Jun 2 2014

Hear Me Roar!

Around 1 BC, a lovely fellow by the name of Hilarion writes a letter to his pregnant wife Alis:

I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child, if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.

This is a reference to the very common practice of exposure in ancient Greece and Rome. Fathers favored bouncing baby boys; girls and sickly boys, not so much.

Romulus and Remus

Infanticide played a central role in Rome’s founding myth. Twins Romulus and Remus are thrown into the River Tiber by their great uncle, survive, and are raised by a wolf [credit: CellarDoor85/Wikimedia].

Exposure was was not always fatal. A few infants were picked up and sold to be raised as slaves, beggars, prostitutes, and gladiators. A fortunate few might have been adopted into good families.

Ancient writers took special note of practices that went beyond the norms of Greco-Roman culture. Aristotle observes that Jews rear all their children, not just the ones they want. Josephus makes exactly the same point four centuries later when he defends the Jewish way of life against its pagan critics.

In this tiny snapshot of family life we see a truly staggering difference between the prevailing pagan worldview and the Biblical worldview. The Hebrew Scriptures show a deep respect for family and children. Adam and Eve are instructed to be “fruitful and multiply” (Ge. 1:28). The Mosaic Law specifies penalties for babies who are harmed by violence (Ex. 21:22-25). Josiah is marked out as a good king for cracking down on child sacrifice (2 Ki. 23:10).

Naturally, as Jews converted to Christianity, they brought these Biblical values into the early church. It is hard to imagine that they would countenance the practice of exposure among their Gentile brethren. The New Testament builds on this respect for children. Jesus shows compassion for children (Mt. 19:13-15). Fathers are warned against inciting anger in their children (Eph. 6:4). And, most of all, the nativity accounts of Jesus show that life begins at conception and never depends for its value on the judgment of men—neither betrothed husband Joseph nor murderous King Herod.

These attitudes must have had a profound effect on pagan women who came into contact with Christianity. As a man, I can hardly put myself in their position. Even so, it must have been heart breaking for a woman to carry a child to term and give birth, only to be told that her beautiful baby daughter is to be discarded because she is (like her mother) “only” female.

Christians not only had a different view of children, they had a different view of men. There was no double standard on sexual behavior: men were just as accountable as women (Heb. 13:4). Divorce was limited and rare (Matt. 19:9). Although husbands were the head of the family, they were expected to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). They were to treat their wives as fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).

Early Christianity was pro-life across the board and so, in a very real sense, pro-women. Sadly, the benefits for women declined over time, for two important reasons. First, church interests became increasingly entangled in state interests. As the imperial church came to mirror the world, it lost its distinctive appeal to society’s most vulnerable groups. And second, theologians began to develop views on marriage and women that flatly contradicted Biblical teaching (which Paul anticipated in 1 Tim. 4:1-3). Priests, forbidden from marriage, would simply avail themselves of concubines which, by the way, were a vestige of pagan Rome.

Some might argue that the modern state now protects the interests of women and children to a degree that the early church never could. Even if the average Christian woman of the 1st century was better off than her pagan neighbor, she would still have to submit to her husband at home and to male authority figures within the church. This continues to get under the skin of radical feminists, which is why they will always push for more state involvement in marriage, family, and faith.

Feminists have all but won the culture war on this front. “I am woman, hear me roar,” right? And yet, when we look at the price of victory—abortion (the new child sacrifice), divorce, homosexuality, population decline in the West (just like the Roman Empire in its waning years), sex selection (biased against girl babies in many cultures), legalized prostitution, sexual promiscuity, rampant STDs, cohabitation (the new concubinage), men avoiding marriage, etc., etc.—we have to wonder whether winning the culture war simply amounts to winning back the pagan past.

Is that a good thing? Are we, as a society, better off for all of that? And especially, are women and children really better off now that the radical feminists have everything they ever wanted, and more?

[A version of this article appeared originally in Think magazine, January 2013, p. 19.]


May 13 2012

fiscus Christianus

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Romans added insult to injury by turning the Temple Tax into the Jewish Tax (the infamous fiscus Judaicus). The half-shekel that was originally offered to the Lord’s sanctuary (Exodus 30:13) was now being sent to Jupiter’s temple in Rome. Jews were required to pay this tax on top of all the regular Roman taxes.

As you can probably imagine, the Jewish community resented every denarius that found its way into the coffers of their pagan oppressors. The Jews of Palestine, in particular, honed their passive-aggressive evasion of taxes into a fine art.[1] We see a glimpse of this simmering hostility in Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew 22. The Lord’s response on that occasion became the definitive Christian view: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Christians believe in paying their taxes, but this doesn’t mean they like where the money is going. They have long objected to federal funding of abortions, and the idea of using tax money to support “spouses” of homosexual public employees seems no less odious.

On a broader level, Christians have a strong track record of giving to the local church and church-related organizations, and so are often ambivalent to government spending on social services. Critics complain that these donations do not represent real charity. Giving money to the church, they insist, is like paying a club membership fee, and has little to do with housing the homeless or feeding the poor. Except that it does. As Albert Brooks has observed from extensive survey data, religious people are “more charitable in every nonreligious way—including secular donations, informal giving, and even acts of kindness and honesty—than secularists.”[2]

In my view, tax-supported funding of materialistic science comes closer than anything else to a kind of fiscus Christianus. Following the triumph of Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, major universities, museums, and research institutes succeeded in marginalizing people of faith. Striking evidence of this coup shows up in the ranks of the National Academy of Sciences. According to one poll conducted in the late 1990s, only 7% of NAS members profess a “personal belief” in God.[3]

Charles Darwin coin

"Render therefore unto Darwin the things are Darwin's." The Royal Mint of Britain issued a two-pound coin in 2009 to celebrate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth.

Meanwhile, the dissidents are suppressed at every turn. Caroline Crocker earned her Ph.D. in immunopharmacology and had an outstanding teaching reputation before losing her job at George Mason University. Her plight was featured in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, but this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are countless unpublicized stories of discrimination against Darwin dissenters and religious conservatives.

Being hounded out of a job is only part of the story. Billions of tax dollars are committed every year to support Big Bang cosmology, evolutionary biology, and other pursuits of materialistic science.

Christians have been asked through their tax dollars to fund missions to Mars because it is inconceivable that life could have evolved only on Earth. Ditto for funding of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). They have been asked to fund museum exhibits that portray the story of human evolution. They have been asked to fund large-scale physics experiments that promise to tell us how something could have come from nothing. In other words, the very same people who are obligated by God to pay their taxes are the very same people who are expected to fund the Temple of Darwin’s outreach efforts.

Thankfully, the Darwinian-industrial complex doesn’t always get what it asks for. The Superconducting Super Collider was supposed to find the Higgs boson – what Leon Lederman dubbed the “God particle” in his 1993 book of the same name. It was cancelled when cost projections climbed to the $12 billion mark, but only after researchers spent two billion dollars on a boondoggle now littering the Texas countryside.

Meanwhile, students seeking relief from the materialist worldview and its sordid consequences must pay a premium to attend a private, church-affiliated school. If they choose instead to attend a public university they will feel decidedly unwelcome in a variety of subject areas, and will have their views silenced by campus-wide speech codes.

Opportunities may be limited at the next academic level, as well. Graduate counseling students who are morally opposed to homosexuality have been required to spend extra time and money on changing their religiously-deluded minds. Eugene Volokh, of the UCLA Law School, calls this a “viewpoint-based tax.”[4]

So although there is no fiscus Christianus as such, at least not officially, Christians are still being made to support a system that is institutionally opposed to their faith.

Many Christians call or write their representatives when moral issues are at stake: abortion, homosexual “marriage,” or what have you. But how many write to object to the funding of materialistic science? How many have looked into the cost of these projects? How many have wondered whether their favorite public university supports the First Amendment?[5] Maybe it’s time to start.

[A version of this article appeared originally in Think magazine, April 2012, as “The Tax on Being a Christian,” p. 8.]

 


[1] Menachem Elon, “Taxation: Legal Aspects,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2007, 19:535.

[2] Albert C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. New York: Basic Books, 2006, p. 38.

[3] Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, “Leading Scientists Still Reject God,” Nature, 1998, 394:313.

[4] Eugene Volokh, Brief of FIRE and NAS as Amicus Curiae in support of Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, et al., October 19, 2010.

[5] The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education keeps a database of speech restrictions at http://thefire.org/.


Jul 1 2009

A Strange Land

Although we often associate Medieval Europe with feudalism, there were pockets of republicanism on the margins and in the mountains. These communities retained some independence from the empires that encroached upon their lands. A classic case in point is Switzerland. In 1291, representatives from three republics assembled on the field of Rutli to sign a covenant uniting them against Austrian imperial control. Other city states and regions joined the Swiss Confederation over the ensuing centuries.

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Nov 1 2007

Is God a Capitalist?

[tab:Faith in the Free Markets]

Faith in the Free Markets

The Soviet Union ceased to exist at 12:00pm on December 21st, 1991. As President Reagan might have put it, the Evil Empire had fallen. It is very tempting, especially from a Western perspective, to see God’s providence at work in this stunning series of events. Nations in the former Eastern bloc, as well as Russia itself, moved quickly to adopt freer markets. Capitalism won; communism lost. Does this mean that God loves capitalism and hates communism?

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Nov 1 2006

Gambling, Smoking, and Stem Cells

Last Sunday night I was overly cautious in saying that a church could not recommend voting one way or another on ballot issues. Actually, according to a Fact Sheet published by the IRS, “501(c)(3) organizations may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office.”{1} If a congregation wants to hang on to its non-profit status, it must stay away from opposing or promoting any particular candidate. The church, however, can still talk about important issues. So I would like to be more specific about the items I mentioned on Sunday, and add a third issue that seems to crop up every voting season.

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