Pro-Life Lite: Ben Shapiro on the Death of Grandma

I am old enough to remember the conservative outrage over nonexistent death panels in the Affordable Care Act. I am even old enough to remember the outrage over CO Governor Richard Lamm’s pronouncement that terminally ill have a duty to die and not use resources younger people could better use. And because I am so old, I am not enamored with Ben Shapiro’s (on the right below) reasoning here. Watch:

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the unseemly elements of some who call themselves pro-life. I have written recently about R.R. Reno and his view of society as excluding the old and medically compromised.

I have no problem with disagreements over logistics of social distancing and suppression efforts. In fact, the “lockdown” hasn’t been a complete lockdown of all economic activity. States are starting to relax some of their restrictions as more is learned about the virus and as the earlier efforts are paying off.

We also now know that the elderly and nursing homes need special attention. What is amazing to me is that the conservative, pro-life folks haven’t been on top of that. If anything, when questions of life versus standard of living comes up, you get this utilitarian garbage such as Shapiro is promoting.

We really can have public policy that takes care of everybody. We are talking about a comparison of death versus temporary limitations in mobility and standard of living. There are legitimate discussions to have about the human costs of unemployment and access to human services. Given the money being redistributed by politicians, those needs can be met and still take care of people vulnerable to COVID-19. However, public policy that can walk and chew gum is apparently too hard and complex for what passes as today’s conservative leaders.

I’ll Be Home for Easter

Literally, I will be home for Easter. My wife and I will be watching our church service on the television in our living room. I’ll miss seeing my brothers and sisters at church, but Easter will happen and God will be fine with it.

Some Christian pastors are not happy about this, and some Christians are stirring up a ruckus. For example, the president of the Claremont (CA) Institute, Ryan Williams, appears to be calling for civil disobedience.

I don’t understand the problem. I am naturally a skeptic and don’t like being ordered around, but I really like breathing. Taking rational precautions to avoid COVID-19 just seems smart. I can tell the difference between an arbitrary usurpation of my natural rights and a situational one in a crisis.

The Common Good 1918 Style

In 1918, the people of Claremont, CA apparently didn’t mind putting the common good ahead of their rights. With just a little bit of searching, I found this clipping from the October 26 edition of the Pomona Bulletin Sun.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, churches all over the U.S. closed. There were some clergy who complained but here is a truth: closing churches didn’t lead to a loss of religious rights. It was temporary and a benefit to all citizens. Christianity survived; some might say it thrived.

Some might protest, “But Easter?” Well, Easter is an important day in Christianity to be sure. But Christians aren’t supposed to worry about how we keep “holy days.” The book of Colossians tells us, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (2:16).

In my tradition, I get no more grace or credit for going to church on Easter than any other day. The first Easter the grave was empty. This year our church will be pretty empty too. But that’s okay. If He is taking attendance, God can keep track of where we all are.

On the Constitutional question, legal scholar Jonathan Turley opined today that the state has the right to halt church gatherings temporarily. I agree that the state has a compelling interest in stopping the spread of the virus and has not singled out religion or any particular church. The edicts are temporary, impose no permanent harm on churches, and do not prevent other means of worship (e.g., online). Although untested, I agree with Turley that the courts would likely uphold the orders to close.

But I really cringe to hear about churches taking things to that extreme. Christians are not of this world, but we are in it. And if we are going to do any good in it, we shouldn’t put our desire to meet for a church service over the good of our neighbors.

Addendum:

The technology of 1918 was the local newspaper and pastors used the papers to communicate with their congregations. The Pomona Bulletin Sun (11/3/1918) gave local pastors space to give greetings to their flock at home.

I appreciate this winsome word from Methodist preacher Walter Buckner:

 

On R.R. Reno’s Faulty History

In a widely criticized essay on current state imposed social distancing, First Things editor R.R. Reno said the following about social reaction to the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic:

More than one hundred years ago, Americans were struck by a terrible flu pandemic that affected the entire world. Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends.

After insisting that Americans of 1918 understood methods of quarantine, Reno suggests they just didn’t care.

Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

Although surely some churches worshiped, some games were played and some gatherings were held, these paragraphs and the contrast between now and then is grossly inaccurate. It is so irresponsibly misleading that Reno and First Things should retract the piece or at the least issue a public correction.

The Spanish Flu Pandemic

The Spanish Flu pandemic claimed 50+million lives world-wide in 1918. It was highly contagious and was particularly hard on young people. It is well documented that Philadelphia was particularly hard hit because city leaders did not quarantine their citizens whereas other towns around the country (e.g., St; Louis, Columbus) did so and experienced a much lower death rate.

However, is Reno correct that outside of those famous cases, life went on as normal? Did citizens bow their heads “before the storm of disease?” The definitive book on the pandemic is John Barry’s The Great Influenza, but it is relatively easy to find evidence that Reno is wrong on all counts. Below is some of that evidence.

Worship

Today some churches are meeting. Would Reno say that we are bowing our heads against the storm of disease? Obviously not, his problem is that are cancellations at all.

In 1918, church services were canceled in cities large and small due to the virus. For instance, Evanston, IL closed just about everything in October, 1918 in response to a growing number of flu cases.

Little Urich, MO closed everything including churches during the second wave of the epidemic.

In Columbus, OH, a minister’s council advised churches to close in response to the orders from the State Board of Health.

On Oct. 11, 1918, the State Board of Health ordered all theaters, schools and churches closed and banned public funerals.

The Columbus Citizen reported that “Columbus Ministerial Council has requested of all churches that they close doors and not debate whether or not the order applies.”

From Nashville, to Dallas, to Worcester churches closed even though some pastors didn’t like it.

Football

Reno is also wrong about football. There was no professional football league yet. In fact, one can make a case that the flu pandemic delayed the development of a professional league until 1920. There was interest in forming a league and people played professionally, but games were postponed due to the flu. For instance, this article in the October 15, 1918 edition of the Akron Evening Times shows that pro football had to be put aside for awhile.

High school and college football also suffered due to bans on crowds and playing in games. Far fewer college games were played (704 in 1917 v. 394 in 1918) on account of WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic). While it is true that the season was not completely canceled, it is not true that the people of the time plugged on as if death and illness was inevitable. A sports columnist from the Baltimore Sun lamented the impact of the flu on the gridiron.

High school games were also canceled due to the quarantine as in Wichita, KS.

Social Distancing

I hope it is apparent that the people of 1918 are a lot like the people of 202o. Some now don’t see the need to socially distance and some then didn’t either. However, that doesn’t mean the people of 1918 didn’t do so. Just a few more examples should demonstrate how Reno’s history is so far off.

All over the nation, social gatherings, churches, sporting events, etc. were canceled. Health officials took their responsibilities seriously and issued warnings and orders, just like now, and hoped their fellow citizens would have the good sense to do what was right. Just like now.

Reno and First Things have abused their platform in a very significant way. Of course, Reno is entitled to his view of life and death. However, using faulty history is beneath First Things and it should be corrected.

Additional information:

Many other cities closed schools, churches, and various social gatherings during the pandemic. For reference, I am going to list links to additional resources describing contradictions to Reno’s claims.

Minneapolis-St. Paul closed schools, churches, and businesses off and on throughout the pandemic.

Also in MN, Bemidji’s mayor ordered all public gatherings, including churches, to close during October of 1918.

Los Angeles shut down schools, churches, and other public gatherings for seven weeks.

Winston-Salem, NC shut down schools, churches, and theaters in October, 1918.

Tacoma and Pullyup, WA closed public gatherings from early October through November.

Nebraska’s state government ordered the closure of “schools, churches, places of entertainment, and public gatherings” in early October.

Other cities that closed down various public meetings spaces include: Houston, Chicago, Aspen COBaltimore.

The House and Senate closed their public galleries during October 1918.

 

 

 

 

Is There a Pro-Life Call to Death?

My title question is odd. I know it. However, it occurred to me as I considered two offerings from ostensibly pro-life sources. One is an interview with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; the other a truly stunning article in First Things by editor R.R. Reno.

Let me start with Reno’s ode to death. Reno quarrels with N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo for his zeal to — of all things — save a life. Reno complains:

At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of “saving lives.”

“The false god of ‘saving lives”? Where am I? I thought I was reading First Things.

As it turns out, I was reading First Things which then turned into Worst Things. Reno follows up with gems like:

There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost.

In our simple-minded picture of things, we imagine a powerful fear of death arises because of the brutal deeds of cruel dictators and bloodthirsty executioners. But in truth, Satan prefers sentimental humanists.

Just so, the mass shutdown of society to fight the spread of COVID-19 creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere.

Reno is not happy that the Governor is taking extreme measures to limit the spread of the virus. Apparently, saving lives at the cost of temporary restrictions on social gatherings and corporate worship is too high a price for Reno. In Reno’s view, putting others ahead of self is no longer noble altruism but rather demonic sentimentality.

There is a lot wrong with this article, including some faulty history. In it, Reno says Americans during the Spanish Flu epidemic took no social distancing measures as we are doing now.

Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends.

To the contrary, it is well documented that the leaders in St. Louis shut down schools, theaters, and other establishments to keep the flu from spreading. Leaders in other cities, such as Philadelphia, did not, and the population of that city suffered more deaths and disease as a result. People lived in St. Louis because of those decisions. We should learn from their experience.

Reno ends with his version of “Don’t Fear the Reaper:”

Fear of death and causing death is pervasive—stoked by a materialistic view of survival at any price and unchecked by Christian leaders who in all likelihood secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age.

While I understand that we are not to fear death, I am stunned that Reno says the fear of “causing death” is “stoked” by materialism. I absolutely should avoid causing the death of another. If I should not fear causing another’s death, then there is no basis for a pro-life movement at all. I can’t believe Reno actually thought this through.

On this very point, now consider the Lt. Gov. of Texas Dan Patrick

It sure seems like he’s saying that granny and granddad are expendable if the economy would be better off by putting their lives at risk. The tweet below says it well.

If demonic materialism is making an appearance in 2020, it is in the suggestion that the old and physically vulnerable are expendable. If the economy suffers too much, the weak have to die. According to Reno, we can’t worry about “causing death;” in fact, it is demonic to worry about it.

Remember when conservatives falsely claimed that Obama wanted to kill grandma via death panels? There were no death panels in the Affordable Care Act, but conservatives used the threat of the government deciding to ration care to the young and away from grandparents to bash ACA. Now, conservative are embracing the idea.

These assertions are moments of clarity and require us to reassert the fundamental dignity of all people, even those who are old, weak, and without stock portfolio.

After I wrote this, I came across this tweet from the indefatigable Hunter Crowder.

Perhaps, my readers can help him. I have been around these parts awhile and I can’t think of any articles like that.

COVID-19 Information and Open Forum

Coronavirus information is everywhere so I want to list a few resources that I am using and want to get all in one place.

The website I am checking most is 1Point3Acres. This site has real time updates of new cases in the U.S. and Canada and all states and provinces. There are links to sources for all claims and links to the health departments of every state. The computer engineers staffing this site have been diligent in their work to keep it up to date.

Johns Hopkins University has a worldwide map of cases and deaths. The JHU resource center page is full of information on the virus.

Our World in Data tracks the growth of cases in most countries where the virus has appeared.

Although not as helpful as the JHU site, I should also mention the CDC website.

Trump dissolved the office for Global Health in the National Security Council which would have coordinated an early strategy. He now takes no responsibility for his actions.

Feel free to add additional links in the comments section. We are inching closer to a shutdown (announced more tightening here in PA today) so we all might have more time to read and comment.

Desiring God and Mental Health: Name It Claim It for Your Brain (UPDATED)

Update at the end of the post…
Last week, I wrote about Kenneth and Gloria Copeland who think you can speak cures for PTSD and the flu. Today, I present a different form of name it claim it – John Piper’s Desiring God and anti-mirror therapy for mental health. Earlier today, Desiring God tweeted:


Repeat after me: Mental health is health. Mental illness is illness. Brain is body.
I suspect John Piper would cringe to think he has something in common with the Copelands but turning mental health into a spiritual fruit is in that ballpark.
Copeland says soldiers can get rid of their PTSD with a dose of Scripture. Desiring God prescribes a spiritual refocus as if those who are mentally healthy are spiritually sound.
Perhaps I am sensitive to this message due to my clinical experience with Christians. I have seen the damaging effects of messages like this and know how Christians with mental health diagnoses hear this.
Tweets like the one from Desiring God reinforce the misconception that mental health conditions can be overcome by willpower or positive thinking. Those who struggle have to deal with their illness and the stigma from those in the church who spiritualize their illness. Although beyond the scope of this post, an important issue is that, generally speaking, evangelicals have not grappled with the reality of brain as body. Consciousness arises from brain and does not reside in a spiritual substance independent of body. Like it or not, if you don’t deal with this, I don’t think you understand who we are as human beings. Knock out certain parts of our brain and we become different people. I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon or Sunday school series on the religious significance of our brains.
Some people using the Tweet advice will find comfort because they have positive associations in their brains to images of God which might take their minds off a negative personal preoccupation. However, someone else with different brain chemistry and history may not make the same associations. They may try to work their brains in the same way, but due to something out of their conscious control, their feelings do not respond in the same way. They do not and cannot find mental health no matter how long they stop staring in the mirror.
When those who don’t succeed with anti-mirror therapy go to church, they feel even worse because their faith is questioned. They are told, even if subtly or indirectly, that they don’t have enough faith. If they just believed harder or put God first, or dealt with the sin in their lives, then the advice would work.
Last year, a friend of mine wrote about the frustration of depression:

Occasionally, bouts of depression are triggered by obvious catalysts, like losing a job or loved one or some kind of overt trauma. Often, though, nothing is “wrong”. We’re not upset or sad or angry or stressed about anything particular, but our body is deploying hormones as though we’re being attacked.
It is these episodes that are most frustrating to the friends and family of people who have depression; they don’t know what to do to help because there’s seemingly nothing wrong. The victims of those moments find it doubly frustrating, as a silent, crushing dread slowly bears down on our souls, challenging us to find a name for it.

This frustration is compounded by Christians conflating mental health with spiritual status. If the Desiring God tweet had said enlightenment or satisfaction or something other than mental health would come from staring at God’s beauty, that would be fine. I hope John Piper and his crew will pull that tweet and clarify that they are not the Copelands.
 
UPDATE (2/6/18): Not long after I published this article, Desiring God posted the following Tweet:


The link is to a 2007 tribute by John Piper to Clyde Kilby. This follow up tweet is confusing because the original tweet which aroused so much reaction isn’t found in the 2007 article. The closest statement to it is this statement attributed to Kilby by Piper:

Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.

This isn’t at all what Desiring God originally tweeted. The “remedies of God in nature” could easily refer to medication or therapy or an experience in nature. Since Piper quoted it approvingly I don’t really know what Kilby meant. In any case, I am less concerned with the Kilby article and more concerned with the spin engaged in by whoever is running the Twitter account at Desiring God.

Gloria Copeland: Jesus Gave Us the Flu Shot

Since October 2017, over 2300 Texans have died due to the flu. In the face of that fact, Gloria Copeland, wife of word of faith preacher Kenneth Copeland, took to Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ Facebook page yesterday to declare that there is no flu season.

Although she doesn’t explicitly say ‘don’t get a flu shot,’ it certainly sounds like she wants her hearers to trust Jesus instead of getting a shot. In the video, she says:

We’ve already had out shot. He bore out sicknesses and carried our diseases. That’s what we stand on. And by His stripes, we are healed.

After she prays for healing for every person with the flu, she says:

Jesus Himself gave us the flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of flu. And we receive it and we take it and we are healed by His stripes.

At the end of the talk, she says to “inoculate yourself with the Word of God.”
She also used the video to sell an upcoming “healing seminar.”

It’s NOT flu season! Yes, you heard it right. The flu is NOT a season we have around here because Jesus bore ALL our sickness on the cross. This includes the flu! If you’re overcoming the flu right now, listen in as Gloria prays for YOU! Are you believing for a miracle in your health? Join us for Miracles on the Mountain, Feb. 16-17 with Healing Evangelist Billy Burke. Admission is FREE. Learn more and register here: kcm.org/miracles18.

This is probably tame, run of the mill advice for a faith healing ministry. However, it is so obviously fake and irresponsible to direct people away from flu shots. And it isn’t the first time that Copeland’s teachings have been implicated in discouraging vaccines.
On Kenneth Copeland’s website, you can find 10 verses to help you take a stand against the flu. No advice to see a doctor or get a flu shot can be found.
The flu is at high level nationally and if you haven’t had a flu shot, go get one. And that includes you Gloria.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Allowing Counselors To Refer Based On Counselor's "Sincerely Held Principles"

Previously, I posted a link to a Tennessee bill which gives permission to counselors to refer clients over conflicts with a counselor’s “sincerely held beliefs.”
Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law. His reasoning was summarized in a statement after he signed the bill:

The following is the Gov. Haslam’s statement on Senate Bill 1556 (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf):
“Although Senate Bill 1556 has received attention for its perceived focus, my job is to look at the actual substance of the legislation. After considerable thought and discussion with counselors both for and against the bill, I have decided to sign Senate Bill 1556. There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy,” Haslam said.
“The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors – just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers – to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs.”
The bill was signed by the speakers on April 13 and transmitted to the governor for action on April 15.
The bill language is available at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf.

While I appreciate the amendments requiring care in cases of homicidal or suicidal risk, I don’t support this bill. This bill allows discriminatory actions toward anyone, including religious people, based on a vague condition of a counselor’s conflict involving “sincerely held principles.” While I believe some conflicts could be so great that a referral would be the best course of action in the immediate situation, this bill points counselors in another direction. For mental health care to be fully integrated with health care, a value of treating all people is required. I don’t want a health care system where providers are allowed to delay care based on personal disagreements with patients. I do think providers should be allowed to decline performing certain treatments (e.g., abortion, hypnosis, EMDR, etc.) but I don’t think a referral based on personal disagreement should be the norm in health care.
 

Ted Cruz Says No Gluten Free Meals for Soldiers – What? (UPDATED)

CNN is reporting that Ted Cruz opposes gluten free meals for solders:

“That’s why the last thing any commander should need to worry about is the grades he is getting from some plush-bottomed Pentagon bureaucrat for political correctness or social experiments — or providing gluten-free MREs,” Cruz said, using the shorthand term for Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

As one who has celiac disease, I am flabbergasted that Cruz picks on soldiers with gluten-insensitivity and celiac disease in an effort to seem tough. I hope some reporter follows up and asks Cruz if he believes celiac disease is a real thing.
Perhaps, I shouldn’t be too surprised since Cruz is advised by a guy who thinks PTSD can be cured by Bible verses.
Celiac support groups weigh in:

Patheos Links of Interest: Kirk Franklin, Anxious Bench, Godless in Dixie, Stacy Dash, Kyle Roberts

Reading an Anxious Bench post by Thomas Kidd, it occurred to me that Patheos is a very diverse site. With that in mind, I decided to go exploring. Here I am going to post some links I found interesting. I am not recommending everything said by these authors but am posting them because I think they might be of interest to readers.
Should Evangelicals Embrace the “Benedict Option”? Well, should they/we?
We Love Close Calls… Until They Happen to Us – Nice devotional post on waiting through hard times by Kirk Franklin. Wait, what? Kirk Franklin blogs at Patheos?! Nice.
I Was Wrong – Stacy Dash apologized for her defense of Bill Cosby.
Stop Saying that Teaching Children Creationism is Child Abuse – A good one from the Atheist channel’s Neil Carter.
“Can We Go Home, Now?” My Mom, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Our Longing for Home Kyle Roberts on the Progressive channel writes a truly touching reflection on his mom’s wish to go home.
I hope to go exploring more often…