Understanding Transgenderism – Part 1

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

…or did He?

In a society that sees our bodies as meaningless, gender as a social construct, and family as burdensome, we should not be surprised at the growing number of men who identify as women, women who identify as men, and those who identify as neither or both. Our culture is content with the old question, “did God really say”, but what are Christians to make of it all? Join us as we start grappling with that question in a new series: Understanding Transgenderism.

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Does Orthodoxy Make God Too Small?

If you’ve ever contended on behalf of unpopular Christian doctrines, you’ve probably heard this more than once: “You’re just putting God in a box!” “Your God is as small and narrow-minded as you are!” “My God is big enough to embrace and include everything you just condemned!”

The variations are endless, but among those who are too theologically illiterate to make a real argument, this is the go-to genericism of the postmodern age. Did somebody tell you that Jesus Christ is the only name by which we are saved? Did they affirm that God created us as male and female? Did they condemn literally any heresy or moral lapse? Well, tell them their God is too small, and then chuck your microphone to the floor to distract them as you scurry away to your safe space.

But what are we to make of this “big” god of theirs? As an argument, measuring God’s “size” is absolutely inane, but the line isn’t embraced because it makes sense, but because it presents a compelling impression. The mental image is clear enough: It’s a god who is so transcendent that it cannot be grasped by human thought or described in human language (so that no theology can be wrong or right.) Its a god of possibilities so infinite that no circumstance can be contrary to it (so that nothing may be deemed a disorder.) It’s a god whose love is so vast that it embraces everyone and everything without question or hesitation (so that nothing may be condemned.) All the superlatives may sound appealing, but does this image really depict a god who is “bigger” than Jesus Christ?

Let’s look beyond the impression and consider the substance.

Another way of saying that their god is too transcendent to be understood is to say that their god is incapable of communicating with anything outside of itself. After all, if there is nothing you can say or understand about your god, then neither is there any communion or relationship with him. Revelation is simply too tall of an order for such a “big” god. Theirs is a silent god, too mute to say anything at all.

This is in sharp contrast to Jesus Christ, who became man and lived among his creatures. He conversed and interacted with them. He taught them. He told his companions that in knowing him they did know God. He promised them that God not only could but would lead them into all truth.  And from within this real fellowship, he warned them of false christs and false teachers–those whose claims of representing God are only one among the many false teachings they peddle. Jesus Christ is a God of revelation.

Another way of describing a god of infinite possibilities is a god who does not create. After all, even to say “let there be light” is to divide light from darkness and order them in relation to one another. To create flowers–though their variety be as infinite as the stars above–is to create something that is very distinct from a mountain or a cloud or a bird or a man. To create a man is to create something that is not a woman. Design is too great a feat for such a “big” god. As Tertullian said of the Gnostics, theirs is a god who cannot create even one sorry vegetable.

This is in sharp contrast to Jesus Christ, who created the entire universe from nothing. He took the dust he had made and formed it into creatures that bore his own image–persons with their own minds, wills, and souls but sharing one flesh from which they themselves are capable of creating. And from within this creative act, he recognized the glory of his design along with the death inherent in defying it that would reduce his creatures back to mere dust again. Jesus Christ is a God of creation.

Another way of describing a god who unquestioningly embraces everyone and everything is a god who simply does not care. After all, failing to demand retribution for wrongdoing is synonymous with denying the value of the victim. One who does not condemn the things that degrade and destroy what he loves simply has nothing and no one that he loves. “Thou shalt not” is simply too audacious a declaration for such a “big” god. Theirs is a nihilistic god who is too pusillanimous to love anyone at all.

This is as far from Jesus Christ as the east is from the west. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. He loves us enough to both demand and pay the retribution incurred by our sins. He loves us enough to discipline us and show us how we ought to live. He loves us enough to hate and condemn any evil that threatens us. Jesus Christ is a God of Love.

What, then, do those who worship a “big” god invariably end up with? A god without person. A god without substance. A god without will or love or mind. The person who thinks God is too small worships nothing more than their own frail and malformed impression for whom even specificity is too heavy a burden to bear. In the end, the pious superlatives they slather on to mask their unbelief are utterly devoid of any truth, goodness, or beauty.

Thanks be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that Christians do not worship a “big” god.

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Zombie Heresies – Gnosticism Part 3

As ubiquitous as Gnosticism is in our culture, it’s no surprise that we start inadvertently adopting some of it’s key ideas as our own. Postmodernism divorces the physical world from spirituality (and spirituality from logic & reason) no less than the Gnostics did. Likewise, there are far too many Christians who cannot find the continuity between the Old Testament and the New or between Law and Gospel.

Join us as we conclude our discussion on this first of many Zombie Heresies by using what we’ve learned to proclaim a complete and integrated Christianity

Introduction to Zombie Heresies: https://youtu.be/WhXcjI52eO8
Gnosticism Part 1: https://youtu.be/3twjoacUZPs
Gnosticism Part 2: https://youtu.be/xjFxvpMvuwY

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis: http://matthewcochran.net/blog/
The Federalist: http://thefederalist.com/author/matthewcochran/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics-ebook/dp/B01G4KWQJW/

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Answering Some Objections About the Golden Rule

[update:  added an additional objection I had forgotten regarding allegedly misrepresenting the text.]

Judging from the feedback, I think my latest piece at The Federalist about how the Golden Rule means having kids is the most universally reviled thing I’ve written thus far. Given some of the things I’ve written in the past, that’s a little surprising. But what can I say? If that’s the high water mark now, I’ll just have to keep trying harder to surpass it.

In any case, I will, as usual, respond to the most common objections:

This article is dumb. Having kids is for suckers because it will make you unhappy. I’m not going to burden myself with a bunch of little brats.

This would be the bull’s-eye on the target audience. Thank you for proving my point about selfishness.

But life doesn’t always go according to plan! Having children doesn’t always work out.

The article is specifically about people who plan not to have kids.

You pulled a sleight-of-hand on the Golden Rule by changing “what you want done to you” into “what was done to you.”

No sleight-of-hand here.  As long as you actually want your parents to love you and want to be alive (which is 99% of us), then “want” is still there.  The only change is removing the hypothetical–from what you would want to what you do want.  That doesn’t remove the force of the Golden Rule–it just heightens it because its harder to make any pretense of what you would have done unto you.

So how many kids do you need in order to be moral?

This was the “But he, desiring to justify himself, said ‘And who is my neighbor?” objection of the bunch.

It’s a fundamentally irrelevant question. It’s like being told you’re supposed to help the poor, and then asking how much money you need to give to charity in order to be moral. Does it have to be $100 or is $99.99 enough? Or should it be a percentage of your income? But do you take that percentage before or after taxes? Can you deduct your medical expenses first? How do you count capital gains and losses?

Doesn’t matter.

Whether it’s sacrificing your wealth for the sake of the poor or sacrificing your lifestyle for the sake of your family, the point is not coming up with some flowchart you can use to declare yourself righteous. That’s what the Pharisees did. The point is learning to be generous with what you’ve been given and doing unto others what you would have others do unto you.

Learn to be generous with your life first, and then you’ll figure out how many children to have.

The Golden Rule is only about how we treat people in the here and now. It cannot apply to people who don’t exist.

This is a very artificial restriction to place on the Golden Rule–it’s certainly not a limit that Jesus places on it. Why shouldn’t the Golden Rule encompass posterity?

Consider some unrelated examples: If I would not want to be saddled with trillions of dollars of government debt passed on to me by earlier generations, then neither should I saddle future generations who do not yet exist with such debt. If I would not want to receive a world irrevocably damaged by pollution, then neither should I pollute the world now lest future generations that do not yet exist inherit such problems. If fiscal or environmental policy number among your concerns, then either of those would be entirely sensible applications of the Golden Rule despite their beneficiaries not yet existing.

In the same way, if I like to live, then I should play my part in providing future generations with life. Caring for the future is work for today–even when the beneficiaries do not yet exist. As the old saying goes, civilization depends on men planting trees in whose shade they themselves will never live to sit.

People should never have children out of obligation because they’ll be bad parents. Children deserve to be wanted, so you should only have children if you want them.

This is a particularly odd objection. Prior to the advent of modern contraception, children were obligatory for basically everyone who had sex. But odd or not, this was by far the most common complaint. Amazing how quickly a ubiquitous obligation can become absolutely unthinkable.

The error in this line of thought comes from a failure to understand how our desires are shaped. Consider: Do you bathe regularly purely out of obligation, or do actually prefer being clean? I, for one, very much prefer being clean. But as a child, I had to be obligated to bathe because I didn’t know any better. Do you become educated out of obligation, or do you actually prefer being knowledgeable? I very much prefer gaining knowledge. But as a child, I had to be obligated to learn because I didn’t know any better.

Many of the best things in life are such that we would never learn to appreciate them if our parents never obligated us to participate. The wise imposition of obligation is one of the most important ways we learn as we grow up. Parents know that better than anyone. If so many people hadn’t stopped embracing the challenge of parenthood, their thinking wouldn’t be so impoverished on this point. They have, in certain respects, never finished growing up. They don’t know any better.  But learning that your desires developed out of selfish attitudes is one of the first steps to cultivating better desires.

But what about the children of parents who don’t want them? Am I worried about people reading my piece and consequently deciding to have unwanted children? Not at all. The only people who are ever going to pay attention to what I wrote in the first place are those who aspire to be better–to move beyond their own selfishness. I have no doubts about such people learning to love their children and becoming good parents. It’s only the people who retain their commitment to making excuses that would continue by trying to excuse their decision to be a bad parent. Those, in contrast, are precisely the ones who will continue to squander their inheritance of love on themselves regardless of anything I have to say.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Family | 6 Comments

Zombie Heresies – Gnosticism Part 2

In Gnosticism, the early Church encountered a heresy that decried the physical world as evil and tried to cleave Jesus Christ from his Father–splitting the Old and New Testaments apart. In this episode, we’ll examine how they recognized the meaning of creation and the continuity in God’s plan of salvation for humanity.

 

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You Have to Be There.

In my last post, I wrote about the sacrifices that children necessitate–and how selfish our refusal to make those sacrifices really is. But it is just as important for us to pause and consider the irreplaceable blessings of having children.

This is increasingly challenging in our culture because it’s so hard to meaningfully discuss a subject without a common frame of reference. Explaining the joys of parenthood to the childless is often like describing a fine wine to someone who’s never had anything but Kool-Aid. We in the West have smaller families with fewer children. Most of us didn’t grow up around children much younger than ourselves, and we didn’t get much opportunity to see families parenting such children. We were sequestered with people our own age for the entirety of our schooling. Our TV shows and movies, when they portray families at all, generally keep the parents and the kids in their own separate worlds that only intersect for the sake of drama. All in all, the raising of kids is a far more alien experience for us than it was in previous generations.

But the challenge is deeper than that. It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I understood the vast gulf between the abstract idea of raising children and the tangible reality of raising my children—-these real people with their own feelings and character and personalities who I made, who I named, who are my own flesh and blood. And this makes a huge difference in how we understand the blessings of parenthood. In these past four and a half years, my life has been filled with some amazing moments that impress on me just how much I love my children.

For example, there’s the time my oldest was praying the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and said, “Give us this day our daily toast.” We just looked at each other for 5 seconds before he corrected himself: “Bread AND toast.” Or there’s the time I was trying to brush my youngest’s teeth, but he closed his mouth as tightly as he could. Then he looked at me and, just in case I didn’t get it, opened his mouth just long enough to say, “Shut.” I could go on and on, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a half-naked toddler suddenly run down the hall flailing his arms and yelling “Oh no! I’ve escaped!!” There’s nothing quite like watching an infant end his yawns as though he were taking a huge bite off of them.

But because there’s nothing quite like it, all of these stories fall into the category of “You had to be there.” The joy in those moments with my children has more to do with who they are than with what they did. The stories fail to capture the experience because it’s nearly impossible to convey the personal knowledge that makes them so great. For the most part, telling other people about your kids is like telling them about your dreams. Dreams and children may be wholly engrossing to the person who had them, but nobody else is particularly interested.

All of this is to say that the joy of parenthood is always going to be mostly unknown until one is in the midst of it. God may have known us before he formed us in the womb, but parents do not know their children until after they’re born. To experience the blessings of children, you have to be there. Embracing the joy set before us requires a leap of faith.

We do face specific difficulties in our culture that make it harder to embrace the challenge of family than it would be otherwise–distortions that make such happiness even more abstract. But that isn’t our biggest problem. The natural unknowns mean that choosing to become a mother or father requires faith, hope, and love–faith in God’s continued providence, hope that we and our children will find a way to overcome the myriad of challenges that face us, and a sacrificial love that puts others before ourselves so that we *can* know them. If we fail our posterity by never bringing them into existence, it will be because we lack these virtues. The future, on the other hand, belongs to those who can cultivate them.

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Zombie Heresies – Gnosticism Part 1

Have you ever heard that…

…we are spirits that merely inhabit physical bodies?
…there’s a spark of the divine in everyone?
…the physical world doesn’t really matter?
…Jesus is really nice, but the Father is really mean?
…secret spiritual knowledge will set you free?

You probably have. These days, you can barely turn around without tripping over somebody who espouses beliefs like this. Today, we’d generally call them “spiritual but not religious.” Half a century ago, we referred to them as “new age.” But the Church had to engage with beliefs like this nearly two thousand years ago.

In this episode of Lutheran in a Strange Land, we’ll start examining one of the oldest and most rotten Zombie Heresies out there: Gnosticism.

Introduction to Zombie Heresies: https://youtu.be/WhXcjI52eO8

Yoda’s Lecture to Luke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEuA5Y_Cc88

You can find more of my material at…
The 96th Thesis: http://matthewcochran.net/blog/
The Federalist: http://thefederalist.com/author/matthewcochran/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Though-Were-Actually-True-Apologetics-ebook/dp/B01G4KWQJW/

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The Golden Rule Means Having Kids

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

There are plenty of controversial teachings in Christianity, but the Golden Rule generally  isn’t one of them. Whether Christian or not, the vast majority of people would accept it as a good rule of thumb when deciding how to live among others. It’s ironic, then, that we in the West are deliberately failing to pursue the Golden Rule’s most fundamental expression: having children.

Unless you’re called to celibacy, refusing to have a family is the Platonic ideal of selfishness. And I say that as one of those very same selfish people–I deliberately avoided having children for most of my adult life. I know it didn’t feel selfish at the time, and I’m intimately familiar with how compelling the rationalizations and excuses can be because I used them myself. Nevertheless, here’s the reality about that refusal from someone now standing on the other side of parenthood:

Consider, for a moment, all the unattractive aspects of raising kids–all the reasons you think kids are icky and which inspire you to come up with your more pious rationalizations for not wanting a family in the first place. They’re loud, noisy, and needy. They’re always dribbling from one end or the other. They’ll interrupt your life goals. You won’t have nearly as much time for your career, your causes, your hobbies, and your amusements. You’ll have less disposable income, go on fewer ideal vacations, and generally be much less free to do as thou wilt. Take all those reasons, and add whatever you want to the list (apart from circumstances like severe family trauma resulting in psychological damage, the specifics don’t really matter in the end.)

Now consider that your parents went through pretty much that entire list for you–for the life that you so cherish that you don’t want to give up any of it to share with a family of your own. Now consider that their parents made those same sacrifices, as did their parents before them, all the way back to that day when God first said “Let us make man in our own image” and instructed his new creatures to be fruitful and multiply. Think of all the selfless love that embraced every challenge on your list so that you could be here, reading this blog post.

What, then, does it mean to do unto others as you would have done unto you–as was done unto you? The answer is quite clear–along with what that answer says about those of us who have refused to do so. We may talk a good game about generosity, but if we refuse to be generous even to our own flesh and blood, then we haven’t even cleared level one.

To be sure, this judgment is not made against those like the Apostle Paul whom God calls to celibacy. To them, God has provided other ways to sacrificially love. However, this gift has always been the exception rather than the rule. And it couldn’t possibly be clearer that the gift of celibacy is not the cause of the falling birth & marriage rates in the West. After all, the growing masses of people who refuse family are not being celibate. They’re fornicating. They’re jerking off to porn every night. They’re constantly falling to temptation–the precise situation for which Paul actually commands marriage rather than celibacy.

In the face of the way we were loved by those who came before us, our long list of reasons comes to naught. Whether we admit it or not, the choice we face is this: Do we take the millennia of love that were poured out on us and consume every last drop until it’s gone? Or do we pay it forward by continuing to pass that love along to future generations?

Only one of those choices conforms to the Golden Rule.  Choose wisely.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Family | 2 Comments

Zombie Heresies – Introduction

When faithful Christians look at the Church today, we may feel as though we are beset by errors like never before. And yet, we are beset by errors almost exactly like before. Our adversary the devil may be prowling around like a lion seeking someone to devour, but for all that, he’s terribly uncreative.

Most of the biggest lies and deceptions facing the church today are only minor variations on false teachings that plagued the church hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Our ancestors in the faith overcame, but it’s never too long before Satan drags the same old and decayed errors out of the grave to feast on the brains of the faithful once again.

Join us for a new series in which we take on these Zombie Heresies and relearn how to defend ourselves against them.

Listen to/download the audio below above, or watch on YouTube:

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Lutheran in a Strange Land: “Face for Radio” Edition

I’ve had a number of requests for downloadable audio versions of the material on the new YouTube channel, and I am happy to oblige. You can subscribe to the audio podcast here:  http://matthewcochran.net/blog/?feed=mp3.  It’s exactly the same thing as the YouTube videos minus having to watch me talk to my screen.

I’ve just released all of the existing 12 episodes in one large batch.  If you scroll down, you can find embedded audio players for each of them.    I’ll be releasing the audio and video simultaneously for all new episodes from here on out.

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