July 24, 2006
July 26, 2006

July 25, 2006


The European Union has adopted what some call a compromise position on research using early, or embryonic, stem cells. Sometimes on this issue it seems as if lines are getting drawn in the sand even as the sand is shifting. Is this a compromise you would have supported? For the National Institutes of Health primer on stem cells, click here.

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Since I visited Saudi Arabia in 2002, I've been especially interested in efforts to move that kingdom toward granting more religious freedom to its citizens. Well, since 9/11, everybody has been interested in Saudi Arabia because 15 of the 19 hijackers came from there and claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.

Saudiflag_1At any rate, there essentially is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia today. The only religion allowed is Islam, and it's the puritanical Wahhabi version of Islam that the state promotes. If a Christian were to try to organize a public worship service, he or she could be arrested.

But as I've also noted in articles, columns and blog entries, there is a reform movement in Saudi Arabia, and here and there you can find small signs of progress toward opening up the society and toward more freedoms for the Saudi people.

One agency that keeps close track of religious freedom there and in other countries in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It's a good agency that issues helpful reports and seeks to advise the government on policies that might add to religious freedoms around the world in harmony with American support for basic human rights. I wish the administration would pay more attention to it.

Just the other day, the Commission said it was pleased that the State Department, which is also charged with monitoring religious freedom in other countries, had reported that there were some small signs of religious freedom progress in Saudi Arabia. This information came in a report to Congress by John Hanford, ambassador at large for religious freedom.

There is, of course, much work to be done to get the Saudis to start treating their citizens the way people in all nations should be treated -- that is, to grant them the freedom to worship as they please. It is not, of course, up to Americans to decide what religions will be practiced in what countries. But it is up to America to stand up for basic human dignity, and that includes the right to freedom of religion.

I hope you're encouraging the people who represent you in Washington to pay attention to this issue -- not just in Saudi Arabia but everywhere in the world.

By the way, to read the Commission's 2003 report on Saudi Arabia (the latest available), click here. And if you want to read a stunningly complimentary piece on King Abdullah's first year on the Saudi throne, written by the Englaish-language daily, Arab News, click here. And I'm not kidding about stunningly complimentary.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.

Today's religious holiday: St. James the Great Day (Christian)


Kansas Bob

I sometimes wonder about nations, like Saudi Arabia, that are so intolerant (maybe afraid) of other relgions. Seems to me that secure faith opens a dialogue with other faiths. Then again, maybe faith doesn't have anything to do these nations - maybe it is all about controlling the masses.

SC in KC

Regarding a stem cell compromise...

We already have a compromise in place in the US. Embryonic stem cell research is legal. However, taxpayers aren't forced to fund the research. The research can continue with private funding. Compromise reached.

The EU's plan, by comparison, states that public funding cannot be used to destroy the embryos, but can be used to perform research on the stem cells from destroyed embryos. That's not a compromise, it's semantics.

The question remains, why should I be forced to pay for a morally reprehensible and completely unproductive line of research with my tax dollar? Why can't proponents of embryonic stem cell research fund their own grand visions of scientific progress? After all, even Dr. Frankenstein picked up his own tab.

SC in KC

Regarding religious reform in Saudi Arabia...

I think a line must be drawn between the influence the US has over the domestic policies of other nations, and the responsibility for those domestic policies. The US is not, and should not be, accountable for the religious oppression of Saudi Arabia. That oppression has its roots in theology, not political policy.

If we genuinely want to help the Saudi people enjoy more liberty, then the theological issues must be addressed with a theological solution. Trying to implement a political solution to a theological problem is like throwing water on a grease fire.

The "final solution", to appropriate a term from Nazi Germany, is not to kill or oppress those who practice a different faith. Rather, the solution is to freely share the love of Christ with ALL people. That love, and ONLY that love, can bring liberty, unity, and peace.


Government does not solve moral problems; it makes them. Does anyone have any real solutions? Any ideas out there for how Christians can mobilize to save the next two million babies that will be aborted in the coming year in this country?

If your solution involves government, then that's no solution at all and it's just hopeless. God's going to make us replace "In God We Trust" on the money with "In Government We Trust," just as he made us take His commandments out of the courtrooms. He's tired of His name taken in vain.


I really don't think sending missionaries to Saudi Arabia is going to open the channels for religious change. I think it will probably just end up getting missionaries arrested and killed. Besides whose to say the Muslims are wrong (outside of the govt. policy of restricting religious freedom)? Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God and trace thier origins back to the same prophet (Abraham). If Jesus really ment "only through me will you receive eternal life," as people who don't believe in him will not receive eternal life then God created the majority of people on earth knowing that they were damned. Why would a loving God create people for the purpose of sending them to hell?


Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not worship the same God. Jews and Muslims have rejected the Triune God, because they have rejected the God-man, Jesus. Christianity is not a democracy. Many, many, many, many, many more people will go to Hell than will go to heaven. Jesus himself said so. Let God be God. He can do what He wants, and it doesn't matter if we think it's fair or not.

SC in KC

"If Jesus really ment "only through me will you receive eternal life," as people who don't believe in him will not receive eternal life then God created the majority of people on earth knowing that they were damned."

Yes, that's correct, but it's not God that damned them. God created them to be perfect, but He gave them free will to choose. The fact that He knew they would choose sin over righteousness doesn't make Him responsible for their choices, but it does explain why He sent an atoning sacrifice to die in their place in the person of Jesus Christ.

"Why would a loving God create people for the purpose of sending them to hell?"

He wouldn't. He created people for an eternal existence in His presence in paradise. In Eden, Adam and Eve communed with God daily, right up to the point where they abandoned God's will for their own. Thus, the fall of man was OUR doing, not God's.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:8 (NIV)

Greg Swartz

The concept of original sin is one of the multitude of illogical conclusions reached by religion, but it is the only one I want to take time for right now.

Suppose that a legislator were to propose that the penalty for murder shall be that a son, daughter or some other relative of the perpetrator be put to death or otherwise penalized - along with the murderer or not. That legislation would get nowhere as it is absolutely unfair to penalize someone who has no culpability.

So why is it that people accept the idea that present day people should be liable for the "sins" of persons (who are fictional anyway) who existed at the dawn of man?

Religion is that area where people are willing to accept illogical thoughts as commandments from God (gods), valid history and good science.

I have no time to cover anymore similar concepts right now and I fear that if I write further the rather biting words that I am suppressing will come out!

SC in KC


You've asked a good question.

If I do what God wills me to do, then not only do I prosper, but my family prospers as well. For instance, God calls me to be patient...

"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly."
Proverbs 14:29 (NIV)

If I am patient, my understanding increases and my family benefits. However, if I am impatient, the folly I demonstrate will have negative effects on my family. God will not come swirling down from Heaven to punish my son and daughter, but they will still suffer for my sin since, more often than not, my impatience is directed toward them.

It was only after the fall of man that God caused Adam and Eve to "...be fruitful and multiply...". Had Adam and Eve never sinned against God, we would not be here. We are, therefore, children born in sin, and are subjected to a world permeated by sin. Our suffering from the sins of our ancestors is not an issue of God's punishment, but rather is a logical, if unintended, consequence.

Being born again in Christ Jesus doesn't immunize us against those consequences, but it does justify us before God in the face of those consequences. It also calls us to live a righteous life so that our sins aren't visited upon our sons and daughters.

Greg Swartz

SC in KC:

I believe in love, respect, patience and a whole lot of other things that are that are wise ways in which to live, but I see no necessity that some god ordain them for me. To a certain extent, all of the above is the most partical way to live and enables us, as a society, to be successful. I know that does not feel as warm and fuzzy as being in the arms of a supreme being, but it is reality.

Much of what you have written would require me to believe in the Genesis creation story. But why should I believe that story any more than the creation stories of the Shintos, the Navajos or the Asatrus? Where is your evidence that the Genesis story is accurate, especially since there are two controdictory versions of it in the Bible?

You write: "It also calls us to live a righteous life so that our sins aren't visited upon our sons and daughters." I would suggest that one should live a righteous life just because it is the right thing to do! But, does not the concept of original sin mean that your son and daughter are already fallen, no matter what you do?

Once again, religion is so illogical!

SC in KC

Okay, Greg, let's look at it from a purely secular perspective and see if it still sounds illogical.

When we act in a manner that is inconsistent with the normative ethics of our culture, we are penalized. That much is obvious, and applies to every culture.

However, there are ethical issues that appear to supercede cultural norms. No culture, for instance, rewards cowardice, dishonesty, theft, or murder. For the purpose of this discussion, let's call these natural laws of human behavior.

When a person violates a natural law of human behavior, there are consequences that extend beyond the person involved. If a person murders, that person's victim also suffers as a result of the violation. As murder is also inconsistent with the normative ethics of every culture, there is a stigma that extends to the families of the perpetrator and victim. As consequences befall both the perpetrator and victim, and as both families are stigmatized, this disruption extends generationally.

Therefore, the consequences of a violation of a natural law, or of the normative ethics of a culture, do extend to the progeny of the perpetrator and, possibly, the victim.

Scripture shortens this up a bit by saying, simply, that the sins of fathers are visited upon the sons of those who hate God to the third and fouth generations. To see this clearly, one has only to study the cycles of violence, poverty, incarceration, ect. in our own society.

You wrote, "I would suggest that one should live a righteous life just because it is the right thing to do!"

I agree, but the question remains, how do you know what the "right" thing to do is? What is the foundation upon which you base your definition and expression of right and wrong?

You wrote, "But, does not the concept of original sin mean that your son and daughter are already fallen, no matter what you do?"

Yes, that's correct. No matter what I do, my children still exist in a fallen world. Still, I don't want to make it any worse for them. If I commit the sin of murder and get thrown in prison, how much more will they suffer? If I quit my job and lay around the house all day (sloth), how much more will they suffer?

My mission regarding my children is two-fold. First, show them the path to salvation in Jesus Christ. Second, model for them a righteous life and, in so doing, minimize their suffering.

You wrote, "Where is your evidence that the Genesis story is accurate, especially since there are two controdictory versions of it in the Bible?"

You're actually standing on my evidence, but I'd be interested in knowing what contradictory versions of creation are in the Bible. Can you elaborate?

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