Debate: Should elective abortion be illegal? Part 1

October 31, 2006

That is the question that was to be argued at a debate I attended last night. Taking the affirmative was a close friend of mine, Jojo Ruba, who a few years ago left Ottawa and moved out West to take up pro-life advocacy full-time with an organization called the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. Tracy Davidson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, took the negative position, along with a last-minute partner, Jeannette Doucet, a volunteer spokesman with Canadians for Choice. The debate was held at the Azraeli Theatre on the campus of Carleton University, and moderated by a late replacement from the local civil liberties association, which takes no official position on abortion (and hence he admitted he had no axe to grind with either side). Considering that he joined the debate at the last minute (due to the scheduled moderator becoming ill) and had no experience moderating debates, I thought he did all right.

Over the next few days I want to incrementally post a summary of the debate, section by section, followed by my comments. This is mainly for time’s sake, but also in the hope that a few extra days of contemplation might give me something additional to reflect upon. My comments will more than likely focus mainly on the pro-choice side, simply because my approach to the abortion question is essentially the same as Jojo’s, and if I have nothing more to say than “Me too,” there’s little point in saying anything at all.

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A hell of a time

October 31, 2006

Here’s my “Hallowe’en special.” Enjoy!

Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, near Dallas, Texas has put on a haunted house every Hallowe’en since 1990. But instead of coffins, skeletons, and bats, their house of horrors features domestic violence, abortion, AIDS, the occult, and suicide. This is the infamous “Hell House” – an evangelistic tool meant to warn the unsaved about the evils of modern society and the hellish consequences of making bad moral choices while rejecting Jesus. Thousands go through the Hell House every year, and the church has sold additional kits to churches all over the U.S.

In 1999, the church made headlines when that year’s Hell House featured a school shooting. This was regarded as insensitive, following as closely as it did on the heels of the Columbine massacre only six months earlier. This inspired documentarian George Ratliff to make a short documentary, titled The Devil Made Me Do It about the production. On the basis of this film, the Pentecostal church allowed Ratliff to film a feature-length documentary about the attraction, giving him full access to every aspect of the production. Hell House is that documentary.

This doc follows the progress of the Hell house starting with scriptwriting and auditions, through production and rehearsal, and finally opening night. It’s shot in “verité style: Ratliff simply points the cameras at the church members and lets them speak for themselves. There is no editorializing, apart from that which is intrinsic to the editing process, and a short montage of reaction to the Hell House from some locals. While many of the participants get a chance to speak, Ratliff focuses on a single family: John Cassar and his five children. John plays one of Hell House’s masked demonic tour guides, while his eldest daughter Alex auditions for, and wins, the part of “Abortion Girl.”

Ratliff seems to be trying to portray the people of Trinity Church as kooks, part of a sinister underbelly of evangelical Christianity that most people don’t know about. But if that was his plan, it backfired when he decided to focus on the Cassars. Cassar is a single, divorced father who lost his wife to an Internet affair. The viewer can’t help sympathize with him as he carries out the difficult task of raising five kids on his own (his day begins at 6 am), chiding Alex for taking too long in the bathroom, and responding quickly to an emergency when his youngest child, who has cerebral palsy, suddenly suffers a seizure. Toward the end of the movie we learn that life imitates Hell House: the “domestic violence” scenario centres around an unfaithful wife’s clandestine Internet affair.

Equally kooky, supposedly, are the multiple instances of prayer meetings in which pastor Jim Hennesy and the members of Trinity speak in tongues. Now, glossolalia is certainly unconventional, especially for a straitlaced Baptist like me. However, it’s a hallmark of Pentecostalism, and the Assemblies of God are a pretty big denomination. How dirty can this little secret be, really?

Despite what I assume are the director’s intent, I find the Hell House actors to be generally likeable and sympathetic. You can’t help feeling for someone like John Cassar, who has been dealt a bad hand in life and found acceptance and community in the church. Another female actor recounts how she had once been raped, then later spotted her rapist in the Hell House audience; for her the experience was cathartic, enabling her to forgive the man for the first time.

If anything, the Trinity folks come across not so much as weird or creepy, as naïve and sheltered from the culture they are trying to engage. The “DJ” in the “rave scene” was a real rave DJ before he was saved, but he has some trouble recalling the name of the “date rape” drug. The set constructors for the “occult scene” argue over whether real Satanists would use white or red to draw a pentagram; they settle on red, but mistakenly spray-paint a six-pointed Star of David on the wall instead of a five-pointed pentagram. And one teenage girl makes a big production out of getting ready for a date with her boyfriend, who comes to pick her up in his car – for the regular church youth group meeting.

For me, the real concern is the shoddy theology behind Hell House’s evangelism. There is plenty of talk about the consequences of bad choices resulting in condemnation in hell, but although Jesus is given lip service as the Saviour, there is nothing of the Cross in this presentation. How should we understand Jesus as Saviour if we don’t know how, or why, our salvation was accomplished? There’s plenty of condemnation, but none of the “comfortable words” of redemption and forgiveness. Readers of Christian novels such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness will recognize the comic-book Manichaeism, as masked demons taunt and tempt sinners into committing acts that lead to their deaths, then drag them screaming into hell. Meanwhile, angels shield those who have accepted Jesus from demonic attack. The Bible warns us to avoid temptation from the world, the flesh, and the devil; Hell House spreads the devil thick, but the world and the flesh thin. In fact, when someone like the “school suicide” kid dies and goes to hell, we never find out what happens to the teenagers who drove him to it by their mockery.

Another cause for concern is the zeal with which the participants pursue the “juicier” parts. The part of “abortion girl,” for which Alex Cassar’s audition is successful, is the most coveted, with parts like “teen suicide girl” or “rave rape girl” follow closely at its heels. “Ravers” like the rave scene because they get to dance (which activity, I presume, is otherwise discouraged by the church). You almost come away with the impression that the Hell Housers want to live vicariously as “bad girls,” if only for a few weeks, or that the rave DJ hasn’t made all that clean a break with his past life.

One of the last scenes of the documentary shows some of the audience reactions to the Hell House. An argument between a Roman Catholic and a Hell Houser over the canon seems a little out of place. More interesting is the young man in a Fear Factory T-shirt who takes issue with the church’s portrayal of homosexuality. Who is to say what is right and wrong, he keeps asking, as a church member tries patiently to explain the biblical position. In the end Fear Factory gives up trying to argue, hoists his middle finger, and walks off in search of a smoke.

If you’re like me, in the end you’ll have enjoyed watching Hell House. Some parts are informative, some are humorous, and in still other places you’ll feel embarrassed for the participants. But it’s an entertaining look at a Christian subculture you might not have been aware of, and a fascinating case study of how far at least one church will go to reach its community.


And now . . . this – Oct. 27, 2006

October 27, 2006

Good thing he wasn’t a drunk, too

A dead man had one final earthly act before moving on.

Fire officials said the six-hundred pound man was in being cremated when his body fluids were too much for the oven.

The body fluids seeped out onto the floor and ignited causing a fire at the Garner Funeral Home in Salt Lake City.

“Those fluids can be very flammable,” said Scott Freitag of the Salt Lake City fire department. “Sort of like a grease fire.” . . .

The crematorium is back in business and the funeral director said they’ll notify the family to assure them their loved one wasn’t harmed.

[Full Story]

Wasn’t harmed? Come again? “No, ma’am, he’s OK, we just spread some salt on the floor and swept him up, no problem, it’s not even slippery or nothing.”


OK, by popular demand

October 19, 2006

Cindy and others have opined that I have derelicted my duty by ignoring an influential booklist. And they’d be right. So here is my take on “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals” as judged by Christianity Today. I’ll follow Cindy’s lead and comment only on the ones I have read.

49. Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer: I read this book a few years ago for the first time. It’s superb. Someone I know once described Tozer as the most Calvinist Arminian he had ever read.

47. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, F. F. Bruce: I’m going to include this one pre-emptively because I have read a few chapters while preparing an upcoming Sunday school lesson on the subject, and plan on finishing the job soon. (The book is available online here.) Bruce was a Church historian par excellence, and anything he wrote on the history of the Bible is profitable.

45. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll: This is one of those books that transformed my thinking during my school years, because I saw myself in his indictment of the intellectual life of evangelicalism. I’m still working on thinking comprehensively “Christianly” about everything in the world around me, but Noll got the ball rolling. Pity about ECT though.

42. The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren: Meh.

41. Born Again, Charles W. Colson: I think I probably read this book late in high school, along with the sequel, Life Sentence. Being of an age, I missed all the original controversy over his conversion in the 70s; by my time he was firmly entrenched in the Evangelical mainstream.

40. Darwin on Trial, Phillip E. Johnson: A fun read. Johnson being a law professor by profession, instead of a scientific approach to Darwinism, he performs a rhetorical analysis of Darwinist literature. The armchair rhetorician in me enjoyed the read. Coincidentally, I found out some years later that the one issue of Scientific American I own is the one containing Stephen Jay Gould’s sophistic review of Darwin on Trial.

39. Desiring God, John Piper: Another one of those life-changing books. Piper’s thesis, for those who can “get past” the “Christian Hedonist” label, is that the Christians’ highest delight and desire resides in God himself. Desiring God is one of my top three must-read Christian books, apart from the Bible.

36. Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins: Meh2. Bloated, poorly written fiction espousing questionable eschatology. This marketing empire is proof positive that most Evangelicals are anything but discerning readers.

34. This Present Darkness, Frank E. Peretti: Fork in the eye, please. I place the blame for Left Behind squarely at Peretti’s feet, as this runaway bestseller was proof-positive that there was a time when anyone could presume to write a “Christian” novel and get it published. I’ve actually seen This Present Darkness favourably compared to C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters as a work on spiritual warfare. This ignores two important facts: one, Screwtape isn’t about spiritual warfare but practical Christian living, and two, Peretti’s amateurish prose, creepy “New Age” themes and Manichaean comic-book angels and demons make his novel read more like a low-budget rip-off of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

33. The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey: This dispen-sensationalist blockbuster made Rapture speculation mainstream. Where Frank Peretti made it possible to publish cruddy novels, Lindsey made it possible to write them about cruddy theology.

32. The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson: Another book that I read in my teens, and rather enjoyed (along with former gang member Nicky Cruz’s own version of Wilkerson’s story, Run Baby Run.

30. Roaring Lambs, Robert Briner: A good book exhorting Christians to transform the culture by actually being salt and light in the world. Naturally, Briner has been all but ignored.

26. Know Why You Believe, Paul E. Little: I actually preferred his earlier book, Know What You Believe, outlining basic Christian doctrine (as well as the differences between various traditions). It didn’t help that I read Know Why a semester after studying Western philosophy and caught Little using Anselm’s ontological proof for the existence of God.

20. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle: Good children’s literature ought to be enjoyable by all ages, and happily, this novel qualifies. The creepy image of identically dressed children standing in their driveways and bouncing balls in unison still comes to mind whenever I encounter certain conservative Christians on the Net.

13. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell: Well, it’s a good starting point for original research of primary sources, but too “popular” for my tastes. I’ll grant that McDowell was very helpful in the early days when I was maturing my faith.

6. The Living Bible, Kenneth N. Taylor: The first complete Bible I ever owned, at the age of 6. Not the greatest English version, but not as bad as many Christians (especially the KJVers) like to portray it as.

5. Knowing God, J. I. Packer: This is another of my three “must-read” books. (The third, incidentally, is Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen, which doesn’t appear on this list.) Packer’s thesis is simply that we cannot claim to know God unless we know how God has revealed himself in Scripture. This modern classic is an antidote to generic, wishy-washy “spirituality” that invents a “God” it can be comfortable with.

4. The God Who Is There, Francis A. Schaeffer: This is the book that got the ball rolling – albeit slowly – and got Evangelicals starting to think about how to engage their culture.

3. Mere Christianity, C. .S. Lewis: There’s really not much to add to what has already been said about one of the most widely read defenses of Christianity in modern history.

So out of the 50 most influential books, I’ve read 19. If nothing else, I’ve done better with this one than previous lists of “x greatest _____” – not that I put that much stock in them.

I was going to note a few of the “surprises” on the list, but in the meantime I found out that Tim Challies had already covered the two most obvious: where are The Prayer of Jabez or The Purpose Driven Church? The former revolutionized the marketing of Christian books, and without the latter there would be no Purpose Driven brand.

I also find it interesting that there seem to be very few books on the list that I have not read that I either want to, or feel I should, read. Exceptions: The Hiding Place, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and The Cost of Discipleship.

So there. Hi Cindy!


Why I hate silly quizzes

October 14, 2006

Well, actually, I love them, as long as they affirm my preconceived notions. This one didn’t:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

68%

Neo orthodox

61%

Reformed Evangelical

61%

Fundamentalist

61%

Emergent/Postmodern

43%

Roman Catholic

36%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

36%

Classical Liberal

29%

Modern Liberal

4%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Interestingly, just by redoing the quiz, but eliminating the “mildly agree/disagree” categories, and reserving the middle option for questions that were ambivalent or loaded, I did manage to score 86% Reformed Evangelical, 79% Fundamentalist, and only 71% Wesleyan. This isn’t just the answer I want, it’s what I know to be true by what I affirm. I attribute the skewed results above to ambiguities in the questions themselves. Do I believe “God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him”? Of course; only I mean something different by it than a Wesleyan would. Is it true that “[t]he gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us”? Absolutely, although in the former case, the Holy Spirit is not the exclusive assurance of salvation, and in the latter, I wouldn’t use the language of “surrender” that is common in Holiness circles.

Still, it’s fun to try and figure out why a particular quiz doesn’t give you the answers you expect, especially when you know better.

(H/T to my friend Brandt for bringing it to my attention.


Tune-up

October 11, 2006

I just finished doing a little bit of routine maintenance to my sidebar: deleting dead links, updating the names of blogs that have “rebranded,” that sort of thing. I’ve also added a few new blogs to the blogroll.

All things Michelle

I haven’t had any specifically politically oriented blogs in the blogroll yet (though La Shawn is pretty close). But in recent months I’ve been reading more and more of Michelle Malkin, and quite enjoying her approach to the issues.

Malkin is also “boss” of the group blog Hot Air, home of the daily vodcast Vent.

Loons on parade

This summer, when I was writing my critique of a few 9/11 conspiracy “documentaries,” I came across a blog titled Screw Loose Change. Originally devoted to answering the dubious claims of the viral movie Loose Change, it’s since become a more general clearinghouse for debunking 9/11 denial in all its forms. Plus, it’s vastly entertaining reading, especially if you follow conspiracy theories as a hobby.

(As I write this, I have CNN tuned in to their live coverage of Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle’s fatal plane crash into the side of a Manhattan high-rise. I don’t like to be cynical, but how soon will it be until the moonbats start citing this as yet another example of a burning skyscraper that didn’t collapse?)

Postscript: About the time it takes to write up this post. Idiots.


It’s not on

October 10, 2006

A rare group photo of the Caner brothers and the Liberty debate organizers has been unearthed:

The Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Tin Woodsman

To the left is Ergun Caner, the self-described “intellectual pit bull of the evangelical church” – revealed not as a fierce fighting dog, but a cowardly widdle puddy tat. To the right is his brother Emir, the Straw Man. Next to him is debate moderator Brett O’Donnell who, like many women, can change his mind arbitrarily at the drop of a hat. Finally, the tin man’s pointy hat makes it obvious that he is none other than His Holiness, Pope Jerry Falwell himself.

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