September 04, 2014


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 4, 2014


I've been thinking about Islam lately, to better understand ISIS/ the Islamic State. Let's look at four topics: Jesus and Muhammad, jihad, "religion of peace," and terrorists.

1. Jesus and Muhammad

Jesus is an important prophet, according to Islam, but Jesus is not God in human flesh, contrary to Christianity.

Also, Jesus didn't die on the cross (somebody else did) and Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death—all this according to the Qur'an, written in another country 600 years after the events. (Note: Christianity's New Testament evidences are closer to the events geographically and in time because they contain accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses.)

The focus of Islam is the man Muhammad, who is (allegedly) God's latest and greatest prophet. Significantly, whereas Jesus shed his own blood for others, Muhammad shed the blood of others.

2. Jihad

Is jihad a holy war against unbelievers (infidels) or merely a personal spiritual struggle? Consider these observations from Irving Hexham, a well-respected professor of religious studies at University of Calgary, from his book Understanding World Religions (2011):

"[T]he popular milk-and-water version of Islam found in most religious studies texts [in Western universities] is, to say the least, misleading. Jihad is indeed primarily a form of warfare in defense of Islam [i.e., it's not merely a spiritual/ personal struggle against one's carnal desires]."

According to Hexham, "This means that, however much one may disagree with the methods of people like Osama bin Laden [ISIS, etc.], it is highly misleading to dismiss them as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam,' as some writers suggest."

Hexham adds: "The truth is, bin Laden [ISIS, etc.] have decided that Islam is under threat from the West and that Western values are undermining Muslim societies. Therefore, in their own eyes, they are fighting a legitimate war, or jihad, in defense of Islam."

3. "Religion of peace"

When Muslims talk about Islam being a "religion of peace," peace isn't what we in the West usually think. It's not live and let live.

Hexham writes: "For Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace, because the imposition of Islamic rule brings areas under Muslim control to peace and order in accordance with Islamic teachings about the will of God. Thus it is a Pax Islamica, which imposes peace by dominating all opponents by force or arms."

Hexham concludes: "it seems clear that to say that 'Islam is a religion of peace' is not the same thing as saying that 'Islam is a peaceful religion.'"

4. Terrorists

So, are all Muslims terrorists? Answer: No, definitely not.

Zane Pratt, a Christian missionary to central Asia, is author of the article, "10 things every Christian should know about Islam." Pratt (correctly) observes: "The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists."

Pratt adds: "In fact, normal Islamic religious law forbids the intentional killing of non-combatants in battle. It also forbids suicide. It's a small minority view that allows these things, and it's a small minority who engage in terrorist activities."

But let's pause a moment. According to Pratt, "it's a small minority [of Muslims] who engage in terrorist activity." Yet, according to Hexham, it is "highly misleading to dismiss them [this small minority] as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam.'"

Enter: the need to think carefully.

Review: (1) Islam denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who spread his message peacefully, but Islam admires Muhammad, who spread his message violently; (2) those Muslims who take jihad as killing non-Muslims understand Islam and are not extremists; (3) Islam, as a "religion of peace," tends to view "peace" as submission to, i.e., forceful domination by, Islamic rule; (4) the vast majority of Muslims are (truly) peaceful.

What should we do? I recommend that we show love to Muslims, pray for them, discern truth, plus speak truth with gentleness and respect.

I also recommend Nabeel Qureshi's book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014).

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

August 21, 2014

War or peace?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, August 21, 2014

War or peace?

Which would you choose: war or peace? Peace, surely.

But what about these options: war or a peace at home which permits a murderous tyranny in other countries, a tyranny bent on world conquest?

In such a scenario, if peaceful diplomatic efforts are ineffective and cost the lives of large and growing numbers of innocents, I would choose war—just war.

I would choose just war as a last resort, with reluctance, to protect innocents from evil aggressors. Lethal force would be limited to what's needed, protecting non-combatants, aiming for a just peace.

Bear with me as I address three objections.

Objection 1. The Bible commands "Do not kill."

No, the Bible commands "Do not murder." Killing and murder are different morally. All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder.

Think of a police officer who must kill someone engaged in a deadly shooting spree in a school. The police officer doesn't murder; the killer of the students murders. The police officer kills the murderer to protect innocents; the murderer kills innocents. The police officer kills justly; the murderer kills unjustly.

Objection 2. Jesus said: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Yes, Jesus said this, but this has to do with personal relationships, not matters of government. It has to do with a backhand slap to the face, which in Jesus' culture is an insult. It means that if someone insults you, suck it up.

Context is important. Jesus is talking to individuals about how to relate to one another within a society ruled by a foreign power. Jesus is not talking about the affairs of state. (About the affairs of state, Paul in Romans 13 says the state legitimately bears the sword and is God’s agent of wrath.)

C. S. Lewis, in his essay "Why I am not a Pacifist," points out that Jesus' audience consists of a "private people in a disarmed nation" and "war was not what they would have been thinking of."

Also, Lewis asks:  "Does anyone suppose that our Lord’s hearers understood him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?" For Lewis, context renders such an understanding impossible.

The turn-the-other-cheek passage, then, doesn't mean we shouldn't use force to protect others.

Interestingly, Jesus even commends a centurion—a soldier—for his faith.

Objection 3. Aren't we supposed to love our neighbours? Doesn't love preclude war?

Yes, we should love our neighbours. No, love doesn't preclude war.

Here I side with Augustine (354-430 AD). According to Augustine, love of neighbour sometimes requires that we use violence to protect our neighbour, as when our neighbour is threatened by an assailant.

In the name of love, according to Augustine, we may have to use military force—a lethal force—to stop an army from murdering innocent neighbours.

Reminder: Not all killing is murder. Think again of the good police officer who justly kills a rampaging killer of innocents. Soldiers—just soldiers—are like that good police officer.

Of course, much more can (and should) be said.

I am neither a warmonger nor a pacifist. I believe that sometimes violent force is justified—as in police situations and on a larger scale when military force is needed—to protect innocents from aggressive, murderous thugs.

Just war is never completely just, to be sure, and it's terrible.

But a so-called "peace" that permits large and growing numbers of innocent men, women, and children to be raped, tortured, cut in half, beheaded, and slaughtered is worse—much worse.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. After high school, Hendrik served for three years as an infantryman in the Canadian Armed Forces.)

August 07, 2014

Think, for baby's sake

Frank Nelson, BJ Barone, and baby Milo (June 27, 2014) Lindsay Foster photo

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, August 7, 2014

Think, for baby's sake

Photos of two shirtless gay men holding a freshly born baby circulated widely on the internet recently. Commentators' emotions gushed, turning the baby into a poster child for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Unnoticed, however, is IVF's moral nightmare.

IVF means fertilization "in glass," that is, fertilization in a test tube or Petri dish.

IVF involves these steps: (1) a woman's ovaries are stimulated to release multiple eggs; (2) 5-15 eggs are extracted via minor surgery; (3) sperm is obtained via masturbation; (4) eggs and sperm are placed in a dish where fertilization occurs; (5) up to three embryos are placed in a woman's uterus; (6) remaining embryos are frozen.

If IVF is successful, an embryo implants in the uterus and an infant is born nine months later. If not successful, leftover embryos are thawed and more embryos are implanted.

So far, so good? Nope.

IVF has huge moral concerns that shouldn't be eclipsed by the wants of wannabe parents, whether gay or straight.

Because up to three embryos are placed in the uterus, it's not uncommon for more than one implantation. Enter these problems: (1) too many children, thereby risking the gestational mother's health; (2) "selective termination," i.e., abortion of the extra child/ children.

Also, IVF usually creates more frozen embryos than needed. Enter the problem of what to do with the "leftovers." Garbage? Research?

But contemporary science—embryology, fetology, biology—tells us that the human embryo is a human being (not a dog being or a kitten). Surely, discarding or doing research on human beings—research that destroys them—is problematic.

Also, when donor sperm and donor eggs are involved, don't biologically based moral obligations to the IVF-created child accrue to the donors? We usually think that biological parents have moral obligations to their offspring—after all, we sue biological fathers for child support because they are biological fathers.

In fact, sperm donors become biological fathers via IVF, and egg donors become biological mothers via IVF. There apparently is, then, a nature-based moral duty to care for and raise one's offspring which gets violated. Isn't this violation unfair to children?

When sperm and egg donors—i.e., the biological parents—are anonymous, growing evidence shows that IVF children struggle deeply with personal identity. For a child, knowledge of his/ her biological mother and biological father is important. But anonymous sperm and egg donors obliterate this connection. Surely this (too) is unfair to children.

In the case of same-sex couples who create a child via IVF, a baby is deliberately deprived of (at least) one of his/her biological parents (solely because two adults want a baby). Surely, this is unfair to children (as well). And it's more unfair if sexual as well as gender differentiated parenting are important to the baby's well-being.

Furthermore, IVF creates markets for women's eggs and egg harvesting presents serious health risks to women. Enter the problem of "eggsploitation"—the exploitation of women for their eggs.

IVF also creates markets for surrogate mothers who face health risks. Women (especially poor women) are being exploited for their wombs. This contributes to the creation of a subclass of women—a.k.a. "breeders".

IVF-created people should be loved and respected, to be sure. But IVF threatens to turn children into commodities, especially if the children are the product of sperm and egg sellers and if relations between parents and surrogates involve financial transactions.

In other words, IVF may very well aid and abet human trafficking, albeit at the earliest stages of human being.

Finally, there are many already-born, non-IVF children who need parents. Surely, the adoption of these children should occur first and instead of IVF.

Whereas adoption is a rescue operation aimed at helping needy children already there, IVF steps into moral darkness with the aim of creating new children to satisfy adult wants.

Stop emoting over the baby pictures. Think (and act) like morally responsible adults, for the baby's sake.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

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