Sex for Sale, Kids for Sale, Sex with Kids for Sale (Bad News Week,2)

Yesterday was the start of a series looking at bad news and asking what the good news has to say about it. It’s sobering to actually think about what happens in our very own land–and most of us would prefer to remain intoxicated on spiritual highs than to reach into the pits where real people are suffering in a living hell. And yes, that includes the highs of living and working in the relative security of the academy. This writer gets that. If the problem of drug doesn’t get one thinking a little about the plight of others, let’s look at another, as described by the same source as yeaterday’s info.

Perhaps even more alarming is the rise of human trafficking in America.
When I was going through school, I was taught that slavery had been abolished in the United States.
But that was a lie.
Right now, thousands upon thousands of Americans are living as slaves. Most of them are sex slaves. As you read this, there are women all over America that are literally chained to beds in dark rooms where men pay their “owners” to have sex with them.
The following stats about human trafficking come from a recent Detroit Free Press article….
• Human trafficking is a $32-billion industry worldwide.
• Up to 2 million people are trafficked worldwide every year. Of those, 15,000-18,000 are in the U.S.
• Eight in 10 human trafficking cases involve the sex industry; the others involve labor trafficking.
• In 2010, 2,515 human trafficking cases were under investigation in the U.S.
• Eighty-three percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases in the U.S. in 2010 were American citizens
Many Americans would be absolutely horrified to learn what goes on behind closed doors in America.
All over the nation tonight, vicious monsters will be selling or “renting” young children to other vicious monsters for sex.
The following story of one human trafficking victim comes from a recent Fox News article….
Today, Keisha Head is a wife and mother of three. But more than decade ago, she was the victim of a notorious human trafficker.
At 16-years old, Head says she was being sold on the streets of Atlanta for sex.
“I did not know that a normal, average man who was a preacher, who was a lawyer, who was a senator – could turn into this monster,” Head said. “That is the scariest moment when you are amongst people who claim to be normal yet they purchase you and they turn into these monsters. They rape you. They beat you. And then act as if they’re normal. These are not your normal pedophiles.”
When you push morality out of the schools and out of public life, this is the kind of thing that starts happening.
Thousands upon thousands of other women “work for themselves” on the streets of America. Some are willing to let strangers have sex with them for next to nothing.
For example, one woman in Los Angeles was recently arrested for approaching customers at one McDonald’s and offering sexual favors in exchange for Chicken McNuggets.

There are so many directions this information could take us; I’m hoping that comments from readers will explore some of them. One that I will touch on is why this monstrous evil has come so forcefully into our culture. Is it a matter of desperation in supplying necessities (such as Chicken McNuggets or other morsels for survival)? Is it a strictly economic decision? Is it greed? Is it a loss of moral fiber? All of the above?

Is the emphasis on sexuality in so much of our public media creating on one hand a demand by continually placing sex on our minds, and on the other a commodification of our bodies–making them nothing more than salable assets? Do other people become goods and services which we either consume ourselves or use for profit on the market? At least one thing should be clear: to the extent there is a law of supply and demand, the rules of economics applies here as well. With an increasing suppply, the price drops. And it is all of us that are cheapened in the process. Another market principle is at work: if the demand would decrease, the incentive to supply the goods would also fall.

Perhaps you and I are not the “normal, average man who was a preacher, who was a lawyer, who was a senator,” who becomes a monster. Judging by statistics on pornographic website visits–by both men and, increasingly, by women–there must be a lot of such normal folks creating a demand. Each visit lowers our estimation of the value any person holds; each one moves the viewer further along the monster scale.

Last week’s posts about the raisng of our estimation of animals to the moral standing of people has another side. Rather than raising our estimation of animals to our status, perhaps it has lowered our own standing to that of amoral animals, where virtue and worth are simply manufactured categories to the extent they exist at all. As Christians who believe and embrace the concept of the image of God, we have a lot of work ahead of us in restoring the only true source of dignity and (non-economic) value to human beings. How do we do that? What is the good news, and how do we put it out there where it is needed?

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Meth-Heads; Got Guns? (Bad News Week, Part 1)

Maybe it’s a violation of the apostle Paul’s advice to think on the positive things. Maybe it’s a wary eye cast over the shoulder in order to see the value of that advice. Maybe it’s a tip of the hat toward a friend’s survivalist, gloom-and-doom expectations. Maybe it’s a plea to face the reality of life in the world today, or perhaps a way of asking what Jesus would have us do about problems that we do not face directly–but could face in the future. Or a bit of all of the above.

The attention this week is on a number of issues that cannot be taken as good news. We will, however, ask what the good news might be in these situations, what our responses should and should not be, and whether or not we can expect anything to improve. The items are taken from a link forwarded to me by said friend, which I’ll provide for those who are interested. We’ll take these issues one at a time in daily posting this week. The first is the matter of illegal drugs, especially “meth.” For starters, this from the article:

<emIt isn't talked a lot about anymore, but the meth epidemic in America is getting worse. According to PBS, there are approximately 1.4 million meth users in America. Meth is unbelievable addictive and it can absolutely destroy your life. If you doubt this, just check out these before and after pictures.
Sadly, there are indications that meth use is on the rise once again. According to the DEA, meth seizures increased from 2,839 in 2007 to 6,168 in 2010.
When you take meth, it can literally make you crazy. The following is from a recent USA Today article….
A mother in Bakersfield, California, was sentenced Tuesday for stabbing her newborn while in a meth rage. An Oklahoma woman drowned her baby in a washing machine in November. A New Mexico woman claiming to be God stabbed her son with a screwdriver last month, saying, "God wants him dead."
Large numbers of meth addicts turn into thieves when they run out of money. Often, they will steal just about anything they can in order to get money for their next hit. Some things that meth addicts have stolen recently include agricultural plumbing, copper wiring and lawn sprinklers.
And making meth can be extremely dangerous as well. U.S. hospitals are filled with thousands and thousands of uninsured burn patients that were horribly burned while trying to make "shake and bake" meth.
The following comes from a recent Daily Mail article….
It is filling hospitals with thousands of uninsured burn patients requiring millions of dollars in advanced treatment – a burden so costly that it is contributing to the closure of some burns units.
So-called 'shake-and-bake' meth is produced by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a two-litre bottle.
But if the person mixing the noxious brew makes the slightest error, such as removing the cap too soon or accidentally perforating the plastic, the concoction can explode, searing flesh and causing permanent disfigurement, blindness or even death.
A survey of key hospitals in America's most-active meth states showed that up to a third of patients in some burns units were hurt while making meth, and most were uninsured.
But of course meth is just one of the highly addictive drugs that are plaguing our youth. There are many other nightmarish drugs that could also be discussed. Nearly every community in America is dealing with some sort of a drug problem, and despite the "war on drugs" this crisis just seems to keep getting worse every single year.

Perhaps some readers have been touched by this problem in one way or another; but it is, for now, out of sight and mind for most of us. The contention of the article, however, is that the increasing desperation of those caught up in the search for drugs will eventually threaten more and more “common” citizens in more and more “typical” communities. When it happens, how should people be prepared to defend themselves against those who threaten the safety and security of home and family? Or should the proverbial other cheek be offered in all circumstances? Should Christians all have guns to use? Should they hope the non-Christian neighbor has one and will come to the rescue?

And what about the word to the addicted ones? What sort of good news do you have for them? And what good news do you have for those who are potentially, but not yet involved?

Saturday’s Stray Thoughts

The end of another week and the posting of thoughts which are incomplete–some of which should stay that way and some of which we might develop together in coming weeks. Help me in discerning the difference, please.

Whatever one thinks of the state of health care the, or of the health care of the state, it should be evident that the manner in which the massive law was crafted signals a problem in itself. Two thousand pages? And we thought people would actually read it all and discuss it together before voting? Why do I mention this now, well after the fact? In the local news this morning it was reported that the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg is sending a letter to those under his care. It seems that as an employer subject to the provisions of the law, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is required to provide coverage for all employees–coverage which includes contraceptive services and drugs. Regardless of whether one agrees with the position of Catholicism (one must admit that it is a very consistent pro-life approach), it should be troubling on a number of levels that they are mandated to violate their understanding of Scripture and Tradition. First Amendment issues are at stake here. I suspect we have not heard the end of the debate, which should have occurred before passage.

On a completely unrelated topic, the coverage of the Paterno memorial service is probably unprecedented. Television stations continue to have rebroadcast requests, and most of them are complying. Anyone who has read this blog for a length of time knows that I do not believe vilification of the coach was justified by the facts of the case. But I do suspect a small measure of revenge from the Paterno family (justifiable?) in the selection of speakers. The only non-PSU related person to speak after the opening invocation was Phil Knight of Nike. A curious selection, considering how many hundreds of other notable persons could have been chosen. Knight was also the only speaker to in any way draw attention to the action of the Board of Trustees. Coincidental? Probably not. Accurate portrayal of the board? Possibly. But none of that should overshadow the testimonies of those who knew Coach Paterno best. And the picture is clearly one of a man who had a wisdom born of a vision of what’s good for people and society.

It seems Rick Santorum’s momentum is running thin in his attempt to win the Republican nomination for the White House. True to American political habits, his apparent demise has nothing to do with is positions (some of which resonate, some of which grate in me). He has attempted to stay above the negativity between Romney and Gingrich, but that seems to make him uninteresting to those who are covering the campaigns. What does it say about our culture when we tacitly accept this way of choosing our leaders? What does it say about the funding of these “attack” ads. Are we seeing the first fruits of the Supreme Court decision that virtually freed anyone to spend any amount of money to say anything he/she wishes in a campaign, some of which is rather clearly unconcerned with the public good? And is there a point at which Christians should just stop participating?

Some of the comments regarding what is and isn’t legitimate work on the Thursday entry on the blog attempted to change the focus to what we do with our money as individuals. What choices do we have with our own resources; do we realize that when we criticize the position of others we are usually looking in only one direction, ignoring that vast majority of the world’s population that stands and begs below us; to what extent should all of us simplify our lives and consumption; and can we do that without further jeopardizing the overall health of our own economy? What a believer’s faithfulness in dealing with unrighteous mammon does and does not allow or require is a subject not often addressed. At times we might even be guilty of using our faith in Jesus as a means by which to attain the riches of this world.

Thoughts not as scattered as they are at times. But what are yours?

What Constitutes Work?

This is an area I probably should not go with some of my readers, but I’m going there anyway–not to provoke anyone, but to ask for an honest, friendly debate. So let’s try.

The political campaign is quite interesting. If the Republican candidates are this caustic toward one another one can only imagine what it will be like by the time fall rolls around. One of the issues that is sure to be repeated has to do with what sort of work one candidate or the other performed in order to become as wealthy as he is. But one constant refrain is that they each have their great wealth because they worked for it. And part of the platform on which either of the main contestants will undoubtedly run in November is that those who work hard for their money ought to be able to keep it, i.e., they should not be burdened with higher taxes.

The underlying, unspoken assumption here is that these successful people have more money than the vast majority of the population because they earned it by working hard. The great myth of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps lives on–and maybe it should as an encouragement to people to try harder. But do wealthy people really work harder? That one bothers me a bit. They may have done a lot of things differently, including making decisions about what was important and gearing their efforts toward accumulating more money according to the ways of the financial system that is in place; but does that really mean they worked harder than the rest of people in the workforce? The terminology is deceptive, and frankly affronts those average folks who work very hard, but will never have the opportunity to become rich as a result of that work. Some work so hard that they hold multiple jobs, putting in incredible hours, just to stay above the poverty line. Is it really hard work that adds 10-15 thousand dollars to the average cost of buying a house to satisfy banks, attorneys, insurance (title insurance?), and fees of all kinds that take dollars with absolutely no value added? Or that “earns” $300,000 to speak at an event?

I believe the Bible does speak of work as an integral part of our created purpose (Adam had work to do before the fall; it just got tougher thereafter). And the variety of work included in just the first few chapters of Genesis is impressive. Nor does there seem to be any objection to some accumulating considerable wealth through buying and selling. It does become difficult to translate the biblical data into contemporary economic contexts; but that does not mean we shouldn’t make every attempt to figure out what it means for us to do business with honest scales. It tells us to do whatever we do as unto the Lord, with instruction for both home owner and worker and household worker.

Here’s the question. What might the Bible have to say about the ways in which wealth is accumulated and its relation to work? What is hard work? Or should we think of that only as “smarter” work in our context? I’m just wondering; but it’s not just hard work in the sense most of us recognize that got Mitt and Newt their millions.

The Rights of Trees and Toads

The importance of having a well balanced attitude and perspective toward to physical world we live in comes to a head when considering the third of Jim Moran’s challenges for environmental philosophy (or ethics). In the first post we considered whether or not reasoning should be human-centered; for Christians, the question comes to God’s purposes in creation extending beyond providing an arena for redemption to take place. The second asked the question of whether there is a special status for humans, such as is implied by the concepts of the image of God and what is sometimes referred to as the “creation mandate” by which Adam and Eve are instructed to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the other living things.

The final entry in this series (admittedly not the most popular one attempted on this blog) turns the second question on its side. Moran lists the third challenge as that of defining moral status. That is, who or what has “rights” that in any way require us to respect the integrity and quality of life of other beings, whether human or other? Anyone who has heard or read Peter Singer’s views will recognize that he is quite unapologetic in claiming that all species have moral status equal to that of humans; hence his book Animal Liberation, which when published in 1975 did much launch him into the academic ethics arena. Some do not stop at animal life, extending rights to all living things, including trees, shrubs, etc. Other draw a line that has to do with the ability to feel pain when assigning rights; others use some sort of cognitive criteria.

In Christian circles, Albert Schweitzer spoke of doctrine of reverence for life in The Philosophy of Civilization (1923). According to this “doctrine” all living things are worthy of respect which includes the prevention of killing any of them unnecessarily. That, of course, hardly resolves the issue, as necessity will need to be defined. But while expressing the utmost respect for the integrity of God’s magnificent creation, Schweitzer stopped short of speaking about “rights” owned by other living things. Perhaps in today’s rights obsessed context he would have done so, but that is a matter left to speculation. In any case, what does it mean for a creature to have rights? In some of his more recent work, singer does talk about a connection between rights and personhood, which would seem indispensable. But his concept of personhood flounders, in my opinion; in trying to be broad enough to encompass at least the higher animals, he ends up reducing any meaningful distinction. Yet it is only one type of rights-bearing animal that makes all the decisions, which to my mind undercuts the talk of equality before it gets off the ground.

But do we necessarily de-value non-human life by denying their status as rights bearers? One might indeed conclude as much when considering some of the grotesque ways in which people have treated both beasts and forests. And one might be less than optimistic that we will do better without recognizing the rights that such things should be accorded. As mentioned yesterday, however, we should not pretend that we do not have dominion when we do such things; we are undeniably “the deciders.” That fact alone makes talk of rights for trees and toads into a wrong category. Instead, we should recognize that our dominion is a delegated one, and this One is both their Creator and ours; and if we learn more of His character we will be better equipped to have a more balanced and productive relationship with all of His creation. To pretend otherwise is to either violate the original mandate, or on the other hand raise the status of animals in a way which results only in lowering our own.

There’s a lot of room left for discussion of these issues, especially in what it means for a host of questions like vegetarianism, animal training and domestication, appropriate and inappropriate ways of raising farm animals, etc. What do you think on any of these fronts? And how important is it that Christians develop an environmental philosophy or ethis in the first place? What do you think of the challenges suggested by Moran? Are there others we would need to consider?

Have Dominion Over Them (?)

We’ve begun looking at Jim Moran’s three challenges for establishing a basis for a consistent environmental philosophy or, in simpler terms, a holistic view of nature and our place in it as human beings. This sort of standpoint would indeed seem wise to establish before running haphazardly into the business of deciding what should and should not be done in and to the earth. Without a broad vision we will be subject to ad hoc solutions to individual problems, with a solution to one ends up creating many others (stink bugs, anyone?).

In the first part we looked at the idea that the earth is here primarily for us. This is often assumed to be the case in some versions of conservative/fundamentalist Christianity; it is not necessarily a biblically required stance, as some of the comments astutely pointed out. The second of the challenges cited by Moran in “Three Challenges for Environmental Philosophy,” (Philosophy Now, Jan. 10, 2012) is more directly in contact (or possibly conflict, depending on one’s perspective) with Christian assumptions. It has to do with the dominion God gave Adam and Eve in the Genesis 2 account, a dominion over the birds, fish, and earth-bound creatures, and with the image of God in which humanity was created. Presumably, the image provides the basis of the dominion. The challenge is over our place in nature; are we part of it along with everything else, or over it in some way?

In 1967 Lynn White wrote what has become a virtual battle cry of secular environmentalists. In “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” White made the claim that the image/dominion ideas combined to create an attitude of arrogance in the western world toward nature as a whole. When coupled with the expansion of science and its technological capabilities this attitude, according to White’s thesis, became the major culprit in spawning the problems we now experience environmentally. While White’s original thesis was somewhat tempered by acknowledging the existence of a parallel, if quieter line of biblical thinking in the tradition of Francis of Assisi, the major theme was picked up uncritically by a generation of environmentalists who had no interest in hearing what responsible interpretation of the passage actually said. Christianity, it was now assumed, presents a roadblock to environmental responsibility.

Moran’s essay makes note of this tension without necessarily endorsing an anti-Christian approach to the question. Instead, he notes how difficult it is to establish a truly neutral position regarding humans vis-a-vis other animals or organisms. While some participants in this discussion have advocated some form of an egalitarian view of all creatures, this is quite difficult to sustain. Why? If humans are to be part of nature “just like everybody else,” this would, according to the thinking, prevent us from disrupting the habitats of other members of the earth community, whether deer, antelopes, aardvarks, or frogs. But what if what some species “naturally” do already disrupts the habitats of other creatures? How many environmental impact studies do beavers require before they do what beavers do–build dams and disrupt the habitats of countless neighbors? What if, in the same vein, humans doing what humans do naturally also disrupts other habitats? Furthermore, are we not acting in as a special class of beings when we undertake the protection or preservation . By any accounting, the species eliminated “naturally” far outnumber those made extinct or endangered by reputed actions of people.

The more I read in this area of philosophy the more it seems to me unavoidable that humanity is inevitably and unavoidably in the position of dominion. Even when some revolt against the concept, they undertake programs or agendas which presuppose its truth. The question, it seems to me, is how we are to receive and exercise the dominion. My contention is that far from biblical dominion being the problem, it is the only solution to a better environmental philosophy. But we must acknowledge and place ourselves more completely under the One in whose image we were made in order to reap those benefits.

How might we do better, not only at perceiving what the image entails for our care of nature, but for correcting those who have improperly conceived the image and the mandate that accompanies it?

Is the Earth Just for Us?

Last week I opened the door on a discussion of environmental philosophy. In that post I mentioned an article by Jim Moran (“Three Challenges for Environmental Philosophy,” Philosophy Now, Jan.10, 2012) which presents those challenges as something folks ought to be concerned about if they are serious about the environment. This is the first of three posts which will ask us to think about the supposed problems from a Christian perspective.

But before beginning, I want to say a few words about what is intended in this conversation, which is to build a bridge of sorts between academic discussion and where people actually live. If scholars are those who come up with the big ideas and/or explain them to one another, I am not a scholar, nor do I have ambitions of joining the ranks; instead, it seems to me more needful to translate some of those big ideas into the terms that matter to the rest of the population. We’ve all been made aware in recent years of threats real and imagined confronting the maintenance of a healthy place for humans and other species to live. And, if we are honest, there has been a bit of reluctance within some segments of Christianity to believe any of the warnings at all. Some of this skepticism is due to a wariness concerning the philosophy that sometimes accompanies the claims, some of it because the link to anything scientific is automatically rejected. Some of the wariness may be justified; but that should not lead us to dismiss outright all of the reports on the condition of the physical planet.

Let’s look at the first of Moran’s three challenges, which he describes as “the struggle to overcome an anthropocentric view of nature.” Translation? The author believes that it is both mistaken and harmful to believe that the planet we live in was created for or exists primarily for sake of human beings; such thinking must be put aside. Now that presents an interesting question for Christians. Does the Bible indeed require us to believe that the earth, and perhaps by extension the entire universe, was created solely or even primarily as the home for human creatures and serves no other purpose? To put this in other terms Moran uses, does the earth have intrinsic value (value for its own sake and in its own right) or does have merely instrumental value (value only to the extent it serves human purposes)?

The effects of thinking one way or the other could have significant impact on how we approach questions related to maintaining the integrity of our environment. Should we preserve the environment to the extent that is deemed necessary to continue to provide for our needs? Or does the earth have an integrity of its own which ought to be respected independently of the satisfaction of human needs or desires? Another major debate revolves around the idea of value itself. Simply put, if there are no humans, who/what determines value in nature? In that regard at least, one wonders whether there is anything other than man-centered view can be conceived?

As I indicated earlier, it is difficult to ascertain from the Bible the exact purpose for which God created the heavens and the earth. We accept that it is the arena of our creation, fall and redemption; but is that the only value it holds. And what does Romans 8:19ff. contribute to this topic? Does the groaning of creation until the sons of God are revealed indicate that the earth has an integrity of its own (as God’s creation) which we have compromised? If so, does that indicate that its restoration is something that should be of concern to us, or is it something that must await God’s own personal work of restoration? What do you think? Is Moran correct in thinking a man-centered view must be overcome?