Tag Archives: pride

Abortion, the Environment and the Exile of Autonomy

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How is it that our society can collectively agree that an unborn life lost to a miscarriage is something to lament but the loss of millions of unborn lives each year from abortion is not? Karen Swallow Prior pondered this question recently, calling out the contradictory yet widely held idea that unborn children are babies whose lives matter when they are desired but disposable (or sellable) fetal tissue when they are not desired. By this logic the definition (let alone value) of an unborn life rests solely on the intent of mom and dad: a baby’s life matters insofar as it fits into the timing and plans of its parents.

In this way we can see how Planned Parenthood is the perfect name for an organization that is mostly known for abortion. Ending a life because its timing doesn’t line up with our plans and preferences assumes a God-like right to power that the name “Planned Parenthood” implies. It casually asserts that the greatest, most mysterious reality of existence – the creation of a new life – is something that can be planned, manipulated, defined and controlled according to our convenience. It celebrates our sovereign autonomy and refuses sacrifice, symptomatic of man’s worst tendencies going all the way back to Eden. Back then we didn’t like to be told that we can’t have everything on our terms, and we still don’t.

An arrogant assumption of control is at the root of most evil, and it goes far beyond the issue of reproduction.

The same fallen impulse that leads us to assert the right to abort an “unplanned” pregnancy also leads us to assert the right to use and abuse creation as befits our lifestyle, regardless of its longterm consequences.

Many of the same Christian politicians who push for legislation restricting abortion are also those who never vote for legislation restricting environmental pollutants. But isn’t there at least some logical link between protecting the created beings of unborn life and protecting the created world that declares God’s glory?

As Pope Francis recently pointed out in his sprawling encyclical on a Christian ethic of environmental stewardship (“On Care for Our Common Home”), care for the unborn and care for the natural world are both essential outgrowths of a consistent theology of life:

“Concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”

The Pope is right to connect the two issues, which both deal with man’s tendency to exert his dominion in careless and life-devaluing ways:

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble.”

Though a small-but-vocal minority of evangelicals see this connection and support the passing of clean energy legislation, most pro-life Americans throw the eco-friendly baby out with the liberal bathwater. This is unfortunate, because it undermines what could be a powerful and consistent articulation of a deeply Christian ethic of life – an ethic that says the rightly ordered miracle of God’s creation must be respected and valued even when it is inconvenient, costly or in conflict with our “plans.”

It is this same ethic that also insists that God knew what he was doing when he created gender and marriage. Here is Pope Francis, again from “Laudato Si,” making the connection:

“Thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.”

We should decry Bruce Jenner asserting his dominion over creation by claiming he has absolute power to choose his gender; and we should lament the tragedy of a woman who claims she has absolute power to end her unborn child’s life; but we should also take offense at those who claim an absolute power to consume resources selfishly and wastefully, with no regard for the flourishing and sustainability of creation. The man who drives a needlessly fuel-inefficient car, disregards watering restrictions and takes long showers in the midst of a drought is just another version of the arrogant assumption of control that leads to lunchtime discussions of fetal tissue commerce over wine and salad.

All of these postures stem from man’s resistance to accepting God as God and fully respecting the way He created things to be. When push comes to shove, we want things our way, and we want God to respect that.

How childish. We grow up only insofar as we learn to be OK with not getting what we want, however and whenever we want it. As Carl Trueman recently pointed out, one hallmark of childishness is “an ethic built upon personal pleasure and convenience.” By that measure our society is about as childish as they come.

I love Psalm 131’s picture of David having “calmed and quieted” his soul “like a weaned child with its mother.” He does not dwell on his fickle wishes or desires for “things too great and too marvelous for me.” He is satisfied with his Lord, where his hope resides. A lesson for human flourishing if ever there was one.

Contentment is the antidote to our sinful propensity to desire control. Contentment with parenthood even when it isn’t planned. Contentment with unrealized sexual and relational longings even when it’s painfully lonely. Contentment with restrictions on pollution even if it costs us profits or convenience.

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

That’s what English Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote in his 17th century work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It’s a radical idea for people today, suspicious as we are of submitting to any authority outside the self. And yet it’s so needed.

But how is contentment like this achieved, especially in a world where “have it your way!” and “gimme more” are the dominant slogans of success?

Burroughs says a “Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.” He rightly describes the world as being “infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.”

Indeed. And it is this “grass is always greener” consumerist mentality, so present in our culture and even in Christianity (e.g. church “shopping”), that perpetuates our control obsession. If we are constantly told we can dispose of unborn life or change our sex on demand, or that we can eat whatever food we want at any time of year, or that we should just “let go” of any restrictions placed on us (“No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!”), then of course we are going to begin to believe that we are master and God is not.

But living in this way is not as freeing as Elsa might think. On the contrary, an embrace of limits and “less is more” simplicity is what really frees us up to experience joy.

This is something Pope Francis mentions in “Laudato Si” as he describes Christian growth in terms of “moderation and the capacity to be happy with little,” as well as the avoidance of “the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.” This is “not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity,” he notes:

“On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the lookout for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness…”

The reality is a life of sacrifice and simplicity is a more satisfying life. A life of relinquishing our obsession with control and getting over our resistance to authority is more free. It’s the life we were meant to live.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25)

As Joshua Ryan Butler argues in The Skeletons in God’s Closet, “The cost of union with Christ is the death of our independence; the cost of true worship is the exile of our autonomy.”

May the exile of our autonomy always be a cost we’re willing to bear.

Empty Yourself

Gaugain

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s Paul exhorting the Philippian church to emulate the humility of Christ–a countercultural concept especially within the intense honor/status culture of Philippi, a Roman colony. But it’s also a passage that speaks clearly to all Christians today. Christ-like humility is the way we should live. It all comes back to this.

In a culture that beckons us to broadcast ourselves, pose for the Selfie, maneuver for maximum online exposure and obsess about our social media followings… It all comes back to this. Amidst our impulses to privilege our success,  our security and our every whim and inkling in the direction of the great idol of happiness, it all comes back to this.

Humility. Pouring ourselves out for others rather than pontificating on Twitter or posturing on Facebook. Serving the needs of others before sulking about what we don’t have. Seeing ourselves rightly and privileging the Other in a culture that worships the sovereign self. As Spurgeon once said, “Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself.”

It’s simple, and yet it’s always a struggle.

If the most fundamental and original sin of mankind is pride, the most fundamental virtue is humility. It’s Christ-likeness in microcosm. It’s not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It’s giving ourselves away for Christ and his gospel, which is also to say giving ourselves away for others.

Life is short. The universe is huge. I am but a tiny particle in a millisecond of God’s ongoing epic. No matter how great I think I am, my life is but a vapor in the wind. Humility isn’t just a virtue I’m called to; it’s reality.

On this Good Friday, I think John Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer” offers a beautiful articulation of what it means to humbly serve our Servant King:

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Some Thoughts About Humility

I’ve been thinking recently about how Christians are meant to be set apart from the world. One of my goals for 2009 is to memorize all of Romans 12, and for February I am working on the part about how Christians are called to “not be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But what exactly does that mean? The renewing of your mind?

Basically, I’ve been wondering what it is about Christians that makes us “set apart.” You certainly can’t tell by looking at someone—especially these days when Christians of my age dress and act (in many respects) like your average hedonistic hipster. So it must be a difference in our behavior or attitude, right?

I was talking to a friend about this a few weeks ago, and he suggested that, at the end of the day, the things that really distinguish Christians from the rest of the world are humility and forgiveness. Humility and forgiveness…

I think he was right. This pretty much sums it up.

Humility and forgiveness are totally countercultural. They are things that go against every grain of our nature—a nature that is so fundamentally driven by pride. Pride is the original sin, and the root of all subsequent sin. To be Christian is to actively repudiate our pride-based identity and instead follow Christ’s example of a self-denying, other-focused existence. And don’t think that it’s not a bruising struggle.

Everything in our society urges us to embrace our pride—to “go for it” and “be all that you can be,” to have high self-esteem and self-worth because we accomplish great things. Our parents and teachers tell us we are special and that one day we will probably be famous. The Internet tells us that we can and should be famous now. Our economy is structured in such a way that presumes that everyone ultimately wants more: more wealth, more prestige, more renown, more significance. Pretty much everything most of us do is toward the end of bettering our lives, making something of ourselves, and leaving some sort of important legacy behind.

Christianity says, “deny yourself” and “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.”

It’s a crazy idea. To think that, even as every instinct within us clamors for the recognition and envy of others, we might put ourselves last and love others first.

Just imagine what Christianity would look like if we stopped being so self-obsessed! What would the world do if every Christian stopped trying to make themselves look good or sound smart, and humbled themselves to a place where everything they did was not about them but about how they could be used to bring God’s graces and glories to a world in need?

What if we all decided to live simpler lives and consume less, giving more of our resources away instead of spending it all on iPhones, expensive wine, and whatever other status symbols we accumulate to pamper our lives and project an image of stylish perfection? What if, instead of obsessing about our complicated relationships or fretting about silly things like how a facebook wall post might be perceived, we realized that the deepest thing Rick Warren ever wrote is totally, reassuringly true: “It’s not about you.”

It’s. Not. About. You.

It seems like if ever we are to truly appear set apart—in a desirable, “I want to go to there” sort of way (to quote Liz Lemon)—a good place to start is with some sincere, “it’s not about me” humility.

Yes, it’s hard. Insanely hard. And even as I’m writing this blog post I’m stuggling with it. But the most subversive thing about the whole idea is that, even though it’s hard and seems stupid and self-loathing to purge ourselves of pride, it is ultimately a much better and more fulfilling place to be. For when we remove our own self-aggrandizing tendencies, we open ourselves up to being conduits of some other, higher, infinitely more significant purposes—the purposes of God. It’s about Him; not us. What a ridiculously comforting thought.