Pakistan's misuse of Islam: 5-11-09
Benedict fouls one off: 5-13-09

Cooling hot-button issues: 5-12-09

The other day here I wrote about the Center for Practical Bioethics celebrating its 25th anniversary.


Former Sen. John C. Danforth (pictured here) spoke at the celebratory dinner, and I want to pass along a few points he made. I've always liked Jack Danforth from his early days as a Missouri state official, though I've sometimes disagreed with him on issues. I've found him to be a thoughtful, reasonable man. Perhaps it helps that he's an Episcopal priest in addition to being a politician.

Danforth's main point the other evening was that we need to defuse the culture wars by learning to live with our disagreements over hot-button issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and not immediately insisting that the legislative or judicial branches of our government solve them. That, he said, often merely leads to prolonged hard feelings and more uncivil discourse while preventing a social consensus from developing.

Let me give you a few quotes from him:

* "Nothing is more divisive than to claim that you are on God's side. Some time ago, after I had criticized the Christian Right for using wedge issues, Rush Limbaugh said that I wanted to silence religious people. Not so. . .I intend to speak out myself. But when we speak it's important to say that we aren't God and that our opinions about God aren't God. God transcends us."

* "When religious activists hold rallies, politicians aren't far away."

* "(In hot-button issues such as stem-cell research) often the argument is about religion. . . There is no recognition that it's a matter of opinion. The message is, 'I know God's truth. I'm on God's side. You are an enemy of God.' There is an armageddon quality to much in politics."

* "I think we should debate these (most divisive) issues in homes, churches and think tanks before we ask legislatures to act. Take the issue of religion. Legislatures are places of combat where sometimes, though rarely, the issues do involve religion. States forbid polygamy and child marriages even if a sect believes otherwise. Laws prohibit using peyote for sacramental purposes and require immunization regardless of religious objections. Such laws protect the health, safety and morals of the people and receive large majorities of public support. The question isn't whether government intervenes in religion but when."

Danforth propsed what he called at attitude of "watchful waiting" instead of beating each other's brains out over the issues that have formed the center of the so-called culture wars.

Mostly I agree. At the same time, I think we have to be careful not to allow an attitude of watchful waiting to be seen as not caring about the outcome of an issue. What if the abolitionists had been seen as willing to wait forever to see the institution of slavery outlawed? Might we still have legal slavery in America today?

Nor do I expect people who believe passionately that abortion is murder to quit saying that and to simply wait silently for the issue to resolve itself. And I don't think Danforth would expect that either. Rather, I think he would have prefered that passionate debate about abortion take place outside of government circles until something closer to a consensus developed, at which point it might have been possible to enact legislation reflecting that consensus. Instead, we're trying to live with -- and continuing to fight over -- the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

So what do you think? Is he on to something or is this impractical idealism?

* * *


For the pope's current trip to the Middle East, the Jerusalem Post printed this open message to Pope Benedict XVI from the chief rabbi of Haifa. He talks about the 1965 Vatican II document called Nostra Aetate, which for the first time put the Catholic Church on record as saying Jews should not be blamed for the death of Christ. For my detailed essay on anti-Judaism in Christian history, click on the link about that subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.

* * *

P.S.: I'll be teaching a writing class in July at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, but the online catalog says that as of May 10 the class is full. For details about getting on a waiting list, click on the link about the class under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.

* * *

ANOTHER P.S.: Thanks to reader Cole Morgan for organizing a picnic Saturday at Penguin Park for some of the commenters here on the blog. In this photo below you see some of the picnic-goers are deep into some kind of debate that I, for once, had no power to moderate.




Will Graham

Bill, in answer to your question, Danforth is neither on to something, nor is he promoting impractical idealism.

He is simply being a population.

What I find ironic is that some posters can pronounce that "Babies come first in any bioethics debate" with regard to some issues, but quickly abandon it when it comes to a life and death issue of abortion.

You are quite right, Bill, those who know abortion is murder can not be expected to quit saying that.

(By the way, thanks for the pictures!)

Will Graham

That should be, Danforth is simply being a "politician", although I have met him and his air of superiority to the "population" is a little overbearing.

Will Graham


But it is apparent by now that the way is NOT going to end.

So PROVE YOUR CLAIM JT...sources, references.

What are the plans to "end the war"?

Either that, or simply admit that you don't really know what you are pretending to know.

Dolores Lear

"Danforth's main point the other evening was that we need to defuse the culture wars by learning to live with our disagreements over hot-button issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and not immediately insisting that the legislative or judicial branches of our government solve them. "Nothing is more divisive than to claim that you are on God's side."

Government culture wars, are religious items that Citizens are in disagreement about. How many Citizens with Different Religious Beliefs, are there in the the USA, and also Atheist Citizens?

Why should Religious Subjects even be discussed in a Government, that claims to have Religious Liberty to All Citizens? Government should also have Liberty from Religion in Government, for Atheists Citizens.

Without Realizing it, Christian Citizens were the Majority, and worked their Religion into Government. And their Icons, Rites, Prayers, etc., became the Lifestyle, for All Citizens, with different Religions and Atheists.

So is there any Way to Change the History of Religion in Government, in the USA?

A few corrections have been made, on Prayer, but the Supreme Court has had a Christian Majority that sets most Moral Religious views.

So the Equality for All Citizens, and Freedom of Religion, has never been a Fact, in regards to Government.

That, he said, often merely leads to prolonged hard feelings and more uncivil discourse while preventing a social consensus from developing. - Instead, we're trying to live with -- and continuing to fight over -- the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. * "When religious activists hold rallies, politicians aren't far away."

How do Citizens renew the Constitution, of the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court, with Liberty, Justice, and Equality for All Citizens?


Will, all I'd asked was that if you were going to quote me, you quote my whole sentence and not just lift out one phrase. That seems to me like a perfectly reasonable request, and of course is just pure ethics -- but you guys have ignored it, which should tell us all something (as if we didn't already know it) about your reasoning-capacity and your ethics.

I think you know by now that I am not for abortion. I've already said I would never have one. When I had my two daughters, the first when I was 35 and the second when I was 40 (ages when many think it's advisable to have amniocentisis to check for abnormalities like down syndrome), I was absolutely unwilling to go through this procedure because of how it increased the risk of miscarriage. And anyhow, dh and I knew we'd welcome our baby regardless of any problem.

Which attitude is not so unusual: I think there are many later-in-life parents who make the same choice. I'd say that the people most likely to choose amniocentesis, and possibly to abort a baby with problems, are those with a strong aversion to the idea of them ever needing any societal help with raising their family (i.e. conservatives). They are appalled at the thought of ever being a burden.

Just as I am for breastfeeding but not for forcing/pressuring anyone to do it, so I am against abortion. I am simply NOT in favor of taking away the mother's right to choose in either case. I think this is because I'm starting to believe in people more. I think that the more supportive the environment, the more likely it is that mothers will choose to bring their unborn babies into it, and the more likely it is that they will breastfeed.

Dolores Lear

Will a High Tech Understanding of Religion and Myth, help Solve our Religious Moral Problems in our Government?

Revelation 21:1-3. KJV. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."

In the 1970s, after I understood the Noah/Atlantis Flood, I listened to a Radio Minister, discussing the New Jerusalem descending down from Heaven in Revelation.

He said it was 1500 miles on each side, and enclosed in a Globe for space travel would be as large as our Moon.

Also a Russian Scientist, said the Moon was an ancient spaceship. That it was hollow and when something struck it it had a ping. His theory was that it was the Way that Humans from Space came to Earth.

In South America there are some writings, about Humans having trouble getting the Moon put into the proper orbit around Earth.

My acceptance that High Tech Humans Colonized Earth, led me to Accept the New Jerusalem Spaceship in Revelation, would descend down from Space and park in our atmosphere.

I do not Know how to tie the Moon, that is still above Earth, as the Way our Ancestors Came, 'in the beginning', if they left, and did not return to the sphere, to go back to their Planet.

Or will the New Jerusalem come on its own, without the sphere?

High Tech Science of Colonization and Reproduction, is really exciting, to use, to tie the Supernatural Events in our Past Religious and Myth Writings.


Also, another reason why some older mothers choose amniocentesis, and possibly to abort a baby with problems, is that they feel it's their responsibility to avoid bringing a child into the world who will suffer due to health issues.

This is similar to my reasoning for having two different pets put to sleep. I saw it as my responsibility to end my animals' suffering, but just don't see myself as "over" another human life (even my own) in the same way. I think it's just a different way of seeing things -- and those who see it differently are not any less loving or ethical. And I'd like to hear all points of view on this.

I'm glad for Rev. Danforth's admonition NOT to present ourselves as being "on God's side." This is hard to remember sometimes, at least for those of us who believe in God -- because when we feel very strongly about something, it's easy to think we are plugged into the mind of God and that those who think differently just don't have a clue. But it's not so simple -- we really do need to listen to one another: other points-of-view can help us to see a much bigger picture of reality than what we can see by ourselves.

One area where I don't think Reverend Danforth had his facts straight, is where he stated that law interferes when people don't want to vaccinate due to religious beliefs. Most states actually do allow for religious exemption in this area.


I wouldn't want to infringe on anyone's privacy, but it would be nice to put names to faces. Perhaps if the people in the photo Bill has posted would be willing to identify only themselves, that would be helpful.


Danforth's comments seem to indicate that we are incapable of knowing God's opinion on anything. I think we are quite capable of knowing how God feels about several things (although certainly not everything), but we want to ignore the plain and simple truth and we make up rationalizations against God's truth.

For centuries, we knew exactly how God felt about homosexuality. But we've made up false truths about what homosexuality is, and we've made up a false God who only loves, and we are able to push the plain and simple truth away.

For centuries, we knew exactly how God felt about abortion. But we've made up new things to call the pre-born baby, and we've elevated personal autonomy over personal responsibility, and despite advanced ability to see into the womb and despite advanced ability to keep very premature babies alive, we are able to push the plain and simple truth away.


Here's another bioethics consideration, which I thought of while thinking about what Red Biddy said previously about a mother whose life is in danger if her pregnancy continues, and who also has other children who need her--

Now that science and technology have greatly increased the odds for babies who are born very prematurely -- this means that not all abortions have to result in death (and of course we sometimes hear about abortions where the baby lives). So, in a case where a mother's health issues are likely to kill her if a pregnancy's allowed to continue, sometimes it might be possible to protect both lives by taking the baby prematurely, which of course would increase the risk to the baby, but not definitively kill the baby. And staying inside a mother with serious health issues might in some cases also harm the baby.

Obviously no two situations are the same: This is why I prefer support, and complete access to information and options for the mother. Why is it so hard to believe in mothers? I don't have a great relationship with my own mom at this time, but I still think mothers can and should be trusted more, when it comes to pregnancy and making decisions for their babies and children. I think the more we trust individual people, the better we will be at finding solutions everyone can live with.

Just Thinking


You can start learning about the Obama Administration's plans for Iraq. Go to and enter "Iraq withdrawal" in the search field, for example.


I think we are incapable of knowing God's desires for someone else. What sin we would like someone to work on may not be the one that God is working on with someone else. In fact, our plans for someone else's life may actually undermine what God is planning for someone else. Jesus ran into that many times. One crowd thought that it was God's plan to stone a prostitute, while Jesus chose not to condemn her. One crowd thought it was God's plan to not heal a woman who had been waiting for 18 years, but Jesus thought differently.

Insisting on our own plan for a person's life may well work against God's plan, even if we know everything about God's law. It is God's will that those who are seeking Him not be driven away; that is God's plan, above and beyond stoning someone and exacting justice according to our timetable.

John 6:38-40
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Romans 3:22-26
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.


PreacherDJ, your comments are an example of why it's so important to keep up the dialog and listen to all sides. You may have an idea of what YOU, or people who think like you, have "known for centuries" about issues like homosexuality -- but that's not the complete picture. Because homosexuals experience homosexuality from the inside, and also have centuries of knowledge about this unique orientation, and their lives are every bit as God-breathed as anyone else's.

It is very damaging to the continued growth of knowledge, for us to think any one of us has "God's final answer" and put the cap on all future learning. Regarding homosexuality, I strongly recommend the documentary, "For the Bible Tells Me So." Watching it was life-changing for me and my husband. Here are people wanting to live in honesty and integrity, many or all of whom seem to be Christian believers.

While I'm trying to remember to NOT assume that I have the total mind of God on anything, I can't help feeling very upset for the girl in the documentary who committed suicide, and for her mother who had genuinely thought she was doing the right thing when she told her (now deceased) daughter that she would never accept her lesbianism. I'm glad the mother has been able to find healing through loving and supporting other gay young people that God has brought her into relationship with.

But I'm saddened and angered at how I believe organizations like Focus On the Family are hurting and damaging many parent-child relationships by exhorting parents not to accept their gay chldren. I feel just as strongly about my opinion as you do about yours -- but I concede that feeling strongly isn't absolute proof that someone has the truth. This is why I think prayer, logic, reasoning, study, and discussion are essential.

That said, I don't think gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered people should have to wait 'til everyone agrees, before they can start enjoying the same civil rights that have been enjoyed by heterosexual couples for so many years.



Each of us has a "besetting sin" or sins, those things which come "from the inside" that we are prone to do even though it is explicitly against God's expressed will. When God gives us His final answer, we are idiots playing a dangerous game to think it might not be. "Prayer, logic, reasoning, study, and discussion" may all be ways of trying to get away from what we really need to do, obey.


PreacherDJ -- what if one of YOUR besetting sins is judging homosexuals? "Judge not lest you be judged."

It makes more sense to support and trust individuals in their quest for understanding God's will for their lives -- or, for individuals who don't believe in God, to support and trust them in their quest for truth.

Just as the whole world didn't have to agree with my husband's and my choice to marry, so the whole world doesn't have to agree with homosexuality to respect individual choice. For all I know there may have been some who disagreed with my husband's and my union -- but if there were, apparently they respected us enough to keep it to themselves.

Homosexuals aren't asking for the world to tell them they are gay or to tell them they "should" be in a same-sex union, any more than I needed the world to tell me I was in love with my husband. They just want the freedom we all want, and that heterosexuals take for granted: the freedom to find their own way.



I'm not judging homosexuals. I am stating that homosexuality is a sin, because God against whom it is a sin says so, just as He says murder and adultery are sins against Him.

It is not unexpected that you would quote the most misused verse in the Bible. That verse certainly does not mean that we can't understand what sin is and verbalize that to others. Jesus tells us we will know a tree by (judging) its fruit. And there are other references that specifically instruct us to judge. By telling me not to judge, you are judging that I am judgmental (which I don't think I am).

The fact remains that we can know (generically) what God considers sin, and would be unloving NOT to speak out about it. We are otherwise leaving people free without warning to anger an Almighty God.

Just Thinking


So, it is okay to arrive in Heaven as a sinner, just as long as you know and believe that your particular sins are wrong. Then you get a free pass on it all. But if you don't know or don't believe that a particular sin is wrong, then you're an idiot and are in real danger of Hell. Is that about it?

PreacherDJ, you do know that you are going to be judged by the same standard you've set, don't you? "The Bible tells me so." So if there is sin in your life that you refuse to acknowledge as such, then you'll be damned by your own words! I don't think you'll pass that test, PreacherDJ. I don't think anyone could.

For example, I see a sin in you, PreacherDJ, that you repeatedly refuse to acknowledge. It is sin against God to care more about rules than to care about people, and to care more about condemning others than to care about someone finding God's grace. That is a sin, PreacherDJ; it is a sin whether or not you believe it or will admit it. This is serious sin: Your insistence that others acknowledge all sin exactly as you do before receiving grace. Work on that sin, PreacherDJ, because it is a sin against God and against those seeking God. And you obviously refuse to acknowledge that sin of yours!

I certainly hope you come to realize that you are sinning in this way, before you are judged by the standard you have set. If you will not acknowledge this sin of yours, then the standard you are setting up for God's judgment will damn you to Hell, PreacherDJ. Yours is the EXACT sin that led religious leaders to crucify Christ. THEY wanted unchallenged power to judge.

Dolores Lear


I am the one in pink. :)

Red Biddy

There is a splendid article in to-day's Star by Leonard Pitts entitled "AN UN-CHRISTIAN STAND ON TORTURE."
He wrote:"You'd think that people who claim connections to a higher morality would be the ones most likely to take the lonely principled stand. But you need only look at history to see how seldom this has been the case."
I think we might put DJPreacher in that category judging from his claim to know the mind of God so well !
As one of those people who don't believe in an imaginary God, so I cannot arrogantly lay claim to knowing what might be in his or her mind I can only say to someone like DJP that his prejudice against homosexuals is solely in his mind and he is using "God" to back up his bigotry.

Red Biddy

I like John Danforth. He doesn't claim to know the mind of God even though he's a priest. I agree with him that politics should not legislate religion except when some kooky religious idea (like non-vaccinations is endangering children.
I haven't any knowledge of states who allow their children to go unvaccinated against the common childhood diseases - do you ?
Its usual for most public school districts to insist that kids have the basic vaccinations before entering kindergarten in order to protect the other children. No exceptions. If we allowed any kids to go unvaccinated against say polio, diptheria etc... those awful killing diseases would be back in a flash.

Will Graham

Susan, I have made a quite proper use of your quote about babies coming first in any bioethics debate.

You say you are not for abortion, and yet in that very post you make excuses for it.

Hence, I find your presumption that you can lecture me, or anyone, on ethics to be laughable.

What you can't stand about my reasoning is that I draw the conclusions that you can't face...your view leads to murder of the unborn.

Will Graham

JUST THINKING, you are not going to get away with avoiding proving your claim.

You say that there are plans in place to "end the war", and all you did was refer me to the White House site and say enter "Iraq Withdrawal".

I did.

All it links to and articles after didn't even read half of them, did you?

Otherwise you would know that the plan will involving withdrawing SOME troops in stages until August of 2010, and then leaving 50,000 men there indefinitely.

That was definitely not what the Presidential Campaign was about.

The war is not going to end.

But if you STILL maintain that there are "ongoing plans to end the war", then give me a SPECIFIC reference...not the dodge you tried above.

Do that or admit you were blowing smoke.

Just Thinking

Is anyone else bothered by Politicians going after private individuals and organizations? When former Senator Danforth appears, he remains associated with his previous position, which makes it tricky.

Private individuals and organizations have a right to voice their opinions about all kinds of subjects, and Government should not interfere. Nor should those who hold the trust of a Public Office interfere in legal process. I recall how Martin Luther King, Jr. disapproved of the Vietnam War in a carefully articulated, well-considered argument. President Johnson's response to this was reprehensible: he sent J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, to dig up dirt on Dr. King and to smear him. That should never have happened.

It is a breach of public trust when those who hold public offices use those offices as weapons against law-abiding individuals or organizations of which they do not approve. It demeans and destroys the dignity of the Office of President of the United States of America for the President to use the office to manipulate or ridicule inviduals who do not hold office, or legitimate (religious) organizations.

When former Senator John C. Danforth appears, he is associated with his previous position, which makes the subject difficult to address. However, when President Obama ridicules Rush Limbaugh, he abuses and cheapens the Office of the President of the United States of America. Shame on him for allowing the Office to sink to the level of shock jock. Candidate Obama was free to do many things while campaigning that are no longer appropriate for a man in his position. President Obama needs to learn how to respect the Office of the President of the United States of America. It would also make a nice example if he would not comment on his wife's physical attributes.

Just Thinking


You can respond to whatever you like, but understand that I won't be able to follow up today because this is my fifth post (I posted one this morning for the previous day). So don't think I'm ignoring you.

Look at the very first article, in the upper left corner of your own link, , and follow the link at the end of that short article:
"Read the entire speech to see the details of the plan"

In the full speech you find: "LET ME SAY THIS AS PLAINLY AS I CAN: BY AUGUST 31, 2010, OUR COMBAT MISSION IN IRAQ WILL END." He goes on to discuss a transitional force that will remain for another year, followed by COMPLETE withdrawal:

"After we remove our combat brigades, OUR MISSION WILL CHANGE FROM COMBAT TO SUPPORTING THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT AND ITS SECURITY FORCES AS THEY TAKE THE ABSOLUTE LEAD in securing their country. As I have long said, we will RETAIN A TRANSITIONAL FORCE to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops."

"THROUGH THIS PERIOD OF TRANSITION, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I INTEND TO REMOVE ALL U.S. TROOPS FROM IRAQ BY THE END OF 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."

The Secular Parent

"When religious activists hold rallies, politicians aren't far away."

this quote is very interesting as well as telling. Especially in light of how the Religious Right has used the Christian Faith to divide Americans. My hope is now that we know, we critique our politicans better.

adam harrison

Just Thinking, your post about Obama is exactly the point.

He says "our combat mission will end" but fifty thousand men will remain there! (About the number of men Rommel had in the Afrika Corps.) If that many men are there, how can he say the combat mission will end?

Does that mean in on August 31, 2010 that the terrorists will quit attacking? Of course not.

And THEN he says he intends to remove all the troops by the END of 2011.

The end of 2011! Thats almost THREE YEARS after he took office!

That is NOT what he campagnied on and you know it.

Quit pretending, JT.

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