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Flipping Out, Marriage, & Surrogacy

Boos for Bravo

July 9, 2018 • John Stonestreet

Well reality television has just given us a whole new, and tragic, answer to the question, “Where were you born?” The Bravo reality show “Flipping Out,” recently filmed and aired the birth of a little girl, Monroe Christine. But the focus was not the miracle of birth or the sanctity of life. You see, Monroe Christine was born to a surrogate mother named Alexandra Trent, who turned over the rights to her biological child to a couple unable to have a child of their own—the stars of the show, Jeff Lewis and Gage Edwards. Alexandra is now suing the gay couple. Writing in First Things, Brandon McGinley explains, “As part of the transaction, Alexandra agreed to have her ultrasounds filmed while the men who paid for Monroe watched. But, according to Alexandra, she did not agree to having her delivery …broadcast. And she certainly did not agree to the reality star’s commentary on her delivery.” The comments that Trent is objecting to are the vile, mocking and cruel remarks made by Jeff Lewis about the mother’s private parts and hygiene. It’s disgusting that the Bravo network even chose to air it. I hope Trent wins, but there are bigger issues at play here. As we say over and over on BreakPoint, marriage has two ultimate functions—the unitive and the procreative. God placed sex within the context of marriage to bring both intimacy and children. Homosexual unions are, of course, inherently sterile unions. The arguments for same-sex marriage, which were embraced and advanced by Justice Kennedy in his Obergefell opinion, intentionally severed the long-recognized, inherent link between marriage and having babies. But now, in a bait-n-switch, more and more same-sex couples are claiming a right to have children. Let me be clear: After choosing an intentionally sterile union, many are claiming a right to have children. That, of course, means access to reproductive technologies and services such as commercial surrogacy, something recently legalized in the state of Washington. You’ll be hearing more and more claims about this so-called right in what’s known as the “Universal Parentage Act.” Of course, God designed sex, marriage, and babies as a package deal. There’s no room, biblically-speaking, for third party involvement in procreation. But even leaving the Bible out of it, making reproduction into a commercial transaction leaves women vulnerable to exploitation. That’s why the European Union bans the practice. Surrogate mothers are treated purely as a means to an end; dehumanized as was obvious in the way Trent was treated. And children are treated as products of a commercial process, forced into a lifetime in which “mommy” and “daddy” are socially reinvented. To intentionally create this situation—to intentionally bring children into existence and rob them of basic human rights should be unthinkable. Little Monroe Christine is both the product and the victim of a social experiment. It’s stunning to me that an increasing number of Christians embrace and approve of surrogacy. I’ve talked about it at length on BreakPoint, and we’ve just wrapped up an online short course addressing reproductive technologies. We will continue to speak out. And we’ve put together some resources at BreakPoint.org, including McGinley’s important article from First Things. As McGinley writes, Ms. Trent may move on with her life, but little Monroe Christine will have to live with this episode, and God forbid, future episodes, for the rest of her life. “She will always have been born on television,” McGinley writes. “Her childhood will always have been a marketable commodity. She will always be the product of the will and the checkbook of two men.” Monroe Christine, McGinley goes on to say, “is a little girl who was paid for by two men. Her mother was picked out of a catalogue; the woman who gave birth to her was a contractually obligated guest star on a television show who was publicly humiliated by her father.” “Remember Monroe Christine when you hear words like ‘equality,’ ‘autonomy,’ and identity.’ Who is equal, and who is a symbol of someone else’s equality? Who is autonomous, and who is an expression of someone else’s autonomy? …Who is a person, and who is an accessory? Who is an end, and who is a means? Who is a girl, and who is a pet?” God help us. Trust me—you need to read all of McGinley’s article. To do so, visit BreakPoint.org and we’ll link to it.

Could This Beauty Be for Us?

Natural Artistry Defies Darwinism • February 15, 2019 • John Stonestreet

The wings of a bird, the colors of a butterfly, and the patterns on a seashell defy the theory of Darwinian evolution. Many of us intuit, simply by looking at the splendor that permeates the natural world, that there must be some agent involved other than blind mutations or mere survival-of-the-fittest mechanisms. And now, it seems, some scientists are beginning to accept that intuition, finally admitting that beauty cannot be explained by the theory of evolution, at least as we know it. In a surprising article in The New York Times, Ferris Jabr writes about a small but growing band of scientists who argue that natural selection alone can’t account for the eye-popping artistry we see in nature. He cites Yale ornithologist Richard Prum, who argues in his book, “The Evolution of Beauty,” that the elaborate plumage and outrageous mating displays of many birds confer no obvious survival advantage. Instead, they often put these birds at a disadvantage, wasting precious energy and making them stand out to predators. By all the conventional rules of evolution, such costly adaptations should have disappeared long ago. Instead, says Prum, we find them all over nature, not only in birds, which play their wings like violins, but in beetles with high-fidelity, crystalline scales, fish with flags for tails, and a whole assortment of mammals sporting over-the-top headgear. Our world is bursting with unnecessary beauty that Jabr describes as “an affront to the rules of natural selection.” Now, the traditional explanation for aesthetically awe-inspiring traits is that they show off an animal’s fitness to potential mates. The parrot with the brightest plumage might have the healthiest immune system. The lion with the bushiest mane must be the most successful hunter. But more and more scientists are challenging this so-called “good genes” theory. Many natural ornaments, like the flamboyant tail of the peacock, put their owner in serious danger without necessarily signaling genetic fitness. Yet peahens (or the females) keep picking the fellahs with the biggest, brightest tails to sire their offspring. While many scientists insist that somehow a cumbersome caboose confers a survival benefit, Prum thinks that’s ridiculous. Animals are beautiful not because beauty is useful, he insists, but because…they like it! Through a process called “sexual selection,” Prum and other experts now believe animals shape their own evolution, choosing features in mates that strike their fancy, and exaggerating these over countless generations to produce colors, shapes, and behaviors that dazzle human observers. Now, maybe animals do like being beautiful, but that seems as much a forced theory as the one it replaced. I’m glad some Darwinists are recognizing that survival alone can’t account for the art gallery we call the natural world, but is it really a better option to look at that same art gallery and conclude that the paintings produced themselves? Well, here’s another option... Recently, Evolution News reported on a peer-reviewed study by scientists in Spain that suggests that just seeing natural designs improves human engineers’ creativity. The researchers created a program that “help[s] industrial designers find natural shapes that [are] both functional and aesthetically pleasing” by showing them the features of plants and animals. This is just the latest in an emerging field called “biomimetics,” which literally means “copying life.” The paper uses the term “design” no less than 130 times and “agency” over 140 times. Considering this, plus Jabr’s outstanding piece in the Times, it’s fair to wonder if we are “approaching the threshold of design acceptance in science.” I hope so. Faced with a natural world brimming with beauty and engineering, scientists should reconsider the dogma that all of this created itself. Instead, they should consider that the mind-boggling beauty we see around us was always intended for our eyes—designed by a master Engineer and Artist, to display His genius and glory through the language of beauty—in a language best understood not by peahens, but by people. As Andrew Peterson sings, could the beauty before us…be for us? I look forward to the day when science joins Christianity in saying “yes.”

Millennials and Evangelism

The Plague of Emotivism • February 14, 2019 • John Stonestreet

In 1957, the social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the stress that results from holding two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time. According to Festinger, people will attempt to alleviate the stress by either changing their minds about one of the ideas or, more commonly, convincing themselves the ideas really aren’t contradictory. The latter usually results in an incoherent mess, something a recent Barna report amply demonstrates. The report, entitled “Reviving Evangelism,” found that virtually every practicing American Christian believes that “part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus.” Similarly, virtually all of them agree that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus.” This sounds like a solid foundation for “reviving evangelism,” doesn’t it? Yet, the same study found that “nearly half (47 percent) of practicing Christian millennials—churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives—believe that evangelism is wrong.” Specifically, they believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes they will one day share the same faith.” If you’re wondering how one can simultaneously believe that knowing Jesus is the best thing that could happen to a person and that telling that same person about Jesus is somehow wrong, you understand what cognitive dissonance means. Making matters even more, well, dissonant, is that the same group “is more likely than any other generation to say they are gifted at sharing their faith.” Nearly three quarters of them describe themselves that way. At this point, it’s tempting to talk about how participation trophies and self-affirmation statements have ruined the millennials. But the problem isn’t our misguided strategies of boosting this generation’s self-esteem. The problem is theological anemia. Specifically, it’s a failure of catechesis. Evangelizing like you mean it requires going against the cultural grain. As Barna president David Kinnaman told Christianity Today, “Cultivating deep, steady, resilient Christian conviction is difficult in a world of ‘you do you’ and ‘don’t criticize anyone else’s life choices’ and emotivism, the feelings-first priority that our culture makes a way of life.” Notre Dame philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has suggested that emotivism is at the heart of our current post-truth culture, and turns all statements about the good and the true into mere claims of personal preference. Overall, the church has done a poor job of catechizing both ourselves and future generations against emotivism. In fact, as writer Samuel James argued, “The data here strongly suggests that Christian millennials are being catechized by their colleges, not churches.” Actually, I would argue that across our culture, emotivism is pushed on us way before college, and too often, it’s even pushed by churches when they talk about “knowing Jesus.” What is meant by “knowing Jesus” by so many Christians is closer to “I love Swiss Almond Vanilla ice cream” than it is what the Apostles meant by it. It indicates a strong preference, but not a life-altering conviction. The late biblical scholar Francis Martin used to tell his students “Christianity is a way of knowing, not a warm fuzzy.” By “way of knowing” he meant something akin to what we at the Colson Center mean by “worldview”: the truth about God, creation, and ourselves as ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. That’s not to say our faith isn’t personal. Of course it is, but for the New Testament writers, “knowing” God and Jesus Christ whom He sent isn’t about making us feel good. It’s about being rescued from the dominion of darkness for the kingdom of Christ. When was the last time you heard Christianity described this starkly? If we can’t remember, then we ought not be surprised by the cognitive dissonance described by the Barna report.

The Cost of Skipping Children

Life Has No Price Tag • February 13, 2019 • John Stonestreet

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported late last year that Americans aren’t having enough babies to replace themselves. In fact, a record one in five American women will never have children, and those who do will, on average, never exceed two. As a result, the death rate is outpacing the birth rate, which means—except for immigration—the U.S. has joined many developed countries on the long, slow road of population decline. That’s bad news. Not having enough children as a society has costs that are hard to appreciate on the individual level. We know from examples like Japan and much of Europe that aging countries become economically top-heavy, especially those that promise extensive government services to the elderly. This results in runaway aging and population decline, and negatively impacts every sector of the economy except for maybe healthcare, depending on how you look at that one. It also places heavier and heavier burdens on the shoulders of an ever-shrinking workforce of young people, which leaves them even less likely to have kids. On a deeper level, young members of a graying society lose hope for the future, or stop planning for it altogether. In Japan, this hopelessness manifests as one of the highest rates of suicide among youth in the developed world. To be clear, the United States is not Japan, but as Jonathan Last writes in his book, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting,” there’s no example in history of a shrinking society experiencing long-term prosperity. Given the impending demographic disaster, you might think this would be the wrong time to discourage people from having children. But some are doing just that. Citing numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the website Market Watch recently warned that the cost of raising children has grown an unbelievable 40 percent since the year 2000. According to those USDA estimates, the average American parent spends almost a quarter million dollars raising a single child, not including college expenses. This translates to huge figures for families who have four, five, or even more kids. If these numbers are correct, a minivan-sized family will spend something on the order of a million dollars just to get their children through high school. But I’m not buying those numbers, at least not totally. The USDA’s estimates don’t take into account things like shared living space, hand-me-down clothes, grandparents pitching in, or other common ways parents have learned to save money. Such outlandish estimates of the cost of kids are now cited in article after article, making the case that few Americans can really afford kids. CNBC joined in recently with a piece called “Here’s how much money you save when you don’t have kids.” To make matters worse, they cited a study purporting to show parents are less happy than non-parents. All of this bean-counting in the government and secular media comes at a moment when the thing we need most is babies. Even sadder, it coincides with one of the hardest pro-abortion legislative pushes we’ve seen in decades. Our culture is simply less welcoming to little lives than ever before. And yet those of us who have kids and those who desperately long and pray to have kids know how fundamentally skewed these cost-benefit analyses are, even if their math was better. Because children are priceless, and as my friend Dr. Ben Mitchell says, anytime you put a price tag on something priceless, you cheapen it. The question of whether kids are too expensive raises much bigger worldview questions, such as, “what’s the purpose of life?” and “what’s the good life?” Children aren’t a bucket list item, like paragliding or visiting Paris. It’s an others-centered way of living—a radical statement of hope for the future—a declaration that you and I are not the center of the universe, and that the here and now is not the only thing that matters. In a society already suffering from a birth dearth, the question isn’t whether we can afford to have kids. It’s whether we can afford not to.