Archive for August, 2013

In Defense of Child Rearing


Credit: Time Magazine

I’ve been a dad for five months now.  I know that makes me nowhere close to an expert on parenting, but it is amazing how steep the learning curve is when you’re a daddy.  I’ve learned how to change a diaper, how to burp a baby, how to swaddle a baby, how to fasten a car seat, and which brands of formula stain badly after your daughter spits up on you.  But beyond these nuts and bolts lessons, I have learned something else:  having a child makes your life exponentially more complicated.  There are schedules you have to arrange, bedtimes you have to keep, and a whole host of new chores you have to do.  It’s not simple being a dad.

It was this realization that with raising children comes complications that led Lauren Sandler to write an apologetic for childlessness in Time Magazine titled, “Having It All Without Having Children.”  In her article, she notes how people are opting out of parenthood with ever increasing frequency:

The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history, which includes the fertility crash of the Great Depression. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there’s data, the fertility rate declined 9%. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.[1]

Kids, for many people it turns out, are cumbersome – too cumbersome.  There is, of course, the financial burden of raising children:

The rise of attachment parenting, with its immersive demands, and the sheer economic cost of raising a child – for a child born in 2011, an average of $234,900 until age 18, according to the USDA, and $390,000 if your household earns over $100,000 – has made motherhood a formidable prospect for some women.

There is also the burden raising a child puts on one’s career:  “The opportunity costs for an American woman who gets off the career track could average as high as $1 million in lost salary, lost promotions and so on.”  But perhaps the most interesting burden that childhood brings, according to one researcher, is an intellectual burden:

At the London School of Economics, Satoshi Kanazawa has begun to present scholarship asserting that the more intelligent women are, the less likely they are to become mothers … Kanazawa analyzed the U.K.’s National Child Development Study, which followed a set of people for 50 years, and found that high intelligence correlated with early – and lifelong – adoption of childlessness.  He found that among girls in the study, an increase of 15 IQ points decreased the odds of their becoming a mother by 25%.  When he added controls for economics and education, the results were the same: childhood intelligence predicted childlessness.

As titillating at these statistics might be, they generate more heat than light.  Indeed, they are only props marshaled to justify the real reason people do not want to have kids.  The real reason can be found in the words of documentary filmmaker Laura Scott, whom Lauren Sandler quotes at the beginning of her article:  “My main motive not to have kids was that I loved my life the way it was.”  Scott makes no secret of the reason she opted out of parenthood:  her life is her life.  Kids make her life not about her.  And that, she decided, is something she cannot endure.

One has to wonder when it became commendable to be so unashamedly selfish.  The beauty and blessing of giving your life to the nurture and care of another is apparently lost on far too many people.

In the face of such cultural confusion concerning child rearing, it is useful to briefly review what the Bible says about children:

  • Children matter to God which means they should matter to us too.  Jesus’ words and actions express vividly His concern and care for kids.  When people are bringing their children to Jesus to have Him bless them and the disciples try to keep the kids away, Jesus chides the Twelve, saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).  Jesus enjoys spending time with children and blessing them.  We should too.
  • Bearing and raising children, though it is not commanded specifically for every individual, is generally commendable.  God’s commission at creation has an inescapably universal ring to it:  “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  Though we have plenty of biblical examples of people who did not have children due to one circumstance or another, a disdain for and avoidance of childbearing runs contrary to the biblical estimation of kids.
  • Children, even when they feel like a burden, are in reality a divine blessing!  The words of the Psalmist sum it up:  “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3).

So what does all this mean?  It means simply this:  kids are precious and well worth celebrating.  Past cultural adages such as “Children should be seen and not heard” as well as a present cultural avoidance and diminishment of child rearing are sad testimonies to human sinfulness and selfishness.  Conversely, engaging children can be not only fun, it can also be sanctifying.  And everyone needs opportunities to be sanctified.

[1] Lauren Sandler, “Having It All Without Having Children,” Time (8.12.2013).

August 26, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Casting Stones

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

From the department of the inane but entertaining, the real estate site recently published its list of America’s most sinful cities.  Surprisingly, the city famed for its profligate sinfulness, Las Vegas, didn’t make the list.  An article in The Street explains how the list was compiled:

The study analyzed 95 of the nation’s 100 most-populous communities…to see how often locals commit the Catholic Church’s seven major sins:  Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath…

[They then matched] each behavior on the church’s 1,400-year-old list of sins with a modern-day measure of immorality.

For instance, [they] gauged Wrath by looking at the FBI’s annual report on each U.S. city’s violent-crime rate – the number of murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, rapes and non-negligent manslaughter cases reported each year per 1,000 residents.[1]

Here’s what the study found.

Coming in at number five is Milwaukee.  According to CDC obesity rates, Milwaukee falls prey to the sin of gluttony.  Spot number four belongs to Pittsburgh, which struggles with pride.  In this city, there is one cosmetic surgeon for every 3,170 residents.  Minneapolis garnered spot number three.  Over 30% of Minneapolis’s residents are inactive, making this city super slothful.  Place number two belongs to Orlando, which, like Minneapolis, struggles with sloth.  And spot number one belongs to – drumroll, please – St. Louis!  Movoto found “the Gateway to the West places number two for Wrath and Envy, with 20 violent crimes and 65 property incidents per year for every 1,000 St. Louis residents.”  If it’s banal carnality you want, St. Louis is the place to go.

Of course, it’s hard to take a study like this too seriously.  But I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when my town of San Antonio didn’t make the list.  Then again, I used to live in St. Louis.  I went to seminary there.  So I guess that means, according to this article, I once lived in a den of iniquities.

What makes a study like this one so comical for Christians is that we know that sin defies such simplistic statistical quantification and comparison.  This is the apostle Paul’s point when he writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).  There is no difference, Paul says, between one sin and another in God’s eyes.  Every sin leads to death.  Every sin leads to damnation.  Before God and apart from Christ, sin is sin.  Period.

This is why, when an angry mob of religious leaders seek to have a woman caught in adultery stoned for her sin, Jesus disarms this mob’s self-righteous pretenses by saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  Underlying this statement is an assumption that we have no right to use our own self-styled righteousness as a benchmark against which we can measure and condemn other people’s sinfulness.   The only benchmark that may be used to distinguish righteousness from sinfulness is God’s.  Everything else is just casting stones.

So, although I won’t cast stones at my old seminary town, I will eat concrete if I ever return for a visit.  And if that previous line doesn’t make any sense to you, just click here.

[1] Jerry Kronenberg, “5 Most Sinful Cities in America,” The Street (7.17.13).

August 19, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

More Than A Little

Apple 1I suffer from calorie creep.  It’s amazing.  If I wake up in the morning and commit to making wise food choices, staying away from sweets, and considering the calories of what I put in my mouth before those calories get there, I can usually keep the number of my calories down and the quality of my calories up.  But if I don’t…

It only takes a little.  “I’ll just have a little bit of ice cream for dessert,” I think to myself after lunch.  But it’s amazing how much ice cream I can cram into even a little bowl.  And by the time supper rolls around, a second bowl of ice cream begins to sound awfully enticing.  The more junk food I eat, the more junk food I want.  A little always turns into a lot.

“It’s just a little white lie.”  “We were just kicking back a little.”  “A little bit of fun never hurt anyone!”  It’s amazing how many times I have heard these statements or statements like these as excuses for sin.  How are they excuses?  They’re excuses because they sanction sin by arguing that what they’re supporting is only “a little” sin.  But a little always turns into a lot.

Solomon makes this precise point when he talks about the sin of laziness:  “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:33-34).  Solomon says that sin adds up faster than you think.  And this means that sin can wreak havoc in your life quicker than you think.

When the apostle Paul is writing to the Galatians, he warns them against tolerating even a little sin with a metaphor:  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9).  Paul says that just like it only takes a little yeast to make bread rise, it only takes a little sin to make wickedness rise.

The other day, I came across some thoughts from the Archbishop Chaput, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, worth citing here:

We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the nature of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the oppressiveness of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith.  It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness, sexual confusion and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves …

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.”  But even more importantly, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant.  The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be.[1]

His last paragraph is key.  A little bit of evil will ask you to tolerate it so it can get itself in the door of your life.  But once it gains access to your heart’s hallways, it will grow – gradually, perhaps, but inexorably.  And what it asked for itself in the name of tolerance it will not give to goodness.  For it has come to destroy goodness.  It has come to destroy you.  And that is why Jesus has come to destroy it.

Stand firm, then.  For even a little sin is a little too much.

[1] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, “A Thread for Weaving Joy,” Voices Online Edition, vol. XXVII, no. 1 (Lent – Eastertide 2012).

August 12, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Millennial Morality: Thoughts On A Generation’s Thoughts On Christianity



Last weekend, popular blogger Rachel Held Evans, writing for CNN, offered an account of why she thinks those in the millennial generation are leaving the Church.  Her comments are worth quoting at length:

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.[1]

Rachel Held Evans certainly has her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture.  Research does indeed show that millennials describe Christianity as “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”  In other words, many millennials view traditional Christian teachings as repressive and regressive.  What Rachel fails to ask, however, is, “Does this popularly held perception of Christianity match its reality?”

There’s a whole army of research out there about how people feel about Christianity.  But what about the research that reveals what is actually being preached and taught from Christian pulpits?  How many sermons on politics are actually preached week in and week out?  How about sermons on sex?  How about sermons that are openly hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?  Here, the research becomes much more scant.  And, I suspect, the sermons themselves might just be much more scant as well.

Now, I know it’s not hard to skew popular perceptions of what the Christian Church is all about.  After all, it’s usually not the sermon on John 3 and God loving the world that makes the rounds on YouTube; it’s the sermon on Leviticus 20 with the sweaty pastor yelling about the abominations of sodomy that gets 500,000 views.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the objections that many millennials have to some of the teachings of Christianity aren’t so much objections as they are excuses.  In other words, the reason many millennials object to particular Christian tenets is not because they are “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”; it is because they simply don’t like parts of what Christianity teaches.  So they accuse Christians of absolutism so they can live in libertinism.  Nathan Hitchen explains it like this:  “When people don’t want to believe something, they ask themselves, ‘Must I believe this?’ and then search for contrary evidence until they find a single reason to doubt the claim and dismiss it.”[2]  In other words, they find that YouTube video with the sweaty, yelling pastor and say, “No way.”

From a theological perspective, C.S. Lewis offers keen insight into the objectionable character of Christian morality:

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality … Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities:  it is quacks and cranks who do that.  As Dr. Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”  The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.[3]

C.S. Lewis minces no words about how tough the task of teaching Christian morality really is.  It’s tough because the “old simple principles” of morality are ones “which we are all so anxious not to see.”  Yet, Jesus, as a teacher of morality, among other things, preached these “old simple principles.”  Of course, such preaching didn’t make Him popular or unobjectionable.  It got Him killed.

So perhaps popularity is not in the cards for Christianity.  This should not come as a surprise.  It wasn’t in the cards for Jesus.  And yet, as Rachel Held Evans finally notes in her CNN article, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”  Maybe that’s because, deep down, even if our depravity rebels against it, something keeps telling us Jesus is right.  And if Jesus is right, that means He can make us right with God.

That’s our message as Christians.  And I, for one, intend to keep sharing it.

[1] Rachel Held Evans, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” (7.27.2013).

[2] Nathan Hitchen, “Marriage Counter-Messaging: An Action Plan” (The John Jay Institute: 2013), 4.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 64.

August 5, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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