State of the Blog

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been doing an overhaul of my blog. There are still improvements to be made, I’m sure, but at least I’ve gone through and repaired or updated several links that weren’t working in the sidebar and in some of my more popular articles over the past few years.

Speaking of popular articles, I came across some stats that WordPress keeps (but which I’ve never actually looked at before). There’s some interesting stuff there! For instance, in the past 90 days, I’ve had visitors to the blog from 105 different countries, but not a single viewer from the world’s most populous country (I suppose the Chinese can’t find the page on Google).

I’ve also seen a dramatic surge in website traffic recently. Granted, I’m still a small fish in a big blogosphere sea, but almost a quarter of my total page views (since I began this blog in 2008) have come in the last four months. Each of those months has been the busiest month ever, which is a trend I hope to continue in June! It’s for that reason I’ve been working on refining some of the spit & polish stuff around here.

Okay, I realize no one else cares about this stuff, so I’ll close this post with something which may interest you. Here are the top 10 most visited posts in this blog’s history, along with the reasons I think they were so popular. See what you’ve missed!

  1. Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy — Book reviews already account for the bulk of my page views (they are one of the main reasons I started the blog in the first place), but this one more than doubled the next highest book review! Partially this was because this has been a “hot” series lately, but also this post was shared and re-posted by a lot of people. (By the way: I always appreciate others posting links to my blog! If you see something you like, pass it on!)
  2. Answering Criticisms of My Review of the Hunger Games — That’s right. Suzanne Collins’ books accounted for both of the top spots! My third post about The Hunger Games just missed out on the top 10.
  3. Sample Lesson Plan: Doxology — This is a lesson plan I wrote for the “Systematic Hymnology” curriculum I’ve been developing for use in our church’s children’s choirs. I’ve refined my methods quite a bit since this early post, and these lesson plan posts are quite popular! Many others are posted on the Worship Ministry Blog. In fact, six of the hymnology posts on the other blog have hit totals that dwarf anything I’ve posted here on Honey & Locusts (including the HG review). I’ve stopped posting them, but haven’t stopped writing them. Someday (hopefully soon) I anticipate launching a new blog dedicated solely to hymnology. It’s probably my favorite topic to write on! Stay tuned for that…
  4. Book Review: Radical — David Platt’s a popular guy, so when I had the opportunity to review his first book before it was published, it caught the attention of lots of people! For whatever reason, my review of his second book generated very little traffic on the blog, but has been voted the “Most Helpful” review (out of more than 200!) for the book on Amazon. Go figure.
  5. Was Jesus a Liberal Democrat? — Ah, the power of a catchy/controversial title! This post refers to a segment on The Colbert Report over the use of the term “X-Mas”, which led me to write this post about the co-opting and mischaracterizing of Jesus for political reasons by those on both sides of the aisle. And, for the record, the answer is “no”.
  6. Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and the Theologica Crucis — The hits on this one are probably misleading, as I suspect most people stumbled on it through Google searches of two of the most famous “pastors” in America, and probably didn’t actually read the whole article. Still, I thought it was a good one, in which I wrote about how the teachings of both men are different takes on the same heresy, which Martin Luther called the “theology of glory”.
  7. Does the Bible Obligate Christians to Support Israel? — This one is sort of cheating, as the bulk of this post is simply material written by others. But, as it’s a question on the minds of many, I’m happy to continue to direct readers to those who write better than I do.
  8. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice — I’ve written several times about abortion, but this one (in which I take a close look at the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice”) has gotten the most interest… for now, at least. At the rate this recent post has been picking up views, I expect it will eventually become my most “popular” abortion post.
  9. God Is In the Details — This one was all Facebook traffic. When our family was involved in a wreck that totaled our car on the Interstate, Laurie and I posted this to update friends and family. Plus, it was a pretty cool story!
  10. To Thee All the Follies of Sin I Resign — This was a post I wrote the week our former pastor, Jimmy Arms, resigned from Stevens Street. I got a lot of traffic when I first posted it, as many SSBC members were interested. Since then, it has consistently picked up views as the result of search engine requests for “Stevens Street Baptist Church”, “pastor search”, and “Jimmy Arms”. I suppose many of those are people who were researching Bro. Jimmy as a guest speaker, or checking out our church before submitting a resume. It was good to go back and read this one last night as well, just after our church officially called our new pastor!

My thanks, as always, to those of you who visit the blog regularly. I haven’t made any effort to “monetize” the blog, and don’t really pay that much attention to the statistics most of the time. I don’t do this for money or fame, but I do appreciate the interaction with readers. I hope to continue to provide content that will keep you coming back!

The Greatest Moral Failure of Our Time

Abortion.

If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know where I stand morally on this issue. If you’d like a recap of my views on the morality of abortion, read this article and especially its followup. Today’s post presupposes that abortion is an evil practice, and will focus on candidates’ strategies for ending it.

How Did We Get Here?

Before getting into the pragmatic considerations, I think it’s important to get a little historical perspective. Before trying to figure out how to make abortion illegal, we should understand how it came to be legal in the first place.

First of all, it is important to note that the moral debate over abortion long predates the founding of America, and religion has always played an important role. John Calvin explicitly forbade abortion for theological reasons during the 16th century. Early Christians and Jews opposed abortion, though it was an accepted practice across the Roman Empire (along with infanticide and the abandoning of unwanted newborns).

There was never a time in our nation’s history when abortion was not practiced. During the colonial period, laws regarding abortion were varied and non-specific, but for the most part, it was considered to be murder.

Abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, though many conservatives (including myself) interpret the Fifth Amendment’s clause that “No person shall be deprived of life… without due process of law” to implicitly protect the life of the unborn (one of the reasons why the debate over personhood is so important). Rather, this issue, like all criminal and civil matters, was left in the hands of the states via the Tenth Amendment.

Early on, abortions were rare, restricted primarily by the widespread belief that abortion killed a living person. As the nation expanded, morality relaxed, and abortion became more prevalent. The first laws explicitly restricting abortion were passed (by state legislatures) in the 1820′s. By the end of the 19th century, the rate of abortions was decreasing. Though most states had enacted legislation regulating the practice, abortion opponents realized that laws were not enough. They were  primarily focused on education and religious conversion (an apparently effective strategy).

The tide turned back again in the early 20th century. Public sentiment began to sway in favor of abortion, helped in large part by copious amounts of money being spent on advertising by those who were getting rich off of abortions (just one of the many ways in which abortion and economics are closely related concerns). The laws on the books were largely unenforced, and fewer and fewer people spoke against the practice.

By the late 1960′s, a majority of Americans wanted legalized abortion. State after state passed legislation legalizing abortion (the first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan). Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade overturned all state legislation, providing abortion on demand in all 50 states.

By that time, those advocating the right to life of America’s youngest citizens were vastly outnumbered. Though Catholics strongly opposed Roe v. Wade, few other Christians stood in the way. Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions recognizing the legitimacy of abortion in some circumstances; a position that, thankfully, began to change in the 1980′s.

Over the last three decades, the abortion debate has grown increasingly heated, becoming the single most important item on any politician’s platform in the eyes of many voters.

Much of this information comes from Marvin Olasky’s book Abortion Rites, summarized and excerpted here.

What Are Our Options?

Let me be clear… I do believe it is the government’s duty to criminalize abortion. Government is necessary because evil is a reality. Government is a blessing from God intended to restrain evil (Romans 13:3-4), a category into which abortion certainly fits. But there is, as they say, more than one way to skin a cat (also evil).

Ever since the political fight over abortion hit Prime Time, most people within the Pro-Life movement have sought a Federal solution: something that would instantly make abortion illegal in all 50 states by way of Congressional legislation or conservative nominees to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is the position of most within the mainstream GOP, just as it was for our last Republican President — who, by the way, was not able to make this happen despite enjoying six years with a strong Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, advocates removing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule in this matter and returning the issue to the state legislatures. He has taken flak from many conservatives for his stance on abortion. He is often accused of not being “pro-life” enough because he does not favor a federal abortion ban. It is commonly claimed (even by those who supposedly favor small government) that the states could not adequately restrain abortion; only a national solution will do.

On the contrary, claims Paul in his 2010 book Liberty Defined (my review here):

I believe it is a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being… Demanding a national and only a national solution, as some do, gives credence to the very process that made abortions so prevalent. Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem, nor a constitutionally sound argument.

Certainly states are capable of effectively enforcing laws criminalizing violent behavior. There is no Federal law prohibiting rape or murder, but both are crimes in all 50 states. In America, if you kill somebody (who has been born), you will be prosecuted not by the United States, but by the state in which the crime took place. In fact, the only crimes prohibited by the U.S. Constitution were treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. Slavery was added to that list by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Why are we so opposed to the idea of returning jurisdiction of abortion to the states? Do we have so little confidence in our ability to govern ourselves locally?

I suspect the real reason is that we realize that in order for abortion to become illegal in all 50 states, we would have to engage in the difficult work of winning hearts and minds in the court of public opinion — something requiring much more dedication and perseverance than merely casting a vote for a candidate who claims to be pro-life. Few have the fortitude to engage in this duty, which is the fruit of generations of Americans who similarly neglected this responsibility.

It is time for us to realize that Dr. Paul is correct in agreeing with the 19th century pro-life advocates as he writes: “Legislation… will not stop all abortions. Only a truly moral society can do that.” We will never have a “truly moral society” until Christ returns, but we can reverse the moral decline of our nation, if only we realize that the solution is the Gospel, not the GOP.

Who Can We Trust?

Tactics aside, which candidates can we reliably trust to defend the unborn? Surely we aren’t just taking them at their word. After all, even Barack Obama has said (repeatedly) that his desire is to reduce the number of abortions in this country. All four GOP candidates say they oppose abortion. Which have consistent records to back that up?
Newt Gingrich — whose unrepentant serial adultery ought to cast plenty of doubt on his moral judgment — does not generally emphasize the abortion issue. Though he now says that he opposes abortion in all cases, he stated in 1995 that he supported federal funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the health of the mother.

Mitt Romney has similarly (and famously) changed his views on abortion. After previously supporting abortion “rights”, Romney began to describe himself as pro-life. Romney, like Paul, opposes a federal abortion ban, preferring to leave the matter to the states.

Unlike Gingrich and Romney, I do not doubt Rick Santorum’s personal convictions on this matter (though his wife’s views have certainly changed). I admire his willingness to take a stand against abortion. I just think his tactics are poor. Furthermore, I think his record of big government spending reflects a basic lack of understanding of how economics is inseparable from other ethical issues. This is evidenced by his recent defense of (and even bragging about) his vote to fund Title X family planning services. Though he says that his vote was to provide non-abortive contraceptives, the fact remains that funds are fungible, and that one of the beneficiaries was Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America.

Ron Paul was pro-life long before it was cool. His strong convictions stem from an experience during his residency as a young OB/GYN in the 1960′s, in which he witnessed a botched abortion. The baby survived outside the womb, but was left to die by the medical personnel. This deeply troubled him, and led him to conclude that there could be “no consistent moral basis to the value of life” in a society that allowed abortion. As a libertarian physician, he urged other doctors to refuse to participate in abortion regardless of its legality, and to resume the practice of taking the Hippocratic oath, which includes a pledge not to do abortions, and which his med school graduating class (like so many others) had ignored.

From the beginning of his career as a politician, he has repeatedly asserted that personal liberty is impossible where abortion is condoned. This is most notable in his book Abortion and Liberty (available free online here), published way back in 1983, and in this 1981 short essay entitled “Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty”. His strong (yet unheralded) Christian faith and track record on abortion, combined with his pragmatic, Constitutional plan to restrain violence against the unborn ought to give every lover of life and liberty cause to rally behind him.

Where Should We Go From Here?

There is no doubt in my mind that abortion is the greatest moral failure of our time. It is to our generation what slavery was to William Wilberforce’s. It is our culture’s ethical blind spot. If we hope to see the practice end in our lifetime, we must have men like Wilberforce. Principled, charismatic men with unwavering focus, willing to stand up for what they believe in the face of constant ridicule and scorn, able to recruit political allies while rallying passionate grassroots support, understanding that laws are useless to restrain evil that is not recognized as such by the people.

Sound like anyone we know?

Like Wilberforce’s struggle against the slave trade, it may take decades to win the philosophical battle. In the meantime, there are some  practical matters which do fall under the Constitutional authority of the President and Congress which have a much better chance of reducing the actual number of abortions than the GOP’s standard operating procedure. Here are a few bullet points that I think may be within reach in the next few years:

  • A majority vote in Congress combined with the President’s signature can remove the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from ruling on something Constitutionally delegated to the States, which is much simpler than repealing Roe v. Wade or passing a constitutional amendment. Abortion would still be legal in some states, initially, but this is a good first step.
  • Legislation that would define “life” as beginning at conception and the term “person” as including all human life (such as the Sanctity of Life Act introduced by Congressman Paul in 2011200920072005, etc.) would provide immediate protection for the unborn under the Constitution without requiring an Amendment.
  • Deregulate the adoption market, making it easier to provide options to mothers with unwanted pregnancies.

For further reading, I highly recommend reading Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul, and Ron Paul’s chapter on abortion from Liberty Defined. This chapter is available for free online here, and I have summarized it here. It’s only a few pages, but is perhaps the most articulate, succinct moral defense of the sanctity of life beginning at conception I have ever read. You might also like this video:

The tenth amendment is the foundation of the Constitution.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

When I Don’t Love Ron Paul

Followers of my blog and Facebook posts will have noticed that I am a supporter of Ron Paul. However, as I’ve mentioned in the past, he is by no means a totally “ideal” candidate for me. Because I have posted several favorable articles about the good Doctor, I feel it’s only fair to point out areas in which I am not comfortable with his positions.

While Paul is very smart, and usually a very capable teacher, he occasionally says things that make absolutely no sense. A prime example occurred a few days ago on CNN, in an interview with Piers Morgan. He was being questioned on abortion, and gave a maddeningly wishy-washy answer:

Doug Wilson takes Paul to task on this (and other problematic issues with strict Libertarianism) in this article (HT: Denny Burk), which I commend to you. The thing that is so frustrating is that this is so inconsistent with the position on abortion that Paul has so clearly and consistently established in the past. To have made such a good medical case (having been a longtime OB) for life beginning at conception in books and papers over the span of a career, and then to totally undermine his own position by seeming to not know what “conception” is just doesn’t make good sense.

I wonder, for instance, how his comments in the above video are reconciled with this quote from his 1983 book Abortion and Liberty (which is available online here):

To permit abortion at one day of gestation justifies it at two days; if it’s permitted one day before three months, it’s justified one day after three months; if it is permitted at one day before “viability,” a nebulous term that has no meaning,it is justified at any time. Allowing abortion at six months gestation minus one day precludes an argument against abortion two days later. Attempting such an argument is a legal joke, a medical impossibility, and a moral hoax. Just as a pregnancy of one week cannot be put aside as “insignificant,” claiming it is only a “touch” of pregnancy, abortion, regardless of the reason, cannot be downplayed as only a limited and qualified disregard for human life. Disrespect for life and liberty, once planted, grows rapidly. (p. 39, emphasis mine)

See also: Liberty Defined (published last year — abortion chapter available online here and summarized here), and Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty, a position paper written in 1981 back when even the Southern Baptist Convention approved of abortion in some instances. In both cases (and many others), he is as vehemently pro-life as anyone, though his strategy differs from other Republicans for helping rid our country of it.

All politicians are imperfect, and Ron Paul is no exception. This is certainly not my only concern (I’ll list others seperately), though I still favor him far above any other candidates currently running. I only wish he could avoid these sort of “what was he thinking?” moments. If he truly believes what he said in that video, it is, in his own words, the planting of a seed of disrespect for life and liberty that could grow rapidly.

Short Film About Hitler and the New Holocaust

I second and third the comments made by Justin Taylor and Scott Klusendorf about Ray Comfort’s new film “180″ (posted below). If you watch the video, please take time to also read and reflect on those two commentaries!

I personally have some concerns with Comfort’s methods of evangelism, and some of his logic is shaky (particularly the question in which he asks folks if they would kill Hitler’s pregnant mother; is he suggesting it would have been okay to “abort” Hitler if it would have prevented what he did? I don’t think that was his intent, but it comes across that way). However, his conclusions are correct. As cliché as it is often considered to use Hitler as a bogeyman for comparison with something one doesn’t like, there are real similarities between abortion and the Holocaust, as I’ve argued before.

Take a look at Comfort’s documentary. What do you think about his message and methods?

Book Review: Freakonomics

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I was admittedly late to the party on this one, as Freakonomics has been one of the best-selling books in the world since it was published in 2005. I’ve wanted to read it for a while, but kept putting it off for some reason. Maybe I just didn’t want to feel like I was “selling out” due to all the hype?

Now that I’ve read it, though, I’m glad I did. For a book which — by the authors’ own admission — has no central theme, it remained remarkably coherent and interesting from cover to cover. This is a testament to the strengths of its two authors. Levitt is a brilliant and unorthodox economist with a knack for asking and answering unique and provocative questions. His partner Dubner is a former writer and editor for The New York Times Magazine whose clever prose makes the book an easy and enjoyable read, despite its normally blasé subject matter: economics.

What drives Levitt’s interest in asking unusual questions (such as “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” and “How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents?“)? It is a combination of his insatiable curiosity, his conviction that conventional wisdom is often wrong, and his economists’ mind which believes that understanding people’s incentives can allow one to draw conclusions and formulate predictions about their actions.

These incentives which drive people’s actions constitute “the hidden side of everything”. Incentives come in many varieties: monetary, social, and moral, to name a few. And just as understanding incentives is a major predictor in the world of finance (the field in which we usually associate the word “economics”), so this science can also be applied to social behavior, as this book shows.

One of the most interesting features of Freakonomics is the relationship between economics and morality. Investigating the incentives which motivate a given action leads to conclusions which may have many moral implications. However, the science of economics is unable to make moral judgments. As the authors state in the book, “morality represents the way we would like the world to work and economics represents how it actually does work.”

Here is an example:

In the chapter titled “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?”, Levitt sought to determine a reason for the drastic and unexpected drop in crime during the 1990′s — a time during which it had been predicted that violent crime would reach unprecedented levels. Conventional wisdom (driven largely by the media) attributed this to causes as varied as “tougher gun-control laws”, “innovative policing strategies”, and “increased use of capital punishment”. However, the data support none of these claims. The conclusion reached by Levitt was that the primary cause of the reduction of crime was the advent of legalized abortion following Roe v. Wade.

Initially, this is a very shocking and controversial claim! But Levitt’s research seems to support it. After all, the demographic most likely to have an abortion (young, poor, single mothers with little education) was the same group of mothers previously most likely to give birth to a violent criminal. This is by no means a pleasant thought, particularly for those of us who are so  staunchly pro-life, but different moral conclusions can be drawn from this evidence.

For those who believe that life begins at conception, Roe v. Wade signals a dramatic increase in violent crime, as they will interpret the data to show that millions of American babies have been murdered since 1973 (a point which is made in the book). However, this is a moral, and not an economic judgment. Highlighting the difference between morality and economics, the authors state that “the trade-off between higher abortion and lower crime is, by an economist’s reckoning, terribly inefficient.” The reasoning? Statistics show that hundreds of babies must be aborted in order to prevent one murder. While it can be difficult to adjust one’s thinking along these lines, it is the thought-provoking nature of this type of investigation that lends the book its value.

So did the book live up to its hype? Yes and no. Freakonomics is great for the stretching of one’s mind (without having to work too hard), but I certainly wouldn’t classify it as “life-changing” as many reviewers have done. Still, it’s a bestseller for a reason, and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already. I look forward to its sequel, Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

Buy Freakonomics here.

P.S. – For examples of the type of writing/reporting done in this book, you might like to check out the authors’ Freakonomics Blog.