By / Jun 22

In her brilliant book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, Zena Hitz writes that true education involves “a reaching out past the surface, a questioning of appearances, a longing for more than is evident.” Her contention contrasts with modern conceptions of education that see the goal as absorbing correct opinions and dictating to students the predetermined correct interpretation.

Thomas S. Kidd’s new biography of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, models the kind of intellectual exploration Hitz celebrates. There is perhaps no more controversial figure from American history than Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s third president and the author of America’s most cherished document, the Declaration of Independence. Kidd succeeds in revealing the complexity of this enigmatic man by, on the one hand, refusing to bypass his moral deficiencies, while, on the other hand, elucidating his intellectual genius and unmatched contributions to America’s political formation. As a result, Kidd’s biography takes readers, perhaps more successfully than any previous attempt, into the inner life of the “sage of Monticello.”

Just like Disney and the COVID-19 pandemic, the telling of history has been unable to evade the forces of politicization. On one side, we are told that figures like Jefferson are anathema and that their contributions should be deleted from the pages of history books because of their obvious moral failures. On the other side, such figures are placed on pedestals and celebrated as heroes with their mistakes fully whitewashed. Kidd wisely avoids both extremes in his biography, which serves as a “narrative of Jefferson’s moral universe more than a traditional biography” (3).

Through Kidd’s close examination of Jefferson’s inner life and corresponding actions, a picture emerges of a man with many contradictions. How could the same man write one of the most compelling arguments for universal human freedom in history while holding slaves in bondage for the entirety of his life? How could the same man champion frugality as a republican virtue, yet pursue luxury to the degree that his entire adult life was lived under a dark cloud of suffocating debt? How could one so skeptical of dogmatic religious assertions call himself a Christian and remain a lifelong reader of the Bible?

The central dilemma in Jefferson’s moral universe

Of course, perhaps the greatest enigma—and one that Kidd treats in depth—involves Jefferson’s sexual relationship with his slave (and half-sister of his deceased wife), Sally Hemings. Kidd’s discussion of Hemings occurs in several places throughout the book, and he calls the affair “arguably the central dilemma in Jefferson’s moral universe” (89). Hemings was inherited by Jefferson upon the death of his father-in-law and was herself the progeny of a sexual affair between master and slave.

Jefferson’s affair with Hemings began in France after Sally served as travel companion for Jefferson’s young daughter Polly in 1787. By this time, Jefferson had been a bachelor for nearly five years after the tragic death of his wife from complications following childbirth. Jefferson apparently promised her he would not remarry. While Jefferson would never speak openly about the affair, it became the source of public speculation and scorn during Jefferson’s many political battles. 

Kidd deftly examines Jefferson’s letters from Paris around the time of the affair to find clues but ultimately concludes that we have no direct evidence concerning the precise nature of their relationship. Jefferson envisioned himself in the style of the biblical patriarchs, ruling over his estate and slaves at Monticello, and followed that lifestyle even in his sexual habits. Sally Hemings would bear six of Jefferson’s children. Her son would later write that she was hesitant to return from Paris to the life of a slave in America but relented when Jefferson promised certain privileges and vowed to free her children when they reached the age of 21.

Sally herself was not mentioned in Jefferson’s will, even though he did emancipate two of her children presumably in keeping with his promise to her. Jefferson likely left her name out of his will to avoid political scandal. Nevertheless, she was informally freed at Jefferson’s death and formally emancipated five years later by Jefferson’s daughter.

Despite expressing early opposition to slavery, Jefferson never expended political capital to end the wicked institution and maintained negative views of Black people as a race throughout his life. In old age, Jefferson wrote against emancipation on the grounds that free Blacks’ “amalgamation with other colour produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent” (195). As Kidd points out, it’s hard to imagine how any man could reconcile such sentiments with his own contradictory actions. But again, we see in Jefferson a man of many enigmatic contradictions. 

Jefferson and the question of religion

What are we to make of Jefferson’s own religious faith? Kidd concludes that Jefferson was a Unitarian. He denied the Trinity, cut out most of the miraculous stories for his infamous cut-and-paste Bible, and despised esoteric conversations on matters of theological doctrine. But he maintained a lifelong belief in a Creator God who providentially ruled the universe and held the teachings of Jesus in high esteem. 

Jefferson’s writings are filled with references to God’s guiding providence, and Jefferson even appealed to God in prayer. He based the Declaration of Independence on the Christian doctrine of creation and adorned the walls of Monticello with French paintings of biblical scenes. He sent his daughter Patsy to Catholic school in France while they were living there during his diplomatic mission and preferred the spiritual temperament of America to the apathetic luxury of Europe. But these words and actions must not lead to Jefferson’s christening; to him, Jesus was a man—the most excellent one—but just a man all the same. 

Further, Jefferson was reared in a context informed by the Bible, and Jefferson himself knew the Bible better than many Christians today. Kidd masterfully recognizes scriptural allusions in Jefferson’s writings and points out how Jefferson and the other founders envisioned themselves repeating biblical and classical scenes from history on the new American stage (29).

But Jefferson’s most intense religious passions were reserved for his political convictions. Kidd deftly points out many instances of Jefferson applying biblical imagery to political happenings. The Age of Revolutions was, for Jefferson, a new creation. His Federalist political opponents were deemed “heretics” because of their longings for monarchical ways. The victory of republican liberty in America was a sure sign of God’s providential hand guiding history toward its climactic end. In Jefferson, we see already the seeds of that tendency to conflate America’s political actions positively with God’s actions in the world. 

In conclusion, Kidd’s biography leaves no stone unturned in examining the inner life of America’s third president. Jefferson’s legacy has loomed large since America’s inception, and Kidd’s deep dive into Jefferson’s moral and religious universe will aid readers who want to understand this brilliant man of confusing contradictions. 

By / Sep 21

In last few weeks, there have been a number of developments concerning the availability of pornography on social media. OnlyFans, a social media service that caters to those in the sex industry and profits off the promotion of pornographic material, initially announced that it would bar sexually explicit videos beginning in October. This caused a massive conversation about the morality of pornography in the digital public square. Bloomberg reported that the service has attracted over 130 million users and experienced rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, similar to the boom that Pornhub saw during the initial lockdowns in 2020. News of this move was received by many as a blow to the pornography industry — including to those who earn a living off on the platform selling access to their pornographic material.

OnlyFans originally stated that this decision was due to a strategic shift in focus to a broader platform for various artists and creators, as well as pressures from investors and payment processors who saw financing or facilitating pornography as a potential liability and deleterious to their own public image. However, OnlyFans cancelled their plans to ban sexually explicit content just a week later because of the massive public outcry, especially on social media. The company announced on Twitter that it “stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.” 

This entire episode brought to light an ongoing debate in digital governance and public policy over the ubiquity of pornography online and how society should go about navigating questions of vice, free speech, and public morality.

Recognizing the moral component

Reflecting on the OnlyFans decision to reverse their proposed ban on sexually explicit material, Felix Salmon at Axios writes that many technology companies are beginning to act like a fourth branch of government given their immense power and control over our public discourse. He argues that many of these content policies end up going much further than the law actually requires in terms of the availability and distribution of pornography online. The argument goes that if the government doesn’t ban it, neither should these companies.

He highlights how these bans on explicit content, such as porn, are often driven by moralistic underpinnings based on the fact that pornography is legal, yet is “shunned by most of the business establishment.” He goes on to contend that these decisions — often based on the fact that payment processors and banks tend to shy away from financing pornography websites, especially due to the illegality of some material and the rise of sex trafficking — are contributing to a lack of U.S. alternatives to the current mainstream pornography sites, which are often based in other countries including the London-based OnlyFans. 

He also mentions some of the controversial moves by eBay and Tumblr. Each company implemented strict policies against pornography. These policies seem to fly in the face of the celebrated progress of the sexual revolution toward the mainstreaming of expressive individualism, LGBTQ+ rights, and the ridding of what are seen as outdated views of marriage and sexuality from our public conscience.

The inescapability of legislating morality

While there is much more to be said about these types of decisions, including the wisdom of banning pornography and objectionable content online, there is irony in how those in our secular age think about issues of governing and morality. Some will celebrate the technology industry making moral judgments in certain arenas, including the celebration of LGBTQ inclusion or the ever-expanding definition of hate speech that tends to describe historic Christian teaching on sexuality as unacceptable for public debate. Yet, these same groups will chastise the industry for making other policies on moral grounds, including decisions to limit or ban pornography on social media platforms. Concerning the latter, they argue that these technology companies — and the business industry itself — need to shed these outdated and moralistic attitudes since we shouldn’t be legislating or designing content policies on moral grounds. 

It is increasingly common in our society to think that we shouldn’t legislate morality, but this misses out on the fact that all laws and even digital governance policies are making inherently moral statements about what is to be promoted or celebrated in our society. They each put forth a version of the good life, which is a central facet of ethics and morality. While pornography is currently legal in the eyes of the state and an extremely lucrative business, companies that disallow pornography may be acknowledging, without even knowing it, how dehumanizing this industry is for all involved and how it tears down society. Either by giving into the public pressures to keep this material off their platforms or recognizing the ways in which being associated with this material will reflect on their brands, decisions to preclude this material from their platforms are ultimately serving a higher good in our society. 

In the digital age where technology companies hold such immense power over our public discourse, each of their content moderation policies are casting a vision for the good for our society, and it is incumbent on all of us to be involved in these debates. These companies have every right to ban or suppress pornography on their platforms, which, should be noted, is not an easy decision in light of the financial incentives and public pressure. But our society is better off because decisions like these protect the vulnerable and innocent among us and uphold public virtue and the centrality of the family.

The OnlyFans situation and continued debate over moralistic attitudes in our public discourse is yet another reminder of the moral incongruence of expressive individualism and how much of our modern public ethic based in the pursuit of vice is simply untenable. When you build public morality off of carnal desire rather than transcendent principles, you will be left with a system that is not only unable to stand under its own weight but also one that will not produce the type of virtue desired for society. While there may be legitimate debate within the Christian community over the wisdom of government bans, private companies choosing to exclude pornographic content from their platforms is a clear win for public morality and the common good.

Learn more about ERLC’s work in the digital public square and sign up to receive articles like this at ERLC.com/digital

By / Jun 28

Beneath many—if not all—of the pressing social and cultural questions that our nation faces today sits a fundamental question about the nature and role of religion in the public square. From the often-fraught debates over abortion and sexuality issues like transgenderism to the increased discussions over online governance and the role of the technology industry in moderating public discourse, there lies a deep tension among ethical worldviews and disparate visions for the pursuit of the common good. 

Although it was published in 1984, The Naked Public Square by Richard John Neuhaus offers a deep critique of these contrasting visions and models an understanding of the public square that reveals the constant interplay of religion and politics. Ultimately, they cannot be kept separate, regardless of what some proponents of a “naked” or purely secular public square want to claim. Neuhaus defines the vision of a naked public square as the desire to “exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business” (ix).

Neuhaus was a prominent public theologian who served in a variety of clerical positions in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, later serving as a Roman Catholic Priest until his death in 2009. He was the founder and editor of the ecumenical and conservative monthly journal First Things, the director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York City, and the author of over 36 works. 

In The Naked Public Square, Neuhaus offers a constructive critique of both the moral majoritarian movement of his day — as seen in the “religious right” led by so-called fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — and what some have deemed “the rainbow coalition” of the religious or secular left who seek to shift the conversation of public morality away from any transcendent reality toward radical concepts of “naked” pluralism based in an expressive individualism. Neuhaus concludes that the concept of a “naked public square” is simply untenable and fails to account for the public nature of religion itself. He forcefully argues that religion cannot simply be relegated to a private matter as seen in the language of freedom of worship or belief. And this concept of religion as purely a private matter of the individual is even more prominent today than it was in the 1980s when Neuhaus penned this monumental work.

Dangers of the “naked” public square

In this second edition, released in 1986, Neuhaus seeks to build upon his original cultural critique and begins to flesh out a constructive proposal for bridging “the connections between biblical faith and democratic governance” (xi). He opens the work by exposing the rise of civil religion in his day and critiques the constant debate over the proper role of religion in public life. Much of this debate has devolved into caricaturing opponents’ views, all the while defending the moral purity for our own tribe through comparison. He wisely points out that “in principle, we should be suspicious of explanations for other people’s beliefs and behavior when those explanations imply that they would believe and behave as we do, if only they were as mature and enlightened as we are” (16). This honest and humble posture is evident throughout Neuhaus’ work.

In this book, Neuhaus traces the history of public theology and shows that many critics of religion in the public square express fear that if allowed, politics may again degenerate into the religious wars of the past. Quoting Alastair MacIntyre, he states that “in the absence of a public ethic, politics becomes a civil war carried on by other means” (99). This is a prescient critique of today’s public square based on how many of Neuhaus’ predictions have become reality in recent years with the warring factions of political tribalism — fueled by the rise of the social internet — and the almost religious-like devotion to secularism of our day. Both of these political and inherently religious tribes are at odds over what should constitute a serviceable public ethic, which Neuhaus believes is “not somewhere in our past, just waiting to be found and reinstalled” (37). It will take hard work on behalf of all parties in order to navigate the challenges ahead.

Like a skilled surgeon, Neuhaus dissects the political moment of his day and shows the fundamental issue with religion in the public square is not an issue of Christian truth “going public,” which he points out is an essential element of Christian faith (19). Rather, he critiques the substance of the claims made by both the politicized fundamentalism and the utopian dreams of the naked public square of secularism. He argues that both pose a grave threat to human flourishing and the preservation of democracy as a whole. Whereas fundamentalism can lead to a paving over of conscience and may even devolve into forms of totalitarianism (99), secularism removes the “agreed-upon authority that is higher than the community itself” (76). The naked public square then becomes a place where “there is no publicly recognizable source for such criticism, no check upon such patriotism . . . therefore criticism becomes impossible and patriotism unsafe” (76). 

Neuhaus later proposes a new way in this debate that seeks to reorient the public square as one based on a transcendent reality, one that seeks to honor the real differences in worldview and groundings of morality through the framework of democratic values and a robust public square of reinvigorated discourse.

The morality of compromise

Neuhaus’ vision for the public square draws criticisms from both sides of the debate. To the ire of secularism, he refuses to grant that religion is simply a private matter that shouldn’t be allowed in the public square. Instead, he argues that it is also at odds with the religious right by stating that religion dogma cannot go unchecked in this democratic experiment. He articulates a vision of compromise and tolerance in the public square that seeks to understand both religion and democracy in their proper forms — a vision that is much more robust than critics often ascribe to him. For Neuhaus, compromise doesn’t equate with weakness or giving up on deeply held beliefs but rather engaging in a robust dialogue over important issues and seeking a workable solution for all parties. He states, “Compromise and forgiveness arise from the acknowledgment that we are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world. Democracy is the product not of a vision of perfection but of the knowledge of imperfection” (114).

Neuhaus goes on to argue that compromise “is not an immoral act, nor is it an amoral act” because the person who makes a compromise is making a moral judgement about what is to be done when moral judgements are in conflict.” He rightfully critiques the terminology of “two-kingdoms” in popular public theology and proposes a “twofold rule of God” that “underscores that it is the one God who rules over all reality, and his will is not divided” (115). This ensures that the public square is not devoid of a transcendent grounding for morality. Though, some on both sides of the divide will argue that Neuhaus gives away too much in the debate to the other side and that his middle ground approach is ultimately untenable in the increasingly hostile public square.

Neuhaus’ vision of compromise picks up on the idea of true toleration that has been popularized by some today as a path forward in these divisive times of polarization and tribalism. In his view, compromise is not about giving up truth or abandoning principle but recognizing that there are multiple moral actors present in any given decision and the need for humility in a workable vision of democracy. It means that “having set aside the sectarian and triumphalist alternatives, one acts with moral responsibility in an arena that requires compromise” (124). He later describes this project as one true democracy that understands that there “will always be another inning, another election, another appeal, another case to be tested” (181). It is understandable why this particular vision would be unsettling to both sides of these public debates because it means seeing the humanity of your supposed “enemies” and working toward a common future.

In seeking to lay out this vision for religion and democracy in America, Neuhaus describes a “very large number of Americans who feel they have for a long time been on the losing end have come to believe that the winners are trying to deny them their innings” (181). This is also one of the prevailing issues of today and bears acknowledging that particular communities — especially those of color — have actually been historically disenfranchised. But given Neuhaus’ context and intention of this volume, he does not particularly highlight the plight of these communities in his vision for the public square and discourse. While this is a weakness of the argument presented, it does not invalidate the principles that he lays out for his constructive proposal for the public square. He simply shows that those who hold a “pragmatic and provisional view of the democratic process” would understandably be alarmed by his proposal. Neuhaus rejects this pragmatic vision of the democratic process and argues for a more robust public theology.

Overall, Neuhaus offers a credible and healthy alternative to the warring factions of society and the outright secular rejection of religion in the public square by showing that these disparate visions of religion and democracy are simply untenable by their very nature. In the preface to the second edition of The Naked Public Square, Neuhaus writes that many critiqued the first edition of this work because it lacked a substantive proposal for applying the vision he articulates. While this second edition does move toward that type of proposal, it still lacks a detailed outworking of his vision for the public square. But Neuhaus believed others would be able to develop that type of proposal as they built upon the foundation that he laid out for an alternative understanding of the relationship of religion and democracy in the public square.

By / Jan 26

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series on what Christians should know about ethical theories. The first article and future articles can be found here.

In this series, we’re looking at several of the most common ethical systems within normative ethics (such as deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics), considering their strengths and weaknesses, and comparing them to a baseline standard, which we’ll call “biblical ethics.” The first article explained what biblical ethics is and how we know an action is moral. In this article we’ll examine moral decision-making, including how we know which biblical rules or principles apply to a given situation and what we do when moral acts conflict.

How do we know which rules or principles apply to a given situation?

As pertains to moral decision-making, the Bible should be understood as a revelation of God’s commands, principles, and virtues. God’s moral instruction comes to us in the form of commands and principles and is also revealed in Christian virtues and examples (particularly in the example of Jesus). We should therefore prioritize commands because they help us to most clearly understand God’s standards for our conduct. They also help us determine how principles and virtues are to be applied.

Within Scripture we find two basic categories of commands: broad (or general) commands and narrow (or specific) commands. Broad/general commands typically apply to many situations, such as the command to love our neighbor, and always apply in some way to all cultures and all contexts.

Narrow or specific commands relate to a particular circumstance, often in a culture that differs from our own. An example is Deuteronomy 22:8, which says, “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” An application in our day might be to build a fence around your backyard pool so that a neighbor’s child doesn’t fall in and drown.

Narrow commands might not always apply to all cultures and all contexts. In some cases (as with the example above) there might be a parallel application. Narrow commands are similar to “case law” (i.e., law as established by the outcome of former cases) in that they give us paradigmatic examples for situations we might encounter.

In determining how a command applies we must consider the reason for the command. If the reason for the command is a theological principle that is always true, then the rule will almost always apply today. As a general rule, if the Old Testament gives a moral command it is still in effect unless later canceled, either explicitly or implicitly, in the New Testament.

Sometimes it is rather obvious how a command in Scripture can be applied. But oftentimes, to determine whether an action or circumstance is similar to an action judged to be wrong in Scripture, we must use analogical reasoning. In his essay “The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics,” James Gustafson states the commonly accepted method of scriptural analogy:

Those actions of persons and groups are to be judged morally wrong which are similar to actions that are judged to be wrong or against God’s will under similar circumstances in Scripture, or are discordant with actions judged to be right or in accord with God’s will in Scripture.

An example of how to use analogical reasoning would be to consider the question of whether abortion is immoral. Our first step would be to ask, “What ethical rules or principles apply in this situation?” For this question, the answer is rather straightforward since the Bible has a clear command that prohibits the taking of innocent life.

The command was given by God to Moses as one of the Ten Commandments on two separate occasions (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17). In the New Testament, we also find the commandment reconfirmed by Jesus (Matthew 5:21), and reiterated by his apostle, Paul (Romans 13:9). As pastor-theologian Kevin DeYoung notes, the sixth commandment prohibits much more than just cold-blooded, premeditated murder. It prohibits killing or causing to be killed, by direct action or inaction, any legally innocent human.

An elective abortion (as opposed to a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage) is the killing of an innocent human being. Based on scientific knowledge of human development, we know a human embryo/fetus is an actual human being and that human life begins at fertilization/conception. Several passages in the Bible also strongly suggest that human life begins at conception (cf. Job 31:13-15; Psalms 51:5; 139:13-16; Matthew 1:20). Because elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being, abortion is prohibited by God under the sixth commandment.

What do we do when moral acts conflict?

There may be times when we may find that two or more moral commands or principles appear to be in conflict. An oft-used example is the “Nazi at the door” problem:

Imagine that you are living in World War II Germany and are hiding a family of Jews in your basement. A Nazi SS soldier comes to your door and asks if there are any Jews in your home. On the one hand, you know it is morally wrong to lie. On the other hand, you also know it would be morally wrong to answer in a way that would get the family killed. What should you do?

There are three ways to resolve this issue. The first is to determine whether there is an actual moral conflict. The second is to conclude that true ethical conflicts cannot exist. The third is to determine the hierarchy of commands.

Many Christians—including me—would say that in this particular situation there is no moral conflict because there is no lie being told. A lie is an intentional falsehood that violates someone’s right to know the truth. I’m convinced there are cases in which people forfeit their right to know the truth. The Nazi at the door has forfeited his right to know the truth about whether you have Jews in your home because he has a nefarious intent. It would be similar to the Hebrew midwives who deceived Pharaoh when he wanted to kill all newborn male babies (Exodus 1:17–21).

If there was an actual moral conflict (because you believe failing to acknowledge the Jews hidden in your home would be lying to the Nazi), then we have to apply the second or third approaches. The second approach is called “non-conflicting absolutism.” It denies that a true ethical conflict can even exist and claims that any perceived conflict is a result of human misinterpretation. Under this view, if we have a perfect view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ any illusion of conflict is dispelled. The problem, of course, is that we have no perfect view and so it is not clear how we would know what decision to make under this perspective. This is why the non-conflicting absolutism is rarely held by Christian ethicists.

The third approach is called “hierarchicalism” (or graded absolutism). This view holds that moral conflict can exist and that when ethical laws are in conflict a “right” choice is available through a hierarchy of principles found in Scripture. Under hierarchicalism, if one duty clearly has priority, we must choose that duty. Even if we believed that we would be lying to the Nazi and that it would be morally wrong, the duty to protect the lives of the Jewish family would take priority. According to hierarchicalism, as long as we follow the higher moral law, we are not held responsible for failing to keep the lower-level command.  Also, under hierarchicalism, if both duties appear to have equal priority, we are free to obey either duty (though we need to be certain they are indeed of equal priority).

Hierarchicalism has solid biblical support, as even Jesus prioritized some rules and commands when they appear to come into conflict (see, for example, Matthew 12:9-13). It’s important to remember that hierarchicalism is about selecting the better of two goods, not choosing the “lesser of two evils.” We are not called to choose any evil—even a lesser one. We are not called to choose an evil that good may come.

What is the process for moral decision-making?

We can put all of this together to devise a seven-step process for making moral decisions:

  • Pray for divine guidance — Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the process and to help you act in a way that glorifies God.
  • Clarify the ethical issues or problems — Make sure you understand the relevant factors (e.g., context, facts) that help clarify or define the ethical issue or problem.
  • Gather the scriptural data on the issue — Determine what commands, principle(s), and examples are most relevant to the issue.
  • Determine how to apply the biblical instruction — Once the applicable rules are understood, decide how they should be applied.
  • Determine the hierarchy — If necessary, determine the hierarchy of commands that would need to be applied.
  • Consult the community of the faithful — There are few situations you will face in this life that are entirely novel. Consult with mature believers and those with expertise on the issue (such as Christian ethicists) about what you should do.
  • Formulate a Christian ethical position — With prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit and the community of faithful believers, make a determination about what moral position is most glorifying to God. 

This may initially seem like a labor-intensive process, and too burdensome for use in real life. But once we develop a solid grasp of God’s commands and the relevant fact patterns, the process often becomes rather straight-forward.

In the next article in this series, we’ll wrap up our focus on biblical ethics by considering the role of conscience. The remaining articles in this series will then compare and contrast other ethical systems—deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics—to the biblical standard.

By / Dec 3

This week marked both a step forward and a step backward for the transgender movement. On Wednesday, actress Ellen Page, who starred in the films “Juno” and “Inception,” among others, announced that she is transgender. In her announcement, she declared to the world that her name is now Elliot Page and that she wished to be addressed with the pronouns he/they, instead of the feminine pronouns she/her. Immediately, the internet was abuzz with the news of the announcement, mostly celebrating Page’s courage, offering well wishes, and applauding another individual “embracing” her true identity.

But on the other side of the Atlantic, the High Court in the United Kingdom dealt a serious blow to the transgender movement. 

Moral sanity

In a landmark ruling, judges in the U.K. denied that children under the age of 16 are able to give informed consent to receive puberty blockers, which “suppress the body’s release of sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, during puberty.” As Alison Holt told the BBC, “The judges have effectively split the issue into stages. They concluded a child under 13 is ‘highly unlikely’ to be able to give informed consent and at 14 and 15 it is still ‘doubtful’ they can fully understand the implications of the medication. Even for 16 and 17-year olds the ruling says it may be appropriate to involve the courts in the decision.” In issuing the ruling, the court noted that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones used as treatment for individuals experiencing gender dysphoria or wishing to “transition” genders are in fact experimental treatments, the long-term effects of which are still very much unknown. 

The news from the U.K. represents a victory for moral sanity. The court was right to recognize the experimental nature of these so-called treatments. And though it is shameful that this needs to be said, we should not experiment on the bodies of children. Moreover, we certainly should not do so when the treatments in question are invasive, dangerous, and could bring with them lifelong consequences. This leads to the larger point: Children experiencing confusion about their gender and sexuality are not in need of drugs or hormones. Instead, they are in need of nurture, guidance, and support. Oftentimes, what they are most in need of is truth. And this is the problem with the transgender movement.

The solution to gender problems is not puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgeries. Instead, it is the pattern of God’s design for men and women that is set forth in the Scriptures and applied with the grace of the gospel.

The transgender movement is predicated upon a disturbing ideology that denies basic facts about human beings. But denying fundamental realities like the relationship between a person’s gender and his or her biological sex does nothing to alter these realities. Instead, it simply fosters an inchoate form of dissonance, typically in those who are already vulnerable or struggling. It tells those experiencing gender dysphoria that their bodies are incidental to their identities. It creates a disconnect between how individuals think and feel and who they actually are. But contrary to transgenderism’s harmful and destructive ideology, the theology of Scripture (not to mention biological science) offers a much better framework for understanding ourselves and our sexuality.

Bodies matter

The Bible not only tells us that God makes each person as either male or female (Gen. 1:26-27); the Scriptures also teach us what a person is. Human beings are complex creatures, to be sure, but fundamentally every person exists as an integrated whole. We are not simply our emotions, our minds, our bodies, or spirits. We are all of those things. And we are all of them at the same time. None of the things that make a person a person are fungible. Each of these aspects, together, make us who we are. 

For example, Christians are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This combination of the physical (heart, mind, and strength) with the spiritual (soul) represents loving God with our whole selves. This is why theologians will sometimes define a person as an “embodied soul.” Defining person this way clarifies that all of the things that make us who we are form an integrated unity. And the concept of unity is important when it comes to gender and sexuality because our bodies are not any more incidental to our identities than our emotions and feelings. 

Our biological sex, that is, whether we are male or female, was determined by God long before we were born. Our gender, or, the way we express our maleness or femaleness, is not something we choose either. Gender is tied to the biological reality of sex. And our sex, gender, and bodies are permanent features of our identities that we must not seek to change. Instead, as we embrace these elements of our identities, we are truly “finding ourselves.”

Broken but beautiful

Because our world is broken by sin, we often experience incongruence and discomfort within ourselves. This can manifest in all sorts of ways, but one of the most common ways it surfaces is with our sexual identities. Children experiencing gender dysphoria need to hear that it is natural to experience confusion or discomfort when it comes to their bodies and sexuality. Everyone does to some degree. And the presence of those feelings is no sign that a person was born as the wrong sex or should seek to transition to another gender.

This week’s High Court ruling from the U.K. recognizes the dangers of allowing children to pursue radical actions to relieve issues related to gender that can be detrimental to their long-term health. It is tragic that people who experience gender dysphoria or claim to be transgender also experience a host of other difficulties including bullying, rejection, and even self-hatred that can lead to depression and suicide. No wonder many cheered Page’s announcement this week. She was seen as a champion for those who are suffering in silence with the very same issues. But the solution to gender problems is not found in affirming something as deceptive and pernicious as transgender ideology. Instead, the answer is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel says that God made you and loves you. Male or female, he made you as you are and as you were always intended to be. You are broken but beautiful. You are flawed but infinitely loved. Whether you experience occasional discomfort or unbearable incongruity, God gave you your body and sex and gender. And none of it was done by accident. The solution to gender problems is not puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgeries. Instead, it is the pattern of God’s design for men and women that is set forth in the Scriptures and applied with the grace of the gospel.

By / Nov 18

One of the most discouraging things in my walk with Jesus has been seeing Christian leaders fall. At this point in my life, I’ve seen it happen so many times that it is hardly surprising anymore. In fact, at times I feel numb to it. It seems like every year, and sometimes every week, there is news of a different Christian leader, on some level, who has fallen into moral failure. Most recently, it was the lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who was dismissed from the church earlier this month due to an extramarital affair. Following the news of his firing, social media was filled with a range of responses. Some mocked Lentz for his brand of cool Christianity. Others expressed their disapproval and regret to see another Christian leader fall. But many who had been influenced by Lentz expressed emotions of hurt and confusion. 

Moral failure

Seeing some of those responses, particularly those reflecting pain and doubt in the wake of seeing a spiritual leader fall, made me think again about the issue of moral failure. Moral failure brings about a great deal of fallout. It marks the end of ministries. It marks the end of marriages. It devastates families. As the apostle Paul said it “makes shipwreck” of faith, but not only of the faith of the one who fell (1 Tim. 1:19). 

In the aftermath of a leader’s moral failure, great damage is done to those who looked to that person for guidance. This is because Christian leaders have much more than benign influence. For those under their spiritual care, such leaders are living pictures of Jesus. In their lives, words, and actions, they model what it means to follow Christ. And whether they intend to or not, their lives serve as a sort of validation of the gospel. Seeing some live in a way that demonstrates the authenticity of conversion and new birth verifies that Christianity itself is based upon something real and true.

It’s no wonder seeing a spiritual leader fall is so painful. At the very least, as a result of their fall, many begin to second-guess the things you learned from them. Were those things really true? Or were they simply expedient in some way you didn’t recognize before because you never thought to question them? And sometimes the result is much worse, leading not merely to doubts about the lessons that person taught but the faith he or she represented. Few things are more jarring than seeing someone who has shown Jesus to you fall into sins that repudiate the very things you most admired about them. 

Christian faithfulness

I’ve seen Christian leaders try to hedge against this problem by speaking regularly about their own brokenness. Reminding those under your care about your own humanity and fallenness is, in general, a good practice. A Christian leader who never admits to struggling with sin isn’t doing any favors to those they are leading for a number of reasons. All of us are broken and struggle with sin. And inevitably, even the most faithful among us will still fall short in ways that disappoint and cause pain to those around us. But simply reminding others of our own sinfulness is neither a remedy for our sin nor a bulwark against its effects. 

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness.

There is a reason the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was an apostle. He was not a superhero. By instructing those believers to follow him, he was not setting up a precedent that the rest of us are just supposed to ignore. Instead, he was showing us what it looks like to follow the example of Jesus who instructed us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a follower. And though we are all called to be followers of Jesus, we learn what that looks like through the example of believers who are ahead of us in the faith.

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness. Christian leadership is a burden. This is the reason that James says that “not many of you should be teachers” (3:1). But those who assume the burden of Christian leadership really are expected to walk in a manner worthy of imitation. Our sinful nature does not lessen that burden. And knowing that, we should commit to memory the words of Hebrews 12, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Keep watch

If the stories I know of Christian leaders guilty of significant moral failure are any example, none of us should assume that we are safe from future sin because our lives seem to be on track right now. The Scriptures are filled with warnings about the insidious nature of sin. Peter tells us that the devil prowls as a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul not only tells us to keep a close watch over our lives and doctrine, but admonishes us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:12). The point could not be more apparent: we are always in danger of falling into sin.

You might be tempted to explain away the moral failure of others. But what happened to Carl Lentz can just as easily happen to you. It may come in a different form, but temptation is coming for you all the same (Gen. 4:7). Sin is no respecter of persons. And the devil seeks your destruction. I’ve had to remind myself that numbness is not the answer to revelations of moral failure among believers. Nor is judgement. Instead, I have resolved that each time I hear about another leader’s failure, I will pray for them and pray for me. I will not ask how they could do such a thing, but ask that God would protect me from that which most tempts me. 

It is a weighty thing that the lives and faith of many believers are bound up with a leader’s ability to fight against sin. But they are. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders owe it to Jesus and to his people to fight against sin with all they have.

By / Aug 19

Aristotle said that friendship is “an absolute necessity in life.” And from a Christian perspective, I think that is on target. “No one would choose to live without friends,” the philosopher wrote, “even if he had all the other goods.” Indeed, if we think back to the opening pages of Scripture, we see this same idea in the life of Adam. After God completed the rest of his work of creation, he placed Adam in the garden of Eden to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In the midst of a perfect creation, there was one problem: Adam was alone.

Adam at that time had every kind of good. He lived in a perfect world. He experienced none of the pain or hardships of life. There was no sickness nor affliction nor strife. And above all of that, he had a relationship with the Living God, who walked with Adam in the garden in the cool of the day (3:8). But even though Adam had a seemingly perfect existence, being at peace with God and the creation that surrounded him, his life was incomplete. And recognizing this, God made for Adam “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18).

Friendship is indispensable

Friendship is something common to humanity because it accords with our nature. God created us as relational beings. As we live our lives, we crave relationships. That is one of the reasons the lockdowns of this season have been so devastating. People are not able to experience the benefits of in-person relationships at nearly the same volume or frequency that they are accustomed to. And, like Adam, we are not meant to live alone. Few of us are able to thrive in extended periods of isolation. 

Think about the indispensable role that friends play in our lives. We find happiness in the company of friends as we share time and experiences together. We find comfort in our friends as we experience hardships and trials in our lives. And we find ourselves turning to our friends to celebrate the joys of life. True friends are companions that stick with us through the best and worst times of our lives, which is why Proverbs speaks of the friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). Friendship is something we are not supposed to live without.

Friendship is valuable

Our friends serve us in many ways. And one of the most important ways they do so is by helping us see things more clearly. Recently, I posted on social media about the value of having friends across the ideological spectrum. My point was that having friends who disagree with us about important issues can keep us from arguing against caricatures or straw men because we can put the face of a friend with the position we are speaking against. Honestly, I was surprised by how deeply that message seemed to resonate with a lot of people. 

None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

I was thinking about this aspect of friendship because a friend from work recently pointed me toward their.tube, which is a website I had never heard of. But if you visit the site, you’ll discover that it models how different types of people experience YouTube. Like almost every form of social media, YouTube is driven by an algorithm. It shows you more of what you want to see and screens out things you don’t like so that you will spend more time on the platform. 

It only takes a few minutes on their.tube to size up the impact of these algorithms. To keep you on the platform, they create a giant echo chamber. From the moment you log on, YouTube (or Twitter or Facebook) creates a feedback loop that is designed to show you things you want to see—not necessarily things that make you happy, but whatever keeps you engaged. I suppose that is fine if we are talking about videos of kittens or comedians. But social media is actually where many people turn to gather information about much more important matters, like politics and culture and even religion. 

Those are critical areas of our lives to hand over to an algorithm. And that is why it’s helpful to remind ourselves that what we see on social media doesn’t always correspond to real life. More than that, it’s one of the reasons we need relationships in the real world. Meaningful friendships serve as a kind of moral anchor; they can help us keep our bearings whether we are encountering echo chambers, ethical dilemmas, or other kinds of challenging circumstances.

Friendship and faith

Our craving for relationships not only accords with our nature, but it also aligns with God’s plan of redemption. Through Jesus, God reconciles us to himself. But he also brings us into a new family, the church. As we read through the New Testament, what we see is that the church is supposed to be a loving community made of people who serve and sacrifice for one another (John 13:34; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21). In fact, it is a community that was, as Jesus taught us, created by friendship: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And in the church, we not only find brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity, but friends to walk alongside us as we follow after him.

None of this means that friendship is always easy. Sometimes we experience periods of loneliness. Sometimes our relationships are filled with discord (even Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers). But when we encounter such things, we should remember that friendship, like every good gift, comes from above. Pray. Ask the Lord to bless your pursuit of  deep friendships or to bring reconciliation and peace when your relationships become contentious. He is faithful. He cares for you. And he will provide all that you need.

Jesus’ earthly ministry took place in the context of friendship. He chose a group of 12 men and loved, taught, and served them. He modeled the kind of commitment and patience and grace that friendship requires. And in his example, he showed us how friendship is a critical part of the Christian life. None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

By / Jul 10

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced the United States government would apply Global Magnitsky Sanctions to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for the human rights abuses and religious freedom violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Uyghur Muslim people in the Xinjiang province of China. This is a significant development in the effort to counter China morally, as Russell Moore and the ERLC called for last fall.

How did we get here?

The CCP routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse includes controlling how many children a family can legally welcome into their home, using extreme forms of technological surveillance to track the activity of people in their country, and seeking to control the speech of their citizens by snuffing out the free exercise of religion. In recent weeks, China’s National People’s Congress passed national security legislation that poisons the “one country, two systems” structure that governed Hong Kong’s relations with the Chinese government, thus crushing the freedom of this unique island-city. China’s boundless ambition for power leads to countless atrocities. 

Since April 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into what it describes as re-education camps. In these internment camps, Uyghurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and forcibly “re-educated” to the Communist Party’s ideological standard of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Their cultural heritage and practices are being erased as they are subjected to psychological and physical persecution. Families of those in internment camps do not know where their loved ones are, or even if they are still alive, as illustrated in this haunting story from The Daily podcast by The New York Times.

Human rights and religious freedom advocates are seeking to counter the CCP morally, because of the increasing oppression and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, and their own citizens.

Who was sanctioned?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned one Chinese government entity and four current or former government officials in connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. These designations include Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang. According to the Treasury Department:

Chen Quanguo was appointed in 2016, following Chen’s notorious history of intensifying security operations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to tighten control over the Tibetan ethnic minorities. While Chen was already known for his ability to control “ethnic unrest,” when he got to Xinjiang, he had a deputy who understood the Xinjiang region, 

Following his arrival to the region, Chen began implementing a comprehensive surveillance, detention, and indoctrination program in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities through the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB). 

As a part of Chen’s plans, the large-scale construction of mass detention camps, labelled “training centers,” greatly escalated in 2017, and as the Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee.

Also sanctioned are Zhu Hailun, a former Deputy Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), and the current Director and Communist Party Secretary of the XPSB, Wang Mingshan, and Huo Liujun, the former Party Secretary of the XPSB. The Treasury Department stated that the “entity and officials are being designated for their connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

What are Global Magnitsky Sanctions?

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorized the executive branch to impose visa bans and blocking sanctions against any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” In 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption” that significantly broadens the scope of the Global Magnitsky Act, by authorizing sanctions targeting a broader range of persons associated with serious human rights abuse.

Global Magnitsky sanctions are a powerful tool to promote human rights abroad. By allowing the U.S. to apply targeted sanctions, these sanctions can pressure foriegn government leaders and entities to change their behavior. The United Kingdom passed its own version of the Global Magnitsky Act, allowing further pressure on human rights abusers.

Why does this matter?

Countering China morally must be a part of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China. The announcement of sanctions due to human rights violations will certainly cause the CCP embarrassment as Beijing officials were already facing increasing global pressure for their slowness and lack of transparency with the outbreak of COVID-19. The communist officials are in an ongoing global public relations campaign attempting to salvage its image after public criticism for their response to the virus. 

The ERLC has urged the Trump Administration to include these human rights and religious freedom violations as top priorities in its foreign policy strategy. Sanctions leveled against these communist officials are critical to holding the CCP accountable for their egregious persecution.

In an opinion piece last fall at the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Moore, highlighted how “China is imposing a reign of terror on religious minorities,” and called for the U.S. to confront China morally.

“We will continue to debate how best to counter China economically and militarily. Yet surely Americans, the heirs of Jefferson, Madison, Truman and Reagan, can agree that we must begin the long and good work of confronting China morally. The persecuted people there do not bear the image of the Chinese Communist Party membership card, nor do they bear the image of a barcode for international commerce. They bear the image of a Creator above the reach of any state, no matter that it pretends to be a god.

Render unto China that which is China’s, but its people’s souls aren’t part of that deal.”

What Happens Next? 

The new sanctions are a noteworthy step in the right direction as they place needed pressure on the Chinese government for their persecution of Uyghurs. The U.S. should continue prioritizing religious freedom abroad. In this direction, last month, President Trump signed a new executive order promoting religious freedoms abroad through increased funding.

The ERLC will continue to advance human rights rooted in the image of God and religious freedom for persecuted people in China, and encourage our government officials to hold China accountable to recognize human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

To learn more see these ERLC resources:

By / Sep 23

Imagine a future where we have convinced ourselves that everything we know and experience can be reduced down to some chemical process or explained away as ultimately insignificant. In this world, there is nothing truly unique about us, our families, or the world around us. We are merely highly-evolved sets of matter, and everything including our emotions, spirituality, and desires can be explained away as a chemical reaction in our brains. Our minds and bodies are not intricately connected; our mortal bodies simply serve as containers for our minds, which can be transferred from one place to another via a technique called “mind uploading.”

A couple of weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from a new book by neuroscientist and psychologist Michael S.A. Graziano, who teaches at Princeton University, titled Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience. Graziano argues that we are much closer to the ability to upload a human mind than many might think because we have already been able to create artificial brains, albeit on a small scale, and are now trying to overcome the second hurdle of scanning a human brain. 

Old questions with a new twist 

In this excerpt, Graziano asked some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of man and philosophical questions about the real “you” in a world of digital copies and simulations produced through mind uploading. Lest we think this conversation is for doctors and ivory-tower academics only, the questions being asked are the same types of questions that humanity has always wrestled with. The difference now is the perceived possibilities that have arisen in light of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe. In Genesis, we read that God created everything, including us as his unique image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-27). But by Genesis 3, humanity had already sought to resist the created order and question the goodness of God. Questions of “Did God really say?” and thoughts of I know better than God originated in the garden, where we exchanged the truth of God for the lie that we must know better.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe.

In the early Christian church, there was a popular belief, known as gnosticism, among many that our minds and souls were much more valuable than our bodies. Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is inherently evil and corrupt, but souls are inherently good. This led many to treat the body as less than, thus viewing death as freeing us from the container that held us for so long. In modern-day belief, this segmentation of humanity takes a new form where the mind is seen as the real “you.” The body is only valuable as the hardware that’s holding the software of the real you. And it’s believed that our minds can thus be uploaded to the “cloud” in order to live in a digital afterlife without the shackles of the fleshly body.

Downgrading our dignity

The Bible teaches something very different from the heresy of gnosticism. We see throughout Scripture how the body is to be valued and honored, not viewed merely as a container for our minds but upheld as an integral part of who we really are. The best example of this is seen in the person and work of our Savior. Jesus Christ took on human flesh, became man, and dwelt among us (John 1:4). Jesus lived the perfect human life in full obedience to his Father and demonstrated the value of the soul and body as a connected whole when he was murdered and raised from the dead. The resurrection shows us that the flesh that so many disregard in light of modern technology is actually an integral part of who we are. We are not fully human without our bodies. Christ was not raised from the dead in some spiritual sense (1 Cor. 15:20-21). He is still and will forever be the incarnate Son of God who told Thomas to touch his wounds and know that he is real (John 20:27)

Christianity teaches that our flesh is indeed broken. And the desire to want to escape our bodies is understandable in a world of so much suffering. But the hope that we have as Christians is that our bodies can and will be redeemed by the finished work of Christ on the cross (Rev. 21:4-5). We will live in eternal communion with our Savior in resurrected bodies. So to answer the question that Graizano asked throughout his essay, the real you is the embodied you. While we may be able to make a copy of our brains in the future, our minds are not who we really are. We’re much more than some materialist version of the self.

Testing the spirits

In our modern world of technological wonders and advancements, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the hype of what’s coming around the corner. We see new marvels almost every day that shatter what we believed was possible. We grow accustomed to these advances and often take those with credentials at their word when they dream of what might be. But Christians are people of the book. 1 John 4:1 tells us that we are not to believe every spirit in this world, but are to test the spirit to make sure they are of God. It’s tempting in our technology-rich society to be swayed from the truth of God, and we will be if we aren’t anchored to the Word of the everlasting God.

Even as many like famed computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, technologist Elon Musk, and Graziano promote the idea of uploading our minds and escaping the confines of our fleshly existence, we must seek to test the theories they promote against the truth of Scripture and what God has already spoken. Our faith demands it. Furthermore, much of what is considered settled fact in science takes massive steps of faith on the part of those who hold to these beliefs. Many problems with this line of thinking still exist such as the question of consciousness, simply knowing you exist or “thinking about thinking,” as well as the foundation of morality and ethics in a materialistic world. I look forward to Graziano’s full work on consciousness and how he deals with these questions.

We must engage in honest dialogue with one another about these pressing issues and perennial questions. It’s easy for us to outsource deep reflection to others with advanced degrees because we don’t feel equipped to pose the tough, but needed questions. But the Christian life isn’t one of shallow faith or belief. Throughout the New Testament, we see leaders like Paul, John, and Peter challenging the Church to rise up and engage the philosophical debates of the day with the truth of God’s Word. May we take up that call to engage the world around us as it is rather than how we wish it to be. Let’s step out in faith, asking the hard questions, and ultimately find our hope in the One that took on flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our unbelief.