their beliefs. But His words have changed the world, and still change lives and situations; and the worst that the most cruel villains on Earth can do cannot stop this. Jesus did not use weapons, He used words. And all the armies of the world could not and can not stop Him.