Where did Jesus get his DNA?: a dispute between Catholics and Evangelical Christians

January 16, 2023 • 9:30 am

A reader’s comment in a recent post brought this issue to my attention. Lots of fun!

I should have figured that once genetics became established, theologians would realize that they had a problem. Two big problems, actually. The first, which I’ve discussed before, is that we’re all supposed to be descended from a man and a woman who were a couple living at the same time and place (Adam and Eve, of course).  Because this is not possible, scientifically inclined theologians have tried to save the Original Sin Couple for well over a decade. I won’t describe their solutions, but they are the subject of constant argument at the moribund BioLogos site (see here for a FAQ on Adam and Eve).

A bigger question, discussed at tedious length at the Evangelical Christian website below, is this: if Jesus was part human and part divine, but was born of a human mother (Mary), what was his genetic constitution? Clearly Joseph didn’t have a part in inseminating Mary, and if Jesus was a human, with 23 pairs of chromosome and a Y, did one set of chromosomes, containing an X, come from Mary, and the rest from God? That is, did God contribute half of Jesus’s genome, or did he create Jesus’s genome entirely?

Given the lack of evidence that a divine Jesus existed, or that even a Jesus person existed (some, like Bart Ehrman ,see Jesus as a real person but not divine: a messianic apocalyptic Jewish preacher), this argument would seem superfluous. Or trivial–like the number of angels waltzing on a pinhead. But Christians need answers, and so Finding Hope Ministries (FHM) supplies us with theirs.

Click below to read:

FHM first lists all the possibilities—eliminating the possibility Jesus was haploid, containing only 23 chromosomes from Mary, which would make the Savior inviable (and not male), but would explain the middle initial in “Jesus H. Christ”):

It seems there are only 3 options for considering the composition of Jesus’ DNA:

  1. Jesus has 100% Mary’s DNA with a divinely created Y chromosome to make Him male. [JAC: But did God take out one of Mary’s two X chromosomes, or was he XXY, a male with Klinefelter syndrome?]
  2. Jesus has 50% DNA from a human female (Mary) and 50% DNA from God, to replace that of a human male.
  3. Jesus has DNA created entirely by God at the time of His conception.

Several have proposed God supplied a Y chromosome to add to the X chromosome of Mary’s egg cell (ovum), which programmed for the male gender of Jesus.  In so doing God bypassed defective genetic weaknesses of the Adamic (male) genome.  However, this is a fallacious argument, as 22 other chromosomes must be contributed to match the other 22 chromosomes Mary produced in her ovum cell.

God, of course, could have done anything.

FHM then analyzes the Catholic position, which they ultimately reject (their bolding):

The Roman Catholic Church embraces the second option: Jesus has 50% DNA from a human female (Mary’s) and 50% DNA from God (to replace that of a sinful human male).  This enabled Mary to supply Jesus’ humanity.  God the Holy Spirit miraculously encapsulated the Divine nature in Jesus human body.  Mary and the Holy Spirit each contributed 50% to the end result.  But doesn’t Mary fall under the category of all humans who are born sinners? Catholic theologians cite Mary’s “Immaculate conception” as contributing a sinless human nature to Jesus.  Catholics believe Mary was without sin when she bore God’s Son.  Mary is considered the “Holy Mother of God.” She remained a virgin after delivering Jesus (according to the Catholic church). Therefore, Roman Catholicism insists Jesus’ other brothers and sister mentioned in Scripture (James, Jude, etc) were not siblings but cousins—not birthed by the Virgin Mary. The Holy Scriptures teach Jesus’ siblings were born of Mary, who did not stay a virgin after Jesus’ birth.  But the question about whether they share Jesus’ DNA remains unanswered.  Let us further examine the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

To ensure that Jesus was without Original Sin given that he had a human mother, Catholics adopted (in 1854!) the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: that Mary was sinless from the moment of her own conception—as sinless as the pre-serpent Adam. If so, then her offspring, Jesus, was also born without Original Sin.  To ensure that Jesus’s brothers and sisters remained sinful, it was proposed that they were not the result of Mary’s insemination by God. Instead, they were “cousins,” which I presume means fathered by Joseph with another woman. Adultery!

The Catholic solution is thus this, as stated by FHM:

Catholics teach Mary was sinless and conceived in perfection. They therefore propose Mary contributed Jesus sinless human nature. Jesus’ DNA would then consist of 50% contribution from Mary, and perhaps more if God only added the ‘Y’ chromosome.

Catholic theologians admit the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, as defined by Pope Pius IX was not overtly taught prior to the 12th century. They also agree Biblical Scripture can’t prove this teaching. But they claim the doctrine is implicitly contained in the teaching of the church Fathers.

The church Fathers, of course, didn’t know anything about heredity, much less about the Y chromosome, so I’m not sure how that solution is “implicit” in their teaching. BUT to evangelical Christians such as those from FHM, this doesn’t solve the problem. Why? For two reasons. First, as they note:

Most Protestants reject the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. They do not consider the teaching authoritative because it is not supported by Biblical Scriptures.

Indeed. The Immaculate Conception was just made up to solve the problem of getting a sinless part-human Jesus—to save the Trinity. But if you reject this construction, then you face another problem: if Jesus really did contain some of Mary’s genome, and she still had Original Sin, then Jesus would also bear Original Sin. But he couldn’t have, for then he wouldn’t be Jesus.  Thus the Christians are forcd to accept the third solution—God created the entire embryo of Jesus:

It is more likely Mary nourished and “made” the infant Jesus from a single cell being conceived (created) only by God.  She gave it a virgin birth, protecting it from any sinful genetic contribution from the ‘seed of man.’  But God the Holy Spirit conceived and created the initial cell of Jesus that ultimately grew into the baby child born nine months later.  This was God’s miraculous conception without a man and without a woman.

. . . The Biblical record supports God intervened only once in human genealogy when Jesus became man. God picked Mary as the woman who would birth His Son because of His grace, not because He needed a sinless vessel to pass purity onto His son.  Mary provided nourishment and protection for God’s Son as He developed in her uterus. The virgin birth confirmed the purity of Jesus at childbirth.  So God the Holy Spirit placed a God-designed conception in the womb of Mary and she functioned as a surrogate mother.  God created His human nature.  Jesus existed eternally as Deity.  His God nature was never created, contrary to the teaching of Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.

They cite scripture to support this (read the article), but of course Catholics cite scripture to support their own view. The thing is, if God can create a fertilized egg containing no human genome, and then make Mary bear it for nine months, why couldn’t he have created Jesus de novo without a pregnancy? That’s another question that I’ll leave to the readers, but I suppose pregnancy is part of the story that Jesus had at least some humanlike origin.

It gets even funnier when FHM explains why Mary could not have been without sin (remember, they reject the Immaculate Conception). It involves her having mutations in her DNA, mutations caused by SIN:

Inherent sin in the human genome produces inherited physical mutations. Over many generations, the human population has experienced myriads of genetic mutations, and these defects have been incorporated into the common human gene pool, affecting every infant ever born.  This is why the lifespan of men has declined from 900+ years in the pre-Flood world to 200+ years of Abraham’s contemporaries and ultimately to 70-80 years today.  Mary did not live to be 900 years old.  She was not martyred at a young age.  Her body suffered the ravages of imperfection.  She had a defective human genome and died a normal age (approximately 60) for a woman of that time.

Why sin produces mutations is unresolved, of course, and not all mutations are “defects”. But this solves the problem of a sinless Jesus born of a human mother, and kills another bird as well: the remarkable decline in human longevity since Biblical days.  No more Methuselahs! How clever these theologians are!  And it solves the problem of Jesus being both human and divine: the “human” bit wasn’t based on DNA, but on looking like a human and having been gestated in a human womb:

His body was truly “in the flesh,” but only “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Jesus grew in the Mary’s womb like any other baby, yet he was different from all others. He was not genetically related to either Mary or Joseph, for both had an inherited sin nature. Jesus was sinless and without genetic flaw.  He was the spotless and sacrificial Lamb of God who offered Himself as a perfect propitiation (payment satisfactory to God) for the sins of mankind.

. . .But the most amazing miracle God performed was His creation of the “second Adam” at conception.  He fashioned the first Adam on the sixth day of creation as a full-grown man without sin and in God’s image.  Adam was not born of a woman. He received no human DNA from earthly parents.  Yet he was fully human.  God created Jesus at conception in His image without any DNA contribution from earthly parents.  Jesus said to his disciples:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14: 7).

Problem solved! Oh, those clever Christians! They then summarize if the readers weren’t able to follow the argument:

However, the church has always taught Jesus is 100% human and 100% Deity (preexisting His incarnation as the Son of God -“the Word”).  The third option presented earlier satisfies all these requirements: Jesus has DNA created entirely by God at the time of His conception.  His Divine nature did not need to be created, as it was eternally present prior to His birth. God the Holy Spirit provided a human body untainted by the fallen sin-nature of Adam at conception and placed it in the uterus of a virgin, Mary.  She carried this child for the nine months of a normal pregnancy as a surrogate mother.  This infant had no mutations or defects because Jesus was truly created the “second Adam” in the image of God—like the “first Adam.”  God created the first Adam and Eve without sin as perfect adults.  Sin entered both of them at the fall, and subsequently infected the entire human race.  God similarly created Jesus’s human body at conception, so He could experience everything human from the beginning to the end of a human life. Hebrews 4:15 explains: “He was at all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 states: ” For He made him who had no sin to be sin for us. ”  God became man to sacrifice Himself for the sins of mankind.  The name “Jesus” means “God saves.”

Clearly the Catholics got it wrong! The clever theologians at Finding Hope Ministries have not only been able to show up those duplicitous Catholics, but found a way that Jesus can still be 100% human AND 100% divine and yet free of those sin-caused mutations. And it also explains the evolutionary reduction in human lifespan over the last two millennia! I am dumbfounded with admiration.

Can you believe that people get paid to ponder stuff like this? What’s even more incredible is that people believe these solutions.


More fiction and superstition fed to NYT readers

December 11, 2022 • 11:40 am

The quote below is one of the sanest things I’ve seen on Facebook lately, though I can’t remember who posted it. Dag Søras is a Norwegian comedian:

Why I bring this up is because every Sunday, like today, the New York Times pretends that God and Jesus exist, and they do so by giving op-ed space to Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren. Every week Warren produces a page of bromides (usually along the lines of “why can’t we all love each other, even if we’re different?), all of which take for granted that her Christian beliefs are correct.

This week Reverend Warren interviews another Anglican priest who happens to be a poet, Malcolm Guite, described by Wikipedia this way:

. . . an English poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and academic. Born in Nigeria to British expatriate parents, Guite earned degrees from Cambridge and Durham universities. His research interests include the intersection of religion and the arts, and the examination of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and British poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was a Bye-Fellow and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge and associate chaplain of St Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge. On several occasions, he has taught as visiting faculty at several colleges and universities in England and North America.

It always puzzles me when somebody with brains and academic training is also deeply religious, and I’ve started seeing that as a character flaw: an inability to accept that you’re staking your life and much of your time on stuff for which there’s no evidence. That is, you’re believing in the modern equivalent of Thor and Allah. In this column—and I’ll try to be brief—we have one Anglican priest (Warren) interviewing another (Guite), and together they manage to fob off a bunch of hooey on the readers of the NYT.

Click to read:

The subject is both poetry and Advent: the month of preparation for celebrating the birth of a baby who may or may not have existed, but is thought, wrongly, to be both God and the Son of God.  Guite explains its significance. In all that follows I’ve put the hooey in bold except for Warren’s questions, which the NYT put in bold.  Excerpts are indented.

I think the first thing to understand is the wisdom that is embedded in the liturgical calendar and that way of sacralizing time. Advent is meant to be to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. It’s always been the wisdom of the church to have a fast before a feast, to have this time of holding back and restraint so that you really appreciate and understand the reasons for the joy and the feasting when it comes.

The word Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” The church saw that preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas could also be a way of looking to that larger hope, which is the final coming of Jesus, the day when, at last, the earth will be filled with the glory of God. And in my book I said, well, I think there’s a third “coming,” a kind of continuous coming. We all experience a series of Advents. My prayer life and spirituality is very much focused on the Eucharist. So for me, every time I hold out my hands and the wafer is placed there and I receive him, that’s an advent. And in fact, that’s actually also Christmas. It’s an incarnation. He chooses the humble form of the bread as he chose the humble form of the baby to be his body.

Guite bangs on about the commercialization of Christmas and how we really have to avoid pre-Christmas parties and shopping, for it’s a time to reflect on the coming of baby Jesus.

Instead of being quieter and more reflective, then finally experiencing what G.K. Chesterton called the “submerged sunrise of wonder” at the birth of the Christ Child, we were suddenly assailed on all sides by commercial pressures.

There’s a tedious discussion of antiphons, but then Guite gets onto my territory: “ways of knowing”. And religion is one of them.

WARREN: You have said that imagination is “a truth-bearing faculty.” What do you mean by that?

GUITE: There’s a hierarchy between information, knowledge and wisdom. And reason is very good at finding and categorizing information. But reason has almost no access to wisdom at all. Counter to that are much earlier insights probably best expressed by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He says: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”

That suggests that imagination is a way of knowing. And it’s a way of knowing and intuiting and feeling we might have missed entirely if the poet or the artist or the painter or the musician hadn’t bodied it forth.

Imagination came to be considered, strictly speaking, made up. The presupposition was that all the things that we care about that have now been relegated to so-called subjectivity, like love and passion and beauty, somehow don’t exist in the same way that the atoms in a cup exist.

Earlier philosophers and some of those philosophers in Enlightenment who tried to resist this had a different notion. They said imagination is not simply about making things up. It’s about synthesizing everything. It’s about seeing the whole. C.S. Lewis, much later in his life, said that reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.

I don’t think we have to choose between reason and imagination. I don’t think we have to choose between science and religion. I don’t think we have to choose between serious intellectual inquiry and deeply held faith. I think these things are enfolded aspects, each depending on primal ways of knowing. To do theology well, we must bring the poets to the table along with the theologians and listen to what they say.

The first quote from Shakespeare sounds good, but really proves nothing. All it says is that when a poet imagines something, it somehow becomes “knowledge.”  Well, knowledge only in the sense that Shakespeare—or any poet—made stuff up.  Note how Guite conflates imagination and knowledge to somehow prove that what we can imagine to be true really is true. If that is the case, then when Guite and Warren imagine that Baby Jesus was born as God in human form, and performed many miracles before he was died and resurrected (he’ll be back!), why is that “knowledge”, while those who imagine that Allah, or John Frum, or Zeus, or Thor, or Shiva are real gods are wrong? When different people believe in different divinities, who, if anyone, is right?

There’s no way of knowing, and that’s why we have to choose between science and religion. Science has a way of distinguishing between competing explanations, although sometimes it’s hard to do (e.g. is string theory right?), but religion has no way of knowing whether its “knowledge” is real, genuine, true knowledge. (I’m taking “knowledge” to mean “truth that is nearly universally accepted” by those qualified to judge, but don’t hold me to a definition I made up on the fly.)

I won’t reprise Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible; let’s just say that Guite needs to read that book. Religion is not “enfolded” in science, nor is faith a “primal way of knowing” (note the word “primal”, which serves only to sound good but doesn’t move Guite’s argument forward).

That’s about it. One more exchange in which, I think, Warren is turning into the Anglican Krista Tippett:

WARREN: There is something about truth that is paradoxical. And poets — in a way that I don’t see with theologians or scientists sometimes — are very comfortable in that tension. Can you talk about the paradox of Advent?

GUITE: Advent is paradoxical in itself. It’s a season of waiting and anticipation in which the waiting is strangely rich and fulfilling. And it’s a season that looks back to the first coming, but only in order to look now at the other comings and also forward at the last coming.

What, exactly, is paradoxical about truth? Given that Advent is celebrating something that we don’t think really happened, is she referring to the “tension” of a celebrating something thatis likely a fiction? I don’t think so. The only truths I know that are paradoxical are the provisional truths of quantum mechanics, since they defy our ability to imagine what’s happening to particles on the physical level.

But enough. I am starting to wonder if the NYT continues to publish the numinous lucubrations of Pastor Warren because the paper in fact supports them—or at least supports the view, often pushed by The New Yorker, that science is only one of several “ways of knowing.” (As evidenced by my dialogue with Adam Gopnik, and other articles, the NYer apparently thinks that literature is also a “way of knowing”.) Since the sophisticated readers of the New York Times want to have their science and also their faith, this kind of twaddle with Guite and Warren buttresses the readers in their dissonance.

Well, that’s the only reason I can see to publish Christian dogma, week after week after week. . .


Two religions collide: Cambridge student preacher causes row by suggesting that Jesus was a transsexual male

November 27, 2022 • 12:00 pm

You can thank reader Pyers for the links to two—count them, two—articles about how a student at Cambridge claims that Jesus was a transsexual male, which of course caused a huge fracas. Pyers added this to his links:

And this one must be for the 5* treatment as being idiotic on just so so many levels.  When I read it I just, to use a piece of internet shorthand, PML. [JAC: inquiry reveals that this stands for “pissed myself laughing”]. It is the craziest of the crazy, looniest of loons …Just do what I was tempted to do and bash your head against a wall. It is at moments like this that you thank God you are an atheist! (Big grin for that one.)

It’s widely reported in the UK media:

The first article’s from the Torygraph:

A quote and picture (bolding is mine):

Jesus could have been transgender, according to a University of Cambridge dean.

Dr Michael Banner, the dean of Trinity College, said such a view was “legitimate” after a row over a sermon by a Cambridge research student that claimed Christ had a “trans body”, The Telegraph can disclose.

The “truly shocking” address at last Sunday’s evensong at Trinity College chapel, saw Joshua Heath, a junior research fellow, display Renaissance and Medieval paintings of the crucifixion that depicted a side wound that the guest preacher likened to a vagina.

Worshippers told The Telegraph they were left “in tears” and felt excluded from the church, with one shouting “heresy” at the Dean upon leaving.

The sermon displayed three paintings, including Jean Malouel’s 1400 work Pietà, with Mr Heath pointing out Jesus’s side wound and blood flowing to the groin. The order of service also showed French artist Henri Maccheroni’s 1990 work “Christs”.

Heath, whose PhD was supervised by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, also told worshippers that in the Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, from the 14th century, this side wound was isolated and “takes on a decidedly vaginal appearance”.

Heath also drew on non-erotic depictions of Christ’s penis in historical art, which “urge a welcoming rather than hostile response towards the raised voices of trans people”.

“In Christ’s simultaneously masculine and feminine body in these works, if the body of Christ as these works suggest the body of all bodies, then his body is also the trans body,” the sermon concluded.

A congregation member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dr Banner in a complaint letter: “I left the service in tears. You offered to speak with me afterwards, but I was too distressed. I am contemptuous of the idea that by cutting a hole in a man, through which he can be penetrated, he can become a woman.

“I am especially contemptuous of such imagery when it is applied to our Lord, from the pulpit, at Evensong. I am contemptuous of the notion that we should be invited to contemplate the martyrdom of a ‘trans Christ’, a new heresy for our age.”

Here is PROOF—one of the pictures shown during Heath’s sermon. You have to do a really logical stretch to see that as a vagina. It’s not even in the right place!

And here’s how Dean Banner defended the claim. Note that he often gives BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”, which is usually a religious homily. Dawkins did it once, and that was the last time they used an atheist!

Dr Banner’s response to the complaint, seen by The Telegraph, defended how the sermon “suggested that we might think about these images of Christ’s male/female body as providing us with ways of thinking about issues around transgender questions today”.

“For myself, I think that speculation was legitimate, whether or not you or I or anyone else disagrees with the interpretation, says something else about that artistic tradition, or resists its application to contemporary questions around transsexualism,” Dr Banner added.

Dr Banner, who frequents BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, said that while the views were the speaker’s own, he “would not issue an invitation to someone who I thought would deliberately seek to shock or offend a congregation or who could be expected to speak against the Christian faith”.

Click to read the more heated piece from the Daily Fail:

The Fail doesn’t add much to the above, but does give an official quote form the Uni:

A spokesperson for Trinity College said: The College would like to make clear the following:

‘Neither the Dean of Trinity College nor the researcher giving the sermon suggested Jesus was transgender.

‘The sermon addressed the image of Christ depicted in art and various interpretations of those artistic portrayals.

‘The sermon’s exploration of the nature of religious art, in the spirit of thought-provoking academic inquiry, was in keeping with open debate and dialogue at the University of Cambridge.’

Now it’s barely possible that some randy medieval artist deliberately painted Jesus’s wound to resemble a vagina. But since I’m not convinced that Jesus really existed as any real person, much less as a divine human/son of God/part of God, I can’t be bothered worrying about his gender. The whole fracas is simply hilarious, instantiating what happens when one religion, Christianity, collides with another—wokeness.

Today’s reading: the infusion of evangelical Christianity into Texas politics

October 10, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Texas, with its Republican governor Greg Abbott, is a prime example of how, in the face of declining religious belief in America, Republicans and other conservatives are trying hard to push their political ideology by dragging in evangelical Christianity. And they’re succeeding, at least as judged by Texas’s new anti-abortion law, implicitly based on Christianity.

The article below shows how eager the Christian camels of Texas are to stick their noses into the political tent, and how subtly they try to sneak religious language and values into governance. Oddly enough, the article comes from Texas Monthly. Yes, it’s Texas, Jake, but this kind of thing is happening all over America, especially in red states. Click to read:

I’ll give just a few quotes to show how religionists are getting away with this stuff, despite the secularization of America and the First Amendment:

After the Texas Supreme Court sided with cheerleaders in East Texas in August 2018 and allowed them to display a verse from the New Testament on their football team’s run-through banner, state attorney general Ken Paxton tweeted in support. “God bless these young cheerleaders for their faith in God and their fight to protect their religious liberties. Just like their banners said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’” The verse, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, references the apostle’s spiritual growth, which allows him to endure the unpredictability—including hunger and financial need—in his missionary work. The verse has become popular among athletes, politicians, and other competitors as a triumphalist blessing over their ambitions.

Note that what the Texas Supreme Court okayed was an explicit violation of the separation of church and state encoded in the First Amendment. (Of course, were this to be appealed to the Supreme Court, they’d almost surely uphold the Texas court.)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is particularly adept at using either direct or coded Christian language:

By using religious language, the more explicit the better, [Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow] said candidates can demonstrate their willingness to bring faith into the public sphere, an idea supported by many—including 89 percent of white evangelicals, who believe the Bible should have an influence on U.S. laws.

That repeated signal has muddied people’s understanding about what kind of religious liberty is actually guaranteed by the Constitution, said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, based in Washington, D.C. “I think there’s great confusion in the culture about what is meant by religious freedom or religious liberty, and that is because there has been a concerted effort to privilege Christianty and call it religious liberty.”

Indeed. Many religious Jews, for example, as well as gazillions of nonbelievers, don’t believe in “souls”— one basis for draconian abortion laws—and so banning or severely restricting abortion is usually based on the Christian faith (including Catholicism).

The effectiveness of Trump’s championing of white evangelicals’ priorities was striking: most forgave the notorious playboy for his coarse speech, cruelty toward the downtrodden, and flagrant immorality. Trump also eschewed the kind of civic unity that requires politicians to use broad language, and opened the door more widely for the public promotion of a single religion. A perusal of Texas’s statewide officeholders shows a number of tweets, stump speeches, and television appearances heavy with a specific expression of evangelical Christianity.

There are several examples.

One more quote, but do read the article, which is thoughtful and analytical:

“By God’s grace, we can give every child the chance to live a happy and fulfilling life,” said Governor Greg Abbott in a statement proclaiming January 22, 2018, to be “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The use of “by God’s grace” in public addresses could refer to any number of verses in the Christian Bible, and in public speech it often occupies a middle ground between ceremonial deism such as “in God we trust” and something more personal. But in politics, the phrase is closely related to “By the Grace of God” or “Dei Gratia,” which is part of the way that European Christian monarchs have been ceremonially addressed. It was a phrase added to their names to imply that their authority was a gift from God. Not enough American voters likely know about the European uses of the phrase to receive that signal.

But now you know the signal. Though the data all show that America is losing its religion, the country is becoming more theocratic. That’s because Christians are fighting hard to bring faith into politics, while the average American either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that much.

h/t: Alister

Today’s sermon from Tish Harrison Warren: we may get dementia, but God always remembers us

September 18, 2022 • 11:30 am

In her latest sermon which the New York Times commissioned from Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren for our edification, she describes the travails of living with a mother who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s.  I am very sad for both the Reverend and her mother: I can’t imagine watching someone you love gradually forget you, then everything else, and then slide slowly into the hinterlands of death. But then Warren manages to turn her grief into a lesson about God. (It’s assumed that we all think this god exists.) Click to read. (I have to say that the title makes me cringe.)

The peroration:

In his book on dementia, the Scottish pastor and theologian John Swinton wrote that we as a culture have a bias toward what he called “cortextualism”— a bias toward fusing our understanding of personhood with higher-order thinking and reasoning that leads us to depreciate the humanity of those not capable of typical cognition, including dementia patients.

But dementia cannot erase our inherent dignity or value. It does not erase the image of God in us. Cortextualism fails to see the intrinsic glory and beauty in each human life. It also strikes me as profoundly arrogant and self-deceived, rooted in the notion that with enough privilege, health and power, we can make ourselves strong; we can white-knuckle our way to the good life. But all of us, and every one of our strengths, are made of flimsy material.

Many of the biblical writers seem to understand that humans are innately forgetful creatures, so they constantly call us back to the hard work of recollection. In Deuteronomy, Moses urges his people, “Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai,” and later says, “Be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.”

Even now, believers gather to worship and collectively remember the stories we live by. Each Sunday in my church, when I take the Eucharist, the priest repeats Jesus’ words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Yet each week, through confession, we acknowledge that all of us, in the words of Isaiah, “have forgotten the God” of our salvation.

But Isaiah also tells us that while we may be forgetful, God is not. Isaiah 49 contains perhaps the most poignant statement about God’s memory. In it, God speaks: “Can a mother forget her nursing child?” The verse continues: “But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”

My mother may eventually forget me, her daughter whom she deeply loves. But God will not forget my mother. “At the heart of God’s intimate knowing of human beings,” writes Swinton, “lies God’s remembering of us.” He explains that the scriptures suggest that all things are eternally present to God, who is outside of and unbeholden to time. For God to remember someone, then, means that they are present to God, and therefore their existence and worth are safe, fixed and undiminished.

I do not and cannot know what lies ahead for my mom, or for me, or for anyone I love. I do not know what I will remember and what I will not. I do not know if everything I’ve ever said and written and done will be lost and forgotten. But my hope is that we are held fast, even now, in the eternal memory of God.

What I find strange about this, beyond Warren’s unwavering assurance that God exists, is that she uses dementia as an example of normal forgetfulness as mentioned in the Bible. Like her her mom, we humans are both made in God’s image but also “forgetful creatures.” But her mom has a neurological illness, and what does that have to do with the Reverend’s musings on how faith constantly asks us to remember stuff? Moses’s call to the Jews to remember God has nothing—nothing—to do with her mother’s forgetfulness, and it seems to me even a bit tackhy to use a neurological illness to draw lessons about faith and about God.

At the end, Warren says that God won’t forget her mother. But what, exactly does this remembering mean?  Warren characterizes God’s remembrance as “someone being present to God,” assuring that “their existence and worth are safe, fixed, and undiminished”? Is Warren trying to say that in the afterlife her mother will be there with God? If so, why didn’t she say it.  I suspect that liberal Christians get uncomfortable being straightforward with their views on Heaven, the Resurrection, and other tenets of their faith.

Warrens train of theological reasoning seems to be this:

a. My mom has a disease that makes her forget (and will kill her eventually)

b. My mom is made in the image of God and so her worth is not diminished.

c. Even non-afflicted humans are forgetful, but the Bible reminds us not to be.

d. And even if her mom forgets, God does not, and when her mother dies, God will gather her up in the afterlife.

I suppose it’s some kind of extended simile, but it goes nowhere. The real message is this: “God exists and some day we will all be with him in heaven.” (I’d like to know if we Jews and apostates will get there, too.)

In her customary way, Reverend Warren ignores the existence of these physical evils. (She’s always shied away from the Problem of Physical Evil, the Achilles Heel of Abrahamic religion.) Why did God give her mother such a horrible disease in the first place? Now that’s something I’d like to see Warren tackle.

I suppose it’s customary for the faithful to use horrible happenings as a way to reaffirm their faith in God, but I find it sad. And I also find it incomprehensible that what is supposed to be the best newspaper in America deluges us with a Christian sermon every Sunday. Yes, my subscription dues go to pay for Ross Douthat, too, but at least I can argue about his views. Who but a petulant secular atheis would take issue with the weekly lucubrations of an Anglican priest?

Tish Harrison Warren: some prayers to protect schoolchildren

September 11, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Last Sunday I once again dissected Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s weekly NYT column, whose presence in the paper I still don’t understand. It conveys bromides to soothe those already marinated in fait,—is that what the New York Times intends? Regardless, she ended her column—which expressed both her joy and anguish about her kids going off to school, and touted a book she’d written with others giving prayers for kids—this way:

How about you? How are you praying for your children or others, teachers, administrators or schools as this new school year begins? Are there particular prayers you use? Or specific rituals or practices that your family embraces this time of year? Share them with me at HarrisonWarren-newsletter@nytimes.com and we will select some responses to highlight in next week’s newsletter. Please be sure to let us know if we have your permission to print your full name and approximate location along with your response.

I knew that this week she’d collect those prayers and publish them, thus getting a free column. And here it is (click to read):

Now I have no beef against prayers so long as people who utter them don’t really think that somebody is listening at the other end and will do something differently if He gets enough prayers. This “democratic” view of prayer is not only nonsensical, and demeans whatever God there mat be, but also fails to answer fundamental questions about life (see below). It also buttresses the idea of faith: belief in something (a theistic God who listens) without any evidence. Finally, I object to prayer because implying that it’s a telephone to God rather than just a form of meditation is a species of lying to children.

So this week the Anglican pastor shows us some prayers she received from readers. The ones I like least are the ones that imply that prayer works. Here are a couple:

Maria Francis from Berkeley, Calif., wrote: “Our children are grown now, but we would ask them when they left, or when we dropped them off, even when moving them in for college: ‘Who are you?’

“‘I am a child of the High King of Heaven and I bear His image to the world’ was what we taught our children to answer. My husband, Mike, a pastor, suffered an anoxic brain injury seven years ago, which robbed him of almost all memory and knowledge, but he can still answer that question!”

Crikey! If that’s not propaganda, I don’t know what it is. In fact, it was embedded so hard in the family neurons that the poor woman’s brain-injured husband remembers this answer as only one of a few things his brain can process.


One reader from the Hudson Valley in New York wrote that during her daily morning walk she passes an elementary, middle and high school. She wrote: “As I pass by the schools I pray for the students, teachers, administrators and the building.”

She described one recent walk over the Labor Day weekend, saying that she prayed that schoolchildren, “from the most vulnerable to the fiercest, feel safe and valued.” She continued: “As I approach the main doors of the building, I lay my hands on them and pray that every soul that crosses them experiences peace, perhaps a peace that cannot be experienced at home. I pray for the teachers, that their hearts be enlarged to receive, love and encourage every child in their classroom. As I head to the playground, I picture the school monitors keeping the peace during recess. I pray for God to grant them and the school administrators wisdom for the choices they will face in the year ahead.”

This of course implies that God is listening, which itself implies that without importuning God, there would be less peace in the classroom. The laying of hands on the school doors freaks me out.

This mother admits that she’s asking for a supernatural intervention (my emphasis): magic blankets and angels!

Jill Donovan from Missouri, who writes that she has been a teacher for 34 years and currently teaches middle school and high school English, said that this year she is praying: “Please put a supernatural blanket of protection over every preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and college in this nation. Please shield and protect all students, teachers and staff members as they teach and learn together. Please put angels around every would-be shooter and help these individuals find the help they need. In the name of Jesus Christ, your son and my savior, amen.”

What about other nations?

And this one involves lying to kids:

Carmen Goetschius from Portland, Ore., a mother of two young children, composed this prayer: “The end of summer has snuck up on us again, O God, and soon our children will begin a new school year. They are a bundle of nerves and bubbling with excitement (unless they are teenagers and all this is hidden beneath a cool exterior of nonchalance). Draw near to children across the globe.” She continued: “Whisper deep truths to their spirits: that they have been created with purpose and are your beloved children, not to mention the great privilege of their frazzled, hopeful parents’ lives.

But to what purpose have they been created? And if the children are beloved, why does God allow them to be shot down?

Look, I don’t object to parents expressing parental love for their kids. I object to thinking that someone is listening to your importuning and will act or not act on it depending on whether He feels dyspeptic. And I object to teaching kids this kind of nonsense.

But it all raises the huge question that the faithful, including Reverend Warren, never answer: “If God is answering prayers, and loves the little children, why does he allow them to repeatedly be shot down by killers?”

There are only four answers:

  1. There is a beneficent God, and He has a mysterious but wonderful plan, part of which includes killing children and bringing unbearable grief to their parents.
  2. There is a beneficent God, but he doesn’t have the power to stop bad things from happening. That is, he’s not omnipotent.
  3. There is a God, but he’s sometimes just in a bad mood and allows horrors to happen in the puppet show that he created. In other words, sometimes He’s evil.
  4. There is no God.

I opt for #4, of course, but I’d be curious to hear Rev. Warren’s answer about why stuff like this happens to good and innocent people. What I’m saying is not new, of course, but let’s hear the good Anglican’s response to the old questions posed by Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Epicurus apparently didn’t entertain possibility #4 above.

More bromides from Reverend Warren

September 4, 2022 • 12:45 pm

Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, has the privilege and pleasure of purveying her palaver on each Sunday’s op-ed page of the NYT. I still don’t know why they want her to write, as she never says anything that makes you think, but simply regurgitates whatever “nice” liberal people will be thinking, with an inevitable nod to God and to the value of prayer. This week she both celebrates and mourns as her kids go off to school, with backpacks blessed by God and with prayers from their mom.  As always, her words are trite, her sentiments lacrhymose.

Click to read (if you want).

She is joyful:

As I sent my kids back to school this year, I sent them with my prayers.

I love the beginning of a new school year. I love meeting my kids’ new teachers. I derive over-the-top joy from new school supplies. I savor the excitement my kids have about seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and their plans, goals and hopes for the year. Certain churches, including my own, start each school year with the “Blessing of the Backpacks.” Kids bring their backpacks to church one Sunday in late August and lay them near the altar. Then we as a church pray for students, for teachers and schools in our city. It’s a tactile way of “blessing and sending” our kids into the tasks and challenges that lay ahead and a joyful and moving way to start the year.

Sunrise, sunset. . . . .   Is there anything here that’s new, fresh, or thought-inducing?

For me, there is a sense of lament as well. The new school year is also a time when, yet again, I must practice letting my kids go. A mentor of mine whose children are now adults told me that for each new stage they entered, he felt delight and joy, and at the exact same time, he grieved losing the stage before. This is the complex melody of parenting. From the time the cord is cut till your children grow into adults, parenthood is a long practice in loving deeply yet letting go. Over and over again.

But the toughest part about this time of year isn’t merely letting my kids go. It’s that I must let them go into a hard and sometimes heartbreaking world.

But she’s sad and angry as well, for her kids could get shot in the classroom, so she had to importune God about that, too:

 A year ago, two friends and I, all mothers, co-wrote a short book of prayers for children. We decided to include a prayer for the beginning of the school day. As we workshopped a draft, we discussed what we should cover in it. It began, “Dear God, Bless our school and our teachers and all of our helpers. Give me courage to be a good friend.” We edited a few more lines about kindness, curiosity and the gift of learning about God’s world. Then, our conversation grew sad and serious. We knew we had to address the need for safety — something so many parents think about as they drop their kids off at school each day. We were writing for 4- through 9-year-olds. How does one possibly address the reality of gun violence with such tiny kids? But how could we ignore it? These tiny kids have lockdown drills. These kids know that violence lurks amid the happiest of lives and classrooms. They know this in a way I did not when I was their age. The prayer ends “And please keep everyone safe all day long.” That’s the best words we could come up with, the best we could offer.

I left that writing session feeling angry, angry that we had to think about mass violence when writing a prayer for second graders, angry that we as a country have failed children, angry at how children live in a world where adults do not keep them safe. It felt wrong because it is wrong.

Of course school shootings are deplorable, especially when they take away lives lived only for a decade or so. But we’ll never be able to stop them completely, even if we completely outlaw guns.  Nevertheless, her reveries go on and on and on, repeating themselves and then ending with a request for readers to send in their own school prayers:

How about you? How are you praying for your children or others, teachers, administrators or schools as this new school year begins? Are there particular prayers you use? Or specific rituals or practices that your family embraces this time of year? Share them with me at HarrisonWarren-newsletter@nytimes.com and we will select some responses to highlight in next week’s newsletter. Please be sure to let us know if we have your permission to print your full name and approximate location along with your response.

I was tempted. . . . .but naah.

But I have questions:

a.) Why does the NYT publish this stuff? What are they hoping that readers will get out of it. Is it a form of journalistic comfort food?

b.) Would they publish it if a mom who wasn’t a priest wrote it? Or is there some special cachet given to the words of those who wear dog collars?

c.) Are any of these sentiments worth expressing in America’s most famous newspaper?

Now I’m sure that Rev. Warren is a nice person, not at all like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, but I can’t help but think, when I read stuff like this, that you can get away with an extraordinary fusillade of bromides if you’re a priest. Nothing that Warren says is offensive—unless you don’t like her certainty that there’s a theistic God—but I remember Hitchens’s acerbic remarks about the cachet of religion in America after the death of Falwell:

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.


A check-in with BioLogos

August 8, 2022 • 9:45 am

I used to write a lot about the BioLogos organizqtion, particularly after Francis Collins and Karl Giberson founded it with the help of Templeton funds. Its mission was to persuade evangelical Christians that their faith was not at odds with science, particularly evolution.  Since one of my avocations is studying how people reconcile faith and science, I paid close attention to BioLogos for a while.

Well, Collins resigned when he became director of the NIH, and Giberson left as well (he’s now “a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he presently serves as Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.”) Giberson also writes stuff for Templeton.

The new President of BioLogos is Deborah Haarsma, who was an astronomer but now apparently writes on the compatibility of science and faith.

I lost interest in BioLogos when, as part of its mission to harmonize faith and science, it got heavily involved in arguments about whether Adam and Eve were literal people: the ancestors of all of us. This is a touchstone of Christianity, as that belief is the very source of original sin, and were BioLogos to claim that they were only metaphorical people promulgating a metaphorical sin, it would drive away their audience. Therefore, despite ample evidence from population genetics that two contemporaneous people were NOT ancestors of all of us (indeed, that there were never just two specimens of H. sapiens on the planet), BioLogos twisted itself into knots trying to figure out how Adam and Eve could be real. (After all, some claims of Christianity aren’t negotiable.)

I gave up at that point, realizing that the science-y people at BioLogos had surrendered to the goddy ones—and to erroneous claims of Christianity. This shows my contention that every Abrahamic faith, and many others (e.g. cargo cults, Scientology) do depend on factual statements, and when science disproves them, this creates a conflict. You do have to choose: a literal Adam and Eve or the data from population genetics.

This morning I went back to BioLogos just to see what was up, and I see they’re involved in the same mishigass, not having made much of a dent in causing evangelical Christians to accept evolution and the rest of science. (That was always a fool’s errand.) Here are just two examples

First, a two-minute movie that conveys the tired old message. It’s just down from the top on the main BioLogos Page, so I can’t give you a direct link. But click on either screenshot below and look for the header:


The message is old: science answers the empirical questions, while faith (i.e., Christianity) answers the Big Questions. Here are some of the Big Questions that science can’t answer:

  1. What matters most?
  2. Is the purpose of the human soul mapped in their DNA?
  3. What is the atomic number for joy?

Presumably Christianity can answer them (well, maybe except for the third). The answer to all the Big Questions is always the same: “because that’s the way God wants it, and our job is to serve God and Jesus.”  Here’s the last sentence of the video:

Science can tell us how the world works, but only in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus do we see what it all means.

They don’t deal with Judaism, Islam, or other faiths because the audience of BioLogos is evangelical Christians. But one would think that thoughtful Christians would ask themselves two questions:

a.) Well, are those other people who believe other things (and not in Jesus as God/son of God) simply wrong? After all, their belief is as strong as mine!

b.) How do we know that the “answers” that Christianity gives us are true? Science, after all, has independent ways of checking what is true, while the “answers” given by faith are all contained in a single self-contradictory book written millennia ago. And books from other faiths say different things.

But perhaps the terms “thoughtful evangelical Christian” is an oxymoron.

The other piece you can read (click on screenshot below), is a soothing paean to the harmony between science and religion by Deborah Haarsma, BioLogos’s President:

First, Haarsma coughs up some statistics I’ve mentioned before—statistics that show the increasing secularization of America. One reason for the waning of religion in America is that it  truth claims of religion seem increasingly irrational and insupportable.


In research over a decade ago, Barna asked millennials who grew up in the church why they left. Although respondents gave several reasons, 29% said “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” and 25% said “Christianity is anti-science.”

In 2018, Barna surveyed the next generation (GenZ), the teenagers currently attending church, and science was an even larger concern: 53% agreed that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” And in 2019, Barna surveyed young people all over the globe, asking them why they doubt things of a spiritual dimension, and found that “science” was one of the top reasons they doubt, second only to “hypocrisy of religious people” and even greater than “human suffering.” Science is a growing factor in people leaving church, doubting God, and dropping away from their faith altogether. With the increased polarization over science during the pandemic, I fear this trend will only grow.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way! Christian beliefs can actually support the investigation of God’s creation, and discoveries in the natural world can build up one’s faith. The problem is that most young people aren’t hearing this message.

Nope, they’re not hearing it, despite BioLogos spending a lot of money to get that message across. And the rest of her piece explains how Christian beliefs (including the Resurrection, original sin, and presumably the End Times) can be made compatible with science and the disaffected young folk indoctrinated in this view.

By the way, Haarsma didn’t come by her Christianity through empirical investigation or study of other faiths: she was brought up that way—indoctrinated.

In the 1970s and 80s, I grew up in a wonderful church in the suburbs of Minneapolis. This was a white evangelical church, back when “evangelical” meant an emphasis on evangelism, not politics. This community grounded me in the faith, giving me a bedrock conviction that God exists and loves me. My Sunday school teachers and the Bible quiz team fostered in me a deep knowledge and love of the Bible. When it came to science, people at church encouraged me in school, and the parents of my church friends included an engineer and a math professor.)

But she did have an epiphany at her Christian college when she encountered John Calvin’s phrase, “All truth is God’s truth,” which of course presupposes a Christian God in the first place. And so she had the Big Revelation that the Bible should be read as an extended metaphor, not as a textbook of science. (What she means here, of course, is that “parts of the Bible aren’t really true, but I know which parts are true”.):

. . . For the first time I heard about the culture of the ancient Near East. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians believed that many gods were involved in creation, and they pictured a flat earth with a solid dome sky with water above it (a “firmament”).

I realized that in Genesis chapter 1, on the second day of creation, God takes credit for making this firmament. That means God didn’t try to correct their misconceptions about the natural world; it would have distracted them from the larger message. God had other goals in mind.

I concluded that if God didn’t put modern science into Genesis, I shouldn’t be trying to get modern science out of Genesis. Instead I should focus on God’s primary message: that there is one sovereign Creator (not a pantheon of gods), that creation is good, and that humans are made in God’s image.

Note how they slyly call the factual claims of the Bible “science”, so that they can evade them by saying “the Bible isn’t a textbook of science.”

It’s curious how these people know what God’s primary message is, and it’s not in the least literalistic. But where in the Bible does it say, “This book is largely metaphorical. The message it intends to convey is this  ______________.” After all, the message Haarsma says is God’s primary message could easily have been conveyed to people two millennia ago. It doesn’t need to be tricked out with stories about creation, Floods, exoduses, crucifixions, and resurrections.

And so she tells us how to get people to accept her message, a tactic she learned from Elaine Ecklund at Rice University, who’s made a career twisting the facts to show that science and religion are compatible:

Thus, I came to understand how I could accept the scientific evidence without leaving God behind. This is a key point for many people. Research by Elaine Howard Ecklund in 2018 (Religion vs. Science, see p.139) found that, across multiple science issues, people of faith are open to science as long as they hear two important points: 1) that there is an active role for God in the world and 2) that humans as God’s image bearers hold a special place in creation. No matter the issue, believers need to know that learning scientific findings won’t remove God from the picture or make humans insignificant.

But how are you going to convince people of a theistic deity who cares about you, as well as about the uniqueness of humans made in God’s image? You can do this only by appealing to their confirmation biases (“I want this to be true”) or by propaganda. There is no independent evidence for them.

And this is why I say that in one sense, at least, people must choose between being a pious religionist or accepting science (naturalism, really). Either you have good reasons for what you believe or you don’t. That’s why my book on this topic is called Faith Versus Fact.  Sure, you don’t have to choose if you see nature as god, or embrace a watery deism that makes no factual claims. But that’s not the message BioLogos is pushing.

At the end, Haarsma says that the key to getting believers to accept science is to show them scientists who are believers, and ignore those nasty atheists who mix godlessness with science. But what you cannot do is tell the questioning young people that Christianity must be wrong. Let them question, by all means, but also “hold to the core of our faith”:

This was in the 1990s; in the decades following, the militant atheist movement made it even harder for Christians to trust what a popular scientist had to say, because authors like Dawkins, Hitchens, Coyne, and others were regularly saying that science rules out God and smart people aren’t religious. But in Portraits of Creation, I found chapters by Christian geologists and Christian astronomers, who explained the scientific evidence for the age of the earth and how they reconciled it with their faith. I came to see the Big Bang not as an atheistic alternative to God, but as a scientific model describing God’s work in creating the universe. Learning about science from Christian voices I trusted made all the difference.

Well, science does rule out some aspects of Christianity, like the Great Flood or the existence of a couple, Adam and Eve, who were ancestors of us all, but my main message that science absolutely rules out Christianity, but that it gives is no evidence for Christianity (or any such faith), and why should you believe—without good evidencee—something so important to your life (and afterlife) as Christianity?

Just hold onto your faith when you talk to the young people. Don’t let them bother you with questions like, “What evidence is there that Jesus was resurrected besides the contradictory stories in the Bible?”

We can all help the next generation. Let’s come alongside young people in their questions, rather than giving simple answers. We can wrestle with them on the secondary issues, while showing ways to hold to the core of our faith. Let’s point to believing scientists as trusted voices who can explain where the scientific evidence is rigorous, show which pieces are scientific speculation or atheist add-ons, and tell their own stories of following Jesus Christ. And whatever the issue, let’s tell the larger story.

Explaining the scientific evidence is not enough. We can show how God has an active role and how humans have a special place in God’s creation. We can come alongside the next generation as they reconstruct a strong, Christ-centered faith, and become gracious, faithful, and informed leaders on the difficult questions of today and tomorrow.

If you want the full version of this argument (if it be an argument), Haarsma makes some of these points in a 50-minute talk at the 2022 BioLogos conference. You can see the talk here.

NYT columnist and Anglican pastor Tish Harrison Warren on why abortion should be banned

June 27, 2022 • 9:15 am

I’m still not sure why Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren was hired to write a weekly column on religion for the New York Times. Not only does she push mythology on the paper’s educated readers (I think of it as an “astrology for the elite” column), but her sentiments are nearly always trite and anodyne.

From her previous columns, though, we know she believes in much of the Christian mythology, including the existence and divinity of Jesus, and of the salvific properties of his Resurrection. I’ve also seen hints that she thinks abortion is immoral.

This week she defends that last position, though manages, as she so often does, to say that without telling us explicitly that that’s her view. Instead, she dances around the topic, giving three arguments for why the “bodily autonomy” argument of pro-choice people is wrong. But in the process she also buys into another myth: that humans are qualitatively different from other animals, for we are made in the image of God. (She says nothing about a “soul,” but there must be some distinguishing feature that makes it immoral for humans but not other animals to undergo abortion.)

I’ve never known anybody to switch sides in the “pro choice” vs. “anti choice” debate, though there are some, like Christopher Hitchens, who personally aren’t comfortable with abortion but wouldn’t ban it. I’ve also known women who wouldn’t have an abortion, and yet still are pro-choice for everyone else. That’s fine with me: whatever they believe personally, they just can’t force it down the rest of our throats.

Warren would indeed sign onto that force-feeding just mandated by the Supreme Court, but she’s very cagey about it. I’ll briefly present—and criticize her three arguments for why the claim that “women have bodily autonomy” is not a good argument for the right to abortion. But in the end they all hinge on one assumption: a fetus has the same rights as a human who’s been born, adult or child, and that’s because of God.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Warren’s quotes are indented.

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy. One can’t walk down the street naked, even if one really wants to, or go 75 miles an hour in a school zone, even if slowing down poses a burden on the driver.

These limits came up in the Dobbs oral arguments. Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.

First, I don’t agree with laws banning women from taking legal drugs while they are pregnant, even if they could damage the fetus. Imagine the courts making it illegal for women to smoke or drink or even take illicit drugs on the grounds that this is child neglect.  (If you take illicit drugs, pregnant or not, you can be prosecuted for that alone.) This already presumes what you want to prove: that the fetus has the same rights as an already-born child.

And to say that bodily autonomy does not permit you to go naked (that depends on the country!) or speed in a car, is not the same as the bodily autonomy of deciding whether you have a child or not.  The “naked” stuff is presumably to enforce public order, though I don’t care about that (naked people walk around Berkeley without arrest; who cares?), while bans on speeding protects other adult humans from being hurt by your negligence. The argument about abortion hinges on whether you consider a fetus, particularly one in the first trimesters of pregnancy, to have the same “rights” as an adult on the road need your car. If you say “no,” as I do, because you see fetuses as non-sentient embryos (actually, balls of cells early in pregnancy), and which are, in effect, parasitic on the mother, then the arguments from drug-taking, speeding, and nudity disappear. Remember, you are 14 times more likely to die from pregnancy than from abortion. To me, that by itself suggests that the default option is choice.

I’m sure readers will have other things to say about this “argument.” On to argument #2:

2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us.

A child in the womb is dependent on a mother for life in a way that does place a unique burden on a mother. But this burden does not end at birth. Parenthood — at any stage — is an arduous good. A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old. Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.

To me this argument has little force because a fetus is not identical to a child or another adult in the ways described above. A child without parental care, or who is abused, suffers in ways that an aborted non-sentient fetus doesn’t, and society also suffers in in different ways. (I don’t see society suffering at all if a woman has an abortion.)

And being “dependent” on others (why not just add farmers and truckers?) when you’re an adult, young or, old isn’t the same as forcing people to take care of you, because there are no laws that mandate such care.  There is no law that your relatives must empty your bedpan, but Warren wants a law that will force a women to go through nine months of sometimes-dicey pregnancy because the fetus is dependent on the mother for nourishment and development. Warren has made no convincing argument that “interdependence” leads directly to banning abortion. Like the other reasons, this is a post facto argument she’s concocted to defend her position, which I believe comes from her religion.

This is the wonkiest of the arguments:

3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing “bodily autonomy” requires us to override or undo biological realities. In the Dobbs oral arguments, Julie Rikelman described what women experience if they lack access to abortion: “Allowing a state to take control of a woman’s body and force her to undergo the physical demands, risks and life-altering consequences of pregnancy is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.”

But is restricting abortion the same thing as forced gestation? Is it correct to compare abortion restrictions to a state “taking control” of a woman’s body and a deprivation of liberty?

To me, yes, the comparison is valid. But what are the “biological realities” that are undone when a woman has an abortion? Simply that sex, even with birth control, sometimes lead to pregnancy. In other words, when you have sex, you have to pay the price if you get pregnant, even if you don’t want the child:

Whatever one thinks sex is and what it is for — whether a sacred act or a mere recreational pleasure — all of us can agree that sex is the only human activity that has the power to create life and that every potentially procreative sexual act therefore carries some level of risk that pregnancy could occur. (Birth control significantly lessens this risk but does not entirely take it away since birth control methods can fail.) Yet, the state does not impose this risk of producing human life; biology does. Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

. . . . A sperm and an egg unite to grow into a human inside the body of a woman. The state doesn’t force this to happen any more than it forces aging or forces weight loss from exercise or forces lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

To use language of forced gestation or of a state “controlling” women’s bodies is to portray biology itself as oppressive and halting the natural course of the body as the liberative role of the state.

This is what she’s really saying:

“Sex can lead to pregnancy. If you don’t want a child, don’t have sex.”

Whence the “requirement” that we cannot undo the reality that when you have sex, an egg could be fertilized? It is simply Warren’s view that a fertilized egg is somehow very special—more special than the fertilized eggs of other animals. And when that sperm penetrates the egg, biology says that we have to let development continue.

But this is again a post facto way for Warren to justify her religious view that humans are special (see below) because we’re made in the image of God. To answer her, I can just say “what is the biological imperative that requires allowing a fertilized egg, produced by failed contraception, to continue development?” This comes perilously close to turning an “is” into an “ought”. But the real reason she comes up with this hokey imperative is her religion. That becomes clear in this sentence (my emphasis):

Speaking as a woman, with a woman’s body, I want safety and freedom for all women. I want women to be full participants and empowered leaders in public life. I believe we, as human beings and image bearers of God, have a right to bodily integrity, protection and liberty.

Except when it comes to abortion. . . .

That’s the real reason behind all this: embryos are sacred and cannot be destroyed because God made them in his own image. The rest is commentary and justification. Those two sentences are the only place where Warren even comes close to telling us that abortion should be illegal (except for rape and incest), and why.  Yes, she throws in all the liberal ways you can live with prohibited abortion: more child-support laws, free health care, and “affordable child care.” Tell that to a woman who has no resources to bring up an unwanted child, or is in a situation where pregnancy can ruin her life!

In the end, Warren’s arguments are the same as those of Catholics: fetuses are sacred because they are made in the image of God (presumably having a soul) and it is murder (or, as Harrison euphemistically says, “undoing biological reality”) to abort them. She began with that belief and then confects three arguments why abortion doesn’t abrogate women’s “bodily autonomy”. She is a Catholic in an Anglican dog collar.

My advice to Pastor Warren: “It’s fine if you try to persuade people to oppose abortion, but don’t go forcing people to adhere to your religiously-based views.” What’s moral in your Anglican religion doesn’t have to be the law of the land.

Does Uvalde need prayers? Tish Harrison Warren says, “Definitely”

May 30, 2022 • 9:20 am

Tish Harrison Warren may be the lowest-hanging fruit in the New York Times op-ed section, but what I wonder is why the paper wants low-hanging fruit. At some point, a NYT executive must have thought, “Hey, we need religion to draw more readers—but not that old-timey, fundamentalist religion. We need a more Sophisticated form of faith from someone who can offer balm to our readers without making explicit and foolish statements about faith and its verities.”

And so they hired Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren. She surely fills the bill, doling out bromides and anodyne sermons every Sunday. In fact, her tendency to equivocate about her beliefs while trying to console semi-secular readers often gets her into the marshy hinterlands of theology. Her column this week is about why Uvalde, Texas, site of the latest mass school shooting, must have its prayers. 

The answer to Tish Harrison Warren’s question below is “Definitely!” What is maddening is her absolute refusal to discuss whether prayers actually work. That is, are they heard and acted on by God, or do they simply act as an aid to comfort and meditation?  I’m pretty sure, knowing what she’s written previously, that she thinks God really is Up There with an ear cocked, and heeds the importuning of his flock. But that raises a second question, which she also ignores: “Why did God let Salvador Ramos kill 19 innocent people and two good teachers?” Was this necessary to allow Ramos to have free will? (She’d probably say “God’s ways are mysterious”, in which case I’d respond, “Well, if you know so little about God, shouldn’t you stop extolling Him?”)

Read for yourself by clicking on the screenshot:

Warren and sixteen other clergy convened in Uvalde soon after the murders, though it’s not clear whether they were invited or simply hied themselves to the town to offer their spiritual wares.

After paying proper lip service to the fact that the “thoughts and prayers” trope is foolish, Warren nevertheless goes on to clearly imply that prayers are more than just helpful aids to meditation, but serve as a form of social glue. And indeed, I have no objection to people believing foolish things if it offers them group comfort—so long as they don’t impose that view on others. As Christopher Hitchens said (see below).

“[Religion] is their favorite toy. . . . I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys, and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and so on, and share them with other people who come round and play with the toys; and that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house; don’t say, ‘My children must play with these toys’. . . I’m not going to have any of that.”

This short clip is well worth watching.

Now Hitchens is talking more about clerical “bullying and intervention” than peace and the solace of the tribe, but Warren’s columns in the NYT are surely intended to proselytize and intervene, promulgating the falsity of religious faith.  She doesn’t write just for herself! And indoctrinating children in that faith—even urging them to participate in prayer—is surely a form of child abuse.

In fact, Harrison definitely implies that prayers for the dead in Ulvade are somehow helpful in fixing stuff. She quotes other pastors:

Sam Garza, a pastor and youth worker at First United Methodist Church, told me, “If people just say ‘thoughts and prayers’ or put something like that in their Facebook” profile and then don’t give another thought to Uvalde, then, he said, “that’s not helpful.” But he says, prayer spurs action. “In prayer, we find needs,” he said. If people pray that “Aunt Tilly’s transmission” needs to be repaired, he prays for that, but then, he said, “we also need to help her with her transmission”: to find and pay for a mechanic.

Yes, but does prayer really spur action among those (even believers) who don’t pray, or is the act itself form an impediment to action? It may well be that those who pray indeed do more to help control guns than those who don’t (I find that unlikely; the opposite is probably the case), but there’s an uncontrolled factor here: the personal qualities of those who pray. At any rate, given that the biggest opponents of gun control in the U.S. are those most likely to pray, I find the discussion disingenuous.

Here’s an experiment: for a group whose transmissions have crapped out, have four groups of people as an experiment (this is similar to the heart study described here):

  • One group doesn’t pray for the transmission repair, and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic
  • One group does pray for the transmission repair (presumably through blind intercessory prayer), and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic.
  • The third group prays for the transmission and it’s taken to a mechanic for repair
  • The last group is taken to a mechanic and there is NO prayer.

I’m guessing that the results of the third and fourth group would not only be the sole efficacious ones, but wouldn’t differ in the rate of fixed transmissions. After all, experiments show that intercessory prayer simply doesn’t work in accomplishing what’s prayed for, though it acts as a form of solace and a source of community for many. It also, as we see clearly in America right now, acts as a form of division and an inspiration to hate and ostracize others. Prayer is a psychological technique, not a way to ask for divine help.

And this is another problem with Warren’s latest screed: she echoes another pastor from Texas who says, “The church should stay out of politics.” Well, yes, it must if it’s to reap its tax advantages, but what happened in Texas won’t be fixed—or helped—by a bunch of prayers. Political will and action is what is needed. Which would you prefer: a bunch of liberal Christians praying for the shootings to end, or a bunch of liberal citizens working on gun reform? I guarantee that the latter will work just as well without the former.

Here’s what the Texas group prayed about, which brings up the last question:

Then [local Baptist preacher] Gruben opened the floor for anyone to pray. The prayers kept coming and coming. The pastors prayed together for around 40 minutes, many weeping. They prayed for comfort. They prayed to be filled “with love, compassion and grace.” One prayed, “Let us know when to speak and when to be silent.” Many chimed in, “Yes, Lord.” “We pray for the peace of our city.” “Comfort the brokenhearted.” “There is not one thing that has happened that has shaken your throne.”

WHAT?  Not shaken his throne? The throne is not only shaken, it’s battered to pieces! What has happened is that God allowed 21 people (19 of them morally innocent children) to be butchered by a shooter.  Does this not raise questions about the nature and beneficence of God? Of course it does, but the cognitively impaired ignore them. The solution, say the believers, is not gun control, but Jesus—presumably a prerequisite for gun control. As Warren writes:

I asked Barboza, “Do we need better gun control?” He replied, “We need Jesus.” It is “the presence of God that changes hearts,” he said.

. . .Right after we talked, a couple named Pam and David Wong approached the police line, holding a large green wooden cross. They wove their way through throngs of media people, trying to find a spot to place it. A law enforcement officer took the cross and laid it in front of the school sign.

The Wongs are volunteers at a church in Conroe, a town five hours away. Their church works with homeless people, giving them dorm space in the church building. They told me that formerly homeless men made the cross. On the back was a message for the community of Uvalde, explaining that the cross was meant to be “a reminder that Jesus cares and loves you all very much. We are all praying for you.” Pam Wong told me they had driven to the school because “we wanted them to know that they are not alone.”

Now that’s very strange. It is the very people who tout their God most strongly who impede moral reform: the people who stalled the Civil Rights Movement and gay liberation (and now abortion, which Warren opposes). God was there the whole time since the 1960s, but hearts were changed not by an imperceptible deity, but but secular realization that equal treatment of people mandates civil and gay rights. (See Steve Pinker’s last two big books.) And didn’t God start effecting this change before slavery? Why did God allow millions of Africans to be dragged into horrible servitude? Was that his divine plan?

Well, if you’re open-minded, the evidence at hand suggests that God does not “love you very much”. After all, by not lifting his hand, he brought unspeakable tragedy to 21 people and unspeakable grief to their loved ones. Not to mention the unvoiced grief of millions of enslaved people.

I needn’t go on, for the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. At the end of Warren’s confusing and poorly written but well intended piece, she reaffirms that although many things are contradictory and confusing, the power of prayer is not:

Uvalde is grieving and heartbroken. Some want a revival. Some want mental health services. Some want gun control. But every single person I talked to agreed on one thing: They could use your thoughts and prayers.

I don’t think she talked to everyone in Uvalde.