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August 22, 2008

Open book thread

Open_book_2 My review of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series is now up at NRO. As you'll see (again), I'm definitely not recommending that you or your kids add the series to your reading list.

You're welcome to share your own opinion of the books below, as well as to tell us what else you're reading (or avoiding) these days.

Tyra Goes Transgender


Hollywood is pushing the public again to new frontiers of sexual tolerance, going where no TV show has gone before. Executive producer and former supermodel Tyra Banks recently announced that for the upcoming fall season of America's Next Top Model, one of the "female" contestants will be a transgendered man.

She -- I mean he -- is Isis, a 22-year-old receptionist from Prince George's County, Maryland. Isis identifies himself as "a woman born physically male," adding that he was "born in the wrong body" and always felt completely female.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the mainstream entertainment media are now praising Tyra Banks and Isis for the decision, and I will not be surprised if they even go so far as to describe them as civil rights pioneers. Knowing Hollywood, I suspect this move is mainly motivated to increase ratings to a declining TV show.

I thought this was one of those explicit reality shows that I could protect my male eyes and my family from because we don’t have extended cable TV, until I found out that America’s Next Top Model is on the CW Network on basic TV to which more families have access. There goes my brief moment of relief. Hope you and I will use our remote controls wisely this fall.

(Image © CW)

Starving for Truth

Sometimes insights come to us from the strangest places. I was reading an article on the crisis of anorexia on today's college campuses (40% of girls at residential colleges will battle an eating disorder). There, nestled in a back issue of Psychology Today on page five of a six-page article, was one of the most powerful descriptions of what sin does to us that I've seen lately:

"Initially it's a choice," she says now. "You start dieting to be in control. But then it veers out of control. Anorexia is so dictated by fear. You're just a puppet of fear."

Isn't that how so much of sin operates? It starts out with a whisper: "Try me, I will give you power, control, what you wish for." We bite. But soon we find out we have become not masters, but slaves. We have not become invincible, but more bitterly afraid.

It takes courage to release our flimsy fantasies of control and admit we are powerless. It takes courage to believe that only in relinquishing our strength will we find any true power. That's not Jedi warrior paradox nonsense. That's the reality of living by the Gospel. Living out the Gospel means relinquishing our foolish bids for significance in anything other than in Christ. It's a truth that we are starving for.

Atrocity of the Day: August 22-24

Olympicflagcuffs Mistreating and abusing laborers—including those who created the Olympic image for our viewing pleasure—as well as oppressing the poor. And speaking of labor, sending protesters and others exercising free speech to forced labor camps and covering up what goes on there.

That concludes our “Atrocity of the Day” posts for the Olympic season. (Read past posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Thanks again to Anne for the great idea of highlighting the atrocities committed by China during these past two weeks.

This has not been an exercise in sneering at the Chinese people, nor in taking any moral superiority. It has also not been an exercise in pouring water on the celebration of our U.S. athletes—nor any of the world’s other amazing athletes (did you see those Jamaicans run? Wow!)—as their accomplishments do, intentionally or not, give witness to the Creator.

And, hopefully, this hasn’t been an exercise in futility (“Look at all these horrible things China’s government has done . . . sigh—ah well, on to the new school year”): to acknowledge the atrocities and then just move on, feeling unempowered.

In the realm of human rights, the Church must lead in calling for justice. I hope you do take one or more of these issues (or another related issue not raised in these posts—even another human-rights issue unrelated to China), and do what you can in your corner of the world to call for justice. That could be donating money to a human-rights or humanitarian aid group; supporting a missionary; writing a letter-to-the-editor or writing your lawmakers and members of the U.S. State Department about a particular human-rights issue; and, of course, actively and collectively engaging in prayer. If you want more ideas about China, see BreakPoint’s list of resources.

Continue reading "Atrocity of the Day: August 22-24" »

The Drinking Age

Beer2 This debate keeps going on and on: the issue of underage drinking, the risks—and tragedies, even deaths—associated with binging, and the role of the legal drinking age. Just in time for another season of frat parties and football games, the debate has rolled around again.

In yesterday's Washington Post on the front page is a story titled “Lower Drinking Age Is Criticized.” An excerpt:

On the face of it, the notion seems counterintuitive, but to the presidents of some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, it makes a lot of sense: Lowering the legal drinking age might get students to drink less. . . .

As parents ship their children off to college this month, university officials are bracing for a round of alcohol-fueled parties and binge drinking. They say they have tried banning keggers and have promoted alcohol counseling, but problems persist. It’s time for a new approach, they say.

In addition to the Dickinson president, academic leaders involved in the effort include those of Duke University and Dartmouth College as well as several Washington area schools, such as the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. Their effort, the Amethyst Initiative, proposes to reopen a national discussion on an issue that hasn’t been seriously debated in three decades.

Amid the backlash, the 115 university leaders in the group said their proposal is being distorted. They said that they are not necessarily advocating that the age be lowered but that the issue needs to be part of the debate because alcohol abuse at colleges has gotten so bad.

Continue reading "The Drinking Age" »

The Point Radio: Burning the Midnight Oil

Stress and high school -- they can go together....

Click play above to listen.

Jonathan Kaufman, “High School’s Worst Year? For Ambitious Teens, 11th Grade Becomes a Marathon of Tests, Stress and Sleepless Nights,” Wall Street Journal, 24 May 2008.

August 21, 2008

Three moments in a chapel

Sm_end_brideshead Three very different moments in a chapel illustrate just how much Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited has mutated in the course of being adapted for its new remake.

When Andrew Davies was the screenwriter, according to one report, he planned to end the film with Charles Ryder, one of the central characters, snuffing out a candle burning before the altar in the chapel at Brideshead. The significance of the moment, in a story saturated with Catholicism, would have been unmistakable. Replacement screenwriter Jeremy Brock softened the scene a little, so that, in the final version of the film, Charles almost puts out the candle but then, at the last moment, changes his mind and walks away.

But in Evelyn Waugh's original novel (and in the miniseries version, from which the screencap above is taken), Charles -- once an agnostic -- knelt before the altar to pray.

The alteration of that one moment -- and the fact that, even after Davies's version was watered down, the moment is still so far from what it originally was -- is a devastating indictment of how the filmmakers have warped and twisted Waugh's vision. As Chuck Colson says in today's commentary, "The religion of grace that he portrayed so powerfully in his novel is now shown in the movie as stifling and oppressive. . . . Maybe [Charles's refusal to put out the candle] is the filmmaker’s way of showing at least a grudging respect for religion. But given the film’s poisonous portrayal of the Flyte family’s faith, I doubt it."

Read more of Chuck's take on the movie here.

(Image courtesy of Gem of the Ocean)

Chariots of Faith

Ryan_hall As with Chariots of Fire's Eric Liddell, running is a spiritual journey for America's Olympic marathon hopeful, 25-year-old Ryan Hall.

This week's issue of The New Yorker featured California native Hall, his physical stamina and his spiritual drive. When Hall was just 14, he decided to run the 15-mile loop around a nearby lake.

"I think it came from God. I was on my way to a basketball game--it was just this crazy idea that comes into your head, and the desire to act on it. The next weekend, my dad and I ran around the lake, fifteen miles. After that, I decided to start training."

He drew "4:05" in the cement outside the house. The following spring, he ran it. Since then, he's been ahead of the curve, last year sprinting his way to the top of the Olympic trials in New York City.

Still, his Christian faith keeps him grounded, and keeps him sensitive to his tendency to over-compete.

Continue reading "Chariots of Faith" »

Makes Sense

Smell Here’s more evidence we are more than just a collection of “parts.” Not to mention, it’s such a wonderful sense God gave us—as smell relates to taste, and oh, the tastes He’s created. I mean, really: Philly cheesesteak. No, kidding! (Sort of.)

But pomegranates, mangos, kiwi. Yum. All made possible by smell. (It's a feature of our nature that we should take time to pay attention to and thank God for, as Catherine noted.)

But so much more than the physical, as a recent study of Swedes (there you go, David!) demonstrated, the sense of smell is connected to memory and emotions. (HT Reveries)

Studying groups of Swedes whose average age was 75, the researchers offered three different sets of the same 20 memory cues — the cue as a word, as a picture and as a smell. The scientists found that while the word and visual cues elicited associations largely from subjects’ adolescence and young adulthood, the smell cues evoked thoughts of early childhood, under the age of 10.

And despite the comparative antiquity of such memories, Dr. Larsson said, people described them in exceptionally rich and emotional terms, and they were much likelier to report the sudden sensation of being brought back in time. They smelled cardamom, and there they were in the kitchen, flour dust flying as they helped Mama and Nana roll out the holiday buns. The scent of tar, and they’re back at the dock with Dad, tarring the bottom of the family boat in anticipation of long summer sails.

Dr. Larsson attributes the youthfulness of smell memories to the fact that our olfaction is the first of our senses to mature and only later cedes cognitive primacy to vision and words, while the cortical link between olfaction and emotion ensures that those early sensations keep their bloom all life long.

Continue reading "Makes Sense" »

Regrets Only

I'm reading through Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things. It's a refreshing book that forces you to slow down and to begin paying attention. He reminds us that God is the The Great Attender, whose attention is continually on us and this world that He has made. Ford also calls us to pay attention to God. I'm only a little way in to the book, but I was struck by one of his sidebars. It is titled, "Regrets Only" and lists among others these:

For pulsing with joy and never realizing there was a source.

For tasting the sweetness and the savor and not thinking to ask who made it so good.

For longing for love and not dreaming that love was longing for you.

For walking by an open door and never wondering when would be closing time.

I stopped and just meditated on these for a few moments and quickly saw how often we fail to give God the attention in our lives He deserves. I hope you'll take a few minutes and meditate on them also.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Stephanie_tubbs_jones Last night, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D) passed away after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was a key sponsor of the Second Chance Act, which Justice Fellowship and Prison Fellowship lobbied for year after year. That bill was finally signed into law this year. Her support was greatly appreciated. Our prayers are with her family at this time of loss.

(Image © Pablo Martinez Monsivais for the AP)

Atrocity of the Day: August 21

Olympicflagcuffs Tibet. Tibet, Tibet, Tibet. And . . . Tibet.

Wisdom from Oswald Chambers

For many years now, my favorite devotional has been Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers has the most unnerving ability to shred my soul with his criticisms of my too-often lukewarm faith, then to offer me the direction and hope I so badly need to fire up my soul for Christ. 

Today, I'd like to offer these words from the January 1 entry, titled "Let Us Keep to the Point," based on Philippians 1:20: "My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage."

We shall all feel very much ashamed if we do not yield to Jesus on the point He has asked us to yield to Him. Paul says -- "My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest." To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point. An overweening consideration of ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others. When we consider what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He does not know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point; He does know. Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only -- My Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone.

The Point Radio: I Have a Daydream

When was the last time you found yourself daydreaming?...

Click play above to listen.

Sabah Karimi, “Six Benefits of Daydreaming,” Associated Content, 22 January 2008.

August 20, 2008

Daily roundup

’Henry Poole Is Here’

Ok, I'm recommending this sight unseen -- but it is on my list, by recommendation of Erik Lokkesmoe with Different Drummer, which is marketing this film. (Different Drummer is also behind Call + Response.)

Henry Poole Is Here (PG) -- which stars Luke Wilson, Adriana Barraza, and George Lopez, among others -- "is a film that Christian moviegoers will yearn to embrace, if only from sheer gratitude; here, at last, is a depiction of Christian faith that portrays it as something other than the domain of cranks and loonies," as Frederica Mathewes-Green put it. "And it's not just theological theory that wins the film's blessing, but something more substantive, verging on shocking: it proposes that miracles can happen—and supplies an audacious one for our consideration."

Read more here, here, and here. And see Theology on Tap's discussion guide. And here's the trailer:

(HT Thunderstruck)

What if . . . ?

Mccain_warren_obama Reader Andy Siochi writes in an e-mail: "Just curious -- if McCain were pro choice and Obama were pro life, who would you vote for?"

My first instinct was simply to point him to this post, where I talked about why the sanctity of life trumps other political issues for me, and leave it at that. But his question got me wondering about something.

Obviously, there's more to a politician than his or her views on the sanctity of life, even though I think that's the most important issue. But how closely are a person's views on the sanctity of life tied to his or her other views, and how do someone's views in one area affect the rest of that person's views?

To be more specific, given the circumstances Andy posits -- if McCain were pro-choice and Obama were pro-life -- in what other ways might they be different? Might that changed view change other things about them? And how about the parties? If the Republican and Democratic parties had gone in different directions than they did on Roe, and on the sanctity of life in general, what might each party as a whole look like today? 

What do you think?

(Image © Reuters)

Try reading a biology textbook, Senator Obama

At the Saddleback forum, "the One" (Senator Obama) said that, from a "theological" or "scientific perspective," answering the question of when life begins is "above my pay grade."

Ah, this explains Obama's refusal to protect infants born alive and kicking after botched abortions while he was in the Chicago state senate: He has absolutely no idea when life begins. Did it ever occur to Obama to consult any freshman biology textbook? Life begins at conception, whether we're talking about humans or prairie dogs. It's when Obama's life began. It's when everyone's life begins. Scientifically speaking, embryos are human beings in the earliest stage of life; they are embryonic humans. Got that, Senator?

"The One" also thinks abortion-on-demand should stay legal because women feel really bad about killing their babies.They "wrestle" with "profound" moral and ethical issues before they abort their children. And they talk about all this with other people before they head for the abortion clinic.

Can we apply this reasoning to other profound moral and ethic issues--such as killing an unwanted or inconvenient two-year-old--perhaps one who has just been diagnosed with autism?  As long as you feel bad about it, and get into a huddle with your pastor or husband about it to consider "profound" moral and ethical issues---it's okay.

As I wrote on this blog before.....PAH!

Looking Forward

Enlightenment principles have crept into Protestant churches. In a lot of church leadership meetings, people have been contemplating ways to expand their church by "vision casting," leadership development, and preaching optimism. But do these tools and messages make for sound theology? Mike Metzger says they don't. Find out why.

Atrocity of the Day: August 20

Olympicflagcuffs Compounding the devastation of the Sichuan earthquake with shoddily made schools and other government buildings which led to the death counts—and trying to shut up the victims. Then, the government puts on the façade of reaching out to and caring for the victims.

Kicking Grandma to the Curb

Assisted_living From NPR (HT Thunderstruck):

Cordelia Robertson turned 99 in May. Two days later, she got the eviction notice.

Her son, Gene Robertson, says even though his mother is confused and doesn't understand what's going on, she would be devastated if she had to leave the home outside Seattle she has lived in for nearly 10 years.

"I think it would kill her," he says. "This lady is probably 80 pounds. You could pick her up with one hand. You could put your fingers around her wrist. She is just a little, little, little, teeny, frail, frail person. She smiles and she's always happy. But she don't know what's going on."

What is going on is that Cordelia Robertson has run out of money. She went through her entire life savings. She spent it on the rent at the assisted living facility.

"My mother spent $350,000," Gene Robertson says. "It was her money. And she is now broke. I mean, she has zero money."

He says officials at the assisted living facility always promised him that if his mother ran out of money, she could use Medicaid, the government health insurance for the poor.

However, last year, when Cordelia Robertson finally did need Medicaid, Assisted Living Concepts changed its policy and said it would no longer accept Medicaid.

In May, the company, which has facilities in 20 states, sued Cordelia Robertson to get her to leave.

Read more and listen to the broadcast.

Continue reading "Kicking Grandma to the Curb" »

The Point Radio: Don't Hold Your Breath

How long can you hold your breath?...

Click play above to listen.

Tiffany Sharples, “How David Blaine Held His Breath,” Time, 1 May 2008.

August 19, 2008

Daily roundup

Speaking of protest applications . . .

Nicholas Kristof has more here and here.

Atrocity of the Day: August 19, part 2

Olympicflagcuffs_2 It keeps getting worse: China denies all 77 protest applications. (HT UN Wire)

A Black Day for Physicians in California

August 18, 2008 will be remembered as a day of infamy because of a California Supreme Court ruling that "physicians' constitutional right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt businesses that serve the public from following state law that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." I'm seriously disturbed about it, and think it's time for concerned citizens, whatever your political or religious stripe, to band together and protest the latest California Supreme Court nonsense before a right of conscience is no longer allowed. 

By fiat, seven black-robed officials just decided that doctors and other healthcare professionals have lost their First Amendment rights. In essences, California doctors have been ordered to lose their consciences.

As Dr. David Stevens from the Christian Medical Association says, "This court decision, like so many others in which the courts have waded into areas exceeding their proper reach, violates long-established principles of medical ethics. Even the American Medical Association officially affirms that 'neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally held moral principles." 

Unintended problems from the California decision are foreseeable. Denise Burke from Americans United for Life says, “By forcing healthcare professionals to choose between conscience and career, we will lose doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who are already in short supply.”

The Watchman’s Call

As a regular contributor here at The Point, I often wonder about the things I feel led to blog about. Sometimes, I just want to inject a little humor into our readers' day; mostly, I want to offer words of encouragement -- usually by sharing the words of other Christians who have challenged and encouraged me in my spiritual walk. I much prefer to focus on those things which are worthy of being focused upon, as expressed in Philippians 4:8: what is true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise.

Yet, at times, I find myself blogging about subjects which are the opposite of those virtues. So why do I do this? Why not just emphasize the positive and stay away from the negative? 

Because, as a child of God, who has been given -- entirely by grace -- His Spirit and His Word, I am sometimes called upon to take on the role of a watchman (see Ezekiel 3:16-21 and 33:1-9): to warn others of the evils of our day so that they have a chance to "just say no." Happily, some people will heed the warning and turn away from a path of destruction. Sadly, others will not: they will continue down the road to ruin -- for themselves, their families, even for our nation. 

God does not grant any of us the right to force another person to choose which way to go, but He does lay upon us the watchman's responsibility to raise the alarm.  Only in that way will we be in God's sight "innocent of their blood" (Acts 20:26) should they fail to heed the warning.

So, as much as I would like to keep my blogs light and positive and fun, I know I can't always do so. The world is simply too dangerous a place, and God keeps shouting in my ears, "If you love them as I have commanded you to, then warn them!" 

The Theory of Everything

Universe From whence the universe? That question lies at the heart of the metaphysical quest. For what we believe about the origin of the universe will largely determine what we believe about the most pressing questions of human existence.

If the universe is the product of intelligent creation, then purpose is intrinsic to our being which, in turn, provides a compass setting for life’s direction. If, on the other hand, the cosmos is an artifact of unintelligent processes, life has no ultimate aim or meaning, leaving matters of ethics and morality up to the whims of each individual.

To early thinkers, the rational order of the world suggested a non-contingent source of reality. In various schools of thought, this source was the “apeiron,” the “One,” aether, or the “logos”—in all cases, a veritable fount of being that not only gave birth to the universe, but continuously shaped and sustained it. Discoveries made over the last century have supported this ancient concept, overturning some common perceptions.

The notion that the universe is a vast, dark wasteland, sprinkled hither and yon with random clumps of matter, has been shattered. The universe, as understood by modern science, is a cosmic fabric, supercharged with an all-pervading quantum potential. With space and time its warp and woof, the cosmos flexes and twists under the influence of matter and energy to weave out exquisite patterns of galaxies, nebula, and supernovae.

The interlocking of space, time, matter, and energy suggests a grand unifying principle that gives form and texture to the universe. The hope of researchers is to discover this mega-principle, or, as it has come to be called, the “theory of everything” (TOE)... Continue reading here.

(Image © Stanford)

Atrocity of the Day: August 19

Olympicflagcuffs Segueing from yesterday’s post about faux religious freedom in China: It seems the government’s definition of freedom of religion differs dramatically from ours, as they confiscated the Bibles of American visitors this past Sunday (HT Gina and The Corner).

Speaking of banning free speech: China’s suppression and control of media and censorship of the Internet—as well as harassment of and attacks on journalists—is widely known.

Hologram Preachers and Drive-Thru Churches

Godcast Recently Slate reported (H/T The Line) on a popular trend in churches today: satellite churches, or "franchises," if you will, where the pastor is absent -- except on the "big screen" or, as in the case of Buckhead Church in Atlanta, "projected in front of the congregation in life-sized 3-D. The preacher is a hologram." (Jason talked about this phenomenon earlier.)

The Slate article continues:

An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 U.S. congregations now operate multiple campuses, and many of them, like Buckhead Church, are so-called video venues. The Leadership Network, a Christian nonprofit that follows these multisite churches, says there will be 30,000 of them within a few years. Already, the most ambitious pastors are predicting that, thanks to video, they'll have branded outlets nationwide and more than 100,000 followers—twice as large as the country's biggest megachurch today. Gigachurches are the way that next-generation celebrity evangelists are building their empires.

But, as the writer asks, "Can a digitally projected pastor lead a congregation, shepherd believers, create and expand a community? Or is this just business-minded religion run amok?" However, notes the writer, since most people don't attend church, one defender of video churches believes that "[i]f it takes a name-brand preacher to put butts in seats, so be it."

Really? So laziness is acceptable now? And church is all about what's convenient for us? Ah. Gotcha.

Continue reading "Hologram Preachers and Drive-Thru Churches" »

Thought for the day

I do not wonder men can ill believe
Who make poor claims upon thee, perfect Lord;
Then most I trust when most I would receive.
I wonder not that such do pray and grieve --
The God they think, to be God is not fit.
Then only in thy glory I seem to sit,
When my heart claims from thine an infinite accord.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

The Point Radio: Premeditated Acts of Kindness

What do a newpaper, a bottle of water, and an oil change have in common?...

Click play above to listen.

Steve Sjorgen, Conspiracy of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus with Others, Vine Books, 1993.

August 18, 2008

Daily roundup

More on Georgia

Check out Joel Rosenberg's post on the situation in Georgia called "Sobering Lessons from Georgia Disaster." Rosenberg has been writing for years about the rise of a new Russian empire and what this means for Israel and the Middle East. If you have yet to read his non-fiction book Epicenter, I highly recommend it

A Bit of AIDS-Prevention Advice

Clintonaids_42646t Here's another one for the "you never know" file: Bill Clinton advocates monogamy to prevent AIDS.

"To pretend we can ever get hold of this without dealing with that – the idea of unprotected sexual relations with unlimited numbers of partners – I think would be naïve," he said.

(HT Thunderstruck)

(Image © Getty)

The Fear Factor

Obama_reuters I swore that I wasn't going to do another Obama post. But Sen. Obama's comment a few weeks ago about how Republicans would try to make people afraid of him just keeps nagging at me.

Despite the mainstream media's desire to make the public fall in love with the senator, some of us have legitimate concerns about his background, his associations, and his stance on various issues. I don't need the "Republican machine" to make me afraid of what an Obama presidency could mean for America: Sen. Obama himself is responsible for stirring up my anxiety. After all, he's spent 20 years associating with a racist (Rev. Wright); he has close ties to a Vietnam-era terrorist (William Ayers); and, in his autobiography, he admits that one of the most influential people in his life was a known communist (Frank Marshall Davis). And then there's his rabid pro-abortion stance (NARAL loves this guy). When Sen. Obama rants about "change," I have to wonder what kind of change he means -- and whether that changed America will bear any resemblance to the America our forefathers envisioned.

(Image © Reuters)

No free love

Swingtown02 In today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson talks about CBS's summer series Swingtown, set in the 1970s, and its "tragic illusion" of guilt-free, risk-free extramarital sex.

The New Republic sums up the appeal of Swingtown: “Think of it as a foxy summer fling—except, you know, without the real-life burden of gut-wrenching heartbreak and [disease].”

But such risk-free flings are only an illusion. Maybe Boomers like to look back at those care-free days before the AIDS virus. But even before AIDS, there were unwanted pregnancies, abortion, divorce, shattered families, broken hearts, and ruined lives. But don’t expect the producers of Swingtown to show you that, or to bring up the modern-day explosion of deadly sexually transmitted diseases—like HPV-related throat cancer—that can be traced all the way back to, yes, the sixties and seventies.

CBS may not be mentioning it, but it's making headlines elsewhere. Just this month, an anguished oral cancer patient named Stephen Reynolds wrote in the Reader's Digest:

What is the virus that causes cervical cancer doing in my throat . . . threatening my larynx and my life? According to Dr. [Maura] Gillison and others, the answer goes back to the late 1970s, when the medical community began to notice the spread of HPV. "It is linked to a change in sexual habits," she says simply.

The brutal fact is, because Reynolds had oral sex with multiple partners decades before his young son was born, he may not live to see that son grow up. Tragically, statistics tell us that more and more Boomers are finding themselves in the same position. HPV is not just a danger to young girls anymore.

And it all goes back to that nostalgia-inducing time of free love . . . that wasn't so free after all.

(Image © CBS)

Cheating explained…finally!

Now here’s a truly important finding: Based on a couple of recent studies, college students who score high in tests measuring courage, empathy and…honesty (really!) are less likely to cheat. (I wonder whether this “groundbreaking” research was funded with tax dollars.) Dr. Paul Seagar of the British Psychological Society offered this explanation for non-cheaters:

"These people probably have stronger personalities and are less likely to give into temptation."

Dr. Seagar may want to re-think that. Al Capone’s life of crime was not due to his lack of a “strong” personality, but to his lack of strong moral convictions.

Atrocity of the Day: August 18

Olympicflagcuffs Before I list today's atrocity committed by the Chinese government, two things.

The purpose of this exercise over the past week and the remaining week of the Olympic season is not to show hatred -- and certainly not moral superiority. It's actually precisely an act of love for our neighbors, in this case, the Chinese citizens and those in Tibet and Darfur -- not to mention profound sadness over the grip evil has on the members of the communist government, which they act out in horrific ways against their own countrymen and others, rather than yearn for and support their progress and their good -- that inspires these "Atrocity of the Day" posts. We want to help tear away darkness by shining the light of truth in the forgotten corners of society.

Secondly, a more positive note on the issue: As Chuck mentioned Friday, President Bush has taken a clear stand for religious and political freedom, despite the Chinese government's dismay over his remarks. That's a step in the right direction.

Now, the atrocity we're highlighting today:

Continuing a deceptive image by allowing only state-sanctioned churches -- a facade of religious freedom that is false in every way.

The Point Radio: Shame on Us

"National shame." Those are not the words you hear many politicians willingly associate with abortion....

Click play above to listen.

Gavin Rabinowitz, “India PM Calls Aborted Fetuses Shameful,” Associated Press, 28 April 2008.

Words to Live By

Years ago, a pastor shared this poem with his congregation. As I was preparing a Bible lesson for my Sunday school class this week, the Holy Spirit brought it to my mind, since it was relevant to the lesson on Acts 20 (Paul's farewell address to Christians in Ephesus). What if every Christian in America, and around the world, adopted these words as their own personal creed? Can you imagine how things would change for the better if we sought ways to make these principles a reality? 

I am a disciple of Jesus.
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed.
I have the power of the Holy Spirit.
The die has been cast; I have stepped over the line.
The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His.

I won't look back, let up, slow down, back off, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.
I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

Continue reading "Words to Live By" »

August 16, 2008

Forum update: Abortion statistics challenged

Fox News is reporting that a pro-life organization (I believe it was Americans United for Life) is challenging Sen. Obama's contention that abortions have not gone down under President Bush. I haven't found anything online about that yet. Stay tuned . . .

Update: Blogger Warren Throckmorton has more on the challenge to Obama's statement. Thanks to reader Barbara Yanchek for sending more information (see here and here), based on a study by the Guttmacher Institute, on how abortion rates have indeed gone down during Bush's term.

Saddleback Civil Forum: McCain, part 3

What is worth dying for and committing American lives for?

McCain: Freedom and national security. We must temper that with the ability to cause the outcome we want. We can't right every wrong but we can be a beacon of freedom and hope, like Reagan's "shining city on a hill." We defeated Communism and we can defeat Islamic extremism.

What about genocide in Darfur or mass killings in Georgia?

McCain: We are obligated to stop genocide whenever we can. Brings up Rwanda and Saddleback's efforts there, as well as Cindy's recent visit. We have to do more in Darfur.

What does he want to say about Georgia?

McCain: He's "saddened" by the re-emergence of Russia's desire for empire and trampling on human rights. Mentions Georgia's long Christian history and its president's desire for democracy. Russia must respect Georgia's "territorial integrity." Other European nations are supporting Georgia because they remember Communist rule. The oil pipeline is also a big issue. Keep Georgia in prayer and send humanitarian aid.

What would he do about religious persecution?

McCain: Would use "bully pulpit." Cites Reagan at the Berlin Wall and his stand for his beliefs despite intense opposition. "Our Judeo-Christian principles dictate" that we stand for the oppressed. We have our flaws and failings, but we remain "the most unusual experiment in history."

How would he help orphans? Would he commit to emergency plan for orphans?

McCain: We must make adoption a lot easier in this country. (Applause) His hero Teddy Roosevelt was the first modern American president to talk about this issue. Talks about Cindy's visit to Mother Teresa's orphanage and her coming home with a baby and saying, "Meet your new daughter."

Why does he want to be president?

McCain: Wants to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a greater cause. From the time he was sworn into the Navy, he's always put his country first. America wants hope and optimism and for us to work together across party lines and put our country first. His job is to tell people that he'll be the president of every American, even those who don't vote for him, and he'll always put the country first.

What would he say to people who oppose Warren asking him these questions in a church?

McCain: He'd like to be in every venue in America. Our nation was founded on "Judeo-Christian values and principles." He's happy and honored to be at this church and admires all the good that it does.

McCain finished.

Saddleback Civil Forum: McCain, part 2

Worldview time. "Minefields" again. What does being a Christian mean to him?

McCain: "Means I'm saved and forgiven." Our faith is for not just the USA but the world. Tells the story about the Christian prison guard who showed him mercy when he was being tortured in Vietnam, and drew a cross to show him at Christmas. "For a minute there, there was just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment." (Applause)

When is a baby entitled to human rights?

McCain: "At the moment of conception." (Applause) Has a 25-year pro-life record and "will be a pro-life president." (More applause)

Define marriage.

McCain: "A union between man and woman. Between one man and one woman. That's my definition of marriage." Mentions he wants to talk about judges with regard to abortion; Warren says they'll get to it.

Was the California court wrong on marriage?

McCain: Yes, and he supports preserving status of marriage. He is a federalist and believes in state law; hopes states will recognize unique status of marriage. That doesn't mean there can't be "legal agreements" with rights for all citizens. If federal court tried to make Arizona go along with, say, Massachusetts, he would support a constitutional amendment.

Embryonic stem cell research?

McCain: "For those of us in the pro-life community," great struggle and dilemma. Has been for the research, but hopes the new developments will make it merely "academic."

Does evil exist and what do we do about it (gives the same four options as when he asked Obama)?

McCain: "Defeat it." (Applause) If he becomes president, he will "follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell" and bring him to justice. (Applause) Describes Islamic atrocities. "That is evil . . . and we're gonna defeat this evil." "We are winning . . . and our troops will come home with honor and victory and not in defeat." (Applause)

Which Supreme Court justices would he not have nominated?

McCain: "With all due respect," Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, Stevens. Nominations should be based on "proven record of strictly adhering to the Constitution." (Applause) Alito and Roberts are two of his "most recent favorites." Proud of Bush for nominating them.

Faith-based organizations -- would they have to forfeit federal funds?

McCain: No. It would cripple their ability to do their work. After Katrina, the Resurrection Baptist Church did "tremendous work" with volunteers from all over, including his own church. The recovery wouldn't be happening without them.

Merit pay for teachers?

McCain: Yes, "and find bad teachers another line of work." (Applause) "Choice and competition . . . homeschooling, charter schools, vouchers" -- he wants all American families to have the choice that the McCains and Obamas made, to be able to send their kids to the school they choose. All the options that he's listed work. It's even working in New Orleans. It takes dedicated teachers to make it work. It's "a civil rights issue of the 21st century," because education isn't the opportunity it should be if the school is failing.

On taxes, define "rich."

McCain: "Rich" should be defined by a home, a good job, an education, and an ability to give our children a better world. Doesn't want to take from the rich or participate in class welfare; wants everyone to be able to get rich. "Keep taxes low." Give every family a $7000 tax credit per child, and tax credits for health insurance. But "if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?" (Laughter) We need to keep taxes low and increase revenue. The problem we've been having is out-of-control spending. Gives example of $3 million to study bear DNA in Montana. Cites Congress going on vacation instead of resolving energy problem. Definition of "rich" doesn't matter because he doesn't want to raise anyone's taxes. We need to give American families hope and confidence.

What do we do when right to privacy and national security collide?

McCain: We must preserve privacy because it's a fundamental right (including a secret ballot for union organizers, even though that's a different topic). Technology has gotten much more sophisticated, so we do have to increase our own capability to monitor our enemies. We need Congress and the judiciary both to work on this. But we need to sit down and settle this across party lines. There's a constant tension as technology changes and we have to keep up with it.

Saddleback Civil Forum: John McCain, part 1

Three wisest people he knows that he would rely on heavily in an administration?

McCain: Gen. Petraeus, who's taken us from defeat to victory in Iraq. Saw firsthand how he motivates the troops. John Lewis -- had his skull fractured, continues to serve and inspire. Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay -- "one of the great American success stories." Helpful in these "challenging economic times." Hopes the questions will get easier.

Greatest moral failure for himself and for America?

McCain: "They don't get any easier." The failure of his first marriage for himself. For America, haven't always devoted ourselves to causes outside our self-interest. After 9/11, instead of telling people to go shopping, we should have told them to join Peace Corps, military, etc. to carry out great missions. (Applause) Quotes Warren's book about "This is not about you." "Serve a cause greater than your self-interest."

Example of where he led against his party's interest and his own for the good of America?

McCain: Climate change, spending, torture, but one of the "most trying" was when he was in Congress during Reagan's time, whom he admired (applause), but he felt he had to oppose Reagan on Beirut.

Example of something he's changed his position on in the last ten years?

McCain: Offshore drilling. We have to do it now. (Applause) Can't keep allowing our oil money to end up in terrorist hands. (Applause) Energy is the biggest issue on people's minds and we have to keep trying every way we can, including nuclear.

Most gut-wrenching decision he's ever made?

McCain: In prison camp in North Vietnam. Vietnamese said he could leave early, but that went against military code of conduct, so he said no. They made it tough on him, but he's happier about that than any other decision he's ever made. (Applause) "It took a lot of prayer."

Saddleback Civil Forum: Obama, part 3

"As an American, what's worth dying for? What's worth sacrificing American lives for?"

Obama: "American freedom." Just visited his grandfather's grave and Pearl Harbor and remembered nation's sacrifices. We also have alliances where we have "pledged to act militarily for the common defense."

What would be his criteria for stopping a genocide?

Obama: "No hard and fast line . . . always a judgment call." If we can prevent mass killing and genocide and can work "in concert with the international community to prevent it, then we should act." (Mild applause)

Would he go without UN approval?

Obama: Yes, like in Bosnia -- case had been made that ethnic cleansing was happening.

148 million orphans in the world. A lot of families can't afford to take them. Would he do an emergency plan for orphans as Bush did with AIDS?

Obama: Looked at the idea ahead of time; it's a great idea and something that deserves attention. Also have to prevent more orphans in the first place by building up health care. Praises Bush and Warren on AIDS; PEPFAR has saved lives. (Applause)

What should U.S. do about religious persecution?

Obama: "Bear witness and speak out." Relationship with China, for instance, is complicated. We're trading partners and borrow from them; we don't want military conflict with them, but we still can't ignore the persecution taking place. We need to speak out. Over time, we're setting up new norms and creating a "universal principle" that faith must be protected. "Lead by example." We need religious tolerance here in the U.S., we need to live by rule of law and not engage in torture. (Applause)

How would he do something about human trafficking?

Obama: "This has to be a top priority." We need better tools for prosecuting traffickers. In our own country, thousands are trapped. We also have to speak out internationally and work with other countries on the issue.

Why does he want to be president?

Obama: His mother used to tell him that she would be angry if she ever saw him being mean or unfair; she wanted him to learn empathy. That's what makes America special, "that notion that everybody's got a shot." He wants to promote the "American dream" where we take care of everyone who needs it, and fears it's slipping away. "Our politics is so broken" that we can't get things done. He thinks he can "build bridges" across divisions. (Applause)

What does he say to people who oppose Warren asking these questions?

Obama: "These are the kinds of forums we need." (Applause) People of faith believe that things will work out and we'll get the president that we need. Wants people to know him (and believes McCain wants that too) and thinks people will make good decisions.

What would he tell the American people if he knew that there would be no repercussions?

Obama: Solving big problems, like the energy problem and climate change, won't be easy. It won't be free and takes sacrifice, just like the sacrifices his grandparents' generation made.

Obama finished. Sen. McCain is brought out greets Warren and Obama together -- first time together onstage in the race, according to commentators. McCain up after break.   

Saddleback Civil Forum: Obama, part 2

Warren: People sent in about 200,000 questions about worldview. They're going to cover some of the "minefields." What does having faith in Christ mean to him?

Obama: "Jesus Christ died for my sins" and has redeemed him. He doesn't walk alone. His sins will be washed away. Also means "a sense of obligation" -- "acting justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God." Gives him confidence despite knowing he'll make mistakes.

Forty million abortions since Roe. Complex issue that Warren has to deal with all the time. At what point does a baby get human rights?

Obama: Theological perspective or scientific perspective, "answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade." There's a moral and ethical element. "I am pro-choice . . . not because I'm pro-abortion," but because women don't make these decisions "casually." They consult pastors, spouses, doctors, family members. The question is, how do we reduce the number of abortions? Abortions have not gone down under Bush.

Ever voted to reduce?

Obama: In favor of limits on late-term with mother's health exception. Pro-lifers would consider that inadequate. He respects their views. "If you believe that life begins at conception . . . I can't argue with you on that." But we can work together to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Provide resources that help women make the choice to keep a child.

Define "marriage."

Obama: "Union between a man and a woman." (Applause) "For me as a Christian it's also a sacred union. God's in the mix."

Support constitutional amendment with that definition?

Obama: No. (More applause) It's always been "a matter of state law." Some people are concerned about same-sex marriage. He doesn't believe in SSM, but he does believe in civil unions so that gay partners aren't deprived of benefits/"civil rights." His own marriage and faith are strong enough that he can afford that for others.

Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research?

Obama: Legislation vetoed by the president had tight restrictions; only discarded embryos could have been used. He thinks that it is "a legitimate moral approach to take." If opportunity arises, we should "go ahead." But if adult stem cells work as well, we should avoid the controversy. "Broader point": people in favor of embryonic research don't want to do it on purpose to destroy embryos; they don't want human cloning or "diminishing the sacredness of human life." It's not inappropriate as long as they're not being designed for that.

Does evil exist? Do we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it?

Obama: We see evil all the time, from Darfur to our own cities. It has to be confronted. Only God can erase it from the world, but we can be "soldiers." We have to have humility in the effort. Even if we think we're doing good, that's not necessarily true.

Which existing Supreme Court justice would he not have nominated? (Big "oooh" from audience)

Obama: Clarence Thomas. (Mild applause) Not a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time; disagrees with many of his interpretations. Would not nominate Scalia, even though he's brilliant, because they disagree.

John Roberts?

Obama: That's a tougher one -- clearly smart and thoughtful, but he has done things Obama doesn't agree with while on the Court, like being "too willing and eager to give an administration . . . more power than I think the Constitution originally intended."

Would he insist that faith-based organizations forfeit federal funds?

Obama: Made a speech promoting faith-based initiatives. Used to work with churches himself in Chicago and knows the power of these institutions "to get stuff done." "They are always free to hire whoever they want when it comes to their own mission . . . but . . . when it comes to the programs that are federally funded, then we do have to be careful to" avoid discrimination. "That's not new." Not even usually an issue because people are careful about using the funds. But sometimes it raises tough questions.

In, say, Katrina relief, could Warren hire only Christians with federal money?

Obama: "The devil's in the details." These organizations should have a "level playing field," but as a general principle, federal funds should not be used to discriminate.

Does he believe in merit pay for teachers?

Obama: "We should set up a system of performance pay for teachers," worked out with teachers themselves. Reward excellence. (Applause)

For tax purposes, define "rich."

Obama: "If you've got book sales of 25 million . . ." (Laughter) If you make $150,000 or less as a family, you're middle-class (depending on where you live). If you're making more than $250,000, you're probably doing well. It's all relative. If we want good schools, good roads, and less debt, we have to pay for them. (Mild applause) Irresponsible for us to spend $10 billion a month on a war and not have a way to pay for it. (Applause) He pays a lot of taxes himself, and no one likes it, but if you're middle class, you'll see a tax cut; if you're wealthier, you'll have a modest increase. He wants it more balanced, fairer, and simpler.

Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency: Barack Obama, part 1

Sen. Obama is up first.

First issue: Leadership.

Who are the three wisest people he knows and who will he rely on?

Obama: Michelle -- someone who can tell him when he blows it. His grandmother -- "grounded, common sense, no fuss, no frills kind of person."

Re: presidency, would listen to people like Sam Nunn, Dick Lugar on foreign policy; on domestic, everyone from Ted Kennedy to Tom Coburn. A lot of different viewpoints should be represented.

Greatest moral failures for him and for the nation?

Obama: Drugs, drinking, selfishness in his youth; needed to learn "it's not about me." Tries to protect himself instead of doing God's work. America's greatest moral failure in his lifetime is that "we still don't abide by that basic precept . . . that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me." Applies to poverty, racism, sexism, lack of opportunities.

When has he gone against party loyalty for the good of America?

Obama: Worked with McCain on campaign ethics reform/finance reform; not in either of their interests, but improved things. Also, opposed decision to go into war in Iraq.

What's the most significant position that he's "flipped" on in the past ten years?

Obama: Welfare reform. Initially thought it could be disastrous, but it worked better than anticipated. "We have to have work as a centerpiece of any social policy." It provides not just income but also purpose.

Most gut-wrenching decision he ever made?

Obama: Opposition to the war in Iraq; bad situation, "Saddam Hussein was a real bad person," but not enough evidence and not enough knowledge of what the results would be.

Next section: They'll talk about worldview.

August 15, 2008

Daily roundup

Tune in tomorrow for candidates’ religious forum

Warren_saddleback In this profile of Pastor Rick Warren, TIME magazine examines his role in tomorrow's civil forum with the presidential candidates:

A more cautious figure than Warren might have passed on the opportunity to become a political lightning rod. But he has spent the past few years positioning himself for just such a role as a suprapolitical, supracreedal arbiter of public virtues and religious responsibilities. Unlike some other conservative religious leaders during this long election season, he has remained conspicuously neutral on candidates. When he pushed to "unstick" an earlier stalled attempt to get John McCain and Barack Obama together, he did so by sending a personal "Let's do it" e-mail to each of them. The payoff is the Aug. 16 event, a kind of coronation for the 54-year-old, jovially hyperactive preacher. "It's remarkable. The candidates are according him tremendous status," says William Martin, author of the definitive biography of Billy Graham, A Prophet with Honor. "I don't see them doing it with an Episcopal bishop or a Cardinal — or another Evangelical."

More articles on Warren and how he's achieved his leading role in the nation's religious and political discourse are here and here. (Thanks to Martha, Catherine, and my dad for sending these in.) And don't miss TIME's sidebar article in which both presidential candidates offer a preview of what we might hear tomorrow about their faith, and about how it intersects with their lives and politics.

The civil forum will be held tomorrow at 5 p.m. Pacific Time (or 8 p.m. Eastern for those who, like me, have trouble figuring out time zones.) You can watch it live online, or on CNN or Fox News. And I'll be liveblogging it, so be sure to drop by The Point tomorrow night.

(Image © Robert Gallagher for TIME)