I didn’t kill you it was the gun…

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Don’t be fooled.  It sounds clever and witty and even smart, but find a moment and think about it.  For those who use this line as a knock-down argument for opposing stricter gun control please humour me and read on.

Cigarettes kill.  Bombs kill.  Drugs kill.  Speeding kills.

No, cigarettes don’t kill, people kill themselves.  No, bombs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Drugs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Speeding doesn’t kill people, people kill people.  Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

You see, the not so witty play on words might fool some people into thinking that guns are not the issue here, only bad people, but for the rest of us we see past the pithy line. It’s a patronising catch cry, which is at best naive and at worst, well, look around.

Clever word plays aside we all know that cigarettes kill, and not only the one smoking the Winnie Blue but those who also inhale the toxic fumes that the smoker exhales.  Cigarettes kill the smoker (a person) and also the passive smoker (a person).  So we could say that cigarettes kill people (plural).

Now, even though the cigarette is not a sentient being that wills the death of the would be inhaler one is linguistically within their right to say that cigarettes killed the man.  He died from lung cancer aged 63.  Yes, it was the lung cancer that actually killed him, but we understand that the cigarettes that he smoked for 34 years are what caused the death.

[I can’t believe I am explaining this]

Similarly, even though the gun has not morphed into a sentient being that wilfully engages in the destruction of, say, 12 lives, on the semantic grounds given above, when someone uses a gun to kill a person or people, one is fair to say that guns kill people.  If you are struggling with this then a question might help: how did they die?  Answer: People.  Wrong!  A fatal gunshot wound.

Cigarettes kill, bombs kill, drugs kill, and guns kill.  So what do we do?

Well, one very basic thing to do is to look at the thing that is causing the deaths and weigh up whether the deaths are worth the value that the thing adds.  Generally, in the developed world we reject things that have the dubious distinction of bringing good and death simultaneously.  For example, when it comes to new drugs that come on the market, just because it might relieve some kind of ailment, if it has adverse affects, I don’t know, say it kills you, then the drug will no doubt be shelved.   It will be shelved for much less than killing someone too.

Let’s be less dramatic and look at cars.  Car deaths attributed to speed or whatever are a horrible thing.  But we don’t just say, ‘Carry on,’  we put measures after measures in place in an effort to stop silly people doing stupid things with their cars because speeding kills.  Do we care more for speed thrills and getting to a place fast or people living?  We choose lives!

The gun control issue is not about (not so) witty word games, but about three things, at least: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation, and rights.  Guns kill people.  Guns are valued and are a treasured part of a given countries recreation culture.  Guns are an indelibly inked right.  These three things are fact.

One of the mistakes of this discussion is the blinkered attitude that many enter the discussion with, that is, that gun control is just about recreation and rights.  No, the recent and not so recent events are showing us that guns are affecting more than just a Saturday morning’s shooting trip – they are ruining families, futures and lives.

Is the right question then to ask what do we value the most: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation or my rights?  Well, as a question it must be getting close.  If it doesn’t give the answer it surely exposes one’s real attitude towards the debate, like what I found on Twitter today.  It’s a doozy:

Original post: Of what use to private citizens are automatic/semi-automatic rifles? Hunting? Self-defense? Alpha male posturing? Mass murder? NRA says what?

  • Comment 1:  The Second Amendment. I don’t need a reason but what if I said I like them? I don’t need a reason.
  • Comment 2: for fun and sport u idiot (sic)

There you have it, all three in a nutshell.  The person railing against the high profile lobby group in favour (I imagine) of tighter guns laws; the person reverting to their inalienable rights; and the third person loving the lifestyle.  Each person shows their priorities in these statements.

So what gives?  Well, clearly nothing!  This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if the state of play is ideal, however, I humbly put forward that two killing rampages in the last two weeks, and a track record to boot of such shootings is not ideal.

Where to start?  Thinking and talking about how evil people are and how much they need Jesus won’t help.  Further, the idea that (some?) people are evil should sound the alarm bells that action is desperately needed.  I agree the people are evil and need Jesus, but this view does not stop someone from finding what they need to kill the next 12 people.

I don’t know the answer, but a good place to start would be to value life (as in whether people live or die) over recreation activities, and one’s own individual rights.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but clearly there is a vast percentage of the population that don’t value life (as in whether people live or die) over their recreation and/or individual rights.

In the meantime, we weep and mourn and pray for the families that have lost loved ones, while clinging to our hunting trips and our God given right to bear arms.


Pope Leo the Great’s big Tome

Ron Burgundy from the film Anchorman and Jesus have at least one thing in common, most notably that they self-proclaim that they are ‘kind-of-a-big-deal.’

The merits of their respective claims are interesting.  Ron’s claim seems to be a bit fanciful, whereas Jesus’ claim seems to pan out in the history of the world.  Time will tell I suppose with Ron Burgundy:)

Of late I’ve been reading a fair amount of literature from the Christological (Who is Christ?) controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries.  The reason for the controversies is that all of the people involved thought Jesus was ‘kind-of-a-big-deal’ and was worth the blood, sweat, ink, travel, time, arguments and money trying to defend their take on who the 1st century Jew really was.

I’ve been mainly interested in Theodoret of Cyrus and his involvement with Nestorius and Cyril of Alexandria.  Further afield, however, I’ve been curiously captured by Bishop Leo of Rome’s (AKA Pope Leo the Great) Tome.

The Tome was written to a bloke called Flavian who was a patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey).  Leo wrote the letter to encourage and support Flavian who was having a crack at a monk called Eutyches (378-454 A.D.) for his dodgy take on Jesus.  Eutyches was blending the natures of Jesus, which simply resulted in Jesus’ humanity being absorbed into the Logos, or his divinity.  Crassly put, Jesus was more God than man.


Leo’s Tome was sent to support Flavian’s argument against Eutyches at the Council of Ephesus in 449.  The great shame was that the Tome was left in the inbox – it wasn’t read!  Flavian was given a beating at the council, literally, and he died a few days after the council was closed.  Leo’s last words in the Tome never reached Flavian in this dark time, ‘God keep you safe, beloved brother.’


Our ol’ mate Eutyches was deemed orthodox by the council and was let off scot-free.

The impact of the Tome is kinda like getting a wicket off a no ball.  For all the effort and precision that was put into the delivery it was deemed null and void.  Who knows what impact Leo’s Tome might have had on the council’s outcome, and Flavian’s death?  It is therefore understandable that Leo called this council the ‘robber’s synod’ – I thought that was fairly gracious of him, actually.  I’m sure I would have thought of something a little more cutting than that.

But this is just my point…

If you were to read the Tome without knowing the violence, scuttlebutting, and back room deals that were going on, it would not seem so out of place.  But knowing the context of the controversy into which the writing enters the Tome is a gracious and beautiful piece of writing.

It possessed authority that Leo demonstrates by using firm questions and rebuke.  This negative aspect of the Tome is balanced, however, with confident and careful wording of his own defence of the humanity and divinity of Christ.  In the final chapter Leo identifies the need to show kindness because of the kindness shown him by Jesus in the event that Eutyches retracted his errant doctrine.  Of course we understand this generosity against the backdrop of novationist ideas.

Finally, I like a whole bunch of one-liners from Leo.  How do you like these:

But at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.

For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death unless He took our nature on Him and made it his own.

And then he would not speak so erroneously as to say that the Word became flesh in such a way that Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb, had the form of man, but not the reality of His mother’s body.

Majesty took on humility…

Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, compete in what was His own, complete in what was ours.  And by ‘ours’ we mean what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair.

For both natures retain their own proper character without loss…

Begotten in a new order by a new nativity…

Abiding before all time He began to be in time…

And in this union there is no lie…

Leo expressed much about Jesus in the Tome because he believed that Jesus was ‘kind-of-a-big-deal.’  Not only did he express the truth of his own convictions regarding Jesus, but expressed this same truth by the manner in which he expressed them.

Leo’s words were befitting of a Bishop – he communicated who he thought Jesus was in doctrinal terms and also with the character in which those words were couched.

A lesson for us all as we seek to set wrongs right.

Liberalism, nihilism and the meaning of meaningless

‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.’  The liberal would have to agree with the wise king’s words.

What is at the heart of liberty, says another wise man called Justice Anthony Kenny, but ‘the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’

Liberalism, with its grandiose views of self-empowerment, freedom, inalienable rights, neutrality and the power of the will, has demonstrated with unparalleled linguistic flatulence that the individual human with his/her copious stores of wisdom has the last word when it comes to meaning, meaning, that meaning means, potentially, whatever you want.

Is it a pity that liberalism is being blindsided by the freight train called nihilism?  Granted, this picture understood in the present tense is surely antiquated.  The catastrophic collision has occurred and the disaster zone has been taped off.  Now we trawl through the wreckage looking for anything that might resemble something that could be of use.  We are like the soldier in the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan who picks up his blown off arm.  We pick up something that once gave value, something that once served us, but now this something is nothing but a dismembered piece of grammar lying is a semantic graveyard.

I call their bluff.

In their moment of weakness they employ these dismembered grammars, and attribute meaning in a traditional sense.  They revert back to tried and true notions of language, conception, and, dare I say it, truth, without calling it truth, of course!

Ah, bifurcation they say.  Clearly, split-personality disorders are not the substance of the psychiatrist’s list alone.  Shall I construct or deconstruct, that is the question.  The call is for something more moderate.  More nuanced.  More balanced.  There is a call for sensibility, a middle ground that annihilates nihilation, a haven wherein some measure of meaning can be safe-guarded.  But how can this be?  Meaning is mine to make!

The train, however, has arrived, and this train does not allow the liberal to have his or her cake and eat it too.  It is quite the quandary.  The liberal wants to set me free without sentencing me to a life of meaningless.  The liberal wants to release me from the state without plunging the world into a morass of ego fuelled self-fulfillment.  The liberal wants to ignite purpose without granting that there is some such thing called purpose that contains meaning.  The liberal wants to grant me a moral prerogative without any care to instruct me as to how I should ground that prerogative.

The liberal defines tolerance as a social quality of equality.  Equally true, if true could be construed as such for the time being, tolerance is a social quality that presupposes that everything is truth.  We all know, however, that if every thing is true then nothing is true.  Tolerance renders truth meaningless, unless of course we’ve defined tolerance wrongly.  That presents its own semantic dilemma, doesn’t it?

It appears that we are back where we began.

Liberal ideology is a snake that has turned on itself, twisting, binding, constricting.  Life ebbs.  Expiration is all there is.  It grasps at its own meaningless meaning to gain some traction, but because this meaningless meaning means nothing, there is little to latch onto.

The irony of liberalism is that it does offer meaning, it is just that the meaning it offers is meaningless.

45% of people in Bulgaria…

Yemen is an amazing country.

I’ve been there twice to catch up with a good mate who works there.  It is beautiful and the people there were amazingly warm and hospitable.  The smiles of Adeeb and Mohammed stick clearly in my mind.

If you were to do a google search on Yemen you would quickly learn that it is a country that is ravaged by political corruption, sectarian violence, religious extremism, tribal bickering, poverty, and every other ill under the sun.  People live on under $2 dollars a day in this country.  You’re getting the picture, right?  It’s not a nice place to live.

Now, if I was to say that a Gallup poll (here) was taken in an effort to rank countries according to how they are thriving and suffering it would be of no surprise to you to find out that Yemen polled really badly.  It comes in near the very bottom – 2nd last.  I’m surprised that they didn’t come in last!

I was also surprised to find out who had the dubious distinction of coming in last on the suffering scale.  I mean, imagine this country.  It must be hell on earth!  If I was forced to make a guess as to who would take the honours I would have gone with a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, or a Central American country like Mexico or Guatemala (sorry Carrrrrrlos).

What country has the greatest percentage of people suffering on the planet?  And the winner is…. Bulgaria!  Yes, disbelief and shock are appropriate reactions, and it wins by not a small margin too.  In Yemen 38% of its population are suffering, whereas in Bulgaria a staggering 45% of people are suffering.  Wow!  That is nearly one in every two people.

So what does one make of this?  Are people really suffering more in Bulgaria than people in countries like Yemen, Syria, Iran and Southern Sudan?  I mean, c’mon, they’re being bombed, shelled and snipered by their own governments in these places.

For those of us that have the privilege of living in Bulgaria and having an outsider’s perspective on things, this poll comes as no real surprise.  Why?

Yes, Bulgaria is plagued by corruption on all levels and it has its own fair share of social ills and poverty, but we need to remember what this poll is measuring.  Have a quick read:

Suffering — wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to “thriving” respondents.

We all know that measurement is problematic when there is no standardised measure, and we must understand that this poll has not been carried out according to a standardised measure.  That is, this poll is not a comparative study of life situations by an objective 3rd party, but is rather a subjective personal response to certain questions about one’s present situation.  For the most part this poll is psychoanalysis.  It measure not how do living conditions compare in various countries, but rather, how do individuals within their respective countries respond to their present situation.

Of course, there is a strong correlation between wealth and thriving, and poverty and suffering, but the fact that Bulgaria comes in last on the suffering list is indicative of a national psyche that is struggling to cope with the present conditions, whatever they are.  But what are they?

Let me put it this way.  I haven’t heard of any Bulgarians looking to immigrate to Iran,  although there are plenty of Iranians already in Bulgaria, and I’m sure there are plenty more that are seeking to get here.

So what’s the story?

One of the first conclusions that I drew about the Bulgarian culture after being here a short time was that the average Joe, or Boris as is the case here, is wracked by fear and hopelessness.

It is palpable!

The causes are complex and historically rooted.

In the present, Bulgarians live within a capitalist system that has proven to be impotent and incapable of providing them with a standard of living and way of life that was promised to them.  Then of course there is the not so recent communist rule that shaped a vast proportion of the minds and hearts of the people who live in Bulgaria today.  And then there is the older but still relevant events of the 500 years of oppression by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

Bulgaria is a product of its past.  It reflects on the current situation and thinks of the future in light of the events of the past.  It has good reason to be fearful and hopeless.  While the government is not shelling its citizens, and while elections are for the most part fair and just, the average Bulgarian is trapped within a life that is fearful of the present and hopeless about the future.

I’ve never pretended to be Bulgarian, and I don’t pretend to understand the average Boris’ predicament – all I know is that to be Bulgarian is to suffer.

The Gospel has never been more relevant in Bulgaria.

Babies, after-birth abortion and logic

This one is hot off the press.

If you haven’t heard the latest, a bunch of ethicists have written an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics called ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?‘  The overarching premise is that if a foetus can be aborted for various reasons, then by those same reasons a baby should be able to be aborted (their usage) after birth.

I agree with the logic.

A good example that they give, which highlights the point well, is the use of prenatal testing to determine if a child is impaired in some way.  If a test comes back positive then there are grounds (for some) for the child to be aborted.  The reasons that are often given are that the child will live a horrible life of suffering, and/or that the parents, mother or father cannot cope with such difficulties, inconvenience or burden, and so on.

The logical difficulty comes when a baby’s physical or intellectual impairments go undetected by prenatal tests.  The baby is subsequently born with the undetected impairments, which, if detected prior to birth the baby could have been aborted.  The authors of the article give numerous examples of this possibility.

So what do we do?

Well, if one is going to grant the option of aborting these impaired babes pre-birth, then on the same grounds, one should be granted the same option post-birth, which they have conveniently called ‘after-birth abortion’, as opposed to the term infanticide.

Their argument is not purely based upon pragmatism, but on a philosophical argument of what is means to be a moral being.  This is summed up in their reason for using the term ‘after-birth abortion’ instead of the term infanticide.  Such usage:

…emphasise[s] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.

In a clever sleight of hand the authors shift what is being defined and argued.

The battleground here is not when life starts per se, whether at conception or at birth like the old discussion, but rather, what is a moral being?  A baby and a foetus are similar in that they are morally equivalent and only potential persons, so they argue.

I won’t expound the ins and outs of their argument, but I agree that it logically follows that if a foetus can be aborted because it is not a moral being, merely something with personhood potential, then one must be consistent and attribute the same value to new born babies who are, by the same yard stick, not moral beings, merely capable of one day being a person.

Should we be scared of a flood of new laws that might legalise the aborting (killing?) of babies on the basis that they are not yet moral persons?  I don’t think so.

The issues that the authors of the article raise need to be responded to by all who have previously held views on abortion, whether for or against.  I suppose one could put their head in the sand and pretend that our moral stances have no logical consequences but that is certainly foolish.

These ethicists have thought through the subsequent logical implications of holding to pre-birth abortion, and given one perspective: there are grounds for aborting living babies.

What this article does is expose how dangerous a poorly thought through moral stance can be.

For that I thank them.

What’s a stranger supposed to do?

There has been this subtle dialogue occurring in my internet circles in recent days that concerns us all.

Let me make an obvious statement: Believers (Christians) live in the world.

The question for believers is not do we live in the world but how do we live in the world?  In other words, what does it mean to be a Christian in the world?  What does it mean to live in a society with conflicting ideas, values and mores?  More pointedly put, what is the place of Christian values in an increasingly secular world?  What place does the believer have in imposing such values on a society that does not hold to the basic presuppositions that underpin such values?

Gay marriage, abortion, sex trafficking, child soldiers, the place of religion in politics, and corporate greed are the tip of the iceberg.

Should Christians impose Christian beliefs (whatever they are) on a society that does not want them?

That is the question!

But is it the right question?  At a glance it presents as either/or situation, which if you read my blog regularly enough you would know that I don’t like these at all.  Such questions lead us to polarised views, which are not very helpful.

What then is the right question?

Something along these lines I reckon: What should the impact of a believer be on society?  I mean, that is what we are trying to work out aren’t we?  To what extent should a believer’s life be effecting the world in which it lives?

I have a few ideas:)  A couple are biblical and one that is philosophical.

The book of Peter is sweet because it is real.  It deals with what it means to believe in a world that does not believe.  Those who believe he calls strange, strangers or aliens (1:1, 17, 2:11, 4:4).  Why are these people strange?  Because they are characterised by something different.  They are a different people group; they comprise a different nation.  Ultimately, Peter says, they belong to a different God.  These people are strange by nature.

They are strange by another measure also, their life.  Their lives stand out in a world (2:12).  They are self-controlled (1:13), they submit to authority (2:13-25), the marriage relationship is ordered (3:1-7), they treat one another differently – lovingly, sympathetically, etc, and the list goes on.  They are not only strange by nature, but strange also by action.

But what impact should these lives and lifestyle characteristics have on the world?

The world is impacted as it looks on at how these strangers conduct their lives.  The result is potentially eternal.  Peter says in 2:12, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits’.  Big responsibility, hey?

Moving on, the imperative is also clear.  Get involved!  What is religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).   And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).  What is the only thing that counts?  Faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).  Finally, what good is faith without deeds (2:14)?

The imperative is to get cracking and help, care, and look after those in need.  This is a must, and a non-negiable, but is often a bandaid cure.  There is a call also to release.  Isaiah is big on this one.  He realised that much poorness, poverty and misfortune is due to systemic oppression.  He calls for justice to be sought, the oppressed to be encouraged, the cause of the fatherless to be defended, and the case of the widow to be pleaded (1:17).  Later in 58:9 he calls for the yoke of oppression to be done away with.  He says, ‘Get involved!’  Big responsibility, hey?

Finally, some philosophy.  I believe that firstly, evil exists, and secondly, that evil is the absence of God’s good order.  I also believe that God’s good order is ideal for humanity and that God’s good order is knowable.  This being the case why would one not want to work towards seeing God’s good order being a reality on earth?  Big responsibility, hey?

I hear the brains ticking…

I’m not suggesting that we start developing theocracies throughout the world, nor am I suggesting that we should all join some far right lobby group that seeks to sway government economic or foreign policy.  Let’s not polarise the issues.  The choice is not theocracy or rightest or leftist movements or nothing!

I’m talking about taking responsibility for what is before us as believers who live as strangers in a world that is awash with need, some (much?) of which is systematically entrenched.  It is incumbent upon believers that we should get involved in dealing with this.  As I have said before, while I do not agree wholly with the Occupy movement I am ashamed that it wasn’t the believers out there shouting for the last 500 years for the oppressed.  We missed that chance, as Peter said, to show them our good deeds that they might glorify God on the day he visits.

What’s a stranger supposed to do?

We await the day when God will restore all things, but until that day we work towards that very end.